Where it begins, Dunkerque

January 1, 1970

by Camille Debussche


Well yea, I’m from Dunkerque (“Dunkirk”, in English), often abbreviated DK as well. [single_map_place] Dunkerque [/single_map_place] I’ve actually been growing up in Téteghem, part of “le Dunkerquois”, made of several towns around the city centre, and having about 200,000 inhabitants.

What’s Dunkerque ?

DK’s a town in the North of France, right next to Belgium, and on the North Sea coastline. Quite close to England as well, and that’s pretty cool : we can go there by ferry from Dunkerque, or just drive through the Eurotunnel from Calais to Dover.

You may have heard of this city if you’re interested in the Second World war : mostly English and French soldiers left France from Dunkerque to flee the growing Nazi invasion, it’s the Dynamo operation. Dunkerque got badly bombed after that, and partly destructed…


What to do ?

In Dunkerque, we’ve got the port. One of the biggest in France. The city is atually kind of built around it. I guess it’s quite nice to have a walk around it, pretty big and impressive.

We’ve got the beach. And I love the beach. Most of the people from Dunkerque, called “les Dunkerquois”, do love the beach actually. We don’t have parks.

But we do have the beach, and the dunes. A long white sand beach going from the city to the Belgium’s border and even further. It’s definitely the place to be.

One of the many sunsets I've watched at the beach

One of the many sunsets I’ve watched at the beach

In Summer (from June to September), we spend our days at the beach, soaking up the sun, swimming in the sea, playing in the sand, getting some “moules-frites” (french fries with mussels, real typical meal of our beachside’s restaurants) and melting icecreams, biking, skateboarding or just walking along the dike with some friends, and then sipping beers while the sun’s setting, barefoot on the sand. And often ending up the night in one of the famous beachfront bars, relaxing and enjoying these nice summer evenings. Even some foreigners come there to spend some days and enjoy the beach.

At least, we do that when the weather’s good, meaning 20-25°C there. I’ve definitely had some great times with my friends, spending our summer holidays at this beach.

But I’m not gonna lie, Dunkerque’s not reputed for its stunning weather.

Beautiful and typical architecture of beachfront houses

Beautiful and typical architecture of beachfront houses

In Winter (December to March), temperatures can get cold, like really cold. It’s not unusual to have snow, but it’s getting less and less cold because of the global warming though… Anyway, Winter’s still Winter. Rain, wind, ice, hail, … During this season, we don’t have much to offer in DK. We do have malls to spend time indoors, called ‘Centre Marine” and “Pôle Marine”, with restaurants, cinemas, clothing and many kind of shops, but you’re quickly done with it. Quite a lot of people is still going to the beach, for some walks and bikerides. And even in Winter, the beach is where things are going on at night. We’ve got some nice bars, kind of small clubs with popular music, and we’ve also got a big venue, “le Kursaal”, often hosting local, national or international events.

We can also go to museums : the port museum of Dunkerque, quite famous, the Museum of Fine Arts, or the “LAAC” (mostly contemporary art). The “Bateau feu”, which got renovated not long ago, is producing some great plays, but if you more into alternative music, you should definitely spend an evening at “Les 4 Ecluses”, venue renowned for that in the city.

And if you still get bored, we’ve got something that should entertain you : Dunkerque’s carnival.


Huge crowd of carnavaleux waiting for the herrings/lobsters to be thrown.

Huge crowd of carnavaleux waiting for the herrings/lobsters to be thrown. (and musicians in yellow)

“Le Carnaval de Dunkerque”

THE biggest, THE longest, THE most famous event in DK. Going on from early January to late March, it’s getting us warm while Winter’s freezing. Its origin comes from a long time ago : since the XVIIth century, fishermen were celebrating their departure to Iceland. One year, this celebration and Mardi Gras were the same day, and the fusion of these 2 events created Dunkerque’s carnival.

Nowadays, it has lost its inital meaning, but it’s still more and more celebrated by people from and around the city. Some people are even only coming a few days to DK for the carnival. You must then wonder what is so special about that…

Well, first the length of it. It’s about a 3-month-long event. It means many days of party, many opportunities, and many locations as well. All the people joining the carnival are called “les carnavaleux” : they are mostly wearing a disguise, colourful wigs or hats, exaggerated/artistic makeup, and when the weather’s cold, you’ll definitely need a (faux-)fur coat, it’s a tradition.

For the carnival, we actually have 2 different kinds of event :

  • les bandes” : les carnavaleux are walking in the city streets, following the music leaded by the drum-major. Singing along some famous carnival’s rhythms. We then stop in front of the Townhall, from where herrings and lobsters are throwing out to the wild crowd. At the end of the day, we all go to the main square of the city, and walk around a podium where the musicians are playing the last songs of the “bandes”, the most famous ones. Each city of the DK region has his own “bande” and it always follows the same steps.
  • les bals” : occuring in the evenings, they are like big parties where les carnavaleux are partying on the famous carnival’s songs and also popular musics. The biggest ones are often happening at the Kursaal (the venue I have mentionned). People are all very joyful and enthusiastic, and all there to have a great time, meeting people and enjoying the spirit of the carnival all night long.


To be honest, I’m not celebrating the carnival anymore, I guess it’s not really my thing. Most of the people there are great and so happy to do it and be with their friends, but a few, especially young people, are just getting wasted without even knowing the aim of the carnival : being all together, being respectful and thankful. It kind of screws the party sometimes. But that’s my own opinion. And I would definitely recommand to anyone to try this awesome experience!


What else ?

A super duper special event will go on may/ June 2016 in Dunkerque : Christopher Nolan, very famous american film-maker, will be directing his next movie, call “Dunkirk”, in the city, with some great actors as well. It will be about the Dynamo operation of the WWII. It such an honour to welcome this kind of project in our town.

And maybe another great reason to come by Dunkirk this Spring !



Camille Debussche

By Camille Debussche

Currently in NZ. From France, and have been traveling around Europe and Oceania. Life's full of experiences, and I'm trying to experience life as much as I can...

Read more at toupouetlemonde.com

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