After a delicious dinner at the Tour d’Argent and a memorable romp through the Quartier Latin, Norbert Bierbaum-Hillejan, Thomas Bittner and Peter de Haydu drove home at two o’clock in the morning in Norbert’s Renault 4 with an Australian diplomat, who for some reason was part of the group this evening as well.
Approaching the Étoile, Norbert circled the Arc de Triomphe once just for the fun of it, then a second time and then, going around for the third loop, he noticed that one segment of the chain around it was missing, allowing access to the space under the Arc. Since there was neither a chain nor any sign of the police, he followed his impulse and drove through this gap. Seconds later they found themselves directly under the Arc, the tomb of the unknown soldier and the eternal flame within arm’s reach. Nobody said a word, until the diplomat gasped: “For heaven’s sake, what are we doing here? We must leave this place at once!” And so they did. Back through the gap, onto the Étoile, another loop and off to Fontainebleau, arriving at three o’clock in the morning.
In many instances, INSEAD participants gradually lose their sense of time and space during their year of exhausting studies, intensive stress, dramatic encounters and tremendous challenges. So it is quite understandable that Norbert completely suppressed the fact that they had driven under the Arc de Triomphe, which is strictly forbidden under any circumstance at all times, the very night before the 30th anniversary celebrations of Armistice Day, 8 May 1975! It turns out, the chain segment had been removed to allow Président Giscard d’Estaing to approach the tomb the next morning.
If they had been caught, they would have found it difficult to explain to the judge that they were in a place beyond time and space due to the pressure they were under at INSEAD. They certainly would have been in a place beyond space in jail for at least a couple of weeks!