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Taken to Court for Fixing Clock 2007-12-20

Posted by clype in Articles of Interest, Europe, Humanities, Intolerance.
[Picture of the Untergunther gang]

It is one of Paris’s most celebrated monuments, a neoclassical masterpiece that has cast its shadow across the city for more than two centuries.

But it is unlikely that the Panthéon, or any other building in France’s capital, will have played host to a more bizarre sequence of events than those revealed in a court last week.

Four members of an underground ‘cultural guerrilla’ movement known as ‘The Untergunther’, whose purpose is to restore France’s cultural heritage, were cleared on Friday of breaking into the 18th-century monument in a plot worthy of Dan Brown or Umberto Eco.

[Picture of The Pantheon Paris]

For a year from September 2005, under the nose of the Pantheon’s unsuspecting security officials, a group of intrepid ‘illegal restorers’ set up a secret workshop and lounge in a cavity under the building’s famous dome. Under the supervision of group member Jean-Baptiste Viot, a professional clockmaker, they pieced apart and repaired the antique clock that had been left to rust in the building since the 1960s. Only when their clandestine revamp of the elaborate timepiece had been completed did they reveal themselves.

‘When we had finished the repairs, we had a big debate on whether we should let the Panthéon’s officials know or not,’ said Lazar Klausmann, a spokesman for ‘The Untergunther’.

‘We decided to tell them in the end so that they would know to wind the clock up so it would still work.

‘The Panthéon’s administrator thought it was a hoax at first, but when we showed him the clock, and then took him up to our workshop, he had to take a deep breath and sit down.’

‘The Centre of National Monuments’, embarrassed by the way the group entered the building so easily, did not take to the news kindly, taking legal action and replacing the administrator.

Getting into the building was the easiest part, according to Klausmann. The squad allowed themselves to be locked into the Pantheon one night, and then identified a side entrance near some stairs leading up to their future hiding place.

‘Opening a lock is the easiest thing for a clockmaker,’ said Klausmann.

From then on, they sneaked in day or night under the unsuspecting noses of the Pantheon’s officials.

‘I’ve been working here for years,’ said a ticket officer at the Pantheon who wished to remain anonymous.

‘I know every corner of the building — and I never noticed anything.’

The hardest part of the scheme was carrying up the planks used to make chairs and tables to furnish ‘The Untergunther’s’, cosy squat-cum-workshop, which has sweeping views over Paris.

  • The group managed to connect the hideaway to the electricity grid and install a computer connected to the net.

Klausmann and his crew are connoisseurs of the Parisian underworld. Since the 1990s they have restored crypts, staged readings and plays in monuments at night, and organised rock concerts in quarries.

  • The network was unknown to the authorities until 2004, when the police discovered an underground cinema, complete with bar and restaurant, under the Seine. They have tried to track them down ever since.

But ‘The UX’, the name of ‘The Untergunther’s‘ parent organisation, is a finely tuned organisation. It has around 150 members and is divided into separate groups, which specialise in different activities ranging from getting into buildings after dark to setting up cultural events. ‘The Untergunther’ is the restoration cell of the network.

Members know Paris intimately. Many of them were students in ‘The Latin Quarter’ in the 80s and 90s, when it was popular to have secret parties in Paris’s network of tunnels. They have now grown up and become nurses or lawyers, but still have a taste for the capital’s underworld, and they now have more than just partying on their mind.

‘We would like to be able to replace the state in the areas it is incompetent,’ said Klausmann.

‘But our means are limited and we can only do a fraction of what needs to be done. There’s so much to do in Paris that we won’t manage in our lifetime.’

‘The Untergunther’ are already busy working on another restoration mission Paris. The location is top secret, of course. But the Pantheon clock remains one of its proudest feats.

‘”The Latin Quarter” is where the concept of human rights came from, it’s the centre of everything.

‘The Pantheon clock is in the middle of it.

‘So it’s a bit like the clock at the centre of the world.’

Article 2

‘The UnterGunther’ is a Swiss-French urban explorers team whose activity is to restore the invisible parts of the heritage in total clandestinity.

In November 2005, ‘The UnterGunther’ infiltrated ‘The Pantheon of Paris’ and, with the help of their professional clockmaker Jean-Baptiste Viot, started to restore the abandoned monumental 1850 Wagner clock before its irreversible state of defacement.

Once this restoration achieved, in October 2006, ‘The UnterGunther’ decided to meet Bernard Jeannot, the administrator of the Pantheon, in order to show him this work — and to connect the clock to the bells.

After an enthusiastic welcome, Mister Jeannot suddenly changed his mind and decided to keep the silence on this clandestine restoration, frightened that this fantastic action was the proof of the incapacity of ‘The French National Heritage’ administration, Monum, to preserve the heritage it is in charge of.

On the night of the 24 December 2006, ‘The UnterGunther’ came back to ‘The Pantheon’ and fixed the bells to the clock which just rang for Christmas and a few days after — because Mister Jeannot decided that this result of a clandestine restoration of an abandoned part of the French heritage was intolerable and had to stop. Bernard Jeannot can be the administrator of the Pantheon — but he does not seem to care about heritage.

