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Le Meurice, Paris
Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep
Le Meurice, on Rue Rivoli opposite les Jardins des Tuileries, has housed some of the most famous and infamous characters in history, from failed monarchs like Alphonso XIII of Spain, the Duke of Windsor, and the Shah of Iran, to business icons like the Rockefellers and Wright Brothers, to the notorious spy Mata Hari (who had to be sued to collect her bill).
For Paris, the most consequential occupant might have been General der Infanterie Dietrich Hugo Hermann von Choltitz, who ran the German occupation from here in World War II. On August 23, 1944, the failing lunatic Führer Adolf Hitler gave one of his most notorious orders:
Paris darf nicht oder nur als Trümmerfeld in die Hand des Feindes fallen." ["Paris must not fall into the hands of the enemy, or only as a field of rubble."]
And then proceeded to hector von Choltitz with the infamous question:
“Brennt Paris?" [“Is Paris burning?"]
After tense negotiations with the Resistance and Swedish diplomats in his offices on the first upper floor of the hotel, von Choltitz chose to ignore Hitler's order and thereby earned his moniker, le Sauveur de Paris.
Much later, in the 1950s, the retired officer wandered into the bar here and ordered a drink. The bartenders happily recognized him and summoned the manager. The manager offered von Choltitz a room for the night, but all he wanted was a quick look at his old offices. From there, he wandered off into the mists of history.
Or so the story goes.
Owned today by the Sultan of Brunei, this is still one of the world's great hotels—and priced accordingly. We only stay here on very special occasions, but never miss an evening in the Bar on our trips to Paris.
For all their stiffness, the Prussian aristocrats who ran the German Army had excellent taste in palaces, both their own and the mansions they commandeered on their conquests. Sitting in the Meurice lobby bar with a martini and a glass of pink champagne, we can still hear the quiet hubbub of German conversation, the subdued Bach of a string quartet, and the clicking heels of shiny riding boots. A very spooky place for an amateur historian.
To reserve a room…
Or call the hotel direct at: +33 1 44 58 10 10
Find the excellent history, “Is Paris burning?” by Larry Collins & Dominique LaPierre, at Amazon. And while you’re there, pick up any of their other superb joint efforts.
Watch the trailer for the movie on YouTube.