The Paris Olympics draw the curtain on the Eiffel Tower Guignol

A children’s puppet theater, the carousel, the nearby go-kart track, must make way for installations for beach volleyball events.

He treasures his 350 puppets “like the apple of (his) eye.” But the manager of the Guignol theater at Champ-de-Mars has received notice to leave the premises before the Olympics and fears not finding his booth after the summer. Located 500 meters from the Eiffel Tower, Julien Sommer opens his door to around thirty parents and children for an adaptation of Beauty and the Beast in the Guignol style, an undying hero since the 19th century.

On Wednesdays, families take their seats in the small room with 150 seats built in 1978 by his mentor Luigi Tirelli, who had popularized this live performance via television in the 1970s. The stage itself dates back to 1902. On this ancient stage, behind which he has been working since the age of 15, Julien Sommer, 38, brings his puppets to life twice a day on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays during the school year, and seven days a week during the holidays.

However, at the beginning of January, he received a “registered letter” from the city of Paris announcing the termination of his concession by March 31. The reason given was the works planned by the organizing committee of the Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games (from July 26 to September 8) on the esplanade, where beach volleyball and blind football events will take place.

The city explained that a new concession requires a call for tenders, with the “competitive bidding” being a “mandatory legal process.” The Parisian Puppet Theater at Champ-de-Mars, its official name, is not the only children’s business concerned on the esplanade. A small go-karting track is also set to close at the end of March, while a carousel with wooden horses, presented as “the oldest carousel in Paris,” and a century-old swing carousel have already closed their doors.

These days, they are surrounded by fences, like all lawns along the perspective, to regain their luster in preparation for the global event. The Friends of Champ-de-Mars, the local association, are “shocked by these measures taken abruptly,” explains its president Jean d’Izarny-Gargas, emphasizing the “heritage interest” of the theater.

Parents, meanwhile, do not hide their anger. Lauren Carraud laments the “sad sight of barricades and construction sites” and would prefer to “see the eyes of our children shine.” Guignol “is an institution in the neighborhood,” agrees Emmanuelle Vonceslau, 48, who came with her two daughters aged 6 and 8. “It would be a shame if it closed because it is beautiful and the children love it.” Julien Sommer, who creates his costumes as well as his shows, explains that he earns an average of 2000 euros a month “before taxes” from his activities. For six months “I can’t work,” says the manager, who will also have to rent space to store “decorations, lighting, equipment, benches”…

On Wednesday, the city told AFP that the three businesses, including Guignol Theater, whose convention is terminated earlier than planned, “will be compensated.” For all businesses, “work has been initiated so that they can set up in alternative sites during the period of the Games, after a bidding process,” it added. “New commercial operations sites will be proposed” after the Games so “that these activities can be carried out there again,” the municipality continues, also after being “open to competition.”

“This theater is my life,” says Julien Sommer. “The only thing that matters is to come back and continue to make children dream.”

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