No doubt that a real guerilla was declared between his inefficient administration and ‘The UnterGunther’.

This amazing restoration is the end of an adventure began with the clandestine transformation of a neglected part of the Pantheon as a design living room with wood furniture built on-site, electricity, and a computer connected to internet called the UGWK, for ‘Unter und Gunther Winter Kneipe’, which could be translated as ‘The Unter and Gunther Winter Boozer’. A very pleasant workshop which gave also nightmares to Mister Jeannot and his so-called administration.

On the morning of Friday 2007-11-23, four members of ‘The UnterGunther’ appeared before ‘The Paris Court of Justice’, charged not of illegal intrusion and occupation of a national monument or use of false keys but for having detroyed a keeper of a lock located on one of the outside grids of the Pantheon.

This charge (qualified as “stupid” by Public Prosecutor Anne Benejean) being not provable, the indictment was the total release of ‘the UnterGunther’ members while Eric Gomez, lawyer for Monum, asked 48300 euros in compensation.
After twenty minutes of deliberation, Judge Eric Meunier confirmed the release.

Pascal Monnet, the new Administrator of the Pantheon after the retirement of the efficient Bernard Jeannot, and Ghislaine Santoni, in charge of the security of the building, left ‘the Court of Justice’ with a very sad face and ‘The UnterGunther’ went to their new clandestine workshop to have a drink.

Interviewed by French newspaper ‘Le Monde’, Monum acknowledges the quality of this restoration.

One can now wonder why the administration does not decide to wind up the clock. It is impossible to think that for all these administrators in charge of the French Heritage a monument is something stated in the time and can not be changed, and especially not be upgraded by a clandestine restoration….

Article 3

By day, Lazar Kunstmann is a typically avant-garde Parisian, an urbane, well-spoken video film editor who hangs out in the fashionable Latin Quarter. By night he inhabits a strange and secret world with its base in the tunnels beneath the French capital – the world of the urban explorers.

Mr Kunstmann belongs to ‘les UX‘, a clandestine network that is on a mission to discover and exploit the city’s neglected underworld. The urban explorers put on film shows in underground galleries, restore medieval crypts and break into monuments after dark to organise plays and readings. In the eyes of their supporters, they are the white knights of modern culture, renovating forgotten buildings and staging artistic events beyond the reach of a stifling civil service.

The authorities view them differently: as the dark side of the City of Light — irresponsible, paranoid subversives whose actions could serve as a model for terrorists. A police unit has been trained to track ‘les UX‘ through the sewers, catacombs and old quarries that are their pathways under Paris. Prosecutors have been instructed to file charges whenever feasible.

The stand-off is symbolic of French society: a rigorous bureaucracy on the surface with a bizarre subculture below.

Mr Kunstmann, a spokesman for the movement, met ‘The Times newspaper’ last week in the back room of a bar in central Paris. Beside him sat a thin, austere-looking woman who sipped a beer, gave her name only as Lanso and barely said a word throughout the interview.

From time to time, however, she whispered into Mr Kunstmann’s ear and he relayed the message.

‘We are the counterpoint to an era where everything is slow and complicated,’ he said.

‘It’s very difficult to get anything done through official channels.

‘If you want to do it, you have to be clandestine.’

Mr Kunstmann said that ‘les UX‘ had 150 or so members divided into about ten branches. One group, which is all-female, specialises in ‘infiltration’ — getting into museums after hours, finding a way through underground electric or gas networks and shutting down alarms. Another runs an internal message system and a coded, digital radio network accessible only to members.

A third group provides a database, a fourth organises subterranean shows and a fifth takes photographs of them. Mr Kunstmann refused to talk about the other groups.

He did, however, say that Lanso was the leader of a branch called ‘The Untergunther’ – the name comes from a German record whose music served as an alarm on an early mission — which specialised in restoration. This group, whose members include architects and historians, rebuilt an abandoned 100-year-old French government bunker and renovated a 12th-century crypt, he said. They claim to be motivated by a desire to preserve Paris’s heritage.

Last year ‘The Untergunther’ spent months hidden in the Panthéon, the Parisian mausoleum that holds France’s greatest citizens, where they repaired a clock that had been left to rust. Slipping in at closing time every evening — French television said that they had their own set of keys — they set up a workshop hidden behind mock wooden crates at the top of the monument. The security guards never found it. ‘The Untergunther’ used a professional clockmaker, Jean-Baptiste Viot, to mend the 150-year-old mechanism.

When the clock began working again, officials were horrified. ‘The Centre for National Monuments’ confirmed that the clock had been repaired but said that the authority had begun legal action against ‘The Untergunther’. Under official investigation for breaking and entry, its members face a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a 15000 EUR (10500 GBP) fine.

‘We could go down in legal history as the first people ever to be prosecuted for repairing a clock,’ said Mr Kunstmann. But he was unrepentant.

‘In any other country, a monument such as ‘The Pantheon’ would be maintained in a perfect state. But not in France. Here, if we hadn’t restored the clock, no one else would have bothered.”

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