The Brussels Times
M A G A Z I N E No 38 February / March 2020
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Belgium is famous for its surreal artists. In the early 20th century, Brussels was a centre for the surrealist movement, and Magritte would meet with other like-minded artists, poets and writers at their favourite downtown pub, La Fleur en Papier Doré, enthusiastically discussing the differences and similarities between fiction and reality. Today, Belgium’s association with surrealism often takes a more political turn. For example, almost a year has passed since the country held national elections last May, and still there is no new federal government in power. It reminds us of the 589 days record set between 2010 and 2011. In the meantime, Belgium is ruled by a caretaker government, also known as a “government of ongoing affairs”. It cannot launch new political initiatives, but the country continues to function very much because of the decentralisation of tasks to regional and local levels. It is indeed hard to understand the impasse. Belgium’s system is based on parliament seats being distributed in proportion to votes – the first country to implement the list-proportional system at the end of the 19th century – as opposed to the “winner takes it all” system, still used in countries such as the UK or the United States, where only the party with the most votes in a constituency can turn votes into seats. Although much can be wished for when it comes to the logic of Belgian decision-making, there are pros and cons associated with both systems. The Anglo-Saxon electoral system comes at the expense of a distorted government, and risks leading to strategic voting when voters opt for their second choice, if the party which they like the most has no chance of winning. Arguably the Brexit referendum in the UK, for example, would never have been triggered in the first place under proportional representation. In this issue, Belgian philosopher Philippe Van Parijs takes a look at Belgium’s surreal political system, and explores benefits and drawbacks of alternatives. Economist Philippe Legrain looks at how advancements in artificial intelligence may provide a unique opportunity for Europe to boost its productivity and economic growth. Gabriela Galindo takes a look at the struggles and aspirations of Belgium’s youth fighting for climate action. And we look back in time with a number of exciting historical pieces. We hope you will enjoy these and the many other stories in this issue. The Editorial Team The Brussels Times Magazine
GLOCAL AFFAIRS How Artificial Intelligence could transform the European economic and political landscape Five questions to philospher Philippe Van Parijs on the best electoral system
Grit and mettle: Belgium’s climate generation
Edging towards completion: One of Europe’s biggest pedestrianisation schemes of its kind
Insects as food: Belgium takes a bite
POLIAESTHETICA Reviews: Art shows in Brussels and beyond
About coal, treehouses and global warming: Tales from a disappearing forest
PHILOSOPHY, CULTURE AND HISTORY The untold stories of Belgium ’s female resistance during World War I
Seaside healing: The Belgian town that almost saved Marvin Gaye
A Forgotten History: King Leopold II’s Chinese ghosts
The state of languages in Belgium: The need to improve our skills and expectations
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LIFESTYLE Rediscovering the forgotten and unknown Belgium
Molenbeek: it’s just a place
The Belgian Gourmet Corner
Derek Blyth’s Hidden Secrets of Brussels
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Brussels’ central square, the Grand Place, was lit up with the union colours as the city paid tribute to the UK on the eve of Brexit. After over three and half years of political turmoil and two UK snap elections since the referendum, Brexit was finally implemented on 31 January 2020. Britain is now the first nation to have left the European Union. Brussels-based Brits - joined by fellow Europeans - marked the occasion by nostalgically celebrating typical Britishness, but were reassured by Brussels Mayor Philippe Close who declared that “whatever happens, the thousands of Brits who live in Brussels remain Brussels residents.”
Philippe Legrain is a political economist and writer. From 2011 to 2014, he was the economic adviser to European Commission President José Manuel Barroso.
CHALLENGES, OPPORTUNITIES AND ETHICAL DILEMMAS HOW ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE COULD TRANSFORM THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL LANDSCAPE
re superhuman computers set to steal our jobs, take over the world and perhaps even kill off humanity? Such fears are commonplace in contemporary culture. Witness how dystopias about super-powerful rogue forms of artificial intelligence (AI), such as Person of Interest, Black Mirror and Ex Machina, have proliferated in recent years. But while scary
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science fiction may be entertaining, the reality of AI is rather more prosaic – and positive. For good or ill, AI isn’t going to be running the world any time soon. But it could provide huge possibilities for progress, such as new life-saving medicines, time-freeing self-driving cars, and smart energy-saving homes. By automating routine tasks
“For good or ill, AI isn’t going to be running the world any time soon. But it could provide huge possibilities for progress, such as new life-saving medicines, timefreeing self-driving cars and smart energy-saving homes.” such as checking contracts and monitoring stocks, it could take much of the drudgery out of office work, making many people much more productive. It could also help businesses and public administrations – notably the EU institutions – become more competent, cut costs and communicate better. For sure, progress can also cause problems. Like previous new technologies, such as smartphones, AI will disrupt established ways of doing things, displace some jobs and pose ethical dilemmas. But it would be a mistake to deny Europe the opportunities of AI by focusing solely on its potential downsides; far better to try to seize the benefits of innovation while managing its costs and risks. The EU ought to embrace AI, while helping people to adjust and addressing ethical issues through appropriate regulation. Ursula von der Leyen, the new European Commission President, who took office on 1 December, has promised legislation on the latter within her first 100 days.
The benefits of Artificial Intelligence AI is shorthand for digital technologies that enable computers to mimic human cognitive functions, such as “read” text and numbers, “see” and “recognise” people and objects, “hear” and “understand” sounds and speech and reply. It’s what powers virtual assistants such as Apple’s Siri, smart speakers such as Amazon’s Alexa and the facial-recognition software at automated passport gates. Thanks to AI, computers can perform tasks that previously only human brains could do, such as “learn”, spot patterns, solve problems and make predictions. As ever more data is collected, the computer power to process it multiplies and algorithms to interpret it improve. AI is increasingly able to learn from its mistakes and better its performance, enabling it to match and in some cases surpass human capabilities. In 1997, IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer beat the reigning world champion at chess; twenty years later, Deep Mind’s AlphaGo bested the world
number one at the Japanese game of Go, not by copying successful human strategies, but by devising its own better ones. In many cases, though, AI helps to augment human skills: while it is now able to spot tumours that doctors miss, the most effective cancer diagnosis combines computer power and human expertise. More broadly, AI can be part of the solution to Europe’s biggest economic challenge: its sluggish productivity growth. The value of what workers in the EU produce each hour increased by only 8.7% between 2010 and mid-2019. That meagre longterm labour productivity growth of less than 1% a year determines the rate at which wages and living standards can rise, the scope for social spending and government investment in education, research and infrastructure, and ultimately the ability to sustain the societies and way of life that Europeans cherish. Europe’s poor productivity performance also shapes the political context at both national and EU levels. When wages and social spending stagnate, discontent rises and distributional divides sharpen, both within and between EU countries. Populist politicians may also successfully direct Europeans’ disenchantment at the EU. And when the EU economy underperforms, its weight in the world ebbs and with it the influence to shape
“AI can be part of the solution to Europe’s biggest economic challenge: its sluggish productivity growth. The value of what workers in the EU produce each hour increased by only 8.7% between 2010 and mid-2019. That meagre long-term labour productivity growth of less than 1% a year determines the rate at which wages and living standards can rise, the scope for social spending and government investment in education, research and infrastructure, and ultimately the ability to sustain the societies and way of life that Europeans cherish.” THE BRUSSELS TIMES MAGAZINE
With continued advancement in artificial intelligence, policy makers are increasingly facing difficult ethical and philosophical questions on how to manage the risks and opportunities that come with it.
global issues that Europeans care about, from climate change to trade and development. Thus the stakes could scarcely be higher.
Economic and political impact
Whatever the correct figure, the automation of some jobs need not lead to job losses overall; new and better jobs will also be created, as happened with previous technological advances, such as the internet.
Like previous technological advances, AI could boost Europe’s poor productivity performance – and even enable the EU to become a technological leader. Between 1990 and 2016, the diffusion of digital technologies contributed 0.4-0.6% a year to economic growth – around a third of the total – in nine European countries that consultants at McKinsey dub “digital front-runners”. Better still, AI has the potential to boost their growth by 1.2% a year until 2030.
The positive economic and political impact of AI could be transformational for Europe and its citizens. The challenge for EU policymakers is how to maximise its opportunities, while minimising and managing its costs and risks. The biggest concerns are about employment and ethics.
“Europe’s poor productivity shapes the political context at both national and EU levels. When wages and social spending stagnate, discontent rises and distributional divides sharpen, both within and between EU countries. Populist politicians may also successfully direct Europeans’ disenchantment at the EU.”
Even though employment is at record highs in Germany and some other EU countries, and unemployment continues to fall in most others, many people fear that AI will ultimately cause mass joblessness. One study reckoned that nearly half of American jobs were at high risk of automation by the mid2030s. But more comprehensive analyses suggest that far fewer jobs are at risk. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates that only 9% of jobs in 21 OECD countries are automatable.
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In practice, jobs tend to consist of a number of tasks, some of which may be readily automatable, and others not. Autonomous vehicles, for instance, may indeed do away with the need for many human drivers – although aeroplanes capable of flying on autopilot still have human pilots just in case.
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In many cases, though, AI will complement human labour. For instance, AI may make it easier and faster for lawyers to sift through all the evidence in complex trials, making the justice system fairer and less costly. At the same time, AI will help create new products and services, and hence new jobs for those who provide them. The explosive growth of social media has created new jobs for digital marketers and content moderators, for instance. Some now even earn a living playing computer games as a spectator sport. The higher productivity – and thus the higher incomes – that AI generates will also increase demand for services that are not readily automatable, such as nursing, personal trainers, creative professionals and consultants. Personal care and business professionals are two of the categories of fastest employment growth.
“The positive economic and political impact of AI could be transformational for Europe and its citizens. The challenge for EU policymakers is how to maximise its opportunities, while minimising and managing its costs and risks. The biggest concerns are about employment and ethics.”
In short, some jobs will disappear; others will change; and new ones will appear. Overall, the total number of jobs in the economy is unlikely to change. The bigger risk to employment would be not deploying AI widely; this could make many businesses in Europe globally uncompetitive. Clearly, the transformation of the labour market and business organisation entails adjustment costs; replacing old ways of doing things with new and better ones always does. Often, these will be borne by businesses themselves. But governments also need to step in. They need to modernise education, upgrade skills and invest in life-long learning. They should also provide financial support for workers in transition, invest in supportive infrastructure such as 5G telecoms networks and regenerate depressed areas. While this is mostly
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“Some jobs will disappear; others will change; and new ones will appear. Overall, the total number of jobs in the economy is unlikely to change. The bigger risk to employment would be not deploying AI widely; this could make many businesses in Europe globally uncompetitive.” a task for national governments, at EU level this requires a shift of priorities from subsidising inefficient sectors to investing in the future. Thorny ethical issues also need to be addressed. If an accident is imminent, whose safety should a self-driving car prioritise? If an AI-powered system rejects an application for a bank loan, how do we ensure that it is not discriminating unfairly? How can we make positive use of facial-recognition software for verifying and safeguarding people’s identity, while preventing its abuse by governments or businesses? In addition to ethical considerations, the EU needs to consider how to manage other crucial issues such as security and privacy. One way for EU policymakers to become better regulators would be to learn by doing. The EU institutions have huge potential to deploy AI to become more capable, competent, cost-effective and closer to citizens, as “Ever Cleverer Union”, a new report that I co-authored for Open Political Economy Network (OPEN), an international think tank, explains. Making use of AI in their own work would also give EU policymakers and officials first-hand experience of its potential and pitfalls. That would help them strike the right balance between seizing the huge opportunities of AI for European citizens, businesses and public administrations and addressing any ethical, security and privacy concerns that are not properly addressed by existing regulations. The EU faces a new world of geopolitical rivalry between the United States and China in which technology is a key battleground, and Europe is often a laggard. If Europeans want to shape their own destiny, they cannot afford to fall further behind. With appropriate government policies and sensible regulation, AI provides opportunities to make Europeans richer, freer, safer and better governed. The EU should seize them.
