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Fifths

July 27, 2013

You have almost completed in your notebook a small map of the area between Avenue Joffre and Place du roi Georges. Here eight buildings crowd a block that is both the heart of the Nouvelle Ville and its frontier. One block farther north the works of the new century give way to those from the older, which seldom tolerate the intrusion of the new in the old neighborhoods.

In a way, this block is emblematic of the Nouvelle Ville. It exhibits the same artistic tendencies seen along Avenue Foch, at Place Raymond Mondon, and in certain houses in Montigny lés Metz. The building at the corner of Rue de Verdun and Avenue Joffre is in a grey stone. The sculptors draped garlands from its balconies and fixed faces, both masculine and feminine, at the apex of each ground-floor window. A turret bursts from the northern corner. Wreaths festooned with olive branches are evenly spaced on its height. Atop the turret sits a small dome, blue with tarnish and rounded in the Teutonic fashion. Several windows, similar to portholes, jut from the dome, which is itself crowned by an ironwork frill of spades and slender bars.

Two doors down from this structure, you find another residential building, this time in Jaumont with certain Art Deco themes. Roses crowd isolated rectangles. The pilasters have a smooth and primitive aspect about them, running from sidewalk to eaves. The dome of the corner turret retains, however, the shape of certain others in the new city: simultaneously square and rounded.

Yet this block perplexes you. None of the eight structures was completed before 1924. The latest date visible indicates the completion of construction to be 1931. Even the names of the architects do little to resolve the troubling picture before you: Reybaud, Veix, Huguenin, Dedun. The evidence inevitably leads to the same conclusion. These German structures were designed by French architects, executed by French workmen, sculpted by French stoneworkers.

Nor is the conundrum visible here isolated to this stand of apartments. Every morning, as you enter your place of work, you are challenged by the sight of a Teutonic pediment dating from 1950. Avenue Foch and its environs yield further specimens, each more puzzling than the last.

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