Where does the tradition of the fire brigade ball come from?
14 July in France is celebrated with a grand parade down the Champs-Elysées in Paris, with all the pomp and solemnity that goes with it. But in the evening, the bank holidays takes on a more popular and good-natured face. After the fireworks - spectacular in Paris, more modest elsewhere - people dance. In village squares and just about everywhere else, but also, more unexpectedly, in fire stations. Why is this? An Arte journalist explains how the traditional firemen's ball came about.
The fire brigade ball: a real popular celebration
In France, 14 July is the bank holidays, the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, the start of the French Revolution. So, on 14 July, the whole of France celebrates: a grand military parade on the Champs-Élysées, torchlight processions through the villages, fireworks and a popular ball for everyone.
And here's my advice to my German compatriots: under no circumstances should you miss the 14 July ball. Do you know who usually invites people to this ball? The fire brigade. Particularly in Paris, the fire brigade ball is an institution.Excuse me, but I have to digress here to explain to the Germans what a Parisian fireman is for a Parisian: a hero. He's handsome, he's brave, he knows how to respond immediately with unparalleled presence of mind to the most extreme situations. No, no! This has nothing to do with other firefighters. The Parisian firefighter is the absolute symbol of efficiency. And it's this legendary efficiency that they use to transform the courtyard of their fire station into a dance floor on the evening of 13 or 14 July.Now all we need is a big banner across the street in front of the fire station, and we're all set! The firefighters welcome you!
Originally, the festival was organised in the fire stations for the firefighters themselves and their families. There were games, theatre performances, gymnastic demonstrations, orchestras of course, and sometimes even the election of the firefighters' Madelon!
A firemen's ball for all: 14 July 1937
Then, on 14 July 1937, while the festivities were in full swing at the Montmartre fire station, some envious Parisians knocked on the door and the fire station let in a curious and enthusiastic crowd. It was a success! The following year, fire stations in other Paris arrondissements followed suit. Since then, the firemen's ball has become a favourite: a guinguette ball as we like it in France.
On this night, the French pretend that class differences don't exist: firemen and civilians, young and old, bourgeois and proletarian; they're happy to drink, to flirt, to mingle. I think there's a real desire for popular cohesion in this tradition: the desire of everyone to commemorate together the insurrection of the French people and the great revolutionary celebrations that followed. That night, the French acted as if class differences didn't exist: firefighters and civilians, young and old, bourgeois and proletarian. I think there's a real desire for popular cohesion in this tradition: the desire of everyone to commemorate together the insurrection of the French people and the great revolutionary celebrations that followed. Yes, there is something profoundly moving about this 14 July ball.
Granted, in recent years the sound system has tended to replace the orchestra, but the charm is preserved, I assure you. Take a look at Saint-Fargeau, Champerret, Montmartre and Sévigné, to name but a few of the best-known balls. So why can't we Germans transform our very staid, very solemn and very boring bank holidays on 3 October into a big popular ball? How about sending our firefighters to France for a little training?