Sunday, May 25, 2014

Berowne's 221

 
(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "T" is for tourism)

I just stumbled across a news item.  The hotel Lutetia in Paris is going to close for three years for renovation.

That meant something to me because for a while I lived there.


For over a century it was just another good Paris hotel; they now want to make a stab at turning it into a fabulous hotel de luxe, as good as any of the other great European establishments.   

(“Lutetia,” by the way, was what the Romans called Paris.)

I stayed in that hotel while working in Paris in the sixties.  And I became fascinated by its history, especially the part they didn’t like to talk about.

Back in 1940 the Germans knew a good place when they saw one so as soon as they occupied Paris they took the hotel over.  It actually became the headquarters of Abwehr, the Nazi intelligence operation.

This was the outfit that dealt – rather harshly as you can imagine – with sabotage, counter-espionage, security, etc.

One aspect of this that you don’t read much about is the effect this had on the citizens of Paris.  The city was flooded with gray mice.


You see, along with the German army came busloads of young German women to work for the occupying force.  They wore special uniforms, sort of gray in color, and there were so many of them about in town that the Parisians called them “souris grises” – gray mice.



It was a different kind of tourism.  For these girls, the several years beginning with 1940 were a kind of paradise.  They got to go to Paris, not only with all expenses paid, but also with a salary.
 
 For quite a while it was a huge party.  For many of them, their home was the Lutetia.


They did the usual tourism things; sight-seeing, shopping, etc.


They went out of their way to avoid being feisty or argumentative; they carefully paid the asking price for everything they bought. 
 
 
  
Hitler wanted to “woo” Paris; he had dreams of a post-war empire with Berlin, Paris and London as key parts of a new Europe – with Berlin on top, as you might guess – so his orders were to make nice to the local population.

Years later I was at a tourism conference in New York and met a German woman and we began talking about Paris.  She was pleased to learn that I had stayed at the Lutetia.  “I stayed there too, for several years!” she exclaimed.  “During the forties.”

I suddenly realized that I was talking to a gray mouse.  I didn't want to be meddlesome so I diplomatically didn’t ask her what it was like to work for the Nazi security organization Abwehr.
 

29 comments:

Helen said...

This is a fascinating bit of history .....

Kathe W. said...

Mon dieu! At first I was envisioning an invasion of plague ridden rodents...hmmm ...actually they were that weren't they...!!

Charleen said...

Wow! That piece of information must have made the conversation interesting.

Gillena Cox said...

all very interesting; photos and story; have a nice Sunday

much love...

naturgesetz said...

Thanks for this vignette.

It seems kind of too bad that a good hotel can't just be kept as a good hotel. Some of the old ones have a character that new ones never achieve. But nothing is permanent in this world. "We'll always have Paris," but only in memory.

Berowne said...

Thanks, all, for the generous comments - Berowne.

Karen S. said...

This was incredibly interesting, and your photos are perfect, and detail something completely new to me. How interesting that you met (and shared conversations with) a true gray mouse! It looks like a lovely hotel, as it is!

Kutamun said...

I imagine it would take a very brave young German girl to question the Nazi Apparatus in the 1940s , like us in modern day Anglo Saxon Empire , most people are content just to go with the flow as long as they are reasonably material comfortable .. Debate devolves into simply choosing an emotionally charged meme out of the two or three that are available , and nobody talks about the drone strikes, currency wars , mass surveillance and propaganda , rendition gulags etc, etc .. Have you read Len Deightons "Bomber" , ? He really fleshes out the character and motivations of the average German citizen in a small town in Nazi Germany ( just before it gets blown to smithereens by the r.a.f by mistake ) ...i hope you were kind to your brain dead grey mouse Abwehr office fauna ...
Cheers Mate

Björn Rudberg said...

Great way of expressing it.. during the 40s.. yes indeed... but also very interesting on another view of the war...

Gail said...

What a wonderful bit of history. I have never been to Paris but I kinda have now. Thank you.

Ginny Brannan said...

I love your fascinating facts and steps back in time!

Katherine said...

Wow you have some wonderful memories there Berowne....what an interesting life you've led and that is one very majestic looking hotel.

Friko said...

Hi Berowne

Thanks for visiting.
Your post is an interesting illumination on a particular piece of European history. I am glad that the old buildings like this hotel are given a face lift which prolongs their life.

I am afraid I don’t really have a comment on the subject matter. In the early fifties recent European and German history weren’t taught at all. My history education ended with Bismarck. It is now completely different, and for the past decades German history has been explored, chewed over, digested and bewailed by every German school child and adult. (well, nearly every one, see the recent elections.)

Only in very recent years have self confidence and
pride in achievements after the war resurfaced.

Berowne said...

Thanks so much; I really appreciate your intelligent and thoughtful comment.

Reader Wil said...

Interesting you met one of the Grey Mice.
Talking about Hitler: he wanted to create a united Europe under German and Italian supervision, but fortunately ,he didn't succeed.
Last week we voted for the European government, more or less for a united Europe like the USA. This will never happen we have 47 states all with different cultures and languages and nobody wants to give up one's own native tongue. We have 7 kingdoms, several principalities, a Grand Duchy and many republiques with presidents. Which of them would be the leader of all Europe? Hitler, Musolini and Napoleon couldn't unite Europe, neither can we.We don't want it, ...but we have to work together, help and accept each other.What do you think?
Wil, ABCW Team.

Leslie: said...

You were very diplomatic when meeting the "souris gris" at that time. What memories you have -love to hear more.

leslie
abcw team

Kate said...

Fascinating story. A terrible time in history, tho. Last night I watched the first installment of the History channel's three night program on the World Wars. The carnage was unbelievable. Few world leaders had foresight after the WWI Peace Treaty was signed yet some were well aware that chaos was in the future as a result of the harsh terms of the treaty. An excellent program about the perfidy of the human race and some of its diabolical leaders.

Roger Owen Green said...

Interesting, even though it made me uncomfortable...

Arnoldo L. Romero, MLA said...

Thank you for sharing this fascinating bit of history. I wasn't aware of the grey mice. Blessings!

Cristina Pop said...

Thanks for sharing this interesting history lesson! I bet it was amazing to stay in that hotel!

K V V S MURTHY said...

Mind blowing history...!

Altonian said...

Great personal story Berowne. I was more interested in the fact that an already successful hotel was about to get a 'makeover'. When my wife was a young Finnish immigrant, back in the fifties, she had a happy time working in London in the Savoy Hotel. She has been horrified by the trashy alterations to this historical establishment that have been done by its new (foreign) owner. Let's hope the Paris hotel has a better fate.

Sheilagh Lee said...

A fascinating piece of history but I'm sure for those women it wasn't all shopping; to put it bluntly there was probably expectations on them that they put out for their plum location. You have really travelled and lived history Browne.

SamuraiFrog said...

A beautiful building and a very interesting history.

bettyl-NZ said...

Thanks for that fascinating bit of dirty history! The building looks fabulous--I hope they only renovate the inside.

oldegg said...

I should have been with you. I am always game enough to ask!

Tess Kincaid said...

Always enjoy your posts Mr. B...

sharplittlepencil.com said...

Berowne, as always, your life is amazing. Picking up on that "bread crumb" on info from the "grey mouse" was quick thinking. I probably would have gotten to, "Oh, did you work for..." before I shut my trap!! Amy

steph said...

Fascinating.. glad I stopped by the Magpie Tales site to see your quiz and continued to read. I'll be in Paris in a month. I love learning the history of a place I plan to visit... even if I have been there before.. never stop learning.. cheers.

 
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