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Philippe Van Parijs is a philosopher and a Brusseler. He teaches at the Universities of Louvain and Leuven, and is a Robert Schuman Fellow at the European University Institute in Florence.
FIVE QUESTIONS TO PHILOSOPHER PHILIPPE VAN PARIJS ON THE BEST ELECTORAL SYSTEM
elgium’s federal elections were held on 26 May 2019. They have been followed by months of laborious negotiations with ten parties involved. In the United Kingdom, by contrast, the national elections were held on 12 December, and the government could start working straight away, with the party in power taking well over half the seats in the House of Commons. Is this not
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blatant proof of the superiority of the UK’s “first-past-the-post” electoral system — more technically, plurality with single-member constituencies — over Belgium’s proportional representation, with party lists competing in multi-member constituencies? It is certainly a good illustration of one significant advantage of a “winner takes all” system,
whereby only the party with the most votes in a constituency can turn votes into seats. Compared with systems in which seats are distributed in proportion to votes, any such system is strongly biased in favour of large parties or strongly concentrated ones. Consequently, barring a proliferation of regional parties, it facilitates the formation of governments: there are just two or three main parties and there is a good chance that one of them gets an absolute majority of the seats. You said that this is a significant advantage. Do you regard it as decisive? No. The most obvious downside is an unfair allocation of seats. Consider the results of last December’s election. With nearly 12% of the votes, the Liberal Democrats got less than 2% of the seats. And while the Scottish National Party, with less than 4% of the votes, got forty-eight seats, the Green Party, with nearly 3%, got just one, and the Brexit Party, with 2%, none at all.
“If the party you like the most has no chance of having its candidate elected in your constituency, either you don’t bother to vote or you vote for the electable candidate you dislike least.” The problem of misrepresentation is even more serious than these figures suggest because of the role played by strategic voting: if the party you like the most has no chance of having its candidate elected in your constituency, either you don’t bother to vote or you vote for the electable candidate you dislike the least. What emerges is the following big picture. With a total population of over 66 million, the UK has a registered electorate of nearly 48 million. The Conservative Party got less than 14 million votes, including a sizable number of strategic ones of the sort I mentioned. Yet this was enough to give the party a comfortable parliamentary majority of 56%. This is not exactly a parliament that can claim to constitute a fair reflection of the country’s diversity of voices. The ease of government formation is bought at the expense of a distorted representation that supporters of smaller or more dispersed parties can be forgiven for regarding as grossly unfair.
“In December 1899, after two decennia of lobbying, arguing and even fighting, list-proportional representation was introduced in Belgium. It later spread to a majority of democracies in the world, though not to France, nor to India and the United States, which imported the British system and are still stuck with it.” Does this provide a sufficient reason for rejecting “first-past-the-post” as an electoral system for assemblies? It proved sufficient in Belgium, the first country to abandon “first-past-the-post” in favour of proportionality at the end of the 19th century. Until then, Belgian politics had been essentially bipartisan, with a catholic party and a liberal party competing for power. At some elections, however, a tiny majority of votes enabled one party to pocket an overwhelming majority of seats. Moreover, with industrialization and the extension of suffrage, the socialist party was quickly gaining ground. If the electoral rules were not modified, it was expected that urban areas would only elect socialist candidates and rural areas only catholic candidates, with the liberal party squeezed out of the parliament, despite the wide support it enjoyed, especially among the more educated, throughout the country. A reformist association for the adoption of proportional representation was set up in 1881 under the intellectual leadership of Victor D’Hondt, a law professor at the University of Ghent, whose name is still attached to a method for allocating seats under proportional representation used in several countries. In December 1899, after two decennia of lobbying, arguing and even fighting, list-proportional representation was introduced in Belgium. It later spread to a majority of democracies in the world, though not to France, nor to India and the United States, which imported the British system and are still stuck with it. Can it then be said that the choice of an electoral system faces a fundamental dilemma between, on the one hand, ensuring that a
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With over eight months passed since national elections took place in Belgium on 26 May 2019, the country has still not been able to form a new government.
“In Belgium, the splitting of all national political parties along the linguistic lines in the 1970s makes the achievement of compromises particularly arduous. If parties compete for separate electorates, they have incentives to make promises at the expense of the part of the country in which they can neither win nor lose votes.” government enjoying a parliamentary majority can be quickly formed after each election and, on the other, ensuring that the parliament represents fairly the various political forces in the country? I think this captures the core of the trade-off. But many more arguments have been used. For example, in a book published in 1861, the great British philosopher John Stuart Mill articulated a whole array of arguments against a system
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that forced British voters to choose “merely from the assortment of two or three perhaps rotten oranges, which may be the only choice offered to them in their local market,” instead of being able to vote for candidates whose opinions are close to theirs whether or not they live in their town. Mill was confident that the UK would give up such a silly system and move to proportional representation — albeit closer to Ireland’s current “single transferable vote” system than to the more familiar “list-proportional” formula. He refused to believe that the British people “deserved to be stigmatized as being insurmountably prejudiced against anything that can be proved to be good either for themselves or for others”. Yet, one and a half centuries later, despite innumerable attempts to abolish it, including through a referendum, “first-past-the-post” is still in place — and this makes a big difference. Does anyone believe that the Brexit referendum would have been triggered under proportional representation? Whatever virtues Mill and yourself may see in proportional representation, should one not admit, when observing Belgium’s impasse, that it has a serious problem?
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Rudy Demotte from the Walloon Socialist Party, and Geert Bourgeois from the right-wing Flemish N-VA at a meeting with Belgium’s King Philippe discussing government formation.
“There may be historical circumstances in which the advantages of quick government formation weigh more, but overall I keep believing that it is better to have a greater variety of voices represented in a country’s deliberative assembly and also that it is better to have governments supported by a majority of the voters, even if that often means painful compromises that need some time to work out.” There may be historical circumstances in which the advantages of quick government formation weigh more, but overall I keep believing that it is better to have a greater variety of voices represented in a country’s deliberative assembly and also that it is better to have governments supported by a majority of the voters, even if that often means painful compromises that need some time to work out.
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In Belgium, however, the splitting of all national political parties along the linguistic lines in the 1970s makes the achievement of compromises particularly arduous. If parties compete for separate electorates, they have incentives to make promises at the expense of the part of the country in which they can neither win nor lose votes. This is a pathological situation that needs mending as much as possible. Moving in the direction of “first-past-the-post” would make things even worse. What would alleviate the problem is the creation – in addition to the eleven provincial constituencies – of a country-wide or “federal” constituency. This was proposed fifteen years ago by the Pavia Group of academics (www.paviagroup.be) and is analogous to the creation of a transnational constituency now proposed by many for the European elections. Even if only 10% of the seats are allocated to this federal constituency, the dynamics of Belgium’s federal politics will be profoundly affected. If well designed, the leaders of all parties will want to stand as candidates in this constituency and thereby become accountable, not just to their own province or community but to the whole of the country they want to govern. This will not make government formation as straightforward as under a system that tends to give an absolute majority to one party, but it will diminish an unnecessary source of delay and deadlock.
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BRINGING EXCELLENCE IN INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION TO THE NEXT LEVEL
“The IB’s MYP has been developed for and by international schools, and it is very important to us that the curriculum we adopted was in line with our vision to develop students into global citizens,” Mrs Hertay said. But the school’s passion for going above and beyond by building on a high-quality curriculum is what sets BEPS apart as a leading education provider in Brussels. BEPS’ smaller classes enable teachers to get to know their students’ personalities, interests and skill sets; they foster agency in learning, encouraging them to think critically on subjects ranging from technology and digital innovation to historical and cultural events. “Our family-size is very important to us, we believe that we really know all of our students,” Mrs Hertay said. “Our teachers become mentors and our students become explorers. Teachers have the opportunity to get to know students not only in their classes but also in their wider schooling context.”
s one of the first international schools in Brussels, BEPS has nearly 50 years of experience in providing children from all corners of the world with the tools necessary to rise to their full potential. Under the leadership of Director Pascale Hertay, the family-sized school taps into the potential of students with rich international backgrounds, working with a unique study program which sees students engage in a wide range of lessons in at least two languages, all in an ideal learning environment. Building on a long-held commitment to providing holistic education to students, the school is now entering a new chapter with a developing Secondary School, which applies the world-renowned International Baccalaureate® (IB) Middle Years Programme (MYP) as its educational platform.
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“We believe that a major difference lies in the way you apply the curriculum. In our approach, our attention is really focused on offering meaningful and authentic learning to students. We give great importance to making sure students understand what they are learning and why, and that they can link it and apply it to the outside world, which they will eventually integrate.” In order to really bring learning out of the classroom and instil in students a sense of readiness to tackle the challenges of the increasingly fastpaced working environments, the school relies on a trifecta of practical and conceptual learning tools to boost student’s holistic development. At BEPS, secondary students are encouraged to engage in reflective learning and to develop ten personal attributes through the learner profile which will ensure they engage in active learning and grow into successful young adults. Further, through their Meet The Professional scheme, BEPS gives students a tangible experience, grounded in the school’s understanding of the importance of providing students with the
opportunity to see how the knowledge and skills they are learning about in the classroom are put in practice in real-life professional projects. “Through a series of meetings or workshops, we give students the opportunity to meet with real professionals in different areas,” Hertay said. By giving them a “panel of experiences and a panel of professionals to engage with,” the school was helping students identify and carve a path towards their own interests. Students enrolled in this academic year have already had the opportunity to meet with a contemporary artist as well as with business leaders. The former walked them through the exhibition — explaining the entire artistic process from conceptualisation to execution, also exploring how he has overcome failure and frustration—while the latter engaged students in the process of developing a new, real-life business product, Mrs Hertay said. “By both hearing about and experiencing how some project developments are straightforward while others present difficulties, they saw that everything we go through in school —resilience, collaboration, inquiry— is applicable in real-life professional settings,” she said.
“We believe in making students take ownership of their learning. We want to go beyond a vertical, student-to-teacher approach to learning and really facilitate a mentoring relationship with their teacher, who will help students get to a point where they can self-asses their progress and learn to be proactive and resourceful.”
Upcoming meetings will see the students engage with professionals in the Artificial Intelligence and data security sectors, in supply chain and production, or in sustainable and bio economies sector.
