Where Everything is Bercy

photo: le maison du lac, parc bercy
Even the ducks are under shelter from the rain,
near the Maison du Lac.

Except the Cour Saint-Emilion Métro Station

Paris:- Friday, 21. October 1998:- Just as the weather forecast predicted, it is windy and it is probably going to rain. If it wasn't for this, Paris might be having a 'Golden October.' A lot of the leaves are still green, but some have changed and if there were some light, they would be worth seeing.

When I took a ride on the new métro line 14 last week I noticed the name of a new métro station: 'Cour Saint-Emilion.' This is between Bercy and the Bibliothèque, so I guess it is where the old wine depot used to be.

Today, my particular train on the line 14 has few passengers so I take my own advice to play 'driver.' What seemed to be a fairly straight route in the middle of the train during my last ride, is revealed to actually have a number of curves, and even slight rises and falls.

Also since last week, passengers have discovered that windows can be opened for ventilation, so the sound of the train is much louder. The brakes are very loud for some reason.

Leaving Châtelet, the train accelerates strongly, for the fast, long non-stop run to Gare de Lyon. The distance is shorter to the Bercy stop and the train is slower; as it also is from Bercy to Cour Saint-Emilion.

The is nothing remarkable about the interior of the new métro station. On the surface, I notice there is no sign for the métro. I also notice it is raining.

Most people leaving the station are heading east; through the open doors of old wine warehouses. This area is still 'underphoto: metro st emilion construction' and I go through a courtyard where there is nothing to see, and through some more old warehouses.

Beyond these, new urbanism has taken over. There are new cobbles underfoot and new concrete and glass is everywhere else. Straight ahead is a huge building named 'Bercy Expo.' Its sub-name is 'Centre d'Affaires International de l'Alimentaire et de la Table.'

The new métro station has no 'Métro' sign, for easy finding.

On 2. and 3. November it will host the 'Convention Export Vins et Spiritueuex Bercy-Expo.' If your company wants to take part in this, it will cost at least 6,000 francs, plus tax.

Inside the entry hall, there is a restaurant and a tabac and some other services. Everything looks cool and business-like, much more boring than the new métro stations. There are no signs saying 'Public Welcome' or 'Free Drinks This Way.'

On the outside terrace, facing west, is all of the rest of Bercy. In front, the concrete and glass. To the right, as yet unimproved; still in the old warehouses, is the future 'Musée des Arts Forains.'

On this rue de Bercy side, there are a lot of the old warehouses left, and I think the plan is to turn this into an area of wine-bars, restaurants and wine shops. It will end with the present 'Ecole Boulangerie,' possibly at the rue François Truffaut, or the combo of rue desphoto: bercy expo building Pirogues - rue de Thorins. I am vague about the street names because I didn't get a map - there is one in the métro station - and it is all still 'becoming' rather than 'is.'

Welcome to Bercy-Expo. Bring an umbrella.

As for wine shops, there are already a lot of them on the street level of the Bercy-Expo building. These might be intending to move back to the traditional warehouses when the time is right. Or maybe they intend staying near the business of the commercial centre.

At the river end of what might be the rue des Pirogues - rue de Thorins there is a large rectangular box named 'UGC Ciné Cité,' but because of the increasingly steady rain I do not bother to take a closer look at it.

The old wine warehouses in the entire block between the rue des Pirogues and the old rue de Dijon, are all in a reconstruction area - and the way back to the métro cuts through this.

From the new métro station of Cours Saint-Emilion west to the 'Palais Omnisports Paris-Bercy,' is the new park, which is named 'Le Parc de Bercy.' Everything has Bercy in its name.

This name is a bit of a puzzle which started as a great estate in 1522, by the name of Château de Bercy; andphoto: future musee forain it continued to exist until 1809. This estate in turn, was put together from older properties, one dating from 1385.

With the installation of the first wine merchant in 1809 and the later subtraction of land for the Paris-Lyon railway in 1847, the large estate came to pieces.

Someday, this will be part of the Musée des Arts Forains.

In the 18th century the sale of wine was illegal outside Paris, so this location right outside the city limits was an ideal spot to warehouse, sort and bottle it. The whole thing burnt down of course, on 31. July 1820. Over 52,000 barrels were destroyed and 115,800 hectolitres of wines and spirits were lost.

Thirty years later Bercy was the largest wine-trading centre in Europe; counting all the accessory services associated with it. With the annexation to Paris in 1860, its merchants were given ten years of city tax-relief. Paris had the whole thing locked up behind walls by 1885, as well as having its finger in the adjacent wine warehouses in Charenton.

But even before Bercy was within Paris, clever restauranteurs opened up a long series of guinguettes along the Quai de Bercy. These, many famous for their frites, attracted much custom, including orchestras in canoes to entertain them. On holidays there were fireworks, boat races and regattas.

My histories do not bother to mention the demise of the wine trade at Bercy - in fact, it never entirely died. The Seinephoto: old bercy wine depots started it with river transport, but by the mid-19th century, the railroad was on the opposite side of the area of Bercy. Now there is the new Bercy-Expo, the Champagne houses on the ground floor and some of the old warehouses are still there to be re-run as the guingettes of old.

At first it seems not many of the old warehouses are left, but there are quite a number of them.

The city of Paris has turned the rest into 'Le Parc de Bercy.' This is the second large park created in Paris since the time of Baron Haussmann. The park has been opened in stages since 1994 and was inaugurated in September 1997.

With the rain being fairly serious by now I go no further into it than the Maison du Lac. What little I see through the gloom, shows a park with paths, little lakes and lots of vegetation; a great variety of vegetation as it turns out.

Although everything looks new and tidy, several items - a few paths, some bits of walls - are recycled from the oldest of Bercy days. After a few years, everything will look as if it has been together a long time.

All of this, even if not quite finished, is quite a bit to get - along with a new métro station.

When the wine bars open in the old warehouses and the cobbled alleys are turned into outdoor terraces, and the accordion players float by in canoes under sprays of fireworks; then you will agree that the new métro line has been worth every gazillion it has cost us - visitors and Parisians.

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