July 28, 2020. Two of my LL.M. classmates who had remained in Paris over the coronavirus confinement invited me to a day trip to Compiègne and Amiens, just short train rides away north of Paris. It served as our first reunion, months after our abrupt separation as a class last March when most of the class (including myself) hurriedly flew out of Paris to seek refuge in our respective countries of origin.
So I met my Japanese and Russian classmates at the Gare du Nord in the morning and we all took an almost-empty summer weekday train, first, to the town of Compiègne, which only took less than an hour.
Our first stop was the gardens of Château de Compiègne, which was just a short walk from the town’s train station. The place was almost deserted and we had plenty of time to goof around and meander along the paths of the gardens. The palace, which was built by Louis XV, and then refurbished under Napoleon I after it was gutted during the French Revolution, served as a summer residence of said French monarchs. It stood alongside the Versailles and the Fontainbleu castles that served as seats of government of the pre and post-Revolution monarchies.
There are various exhibits inside the museums housed within the halls of Château de Compiègne, but we decided to skip these and decided to head off to what we thought was a more interesting historical place in town–the Musée de l’Armistice. But first, we had a stroll around the town’s centre-ville, passing by the town hall (hôtel de ville) and the main Catholic church (Saint-Jacques).
We then had lunch at an American diner-style restaurant called Garrett Meals.
Moving on, we took a taxi from the centre-ville to the middle of the forest. The vast forest of Compiègne was witness to two crucial events in the 20th century history of Western Europe–the 1918 Armistice that signalled the defeat of Germany in World War I, and the 1940 Armistice that signalled the surrender of France to Germany during World War II. Within the forest, the Clairière de l’Armistice war memorial puts on display various memorabilia of the wars and, more importantly, a replica of the same train wagon that served as the venue of the signing of the armistice papers. Yes, Adolf Hitler in 1940, in triumphant vengeance, symbolically insisted that France sign its surrender in the same forest, and in the same wagon where the Germans reluctantly accepted their defeat in World War I.
After a solemn visit to the war memorial, we hurriedly took a cab back to town in order to catch our train to Amiens–our next stop!