Teachers become mentors and students become explorers Students at BEPS are further encouraged to develop a personal project, in which they can rely on the expertise and insight of their teachers, one of whom they choose as a mentor throughout the academic year. “We believe in making students take ownership of their learning. We want to go beyond a vertical, student-to-teacher approach to learning and really facilitate a mentoring relationship with their teacher, who will help students get to a point where they can self-asses their progress and learn to be proactive and resourceful.” “We want students to feel encouraged to choose areas that interest or intrigue them,” Mrs Hertay said, explaining how current students had chosen to engage in projects in areas ranging from coding and textile design to cooking and photography. The school’s unique approach is already paying off, with Mrs Hertay speaking of small successes in the form of parent feedback as well as from compliments given to students from the professionals they meet. “Parents tell us that they can really see how their children learn to love learning, how they are gaining confidence and we see it materialise when, in our Meet the Professional Schemes, our students are described as mature and articulate.” “We believe that each of them will make a difference in whichever path they choose, and our biggest success as a school will be to form passionate and thriving young adults.”
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GRIT AND METTLE BELGIUM’S CLIMATE GENERATION By Gabriela Galindo
n between lectures and end-of-term exams, 18-year-old Jada Kennedy squeezed in a meeting with world leaders at the United Nations COP25 climate summit in Madrid.
she came to follow discussions on nations’ strategies to meet the 2015 Paris Agreement goal of capping average global warming at 1.5°C above preindustrial levels.
As one of the six delegates of Belgium’s Youth for Climate (YFC) group of student activists,
In a 2018 report, world-leading scientists of the UN’s IPCC panel said that an average global
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“Meagre policymaking and implementation, especially from nations pumping out the largest amounts of greenhouse gases, saw a number of reports released ahead of last year’s COP note that the window to reach the 1.5°C goal is rapidly closing — if not entirely out of reach by now.” temperature hike of a degree and a half was the most achievable, best-case scenario of warming the world could hope for, provided that immediate and drastic action was taken. But meagre policymaking and implementation, especially from nations pumping out the largest amounts of greenhouse gases, has since seen a number of reports released ahead of last year’s COP note that the window to reach that 1.5°C goal was rapidly closing — if not entirely out of reach by now. A yearly 2019 UN report said the world was currently on track for 3.2°C warming and that collective ambition should increase “more than fivefold” to deliver the emissions cuts needed for the Paris agreements goals. Recalling the conference from her small student bedroom in Leuven, Kennedy did not beat around the bush: the results of the climate talks had been, yet again, disappointing. “The outcome was not ambitious at all,” Kennedy said, referring to leaders’ decision to wrap up the longest UN climate summit on record by agreeing to disagree, pushing negotiations on the final sticking points of the Paris accords over to this year’s summit in Glasgow. While some climate experts and leaders noted that postponing the negotiations on the final rules for implementation was better than agreeing to a watered-down deal, many among them echoed the Flemish student’s disappointment. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said leaders had let an “important opportunity” to “tackle the climate crisis” slip through their fin�gers. Laurence Tubiana, a French economist and one of the main architects of the Paris Agreements,
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said the result was “a far cry from what science tells us is needed,” while Greenpeace’s International director, Jennifer Morgan, said the summit was evidence of the ever-widening chasm between “the halls of power” and the calls of citizens out on the streets. “It’s always been a question of postponing with the climate crisis, but we will come to a point where there will be no postponing left — and it will have a major effect on people,” said Kennedy. Sweden’s Greta Thunberg is in all probability the most globally-known face of the youth movement for climate, but its capacity to boost the climate issue to the top of political agendas has been fuelled by a host of mostly anonymous students and schoolchildren the world over. In Belgium, thousands have responded to Thunberg’s timely, if inadvertent rallying cry.
“It’s always been a question of postponing with the climate crisis, but we will come to a point where there will be no postponing left — and it will have a major effect on people.” United by an unrelenting determination to act in the face of nations’ reticence to fight the unbridled global warming, which scientists have been warning about since the late 1970s, they have readily swapped their academic routines, after-school hobbies and weekend activities for hands-on political activism. For many of them, activism is a no-brainer reaction, resulting from their acute concern over the future that’s being handed to them, for which they are ready to make life-altering changes — a reaction which sharply contrasts with that of the politicians their actions seek to denounce. “I was thinking about becoming a personal trainer, but now, after the COP, I think I should study social sciences, so I can get into the political system — and start changing it,” she said. Several young Belgians have set their eyes on the political apparatus, with many, like Kennedy, aiming to integrate the political system with the ambition of carving out change directly through inside clout.
Jada Kennedy at a climate protest. Credit: Kristof Vadino
“I was thinking about becoming a personal trainer but now, after the COP, I think I should study social sciences, so I can get into the political system — and start changing it.” Others have taken a dramatically opposite approach. Fed up with political inertia, they see yanking out the machinery’s cables as the only viable and — perhaps most importantly — the most immediately effective way forward.
Jada — Youth for Climate The school strikes in Belgium were launched by the YFC group, led by Antwerp-based high school students Anuna De Wever and Kyra Gantois, as well as Wallonia’s Adelaïde Charlier. For Jada Kennedy, it was the addition of “a lot of realisations” compounded by “hours of self-schooling” that led her to fully embrace climate activism. “When I was around 12, I remember my teacher
speaking about global warming. I started worrying, but I kept my thoughts to myself, because if no one was saying or doing anything, why should I?” “Then, I started schooling myself: speaking to people and reading scientific reports, like the IPCC’s,” she said. “I started getting more and more involved until I decided that I needed to act.” So she cut meat from her diet, a choice she made to “remain coherent” with her own convictions. “My mom thought it was a phase, but I’m still going strong,” she said. Then came the school strikes. Cutting school every Thursday, she was one of the tens of thousands of students who poured into the streets in increasingly large numbers. The pressure from the strikes eventually led to the resignation of the Flemish environment minister, who falsely said state intelligence had told her the strikes were a plot “set up” by environmental groups. The minister’s “lies” were denounced by De Wever as “an insult to young people” and underscored a “climate taboo”, which Kennedy said undermines effective policymaking in the region.
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In November 2019, Jada Kennedy, together with around 40 youth activists, played dead on the floor of the European Parliament. The protest was aimed at telling MEPs they were “stepping all over” young people’s future. Credit: Youth for Climate Facebook.
“Sweden’s Greta Thunberg is in all probability the most globallyknown face of the youth movement for climate, but its capacity to boost the climate issue to the top of political agendas has been fuelled by a host of mostly anonymous students and schoolchildren the world over.” At Kennedy’s first strike on 24 January 2019, the third one organised by YFC, official police fig�ures put the count of demonstrators at 35,000. “At the strike, the hairs on my arms stood up — I had goosebumps from seeing such a diverse group of people fighting for one goal; every time I’m on a march, I get an amazing feeling from
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seeing people come together for the climate,” she said. She eventually set up a small local YFC group in Turnhout and took on a leading role organising the community around the weekly school walkouts. Despite a busy university schedule, she kept up her activism throughout her first year in Leuven. “It does take up some time, but I manage somehow,” she said. “I have class, and then I have to study and reach my assignment deadlines, train for my sports and attend YFC meetings… so my hands are full.” Kennedy’s summer agenda ahead of her first year in university was brimming with activities relating to her activism. She attended dozens of YFC meetings, gave speeches at a summer festival, and she also joined other young activists from across Europe at a small summer camp in Daun, Germany. “It was in a very beautiful place but it was also an emotional rollercoaster,” Kennedy said. “We
“It’s my future, I’m going to have to live in it — we are all going to have to live in it, and we need to keep fighting because there is no way around it. We have to do it, if we don’t do it, nobody will.” talked about climate justice, climate breakdown, intersectionality, gender… lots of things.” Activists from Germany, Belgium, the UK, Sweden and Denmark were among the camp’s 40 or so participants, during which Kennedy said mental health was a central talking point as they explored the intertwined threats of global climate change. “Many of us cried or had to leave the room because it was too much to handle,” Kennedy said. “Because it’s not only about the climate in itself — the climate is linked with everything and with everyone.” “My sports help, but I think about the climate constantly, all of the time, really,” Kennedy said, noting how the two weeks spent in Madrid had added to the anxiety. “I have a lot of friends in the movement who are anxious as well, but that’s also why we are fighting.” “It’s exhausting sometimes,” she admitted. “But the strikes power me up, every time I see people in the strikes come together, it gives me hope and lots of energy to continue fighting for our future.” As the group began targeting politicians beyond the national arena, Kennedy was among several protesters to take part in a die-in in the European Parliament (EP) in November 2019. The protest was aimed at telling MEPs they were “stepping all over” young people’s future. She was also one part of a staged demonstration in front of the Berlaymont in which activists asked EU Commissioners to come down to meet them and hear their demands. “Frans Timmermans was among the few who came down,” Kennedy said, adding that he had said “some hopeful things,” which nevertheless lost their shine when he repeated the same statements during their EP die-in. “Timmermans used the same words, A-Z… it’s like he practised,” she said, adding: “I appre-
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ciate what he said, but that moment made me remember that it’s still politics, and it will always be politics, even if he said very nice and noble words.” Acknowledging that such setbacks and realisations were disappointing and frustrating to her, Kennedy said they also motivated her to “scream louder and fight harder.” “Moments like these, or like the outcome of the COP, they disappoint very much, but they don’t really give me a hopeless feeling… if I was hopeless, I wouldn’t be so engaged in activism right now,” she said. “It’s my future, I’m going to have to live in it — we are all going to have to live in it, and we need to keep fighting because there is no way around it,” she said. “We have to do it, if we don’t do it, nobody will.”
Timothée, Bo, Lina, Nicolas — Extinction Rebellion At the other end of the youth climate movement’s spectrum, a group of 14-year-olds believe that leaving politics behind and bringing our societies to a screeching halt is the one and only best way forward. “We will never make it with politics,” said Timothée, a climate activist from Méry, a small municipality near Liège, as he walked through Brussels trailing a small, wheeled suitcase behind him and carrying a bulky briefcase containing a button press. That Saturday in mid-December, he rode an early train into the city to recover the press, which would serve to make dozens of buttons for what would soon become Extinction Rebellion (XR) Belgium’s first youth action group. The youngest of six siblings, Timothée is part of a small group of middle-schoolers who have been on the front lines of XR’s actions in Belgium since the summer of 2019, brought together by their deep concerns about the impacts that inaction on climate change will have on their future. Timothée said he first learned about the climate and environmental crises at “quite a late stage” — when he was around ten. When the school strikes and climate protests in Brussels started, he attended marches with friends and some members of his family, but said he soon failed to see their effectiveness on
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Bo and Lina at the Extinction Rebellion protest in Place Royal, in October 2019. Credit: Charlotte Walrave / Extinction Rebellion Belgium Facebook
“The Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI), a yearly ranking of nations’ efforts to combat climate change, downscaled Belgium to the 34th spot in its 2020 report — ranking the country among the index’s lowest performers for the first time, below China, Mexico, Thailand, and Spain.” the meandering ways of politicians. “At my last strike, I felt pretty desperate. I think the school protests are not at all adapted to the magnitude of what’s happening,” he said, adding that the weekly marches had taken their toll on others, too. “Everyone is exhausted, there are fewer people coming than at the start but, at the same time, the ranks of movements like XR or Greenpeace
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are growing, which shows that people are not losing interest in climate,” he said, advancing that the marches had perhaps gone as far as they could go. After discovering XR, Timothée said he rapidly identified with its disruptive and visually striking protests and its trademark use of non-violent civil disobedience to force about social change. “When I first heard about the climate crisis, my first thought was to speak with members of the local green party — whom my parents knew — because at that time I really didn’t understand why politicians were not taking action,” he said, adding: “And I still don’t.” Timothée is one of hundreds of people, across age cohorts that have flocked to join XR’s ranks since it arrived in Belgium in late 2018. Over a dozen local groups have popped up in cities across the country: from Antwerp and Leuven to Liège and Namur. It was through XR that Timothée met Bo, Lina and Nicolas. Aged between 12 and 14 and coming from around Brussels, Liège and Ghent, the group have been hard at work since the summer, laying the groundwork for the Belgian youth branch of XR, for which they want to massively recruit for in 2020.
