Photo provided
The Arc de Triomphe is an iconic Paris landmark.
Photo provided The Arc de Triomphe is an iconic Paris landmark.
How do you describe Paris? The word that comes to mind is grand, or more appropriately grande.
Everything is large, if not grandiose.
You really can’t do justice to Paris with only one day, but that was the chore for Veronique Murie, our special guide for the “Writing the War: Following the Footsteps of WW2 Correspondents,” organized by the National World War II Museum.
So what did she do? She followed the path Adolf Hitler took on his one-day trip to the French Capitol to celebrate its surrender to Nazi Germany.
The First stop was the Avenue de Champs-Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe. The broad avenue, which is the finish line every year for the Tour de France bicycle race, was designed by Georges-Eugene Haussmann at the direction of Napoleon III, who was Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephew. Housmann demolished the existing slums to create long, wide boulevards that create lines of sight that connect central points and bring light into the areas that were tiny, crooked streets.
The vistas created are similar to those found between the presidential monuments, White House and Congress in Washington, D.C., which also was designed by a Frenchman - Pierre L’Enfant.
Veronique explained that Napoleon III’s modernization of the city wasn’t totally altruistic. Revolutionists could easily within 10 minutes create a formidable barricade within the cities narrow lanes to challenge the emperor’s troops. That couldn't be done on the Champs-Elysees.
Anchoring the boulevard is Napoleon Bonaparte’s tribute to himself – the massive Roman-style arch that stands 164 feet tall in the intersection of twelve avenues. The Arc de Triomphe touts Napoleon’s 100 military victories, but Veronique pointed out you won’t find any of his losses. Waterloo, for example.
I’d say the structure’s size correlates to Napoleon’s ego.
She also noted Napoleon died in exile never seeing the completed monument that’s now a Paris icon.
Hitler’s next stop was the Eiffel Tower – THE icon of the city built by engineer Gustave Eiffel. There’s a famous picture of the Fuhrer dancing a little victory jig at the sight where we stopped to take photos of the centerpiece of the 1896 World’s Fair.
Veronique said Parisians hated the tower. Iron was associated with industrial use, not art. And it replaced cathedrals and churches as the tallest structures in the city. It, in fact, was the tallest structure in the world (1,063 feet) until the Chrysler Building/skyscraper was built in New York.
We’re fortunate to have the opportunity to see the two symbols of Paris because Hitler gave the order to blow them up before the Allies liberated the city. German Gen. Dietrich von Choltitz did not carry out the order, surrendering an intact Paris to French Gen. Philippe Leclerc, who led the free French troops into Paris.
Hitler’s last stop before returning to Berlin was Les Invalides, where Napoleon’s remains lay in a massive, mahogany-colored tomb covered by a beautiful dome that is covered in gold leaf. Just as Napoleon admired Julius Caesar, Hitler admired the artillery corporal who eventually crowned himself emperor in the Norte Dame Cathedral.
Behind Napoleon's tomb is now the Musee de L’Armee – France’s military museum with exhibits stretching across the centuries. You can see medieval suits of armor, Napoleonic-era military uniforms or exhibits covering both World War I and World War II.
While Hitler then left for Berlin, Veronique guided us to the island heart of the city surrounded by the Seine River where was built Notre Dame Cathedral.
The Gothic structure also was saved from destruction- not at the hands of the Nazis, but the French. The church was badly damaged during the French Revolution. The cost to renovate would be greater than the cost to demolish it and rebuild a new cathedral.
But the success of Victor Hugo's “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” sparked a tourism trade that pushed France to preserve, not destroy the third icon of Paris. This is where War correspondent Helen Kirkpatrick witnessed the attempted assassination of Charles de Gaulle and other French
Grande structures, grand stories, and a great city.