“War” and “jubilation”. “Conflict” and “celebration”. Such words rarely sit alongside each other with any sort of ease. But they are likely to appear in the same sentences over the next 24 hours – particularly if you are reading a French newspaper.
Tomorrow marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Paris from German occupation – and France’s capital is set to mark the occasion with a typical display of chicness and culture.
This will be a re-telling of what was effectively the first happy news story of the Second World War. The D-Day landings were, of course, remembered two months ago – the world’s leading politicians gathering on the beaches of Normandy to commemorate what happened there on 6 June 1944. But this was a sober salute, appropriate to the sacrifice involved. Paris will throw a party – in recollection of the day when the first occupied European capital ejected its Nazi invaders and the tide of war was truly seen to have turned.
The matter was amazingly swift, starting with an uprising of French Resistance fighters on 19 August and concluding with the surrender of the German garrison six days later, as Allied forces swept into the city from the west. A wealth of newsreel footage exists for this victorious near-week.
You can find an excellent precis of events online here, showing tanks scuttling past the Eiffel Tower, Charles de Gaulle laying a wreath under the Arc de Triomphe, crowds 20 deep, wine being drunk euphorically from bottles, as liberating units march down the middle of the Champs-Elysées on 26 August.
Such scenes of revelry were remarkable considering that the war still had over eight months to run in Europe alone. And that danger lurked in dark corners. When De Gaulle processed to the Hotel de Ville, lingering German snipers fired on the crowds from upper windows.
That same space outside the city hall, now known as Esplanade de la Libération, will be one of the focal points of tomorrow’s festivities, with (from 9pm) a son-et-lumière show and a public dance, with Forties dress encouraged (more information here and here). There are other tributes too, including an exhibition – “Paris Liberé, Paris Photographié, Paris Exposé” – at the Musée Carnavalet (00 33 1 4459 5858 until 8 February; €8/£6.40), which showcases bright images of these giddy hours. And if you feel like raising a glass to freedom, you could sip a cocktail in Bar 228 at Le Meurice, the five-star hotel by the Jardins des Tuileries (00 33 1 44581010) where the German surrender was formally signed.
If the mood takes you, there is still time to catch a train under the Channel and join in the fun. Eurostar (03448 224777) tickets are available for travel tomorrow. The very fact that you can board a carriage in London and be in the French capital two hours later is, in its own small way, a reminder of how far Europe has come in the last 70 years.Reuse content