Climate rally in Brussels’ Place Royale in October 2019. Hundreds of Extinction Rebellion members and supporters occupied the square, eventually leading to clashes with police, who used tear gas and water cannons to clear the square. Credit: Kristof Vadino / Extinction Rebellion Belgium Facebook
“When I was around 12, I remember my teacher speaking about global warming. I started worrying, but I kept my thoughts to myself, because if no one was saying or doing anything, why should I.” “We want a part in the process because it’s about our future,” Lina said. “We are fighting for a world that we want to live in.” Sitting in a circle on the floor, the group of French and Dutch-speakers exchanged ideas, voiced concerns and proposed strategies, in an hours-long meeting, held in fluent English and which was also attended by two XR Belgium coordinators in their late 20s. They stepped in to clarify points about the core principles of XR to the group of teens but, mostly, listened to them as they discussed their recruiting strategies, reminding each other to communicate using encrypted messaging apps
to avoid police surveillance. All four of them took part in a demonstration in Brussels’ Place Royale in October, when hundreds of XR members and supporters occupied the square, blocking public transport circulation in a protest, which led to violent clashes with police, who used tear gas and water cannons to clear the square. Throughout the meeting, the small group of teens alternatively engaged in youthful play, exchanging jokes as they created buttons and other wearables, at the same time as they exchanged cogent arguments about the benefits of permaculture or shut down notions like climate neutrality, a flagship goal of the new EU executive, referring to it as a political tool which would fail to bring about a real solution. “Not all emissions come from fossil fuels, that’s the scary part,” Bo said, adding that, through XR, the teen group’s ultimate target was the dismantlement of “our generalised system of over-production and consumption.” “Politicians and the media have somehow turned the focus on people and on their personal choices and habits — but the bottom line is that represents nothing,” Timothée said, adding that while he and his family had the means to
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Bo and Lina at Grand Place Extinction Rebellion protest. Credit: François Dvorak / Extinction Rebellion Belgium Facebook
choose alternative to plastics and to consume locally, not everyone could afford it. “It’s definitely something, but it’s far from being the solution and it’s important that people do not see it as the solution,” he added.
Different roads to a point of no-return The Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI), a yearly ranking of nations’ efforts to combat climate change, downscaled Belgium to the 34th spot in its 2020 report — ranking the country among the index’s lowest performers for the first time, below China, Mexico, Thailand and Spain. Belgium’s low score this year was due to a high level of greenhouse gas emissions per capita, which make up 40% of a country’s score. “You can have good policy, good targets, but if the implementation part is weak, there will be no success in cutting emissions,” Jan Burck, a senior energy advisor at non-profit Germanwatch and project leader for the CCPI, said in a phone interview. Additionally, a poor score on Belgium’s national
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“Everyone is exhausted, there are fewer people coming than at the start but, at the same time, the ranks of movements like XR or Greenpeace are growing, which shows that people are not losing interest in climate.” climate policy was also a central element in its downgrading in the yearly ranking, Burck said, explaining that the index is built according to information provided by experts and organisations it partners with in Belgium. “The experts say that Wallonia, at the moment, has been more proactive compared to Flanders in some respects, but we don’t distinguish between the regions in the overall results,” Burck said. A national climate action plan which Belgium was meant to submit to the EU before the end of 2019 was “merely a sum of regional plans,” Koen Stuyck, spokesperson with WWF Belgium said in an email statement.
Timothée, Bo, Lina and Nicolas at an Extinction Rebellion youth movement meeting, exchanging ideas and strategies. Credit: Gabriela Galindo
“There was no meaningful integration, which was one the main reasons the plan was rebuked by the EU,” he said, adding that WWF Belgium, one of the partners of the CCPI, was currently reviewing the revised version. Last year, WWF Belgium found that the Belgian government’s subsidies and tax incentives to fossil fuels totalled at least €2.7 billion every year, at the same time as the wind farm’s energy output soared to new record highs. The same study found that federal subsidies to fuel oil heating were 3.5 times higher than support to improve building insulation.
“The solutions are on the table: we know how to reduce our energy use, how to build renewables and that they are much cheaper than coal or nuclear. It’s really a matter of having the political will to transform society.”
“This kind of incoherence is a larger problem in a lot of countries, which also seems to be a matter of fact in Belgium,” Burck said, citing the German government’s boost to renewables alongside its continued operation of coalfuelled power plants.
In a conference in Brussels coinciding with the first day of the COP, Nobel prize laureate William Moomaw and a leading IPCC author, said the global response continued to be “woefully inadequate” in the face of the “accelerating rate of climate change.”
In the CCPI index, no country made it to the top three spots, with Burck confirming that not a single signatory of the Paris agreements was on track to meet the goals of the accords.
“Abrupt and irreversible change is becoming likely at lower increases in temperature,” he said, noting that the rise of sea levels was among the things that worried the scientific community the most.
“The solutions are on the table: we know how to reduce our energy use, how to build renewables and that they are much cheaper than coal or nuclear,” Burck said. “It’s really a matter of having the political will to transform society.”
“Those are climate tipping-points,” he said. “If they occur, future generations, for several thousand years,” will be affected, he said. “There is no reverse gear here.”
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EDGING TOWARDS COMPLETION ONE OF EUROPE’S BIGGEST PEDESTRIANISATION SCHEMES OF ITS KIND By Martin Banks
t has been heralded as Brussels’ answer to Barcelona’s Ramblas – a multi-million-euro, pro-pedestrian attempt to breathe new life into the pollution and traffic-choked centre of the city. Pedestrianisation of some of the city’s central boulevards, billed as currently the biggest scheme of its kind in Europe, is edging towards completion though it still does remain a work in progress. This is the third, and probably final, street makeover scheme of its kind in the central area of Brussels. Back in 1972, the Grand Place was – unbelievable as it seems now – a car park, but was later pedestrianised, while Rue Neuve, the city’s main shopping street, became a pedestrian-only zone in 1975. After over three years of delays, unmet deadlines, rows – and paving stones being laid the wrong way around – it seems an opportune time to do a stock take on the huge pedestrian project and also ask people what they think of it so far. The overall aim has been to improve public health by reducing air pollution, noise and stress caused by “excessive” and “unnecessary” traffic. Another goal, though yet to be fully realised, is to create a “new dynamic” in the city centre’s economic activity.
A complete redevelopment The scheme has an approximate budget of €20 million split among the federal government,
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the city government and Beliris, a cooperation project between the federal and regional levels, which finances renovation, restoration and building projects in Brussels. It covers an area of about 0.5 km2, including a large part of Boulevard Anspach, Place de Brouckère, Place de la Bourse and Place Fontainas. The project includes the construction of more than 3,000 square metres of what’s called “green space” (up from 200 square metres previously) and a system that allows rainwater to be absorbed so that a large part of water used in the zone (in fountains and such) comes from a sustainable and environmental-friendly source.
The city of Brussels is hopeful that final works will be finished by this spring. Credit: “Ville de Bruxelles / Eric Danhier”
“This is the third, and probably final, street makeover scheme of its kind in the central area of Brussels. Back in 1972, the Grand-Place was – unbelievable as it seems now – a car park, but was later pedestrianised, while Rue Neuve, the city’s main shopping street, became a pedestrianonly zone in 1975.” “It’s going in the right direction. Hopefully the works will be finished in the spring. It’s clear that the people have already embraced the zone.
It is becoming a place of encounters and now the management issue should be taken up by the city,” Pascal Smet, Secretary of State of the Brussels-Capital Region, said.
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Among others, asbestos has been removed from buildings, more CCTV cameras have been installed, scores of trees have been planted, and underground bike parking has been introduced. Credit: “Ville de Bruxelles / Eric Danhier”
Wafaa Hammich, spokesperson for Brussels Mayor Philippe Close, told The Brussels Times, “The works are almost done.” A Brussels city council spokesman specified that the Bourse square refurb should be finalised by March
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and Place Fontainas square by early May. Place Fontainas, a former crossroads, is envisaged to ultimately become a pleasant tree-lined square. On Place de la Bourse, there will eventually
“To be honest, it was hell at first but the whole area is looking an awful lot better now. It is busy and lively with people and I really do think the absence of vehicles makes it a more pleasant and certainly healthier place for all of us.” be parking for 500 bikes at the metro station, which has been completely renovated. As the works are all finally completed, more places will open, including a beer museum in the Bourse building. Both Place de la Bourse and the Bourse building – the city’s venerable old stock exchange – are listed as World Heritage sites and part of a UNESCO protected area, and one notable feature still to come is the installation of a “water mirror” on the ground (due by June).
and there are now more than 1,000 parking spaces for bicycles together with more “intelligent” trash cans and energy saving initiatives such as public lighting sourced by LED lamps. That’s not all: asbestos has been removed from buildings, more CCTV cameras installed, scores of trees planted, underground bike parking introduced. All but emergency and delivery vehicles are now banished. Cyclists will be allowed into the zone but are subject to a maximum speed of 5kph.
Outstanding public works on the crossroads between Rue du Marché au Charbon and Rue du Lombard are expected to be finished this month (February), while similar work on Rue des Pierres is due for completion by early March. The Bourse building also has to be renovated, and works will begin on that in the course of this year. After that, the façade and streets around the building will be remodelled.
Crucially, environmental conditions have also reportedly improved with a recorded 20 percent reduction in black carbon in the pedestrian zone’s air quality.
“Seats with graffiti-resistant paint have been installed, as have more water drinking fountains and there are now more than 1,000 parking spaces for bicycles together with more “intelligent” trash cans.”
Boulevard Anspach, meanwhile, features a new surface also made of blue stone, described as a “resistant and durable” material. It also now has small green areas and wide sidewalks on both sides, which also allows people with reduced mobility to move around more easily.
The added value is already evident, said a project spokesperson: “Many new businesses and commercial projects are emerging in the city centre, for example Cristal City, The Mint, the old Actiris building and the WOLF (a huge indoor space which houses scores of trendy eateries).”
