Railway stations are places of constant arrival and departure, mostly routine, sometimes momentous. The vast canvas displayed in the entrance hall of Gare de l’Est is a reminder of the many young soldiers who departed from this station in 1914 and didn’t return. The painting was presented in 1926 by its American artist, Albert Herter, in memory of his son, killed in action in northern France.
The imposing double facade of the station suggests twin train sheds behind the gables but the arrangement of the station is more complicated than that. When the station opened in 1850, as the terminus of the Paris Strasbourg railway, there was a single, glass roofed hall covering the platforms. In a first expansion programme, around the end of the nineteenth century, the tracks were cut short before the hall, leaving the platforms sheltered by separate, low roofs beyond. When the station was doubled in size, between 1926 and 1931, this pattern was repeated and the tracks stopped short of the station hall.
A third, transverse hall links the two main halls with their pointed gables. Originally the baggage handling depot, this space now houses the stairs and escalators to the metro below with shops either side. In addition to this substantial commercial area, glass box shops also clutter the two main station halls. Departures and arrivals are still the main business of the station, but there’s much competition for the departing traveller’s attention before they reach their train.
(Click on any photo to view the gallery)
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