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East Side Story Part 2

Last month I wrote about the new developments of the Bercy area, including the Park and Bercy Village. This month covers the action on the left bank of the Seine, the Rive Gauche Project.

Floating Fun

Crossing the Pont de Tolbiac is no fun, unless you like crossing the concrete jungle of speeding cars, so take the Meteor to the terminus stop at Bibliothèque Nationale (the François Mitterand Library), or to get even closer, go back to the Bercy stop and change to line 6, getting off at Quai de la Gare (one stop). It’s hard to miss the guinguettes and floating bars, all lined up on the quai. The festivities here usually go late into the night, so it’s a good ‘after’ place to go.

Batofar Bus

The Batofar is the big red one closest to the Pont Tolbiac, with a huge lighthouse tower, and when it’s parked, a double decker red bus. This is the bus with a deejay that travels around Paris all night picking up and dropping off party goers. There’s a blues barge next to that, then the Guinguette Pirate, one of my favorite, because it looks like a pirate ship. There are few more whose names I forget, but most of them have a changing nightly schedule of live music, DJs, or other entertainment late into the night.

Not Quite the Bon Marché

Paris Rive Gauche is the official name for the redevelopment project on the left bank around the new national library. Currently, this must be the biggest construction site inside Paris. It’s still pretty ugly, and the library doesn’t help. I took a tour of the library before it was open and before there were any books inside. Because it’s new it’s going to cause plenty of controversy, but you have to admit it’s a bit problematic having a library split into four parts, with a long way between each part for people and books to travel. There is a very nice garden in the center though. You’re not allowed to take pictures of that. And even though it was opened you 1997, it looks like a refugee from the 1970’s, and doesn’t elicit any warm or cozy feelings that libraries usually do. Too bad. It’s not free to get in either.

The library’s surrounded by new office buildings, shops, and modern apartments. There is the new Avenue de France, which has just received its little trees and decorative lamp posts, but currently it runs alongside the extremely un-scenic railroad tracks. And not just one railroad track, but enough to create a chasm wider than the Seine. All around this neighborhood at the moment, you may see big green posters describing what the neighborhood will soon look like. But it’s all in French. Continue up the fledgling Avenue de France, him in you’ll find on your left the Rive Gauche Information Center in of portable building. This is the best place to get a good look at what the city used to look like here, and what they plan on doing with it. Look at the big model, and you will see that there are no sign of railroad tracks. They’re going to cover them up, just like the metro, and build housing and shops. The redevelopment area and includes everything from the Gare d’Austerlitz, south to Boulevard Masséna, and west to Place d’Italie. Someday this will be the best real estate, may be even as soon as 2005. They are already selling luxury apartments in renovated warehouses.

Come as soon as possible, and bring your camera. Your grandchildren won’t believe it was really that ugly. Don’t forget to take some pictures of the historic buildings, the artists’ squatted Frigos at 91 Quai de la Gare (renamed Quai Panhard et Levassor), and the old Moulin, which will soon be part of the University of Paris. These buildings were originally condemned to be demolished, but the local artists managed to preserve them. What they can’t stop is being surrounded by new construction. There were a few signs can painted along the Rue de Tolbiac protesting the new offices being built. If you’re lucky, the artist studios, or ateliers, in the old Frigos will be open to the general public (usually in September). While the building may look rundown and full of graffiti, many of the artist’s inside are actually well-known.

For More Info

This is by no means an exhaustive description of all that’s going on in the Bercy/Rive Gauche quarters. Hopefully it will inspire visitors and westernised residents alike to go take a peek at the progress being made. If you want to see more photos, or if you can read French, there’s a great site that covers both the 12th (Bercy) and the 13th (Rive Gauche) arrondissements better than any current guidebook.

This article is one of the 78 original “Secrets of Paris” articles published between September 1999 and July 2004. After disappearing into the internet graveyard for almost 15 years, I’ve republished them in autumn 2019 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Secrets of Paris: “1999-2019: Twenty Years of the Secrets of Paris” Broken and dead links have been updated or deactivated, but otherwise the article remains unchanged. 

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