Impact on local economy
Seats with graffiti-resistant paint have been installed, as have more water drinking fountains
Much of the work, though, is now finally finished, including at Place de Brouckère, where a new street layout includes blue stone decorated with white concrete strips. Brouckère metro station has been given a much-needed facelift complete with a 500-space cycling lot.
“Before, with congestion caused by traffic, it was not possible to take full advantage of the architecture of the beautiful façades that line Anspach”, the project spokesperson said. “Passers-by will now be able to admire this beautiful heritage of the city.”
The current plans date back to spring 2015 when the city launched phase three. But the project was initially bedevilled by appeals, delays and other issues. Some businesses in the area complained about the lack of any impact assessment and public consultation. In the first year, the local economy took a severe
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“The project includes the construction of more than 3,000 square metres of what’s called ‘green space’, an increase from 200 square metres previously.” hit, with sales at local businesses reportedly down by as much as 20 percent. People increasingly stayed away as, much of central Brussels resembled an ugly large-scale building site. Shop owners, hotels and restaurants claimed a serious loss of earnings due to the sudden lack of car access. But the consensus now seems to be that the pedestrian-friendly scheme, loosely modelled on those in other Belgian cities, including Ghent, Bruges and Leuven, is finally yielding some results. For instance, a survey found that 85 per cent of local businesses favour the car-free zone (though 92 per cent also felt it was badly implemented).
“The big challenge will be to make the centre of Brussels a balanced, liveable and secure neighbourhood once again.” Several businesses have either relocated to or opened afresh in the pedestrian zone. The city’s famous bookshop Standaard Boekhandel is now housed on a corner of Boulevard Anspach. The much-loved Palace Cinema has been completely renovated. Burger King has opened their first central Brussels restaurant. “The Mint”, stretching from Boulevard Anspach to Place de la Monnaie, is a treasure trove of fashionable shops and cafes (plus a Decathlon and Mestdagh supermarket). Wafaa Hammich, the city spokesperson, conceded that the works themselves started in a “very complicated way,” but adds that “people are very appreciative of the pedestrian zone.” “For the businesses, it sure has been hard and the situation has been complicated for them, to say the least. We would like to thank them for their patience during construction of the pedestrian zone. Now, where the works are done,
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most can enjoy a terrace and people will, surely, come back to the centre.” Such sentiments are endorsed by Fabienne Druine, of the famous restaurant La Maison du Cygne, “At the beginning, things were rushed and the area looked scary. But we are happy that the place has been much improved in terms of cleanliness and the environment. We think it will be a plus that this zone is pedestrianised if it brings more residents into the area and not only office staff.” Looking to the future, Fabienne added, “The big challenge will be to make the centre of Brussels a balanced, liveable and secure neighbourhood once again.” Xavier Lemey, who runs a popular gift shop close to the Bourse, commented, “To be honest, it was hell at first but the whole area is looking an awful lot better now. It is busy and lively with people and I really do think the absence of vehicles makes it a more pleasant and certainly healthier place for all of us.” According to Veronique Lefrancq, member of the parliament of the Brussels-Capital Region, all is not so rosy, though. She has claimed that the number of empty shops increased from 9.5 percent to 11.5 percent between 2015 and 2019, and that some 130 retail spaces in the pedestrianised zone still remain vacant. Barbara Trachte, Secretary of State of the Brussels-Capital Region, counters this and believes the impact of the pedestrian zone on local trade has being exaggerated. “While there was a sharp drop in the number of visitors to the area after the start of the works in 2015, visitor figures later quickly increased and returned to their 2014 levels in 2018 and 2019,” she said. Brussels is the self-proclaimed capital of Europe but it is also notorious for traffic gridlock. About 225,000 people commute daily into the city, many by car. Car drivers spend an average of three days and 11 hours of every year stuck in traffic in the centre. There can be no doubt that by this huge facelift, Brussels is being transformed from a “city for cars” to a “city for everyone”.
SPONSORED become susceptible to misinformation: they distrust official statements and turn to conspiracy theories, tending to believe fake news. This is a very dangerous development with the potential to create division between our societies and our countries. A division of our societies should be particularly concerning to us because it is more necessary than ever that we stand together in Europe to face today's challenges.
ISABEL CAÑO AGUILAR: “TOGETHER AGAINST THE FAKE NEWS” "We live in a time where boundaries between opinions and facts disappear and where the findings of science no longer count," said the German journalist, Patrick Gensing in his book "Facts against fake news". Moreover, with the repetition of fake news, alternative facts and, over time, alternative realities are assumed to be true.
Freedom of expression is an important part of democracy; however, we were not prepared for the digital age of communication. Now social media is for many the main source of getting information, but most of us are not well informed to handle it properly.
The challenges Firstly, today, practically everyone can deliver news. For ordinary users, it is often unclear whether the information is true or false. Secondly, because of the huge amount of information, people have withdrawn into their own little bubbles as it is more convenient to read messages that reinforce your own opinions or suspicions than to deal critically with other opinions. Social media were intended to provide a vast space for freedom and democracy along with broader access to news, but now it seems that they are bypassing social controls and norms.
At the European Economic and Social Committee, we have been working for several years about this development and have devoted a number of seminars and opinions to this topic.
What needs to be done?
Disinformation or fake news can travel around the world unimpeded in just a few minutes, because control is inadequate and inaccurate information is corrected too slowly. Thus people easily can be manipulated.
We do not all have to become journalists but we do need to ask ourselves questions like a journalist: What is the source? Are there other sources? What does the victim, the opposing party and others say? In addition, is the information worth spreading? Is it worth commenting on?
The consequences for society are disastrous, including: • Hate mongering against certain groups, especially against civil society; • Trolling people working to achieve certain goals; • Longer-term consequences, such as mistrust of anybody conveying news, including reputable newspapers and TV stations, etc. With economic and social problems, growing inequality and various conflicts in the world, people
We need to direct the digital age and raise awareness.
Education is key here, and it should start very early. I think that when our children start to learn basic maths, they should also have access to a course covering digital issues. But not only children – we all should be taught a critical approach to the digital world. We all need to become "media mature". In fact, I would even go further to say: we need ethics to be part of our education. Isabel Caño Aguilar is Vice-President for Communication in the European Economic and Social Committee
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INSECTS AS FOOD BELGIUM TAKES A BITE By Hughes Belin
The first EU permits for insects as a “novel food” should be issued in mid-2020. This will end the legal uncertainty about breeding insects for human consumption in Europe. Now is the time to draw lessons from Belgium, which has served as a sandbox for the fledgling industry, about its future prospects. Are we really ready to eat insects?
omy is an adorable little blond girl who, like all children under the age of 2 1/2 in Belgium, goes to the crèche most weekdays. Her parents spend 20 minutes every evening preparing her lunch, carefully weighing out some carbs, freshly cooked vegetables, a protein-rich ingredient, some high-quality fat and a sprinkling of chopped herbs. It's the recommended diet for a child her age. But unlike most of Belgium’s children, Romy gets a meal that eventually includes a teaspoon of cricket powder. In fact, she even loves to snack on some whole locusts from time to time. All this thanks to Belgium’s progressive regulatory system, which allowed a whole new sector in the Western agrifood landscape to open up here a few years ago. In theory, Romy is well on track to help fulfil the prediction, or rather prescription, of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for insects to become “a high-value source of animal protein for the rapidly growing world population.” But the challenges ahead are huge and Belgium, as a test ground, has gained some valuable experience. Along with a few other countries in Europe, Belgium has taken a bite at insects. But sometimes it hurts.
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“The first EU permits for insects as a “novel food” should be issued in mid2020. This will end the legal uncertainty about breeding insects for human consumption in Europe.” An awakening It all started in 2014 when the Belgian food safety agency AFSCA, known for its conservatism, issued official advice on the food
safety aspects of insects destined for human consumption. “In the search for alternative dietary protein sources, insects appear to offer great potential,” it said and approved 10 species of worm and cricket for sale on the Belgian market. Belgium’s tolerance policy was based on a loose interpretation of a 1997 EU law on ‘novel food’, which decreed that “food or food ingredients which were not used for human consumption to a significant degree within the European Union prior to 15 May 1997” are ‘novel food’ and hence subject to a permit. But this EU law did not strictly mention whole animals. Insects were therefore authorised for consumption in the Netherlands, UK, Denmark and Finland, and tolerated in Belgium. Other countries, such as
“The great advantage of Belgians is that we are not too patriotic about our food – unlike countries with a strong gastronomic culture, such as Italy – even among young people. It’s easier for us to introduce insects here.” France, interpreted the EU law differently and banned them. A case is pending at the EU Court of Justice on the French ban.
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Europe’s largest urban insect farm was opened in Brussels in 2017.
A new EU law on ‘novel food’, introduced in 2018, clarified the matter. It extended the
Good for the planet Animal farming already covers 70% of agricultural land. To maintain a sustainable world, we cannot go on eating meat like we do today. According to the FAO, insects could solve the challenge of feeding nine billion people by 2050, because their protein yield is much higher, and their environmental impact is much lower than for other animals. Insect breeding requires far less water and emits far less CO2 and nitrates than conventional animal production. On top of that, they are circular economy champions, since they love agricultural by-products and food waste. Their manure, although small in volume, is highly concentrated in fertilisers. Insects do not pose an animal welfare problem: they live in colonies and do not mind intensive breeding. How do you slaughter them? They are frozen or blanched in 80°C water, which kills them instantaneously.
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‘novel food’ label to all insect-based products, including “whole insects and their preparations”. Hence whole insects now have to be authorised by the EU to be sold for human consumption. However, the 2018 regulation introduced a transitional period, extending the legality of products nationally authorised before 2018, provided they applied for an EU permit by 1 January 2019. Through their national federation, Belgian companies sent applications to the EU for three insects: crickets, mealworms and locusts. In the meantime, “the general food legislation provides for a comprehensive framework that is likely to ensure the compliance and the safety of these products during the transition period,” says Christophe Derrien, secretary general at IPIFF, the umbrella association for the European insect production industry in Brussels.
Regulatory sandbox Belgium's favourable regulatory framework also attracted foreign insect producers looking to test their products. “The great advantage of Belgians is that we are not too patriotic about our food – unlike countries with a strong gastronomic culture, such as Italy – even among young people. It’s easier for us to introduce insects here,” says Michiel Van Meervenne, founder of Kriket, an energy bar that includes cricket
“Insects could solve the challenge of feeding nine billion people by 2050, because their protein yield is much higher and their environmental impact is much lower than for other animals.” powder. “If the Dutch are more progressive, the Belgians are ready to pay for something special – we care more about what we eat,” adds Nico Coen, co-founder of Nimavert, a Belgian retailer of insect-based products. Start-ups flourished to seize a slice of the cake. But the most emblematic project was the launch of Europe’s largest urban insect farm in June 2017 by Little Food. Little Food has been a pioneer in the Belgian insect industry since 2016. It has sold tens of thousands of products to a large number of end customers, and thousands have visited its unique urban farm near Tour & Taxis. It was a success story until recently: production ended in late 2019. A number of Little Foods' signature products, such as its seasoned dried crickets, are now being commercialised by Nimavert under its own brand. “Little Foods management team and board are reviewing various options in relation to the rest of our business activities to decide the best way forward,” David Mellett, Little Food's co-founder told The Brussels Times. “Perhaps we were too hasty and the proposed products didn’t bring enough added value," suggests Rudy Caparros, who works at the entomology unit of Gembloux University. "We still don’t know what strategy to adopt today. We took the pain for being pioneers.” Good point: did anyone ask people if they actually wanted to eat insects?
