I live in La Courneuve, at one end of line 7 of the Paris Métro. I spend a lot of time riding on that line, looking at its long list of stations during my daily trips back and forth to Paris. Scanning that list recently, I noticed what seemed to be some strange homage to the Cold War: the end of World War II … the White House … and the Kremlin.
The official name of the La Courneuve station is La Courneuve—8 mai 1945. The date refers to V-E Day, or Victory in Europe Day: the end of the Second World War in Europe, when Germany’s act of military surrender was officially ratified in Berlin. While we don’t celebrate May 8 in the United States, it’s celebrated widely in Europe as a public holiday. Nothing really noteworthy in having a station named in honor of the end of the war, right? Towards the other end of line 7, however, two more stations drew my attention: Maison Blanche and Le Kremlin-Bicêtre. That got me thinking. “Maison Blanche” means “White House” and “Kremlin” … well, “Kremlin” means “Kremlin.” (I’ll admit, I had no idea what “Bicêtre” meant.) “How interesting!” I thought. At one end of line 7 we’ve got the end of World War II and at the other end, we’ve got the White House and the Kremlin! Hmm …
Châtelet-Les Halles is not only located at the very geographic center of Paris, it is also the transit hub of the city. It is actually a complex of two Métro stations (Châtelet and Les Halles) and a pôle d’échange, or central exchange station, for the RER (Réseau Express Régional or Regional Express Network, Paris’s commuter light rail system). The RER station services three of Paris’s 5 RER lines: A, B, and D. Métro station Châtelet services 5 of Paris’s 16 Métro lines: 1, 4, 7, 11, and 14. Métro station Les Halles services the 4 line.
The first notable thing about Châtelet-Les Halles is that it’s huge! The southern end of the RER station connects to the Châtelet Métro station and the northern end connects to the Les Halles Métro station. The walking distance from Châtelet to Les Halles is almost half a mile (750 meters)—a distance 50% longer than the average distance between stations in the Paris Métro system! Thankfully the transfer is facilitated at one point by a nice, long people-moving conveyor belt … or you can just take the 4 line and save the shoe leather.
The second notable thing about Châtelet-Les Halles is that it is the busiest underground transit station in the world. Each weekday, Châtelet-Les Halles hosts about 750,000 travelers (more than the average weekday traffic in the entire Washington, DC Metro). During rush hour, 120 trains arrive in and depart from Châtelet-Les Halles each hour! That’s a lot of people scurrying here and there. No wonder Châtelet-Les Halles is, in my opinion, the most overwhelming and disorienting Métro station in Paris.
So, the question that I initially set out to answer: why is it called Châtelet-Les Halles?