This house in the Marais district of Paris is where I lived for two months in the autumn of 1962, and again for a month and a half in the autumn of 1966.
I learned of this place from a handwritten notice that was taped to a light post nearby. The notice, in shaky arthritic handwriting, offered furnished accommodation for foreign students such as ‘English, German, American, Dutch, Scandinavian countries or other nationalities.’ (Not necessarily in this order; I’m quoting from memory.)
At the time I was amused by this listing of countries/nationalities, since it seemed to include everybody. Only much later did I start to suspect that she was trying to exclude Asians and Africans, without explicitly saying so.
The apartment was on the second floor, if I remember correctly, (that would be the third floor by the American way of counting) and had four or five rooms at least. The owner was an elderly woman, probably a widow, who lived in one of the rooms. We students shared the rest of the rooms, with two or three beds to a room, which was more space than we were accustomed to since we all stayed in youth hostels when we were travelling around Europe.
Most of us really were students, in one way or another. In 1962 I was enrolled in the Cours de civilisation française à la Sorbonne, which at the time was still part of the Université de Paris and was located in the Latin Quarter not far from the Sorbonne building. I actually went to classes there, and remember them as being quite useful from a linguistic point of view, though they couldn’t do much about my dreadful pronunciation. (Later, when the one big university was divided up into thirteen smaller ones, the Cours de civilisation française de la Sorbonne — now de instead of à, — was spun off as a separate foundation, the Fondation Robert de Sorbon, and is now located on boulevard Raspail in Montparnasse.)
In 1966 I was enrolled at the Alliance Française, which I don’t remember much about except that it was already on boulevard Raspail, but further down, past Notre-Dame-des-Champs. (I still ride or walk past it quite often.)
My most vivid memory of the house at 7 rue des Rosiers (Street of the Rose Bushes) is the dark dank basement, where I was allowed to store my bicycle overnight. That meant maneuvering it up a very narrow stone stairway every morning and down again every night.
Paris in the 1960s was a dreadful place for cycling, but I did it anyway, out of principle or obstinacy or whatever.
When I lived at 7 rue des Rosiers, and for many years before and afterwards, there was a famous Jewish restaurant called Goldenberg in the ground floor of the building. The owner, Jo Goldenberg (1923-2014), was a Holocaust survivor whose parents and sisters were all murdered by Nazis in Auschwitz, as were many other Jews who were rounded up and deported from the Marais district during the Second World War.
I’m sorry to say that I never ate at Goldenberg’s, since I was on a tight budget and ate mainly at the cheap hole-in-the-wall couscous places in the Latin Quarter.
On the outer wall of the building at 7 rue des Rosiers there is now a plaque recalling an anti-Semitic terrorist attack on August 9, 1982, in which six people were killed and twenty-two injured by gunfire and a grenade explosion in the Goldenberg restaurant.
It turns out that this is the second such plaque on the building. The first was inaugurated by President François Mitterrand in 1983, but it disappeared in 2007. This replacement plaque was installed in 2011.
The restaurant closed in 2006 and was eventually replaced by a jeans shop, but the name Goldenberg was still on the awnings five years later.
It’s hard to imagine now, but in the 1960s the Marais was still a rather poor neighborhood, with lots of small Jewish shops. Since then, gentrification has kicked in with a vengeance, and in 2015 the French magazine Challenges reported that Rue des Rosiers had become the 95th most expensive street in Paris for apartment buyers, with a median price of € 11,237 per square meter. Thus “the street makes its entrance into the top 100”. By 2020, the median price had gone up to € 13,709 per square meter, according to the Meilleur Agents website.
This means the rents have gone up as well, and many of the traditional Jewish shops have been forced to leave, replaced by name-brand clothing shops like an ‘adidas Originals Store’ at number 3. Vigorous local protests have thus far prevented the opening of a McDonald’s in Rue des Rosiers.
The big tourist attraction on rue des Rosiers is currently L’As du Fallafel, which is touted in several of the big guidebooks and websites as being the best falafel restaurant in Paris. It did not exist when I lived there, since it was only founded in 1979, but I tried it recently and found it to be no better or worse than other falafel places, though a bit dark inside. (Disclaimer: I’m not a gourmet diner, and I was notorious back on VirtualTourist for not posting restaurant reviews.)
When I try to explain to people where Rue des Rosiers is, I sometimes say it is halfway between the Centre Pompidou and the Opéra Bastille, neither of which existed at the time I lived there.
My photos in this post are from 2006 and 2011. I revised the text in 2020.
See more posts on the Marais district of Paris.