Changing perceptions The biggest obstacle to human insect consumption – fish and chicken already love them – is cultural. In fact, two billion humans already consume insects, but none of them are in the Western world. Here we eat frogs, snails and other Molluscs, as well as Crustaceans, but we still associate insects with pests and filth, in spite of honeybees and silkworms. This alter-
native to our traditional meat, despite its environmental and health benefits (see info boxes), is only slowly making its way to our plates. “We are in a niche market [and] it will be slow to create a proper market,” says Emmanuel Baeten, spokesperson for the Belgian Insect Industry Federation. Caparros explains: “It took us ten years to adopt sushi. We knew rice, but the raw fish was an obstacle. Insects are unknown and not even considered edible.” He continues: “There is interest: every time I hold an event, a conference or a tasting, it’s packed. I get two or three phone calls every week from would-be producers or researchers who are looking for advice.” Other stakeholders such as Coen confirm this: “We see a change from two years ago. Now people are more open to trying insects. Ecology has become more mainstream. Everybody agrees we have to do something about it.” So what’s the best strategy going forward? “We have production facilities but we don't have products,” says Gabrielle Wittock, who just founded her own insect start-up, Yuma. "There is a gap in the marketing.” So far, the winning strategy seems to include two elements: it targets young people, who are more sensitive to
Good for your health If there was one reason to eat insects, it would be this one: they are a superfood. Packed with quality proteins, i.e. essential amino acids, their protein rate ranges from 45-70%. The Orthoptera (crickets and locusts) invading the European market are at the high end of that. They are also rich in essential nutrients: fatty acids, the B vitamins and minerals (iron, zinc, copper, phosphorus, magnesium and manganese). Beware however, if you are allergic to Crustaceans or Acari: they are all Arthropods and share the same kind of allergens. Don’t eat insects alive, as their bacterial content exceeds health and safety standards. And only eat insects bred by registered companies, which abide by EU and national rules. Their nutritional quality hangs mainly from their food, which is regulated, as it is for any animals intended for human consumption.
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Two billion people around the world already consume insects, but they are yet to be accepted as food in the western world.
“If there was one reason to eat insects, it would be this one: they are a superfood. Packed with quality proteins, i.e. essential amino acids, their protein rate ranges from 45-70%.”
Snacks are the way forward, for Wittock, since “you should not start messing with a product which holds too much symbolic value for Westerners.” Michiel Van Meervenne, co-founder of the highly successful Kriket snack bar, agrees: “In our marketing, everything is around being accessible and mainstream.” In April, Kriket will launch a granola “to reach a bigger group of customers.”
Golden opportunities the ‘save our planet’ message, and/or it uses insects as an invisible ingredient.
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“If everything goes smoothly, 2020 will be a very important milestone for the consumption of insects in Europe,” Van Meervenne adds,
“The biggest obstacle to human insect consumption is cultural. In fact, two billion humans already consume insects, but none of them are in the Western world. Here we eat frogs, snails and other Molluscs, as well as Crustaceans, but we still associate insects with pests and filth.”
soy. This is why giants like the French company Ynsect are growing ever bigger, to reap economies of scale. So is there a viable business model for breeding both food and feed insects? Lies Hackelbracht of Tor Royal, another Belgian insect start-up, which currently works with four farmers, believes that, given the difficulties farmers currently face: “It can be an opportunity to breed mealworm and insects for food and feed. It’s easy to do for a farmer.” For her, the best business model is diversification and circular economy.
referring to the EU authorisations expected in June. “We already work with big retailers, but they need the guarantee of the EU to be more confident, to promote insects, and it’s the same for investors,” he explains. What about insects for animal consumption, or insects as feed, which are subject to a distinct legal framework, as a means of boosting the insect market? Could feed insects enable food insects? There is far greater acceptance of farm animals such as poultry or fish eating insects. The EU is also working on specific authorisations for this. But price remains an obstacle, as feed insects are in direct competition with other protein commodities such as
Caparros confirms that the only way to make insect breeding viable is to be circular, i.e. to feed insects with organic waste. It doesn’t require much investment or additional work, and they will yield either fertiliser or feed for other farm animals. This is perhaps why the European insect farming industry sees the publication of the European Commission’s 'European Green Deal’ last December as “positive”. While insects are not directly mentioned in the paper, a future ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy is supposed to play a key role in improving the circularity of EU food production. This perfectly fits the philosophy behind insect farming, which relies on upcycling underused materials, including food waste, into higher-value products, such as protein and lipids. One lesson is clear from Belgium's experience as an insect pioneer: “You cannot do everything: breeding, transformation and retail. You must focus on one of them,” Coen, Baeten and Wittock say. Their future focus is on marketing, so that one day, little Romy and her pals become mainstream customers.
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MME. CAI XIAOLI,
PRESIDENT OF ASIA-PACIFIC WOMEN’S ASSOCIATION (APWA)
n 10 December 2019, we sat down with Mme. Cai Xiaoli, President of Asia-Pacific Women’s Association (APWA) and spouse of H.E. Ambassador Zhang Ming, Head of the Chinese Mission to the European Union.
Q: Could you please give us a brief introduction to APWA? A: APWA is the abbreviation for Asia-Pacific Women’s Association. It is an NGO women’s international organization composed of wives of ambassadors, female diplomats, celebrities and entrepreneurs from over 30 Asia-Pacific countries. It has been active in the EU and in Brussels for 33 years. Q: APWA was established 33 years ago. Please tell us more about its history and characteristics. A: Like a bright star, APWA is inheriting different cultures through regional cooperation, promoting friendship and mutual understanding to show its members’ national features or styles. It embodies team wisdom and team spirit on an international stage. Q: We understand that APWA has its own philosophy, diversity and cultural characteristics? A: Right! Per my understanding, APWA’s cultural philosophy is to pursue equality, mutual understanding, love, and win-win success. Q: APWA is sometimes referred as “a shining star of Women Diplomacy in the heart of Europe”. How did it get such a reputation? A: As far as I know, for years, there has not been such a large regional association on women diplomacy in Europe to showcase the multinational folk customs and cultural characteristics of such a compassionate global family. The Asia-Pacific International Fashion Show and Bazaar held at Tangla Hotel in June 2019 for example, has been highlighted as a great success story.
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Q: These are quite fresh and innovative initiatives. Can you explain a little bit more?
that illustrate how APWA is a success story for women diplomacy?
A: Women ambassadors and diplomats, the main forces of APWA, play a proactive role as bridge-builders to exchange multi-national culture, art and love. Food, music, national costumes and exchange of ideas on women’s liberation are very often among their favourite topics and activities. I would say that this is a way they give a positive drive to the diplomatic circle in Brussels and add value to a peaceful and colorful world.
A: Love and warmth make a peaceful and caring world. In late October, APWA held a charity program of “Great Love Without Borders” in a nursing home in Brussels. Each year APWA organizes internal fund donations to help member states who ask for support in their national development. We also hold monthly meetings to taste and appreciate national delicacies and share cultural characteristics of the member states. Additionally, we invite members to ballet performances, concerts or exhibitions to enhance our mutual understanding and promote friendship.
Q: Watching the Asia-Pacific International Fashion Show in Tangla Hotel in June, we were fascinated and impressed. How were you able to join forces with so many countries to display on one platform?
Q: APWA seems like a tight-knit, warm and supportive community?
A: The stage belongs to everyone. It is a good opportunity for everyone too. When APWA reached consensus and recognized the significance of the event, just like the Silk Road initiative, all members were inspired and excited by the prospect of excellent cooperation and win-win success. It turned out to be even more successful than we had expected.
A: APWA is a warm and happy family in pursuit of common prosperity. We benefit from team wisdom and group discussions to find similarities. Teamwork builds up the platform to fulfil our key objectives and help reach out to each and every individual. The growing expectations highlight the organization’s enduring vitality and the teamwork achievements too.
Q: APWA members must be very proud of themselves?
Q: Can you tell us a bit about the future aspirations and projects of APWA?
A: Yes. As the Chinese proverb says, “More wood, higher flames!” I believe all APWA Member States are very happy, taking the proud achievements and teamwork as a great honor and success.
A: The world is changing. APWA will keep pace with the times to seek better ways to demonstrate regional and national characteristics, seek more common ground as a team, as a big family and as a cohesive and peaceful organization which promotes friendship and contributes to a community with a shared future for mankind!
Q: Can you give us some additional examples
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Poliaesthetica 51-79 p
contemporary art, politics & culture
#museumnightfever Graphic design/illustration : Pam & Jenny Background painting © Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels / photo : J. Geleyns - Art Photography Éd. resp. : Claire Leblanc CBM/BMR, Galerie du Roi 15 Koningsgalerij, 1000 BXL
Denis Maksimov is a critic, curator, consultant and educator of art and politics.
POLIAESTHETICA CONTEMPORARY ART, POLITICS & CULTURE KEITH HARING AT BOZAR // until 19 April open Tuesday to Sunday, 10 am - 6 pm, Thursdays until 9 pm @ Rue Ravensteinstraat 23, 1000 Brussels €18 admission; €16 concession Keith Haring is someone who doesn’t need an introduction for his visual works of art. He created a visual street language which evolved into popular culture, creating a lasting impact that seems to only grow over time. This major retrospective of Haring’s career – prolific but unfortunately short – is paying tribute to him as a global cultural phenomenon. Starting to draw in New York City in his early 20s, Haring brought graffiti to subway walls, which were full of political and poetic messages. Initially perceived as vandalism, his work later appeared in other public spaces (outdoor walls, billboards, etc.) and disappeared faster than they emerged, with art bounty hunters stealing them to resell later. The iconic motifs of his painting and graffiti could be compared to the indigenous alphabets of Americas and Mesopotamia: the barking dogs, flying saucers, little human figures and babies form compositions that invite the viewer to “read” the deciphered message which the artist had embodied there. He drew aesthetic
inspiration from abstract impressionist painters, calligraphy and fellow graffiti artists in New York. Unlike the ancient languages inscriptions possessed by the archaeological museums and woven into the historical narrative, Haring played an alternative role: to disrupt, to call for shifting attention from the expected and anticipated towards the urgent and new. Beyond that, it was also highly political. The artist, openly gay, had been a prolific figure in the struggle for LGBT rights. His largest artistic campaigns addressed the issues of the nuclear disarmament and the AIDS epidemic, which unfortunately cut his own life short. Art is politics: Haring’s oeuvre proves it better than any theoretical tract. This exhibition features numerous examples of his works that can be compared to the décor of the walls of ancient Babylon and Tenochtitlan.
