A bar where five people were killed and three were seriously injured when gunmen opened fire with Kalashnikovs last month has become the first to reopen after the Paris terrorist attacks.
La Bonne Bière in the 11th arrondissement put out new tables and wicker chairs on the pavement where drinkers had been killed three weeks before. Regulars, locals and office workers from the neighbourhood sat sipping coffees and eating while candles still burned and piles of flowers lay in an impromptu memorial on the pavement nearby.
A total of 130 people were killed on the night of 13 November as attacks were launched on bars and restaurants, suicide bombs exploded outside the national stadium and a gun massacre took place at the Bataclan concert hall.
Many in the reopened bar on Friday described a mood of intense sadness but also tentative relief that there was some kind of return to normality, though, as one regular said: “Nothing will ever be the same again.”
William Bayol, who works at a nearby imaging company, sat stirring his coffee at a pavement table near the spot where three weeks ago a carload of gunmen pulled up and opened fire.
“I’m sitting here as a militant act, we have to come back here to remember the dead and to resume everyday life in this diverse and welcoming neighbourhood,” he said.
“But I don’t feel at ease at all. Sitting here you can still see the traces of bullets across the road at the Casa Nostra restaurant where others died and where I would eat lunch every day, including the day of the attacks. Despite myself, I keep intently watching each car that drives past.
“I can’t stop thinking about the people who died here, you put yourselves in their position, they had nowhere to run. By the time they realised what was happening, they were dead.”
Like many people in the 11th arrondissement of Paris, Bayol knew survivors of the attacks and people who had been wounded.
Matthieu Pradeau, who worked at the same imaging company, said: “I will never forget what I saw after the attacks here, the sawdust thrown over the blood on the ground, and that sawdust that had turned red. Today there’s a kind of quiet here, a calm. People aren’t shouting, they’re whispering as if out of respect, as if in a church.”
The bullet-holed windows of La Bonne Bière have been replaced and the bar redecorated. The manager, Audrey Bily, told journalists: “I would like to thank everyone who has supported us for your poems, your messages and posts that have so helped us.”
She added: “We have carried out some work, and repainted the walls to wipe away the signs of this nightmare. The Bonne Bière cafe was a place where people meet and exchanged and shared. That is what we want it to be again today.”
Maroua, a local accountant, was eating lunch with a colleague at a pavement table. “We were passing and we saw it was open and we thought: why not? This bar was a central part of neighbourhood life, it was always full. It has been so, so sad for people living and working here to get used to what happened. It’s something positive that life can begin to resume in some way.”
The owners of the Bataclan concert hall have said they intend to reopen the venue by the end of next year.
Meanwhile, three weeks after he said France was at war, François Hollande, visited the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle in the eastern Mediterranean off Syria, from where air crews are launching strikes on Islamic State in Syria.
The president has seen a surge in his popularity ratings following his response to the Paris attacks, but polls suggest this has not translated into Socialist votes in the first round of regional elections this weekend, in which the far-right Front National is expected to make gains.