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Finding Belleville: Kreuzberg in Paris

published on 2012-07-02 by Sara
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French people are not supposed to be the friendliest in Europe. They are supposed to be a little snobby, unhygienic and, oh yes, they eat baguettes all day. Paris’s reception has been carefully drafted over the last few decades. It’s the city of love. It’s the city of great architecture and of exquisite clothing. It’s not the city of a buzzing night life, as Marcus found out here.

However, on my second visit to Paris last week I was determined to find some unknown faces of the metropolitan, faces that haven’t been brought down as stereotypes and clichés in numerous guides. Thanks to my thorough lack of orientation, I started at the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont in the city’s Eastern part and came out in Belleville. I was stunned by the solitude that I’ve actually only known from London parks such as Primrose Hill or Hampstead Heath. Kids were screaming while playing with their dogs, parents laid there with their headphones and a decent amount of beer and students were sunbathing at the nearby lake.

Belleville, the ward that is just about to get transformed into a young and explosive French equivalent to Kreuzberg, is bristling with revolutionary energy and has absolutely nothing in common with some of the central tourist attractions that are responsible for Paris’s reputation. Belleville is full of life, it’s full of truth, you get that impression with every step you take. “Prolétariat offensive” is spread over some of the walls, there are numerous appeals for demonstrations. The class society apparently is still deeply rooted within their daily lives. A working day is described as endlessly boring and pointless. The youth who lives in Belleville deeply despises “le quartier des riches.” But it’s not just a young generation trying to find themselves within a world that moves faster with every day that goes by. They have a reason to be scared. Some of the real-estate moguls are winding the profitable chance that their streets stand for, they could take their creative platform along with their home away any second.

“Hey girl, come here, take a photo of my sexy friend laying in a truck!” is one guy shouting across the street. There’s not only me bursting out laughing when I see how much fun he has kidding his mate, there is also a young man laying on loads of boxes, casually talking to passengers. The extraordinarily creative shouts from dodgy old men such as “Ohh I love your skirt, I’d love it even more if it was a little shorter” weren’t as amusing but hey, you can’t have everything…

There is a group of guys hanging out and listening to dirty French rap (another thing that I probably can’t get used to) on the platform from where you have a brilliant overview on estate buildings in the East but also on the Eiffel Tower (if you look hard enough on the photo, you’ll spot it somewhere in the background!) That would be the point where I get reminded that I’m still in Paris, after all.

Belleville feels more approachable than the rest of the capital. It’s angry, it severly hates the capitalist government and it’s not necessarily pretty. The Easter part got some kind of rough aftertaste and yet it’s the oasis of the city. It fuels the character of the young generation that lives all over Paris and in spite of everything, that’s exactly what makes a city special and worthwhile to spend time there.

However, if you happen to visit Belleville, don’t forget your smile and your sense of humour as you usually won’t need both in the city centre…

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