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Wolfgang Tillmans work is a perfect argument against the critics of contemporary photography. Always sensual, sometimes mundane and uniquely intimate – his work with the camera and the subjects, animate or inanimate, reveals the aesthetic side of the “thingness” within the everyday chaos of visual experiences. Today Is The First Day is Tillmans’ first large-scale solo show in Belgium. The exhibition includes new photography, video and sound works which are arranged in site-specific constellations. The subjects that he engages with touch upon the sensual intimacy of the unnoticeable moments: the sexiness of asymmetry and irregularity and the vitality of the authentic moments of the experience.
WOLFGANG TILLMANS: TODAY IS THE FIRST DAY AT WIELS // from 1 February until 25 April open Tuesday to Sunday, 11 am - 6 pm, Thursdays until 9 pm @ Avenue Van Volxemlaan 354, 1190 Brussels €10 admission; €7 concessions
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Beyond his engagement with personal emotive experiences, Tillmans is a big supporter of the European Union project and led probably one of the most visible artistic opposition to Brexit with his campaign “Protect the European Union from Nationalism”. It is ironic that his show opens on February 1st: the day the UK, where the German artist had studied and spent his formative years, will no longer be a member of the EU.
CHARGED WITH PASSION. THE NEW MINI ELECTRIC. MINI Cooper S E : CO2 0 g/km 0 l/100 km 15,2 - 16,6 kWh/100 km (WLTP) MINI Belux - BMW Belgium Luxembourg NV/SA - BE 0413533863 - mini.be Environmental information : mini.be Contact your dealer for more information regarding the tax rate of your vehicle.
LE MONDE À PLAT AT BOGHOSSIAN FOUNDATION – VILLA EMPAIN // from 5 March until 22 August open Tuesday to Sunday, 11 am until 6 pm @ Avenue Franklin Roosevelt 67, 1000 Brussels €8 admission; €4 concessions The perception of the world and the idea of “the world” itself are inherently subjective matters that are prone to universalisation through the employment of political power. The map is not only the device of special orientation in geography, but more so the device of political orientation within the space of the imaginary. The border is never “material” but rather a psychological line which is meant to create the cartography of the boundaries for cultural spaces, which have little to do with geography per se. The exhibition in the Boghossian Foundation, an outstanding art deco villa in Ixelles, is perhaps one of the best places in town to host an exhibition with the title “The flat world”. Formerly the property of the Soviet and Russian embassies in Brussels, it is currently hosting conversations between the cultural Orient and the Occident. They are expressed in a variety of media: drawing, video, installation, photography, sculpture, among others. Some of the artists include Belgian heavyweight Wim Delvoye (whose exhibition in the
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Royal Museum of Fine Arts just drew to a close); Art & Language group, which presents a critical analysis of the place which text plays in world-making; Charles and Ray Eames, whose architectural and design experiments in the US during the previous century helped shape the vision of personal and public spaces; as well as Mona Hatoum, Vik Muniz, Yto Barrada, Mircea Cantor, Cheri Samba, and others. A definite must-see this year.
YOANN VAN PARYS AT BOTANIQUE // from 20 February until 29 March open Wednesday to Sunday, 12 pm - 8 pm @ Rue Royale 236, 1210 Brussels €6.5 admission; €5.5, 4.5 concession Writing a short biography for an exceptional artist is always a difficult challenge. Yoann van Parys is a Brussels-based artist whose work is rooted in the writing practice. However, he produces material works that border the mediums of collage, drawing and installation. His work deals with narration, storytelling, text and image juxtapositions and contradictions: what came first, the symbol or the meaning behind it? This is the doubt which exists in the artistic inquiry of many creatives. The “doubt” as a subject – the world and its representations – is at the centre of his exhibition in Botanique. He combines photographs, slide projections, drawings, prints and paintings in the exhibition spaces and publications that he produces in collaborations. A recipient of the prestigious artistic residency at WIELS, he will present some of the research which he conducted at the institution. The exhibition features those collage works of the artist that are in a way an embodiment of doubt: not exactly painting, drawing or text, but all of it and none of it at the same time.
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BERNAR VENET ‘L’HYPOTÈSE DE LA LIGNE DROITE’ AT FONDATION CAB
human eye with symmetry is a proven aesthetic effect that has very physical consequences. The way that lines are arranged defines how attracted our attention will be.
// from 12 February until 14 March open Wednesday to Saturday, from 12 pm until 6 pm @ Rue Borrens 32, 1050 Brussels free admission
Is there logic to the world? Is it universal? Or does it communicate its subjectivity on the basis of some sort of negotiable rules? These questions are not simple. But it doesn’t mean we should be afraid to ask them and engage in speculation about the possible response. Venet’s large metal sculptures, drawings and plans of realized and unrealized projects are amazing sources for examining, detached from the everyday problems, the questions of our temporary existence.
Bernar Venet is a big deal. His sculptural works are monumentally large. His output is leaving its mark in public spaces: the commission by different entities (city councils and corporations) are reminders of the fossils of the larger civilizations, mysteriously developed and containing large amount of conceptual and technological lost secrets. Venet’s career spans more than half a century. Over this period he took part in theory, philosophy, as well as being exposed to much of the development of abstraction in postWWII Europe. At the same time, the works of Venet are ahistorical and poetic. The title of his exhibition, “The Straight Line’s Hypothesis”, poses a question that has been raised for many millennia. Geometry, as the ancient Greeks wrote, is the language of the gods. The fascination of the
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27 MARCH QUEEN ELISABETH HALL
Tommy Tiernan 29 MARCH
LA MADELEINE BRUSSELS
TREVOR TREVOR TREVOR NOAH NOAH NOAH 5 APRIL
SHINE SHIVAN - ‘LANGUAGE OF DECEASED LL’ AT 26 BY FELIX FRACHON // until 26 April open Thursday to Saturday, 11 am – 6 pm @ rue Saint Georges 26, 1050 Brussels free entrance The issues of gender identity are often presented in the public and even academic space as a European thought product. In fact, the European and Anglo-American views of gender identity appear to be very much retrograde compared to the visions from what is referred to as “the Global South”. Indian artist Shine Shivan presents role-reversing photography which is addressing this very issue from an authentic perspective. His photography and multimedia works deal with the complex issue of reclaiming the gender conversation from the occupied space towards the plurality of possible ways of starting conversations and legislative structuring of the issue of gender. Before presenting in Brussels, Shivan’s work was included in exhibitions at London’s Tate Modern and Taipei’s MOCA.
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STEP BY STEP AGAINST POVERTY AND INJUSTICE In the Great a at Forest of r rt Saint-Hubert
SPONSORED peninsula, is named after Prince Maurice Van Nassau, pioneer of the spice trade in the Indian Ocean. The rich, warm character of regional flavours and spices permeates the hotel's cool, colonial architecture, and its fusion cuisine. Constance Prince Maurice has a perfect location, on the north-east coast of Mauritius. Its situated on 60 hectares of private land which is completely unspoilt, sheltered from the prevailing winds and ensuring maximum privacy. Its tropical gardens consist of rare and luxuriant vegetation and the calm turquoise lagoon blends perfectly with the fresh green hinterland and the secluded beaches of brilliant white sand. A natural preserved fish reserve situated in the western part of the hotel adds to the uniqueness and natural beauty of the location. Relax in one of 64 Junior suites, 12 Family Suites, 12 villas or the lavishly Princely Villa, set along the beach or on stilts above the lagoon. Families can choose the beach villas and the complimentary Constance kids club! For that perfect relaxation, lounge in an intimate and secluded setting, pamper yourself at the U Spa by Constance and feast on exceptional cuisine in one of the fine restaurants.
THE WORLD OF CONSTANCE HOTELS AND RESORTS IN MAURITIUS A WORLD OF NATURAL LUXURY With pearly white beaches and clear blue sea, Mauritius is a true bounty destination. But there is much more to see on this tropical island! Nature is stunning! You will find volcanic mountain landscapes, beautifully landscaped botanical gardens, spectacular waterfalls and hidden caves. The island enjoys a subtropical climate every day of the year, even in the winter temperatures reach 25 ° C. It really is a tropical paradise! Both Constance Prince Maurice and Constance Belle Mare Plage are situated on the east coast and pride themselves on having something special for everyone, golfers included, with two 18 hole championship golf courses.
Constance Prince Maurice Enjoy unspoiled luxury between lake and lagoon This spacious yet intimate 5* luxury hideway on the tranquil eastern shore of Flacq district, on a leafy, east-coast
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Constance Prince Maurice has three restaurants and three bars, Le Barachois floating restaurant and bar is the only over-water dining option on the island, it's a perfect spot for a sundowner overlooking the mountains. Other culinary experiences include tastings in the extensive wine cellar, with capacity for 25,000 world wines and private candlelit dining in a marquee on the beach. Every March the hotel co-hosts with the Constance Belle Mare Plage, the Bernard Loiseau Culinary Festival which attracts Michelin star chefs from all over the world. Mauritius has perfect weather all year round, so it’s ideal to practice your golf, so why not retreat to the two 18hole championship golf courses. These are some of the most beautiful and breathtaking spots of the island, so it might make it difficult to concentrate! There are also plenty of sports and leisure activities to keep yourself fit and busy! Most days you can enjoy lounging on the white-sand beaches and idling in the spa, but it also pays to leave the comforts of the resort to explore the island. Take a boat trip to Ile aux Cerfs or venture up to the sleepy fishing village of Cap Malheureux. Don’t miss Port Louis’ bazaar, where you can soak up the local atmosphere and stock up on saffron and juicy vanilla pods. Or head inland for a unique view of Mauritius’ forests and rivers, swim in natural riverbeds, and splash through waterfalls.
Constance Prince Maurice Choisy Road, Poste de Flacq, Mauritius – Indian Ocean (230) 402 36 36 firstname.lastname@example.org www.constancehotels.com
CONSTANCE BELLE MARE PLAGE LIVE FULLY WITH ENDLESS POSSIBILITIES The resort reopened in August 2016 after a complete renovation, redesigned by Paris-based architects. The look is fresh, daring and very stylish, delivering the wow factor in a palette of black, white and blue, with contrasting geometric and natural patterns. Constance Belle Mare Plage is located along a stunning 2km long white sandy beach, in a sheltered bay on the glamorous east coast of Mauritius, set in tropical gardens of almost 15 hectares. The beach is protected by an offshore coral reef making it ideal for swimming, water sports and snorkelling. You can also arrange a snorkelling trip or a plethora of complimentary water sports including water skiing, glass-bottomed boat trips, there’s even a PADI dive centre. Its own brand U-Spa offers couples' rituals alongside manicures and pedicures devised by celebrity podiatrist, Brice Nicham. Constance Belle Mare Plage is a harmonious combination of tropical environment and Constance chic, combining space and design with all rooms thoughtfully furnished and decorated for your comfort in a lively and cosy atmosphere . Choose from one of the 104 Prestige Rooms, 149 Junior Suites, 6 Deluxe Suites, 18 distinctive Villas or the Presidential Villa for a top-notch island holiday! The generous-sized rooms, suites, and villas with terrace or balcony, have modern furniture and Apple Mac minis. The private pool villas, between the beach and the golf course, are among the island’s largest, and come with an extra level of spoiling service. Whether it’s relaxing on the beach or at one of the trendy bars, working out at the gym, pampering at the spa or enjoying water sports, Constance Belle Mare Plage is for that true perfect break! And if you are staying with your kids, you will be
thrilled to know that they will be having their share of adventures and fun too, at the Constance Kids Club! Constance Belle Mare Plage is definitely a hotel for gourmands, with seven distinctly different restaurants with stylish beachfront restaurant, Indigo, offering European-Asian fusion cuisine, from sushi to wagyu steak, and wood-fired pizzas in royal blue cabanas. Barefoot beach restaurant Lakaze (‘home’ in Creole) serves seafood and meat from the grill, and traditional rum arrangé from a sunken pool bar. Traditional Mauritian dishes are served at the aptly named Deer Hunter, overlooking the Legend golf course, where Java deer roam. Established family-favourite, La Citronelle, offers one of the most extensive, high quality buffets on the island, including global cuisine for breakfast. Drinking is as varied with the choice of six bars, from striking large rattan lounge pods in the pool (and rum tasting) at the main bar, tiki cocktails at the Blu Bar by the lagoon, with echoes of the French Riviera and fine dining or a special wine flight with food pairings (including oysters) by one of the hotel’s sommelier, surrounded by 35,000 bottles in the sleek Blue Penny Cellar. The Legend and The Links golf course were built according to PGA specifications. Meld into the exceptional, wild surroundings. This 18-hole course on the Indian Ocean features lagoons and lakes at every hole and dense, natural vegetation. Herds of Java deer are found in few places on earth; they live and wander freely at Legend. A challenge for golfers and deer watchers at every level. Perfectly in tune with nature, the Links golf course undulating fairways and greens give way to breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean. The sunset from the Clubhouse is a sight to behold. Links Golf Academy can ensure you go home with a lower par, somehow relaxed and energised at the same time.
Constance Belle Mare Plage Belle Mare, Poste de Flacq, Mauritius – Indian Ocean (230) 402 26 00 email@example.com www.constancehotels.com
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www.airspace.be Rue Charles Lindbergh 26 - 6041 Charleroi
World’s largest excavators at the Hambach mining site, seen from Terra Nova Viewpoint. The mining pit is the result of approximately 45 years of excavation. It has left the landscape deformed and barren looking.
ABOUT COAL, TREEHOUSES AND GLOBAL WARMING TALES FROM A DISAPPEARING FOREST Text and photos by Michel Petillo
ith the artic region on fire and Australia having seen the worst bush fires in its history, coal is nevertheless continued to be promoted as a viable energy solution despite being considered a leading contributor to climate change. During the 2017 negotiations at the 23rd UN climate Conference of the Parties (COP) in Bonn, over 15 countries, and several US states such as California and Washington, plus 58 private companies, joined the Powering Past Coal Alliance. The Alliance’s charter states that in order to meet the 2015 Paris Agreement objective to keep global temperature increases “well below 2°C”, and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C, traditional coal power needs to be phased out by no later than 2030 in the OECD and
EU27, and no later than 2050 in the rest of the world. Three COPs down the line however, the need for action continues to increase and global weather patterns continue to change at a staggering rate. Yet, the overall global climate ambitions, sinisterly, continue to fall behind. Instead of showing leadership beyond party lines in search of an international commitment on a global New Deal to stop the house from burning, the most recent conference in Madrid became bogged down in technical issues, such as the rules for carbon market mechanisms. According to Greenpeace executive director, Jennifer Morgan, never before has there been such a large gap between the voices out in the street and those of politicians trying to strike deals.
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Barricades in several access points to the remaining forest are created to keep bulldozers and other vehicles out. This barricade was situated near Camp North, close the Jesus Point, a forest junction part of the Camino De Compostela, leading straight into the mine. Jesus Point was destroyed earlier by RWE.
“In the EU, almost one fifth of CO2 emissions are generated from coal power plants. Germany and Poland are responsible for half of these emissions.”
Europe’s carbon footprint: The case of Germany In the EU, almost one fifth of CO2 emissions are generated from coal power plants. Germany and Poland are responsible for half of these emissions. Germany’s overall growing energy demands, as well as its decision to phase out nuclear energy following the Fukushima disaster, has however put pressure on the country to meet its ambitions in mitigating climate change. Despite the surge in renewable energy in Germany, coal remains about 40% of the country’s total energy mix. And although the country closed its
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last underground mine in 2018, about 50% of its 77 operational coal power plants still use lignite or brown coal. In 2017, 166.3 million tons of lignite alone were scooped up to meet the county’s energy needs, and the newest lignite-powered facilities were even expected to operate as late as 2055. Lignite is considered the biggest CO2 pollutant of all. “There’s no bigger impact on the environment than brown coal mining, and we’re the world champions,” says Dirk Jansen, a leader of the local chapter of Friends of the Earth in Germany’s coal heartland of North Rhine-Westphalia. Compared to hard coal, lignite extraction is easier (read: cheaper) but of lower quality and dirtier to burn.
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A view on a logged area, ready to be mined. It is near North Camp. In the distance we can see an excavator at work.
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ed her Golden Camera Award in March 2019 to the protesters occupying that last remaining 200 acres of the 12,000-year-old Hambach Forest.
The meadow occupation is on the outskirts of the forest. A farmer granted access to this land in order to accommodate the settlement. Besides shelters, there is an improvised greenhouse to grow small crops.
Lignite is mined above ground. It involves scraping of top layers of soil, resulting in giant open pits that lay bare a petrified 30-million-year-old swampland. Since 1945, lignite mining has already swallowed nearly half a million acres of land, including an estimated 300 villages, roads, and forests. Swedish activist Greta Thunberg threw a spotlight on this devastation, when she dedicat-
The 11,000-acre open pit mine near Hambach in North Rhine-Westphalia, adjacent to the Dutch border, is locally known as Mordor - a reference to “Lord of the Rings”. Excavation of the Hambach site began in 1978 when mining operator RWE acquired the land. The first lignite was extracted in January 1984. Mordor is now 500 meters deep, and large enough to hold the entire inner-city of Cologne. About 40 million metric tons of lignite are produced annually, with an estimated 1,660 million tons of lignite still available for mining. Coupled with the relatively low price of carbon under Europe’s emissions trading system, according to Mr Edenhofer, chief economist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, there appears little financial incentive to give up brown coal.
“There’s no bigger impact on the environment than brown coal mining, and we’re the world champions.”
Many settlers prefer not to be recorded on film or being photographed. They would walk around with a mask out of fear of recognition by infiltrating RWE security personnel.
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Activist reading a chronical on Hambach forest titled “Treehouses against Excavation”. It is the manual for successful occupation of the forest.
“Greta Thunberg threw a spotlight on this devastation, when she dedicated her Golden Camera Award in March 2019 to the protesters occupying that last remaining 200 acres of the 12,000-year-old Hambach Forest.” Disappearing villages Besides the disastrous impact on global warming, lignite mining has yet another devastating impact: the internal displacement of people. In 2017, the few remaining houses of the German village of Immerath were in the process of being bulldozed into oblivion. Immerath used to be a farming village and home to 1,200 people in the fertile countryside near Hambach – about 40 kilometres from the RWE mine.
resettlement deal. Another inhabitant, unwilling to comment, merely stated that their deal with RWE prevents them from commenting publicly on the matter.
The barrios receive visitors from similar groups from all over the world which share the same cause. A veteran was willing to pose. He kept reminding to follow the activists, stay vigilant and to keep their identity secret.
The village is now all but demolished, making room for the world’s largest excavators, forcing its inhabitants to strike a deal with the mining operator for resettlement. One of the few inhabitants remaining was willing to give a short statement, mentioning that they have known for over 25 years that RWE would demolish their village to accommodate mining activities in the region. Over the last decade, villagers have been given a new home in Neu (new) Immerath, 20 km down the road. And although inhabitants have been compensated for the move, according to some sources, they were urged to accept the
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The old way of doing business, putting the aspect of sustainability aside, is no longer an option in todayâ€™s world where the impact of climate change
starts to become a real threat to communities all over the world. Out of protest, some settlers prefer to walk barefoot reasserting their connection to earth.
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Another view from the meadow barrio. Improvised shelters are constructed from recycled caravans and other hardware.
â€œSince 1945, lignite mining has already swallowed nearly half a million acres of land, including an estimated 300 villages, roads, and forests.â€?
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“The 11,000-acre open pit mine near Hambach in North Rhine-Westphalia, adjacent to the Dutch border, is locally known as Mordor - a reference to Lord of the Rings” “Hambi bleibt!“ (Hambi stays!) Protests against lignite extraction at the Hambach mining site and subsequent forest destruction have been ongoing since 2004 when Greenpeace started campaigning against the use of lignite. The number of complaints against further excavations grew due to potential damage to the hills in the Elsdorf-Heppendorf area. In 2008, this led to the establishment of the Bergschaden Braunkohle NRW reclamation service for damage victims. Several court proceedings were launched by Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND) to save the forest and its fauna. A 2018 lawsuit temporarily halted RWE’s clearing operations. This ruling was however overturned a year later with the court deciding that “as of yet, there is no democratically legitimated legislation to end lignite-fired power production.” Cleanenergywire.org reported that the court was of the opinion that Germany’s international climate action commitments did not mean that any
particular mining project had to be stopped. At the same time, according to Reuters, to de-escalate the already difficult situation in the Hambach woodland, RWE renewed its 2019 commitment to abstain from clearing the forest until the autumn of 2020. With the German government having reached a formal agreement this January of phasing out coal altogether by no later than 2038, Dirk Jansen from BUND believes that “it just doesn’t make any sense to clear Hambach now. It doesn’t make any sense to put any more villages through destruction. They won’t be able to burn that lignite. It’s already too late.” But will that be enough to stop RWE felling those last few acres of trees? On the ground, or rather from the branches of the trees of Hambach forest, conservation action remains unrelenting, and no legal route is left unexplored to stop RWE in its ambition to further expand its lignite mine, which in turn, would destroy the few remaining acres of this ancient woodland.
Panoramic view on a typical barrio that has DIY treehouses, solar panels and improvised rainwater collection systems.
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The settlements do not function under a central leadership. Ideas and issues are discussed in a plenary with those involved or committed to solve any issue at hand, ranging from setting up barricades, water rationing, and conflicts.
“Protests against lignite extraction at the Hambach mining site and subsequent forest destruction have been ongoing since 2004 when Greenpeace started campaigning against the use of lignite.” Gallien is one of several barrios or settlements where activists occupy the remaining Hambach Forest against further exploitation by RWE. Every Barrio has its own identity. The one in the photograph is 100% vegan and freegan oriented. The “Menschen’ try to remain out of site in fear of RWE infiltrators. Into the wild, saving the planet, fighting capitalism, and equality are some of the central values that unite these communities.
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Central outpost in a solitary oak tree looking out onto the mine and the remaining forest. Treehouses are a strategic means of slowing down the evictions and to sleep quietly during the night.
"Not cleaning the dishes creates hierarchy" In the spring of 2017, photographer and photojournalist Michel Petillo spent three days in Hambach forest, meeting the protesters defending these woods. He captured their way of life, and learned about their motivation to leave their former life behind to dedicate themselves to the greater good. Since 2012, an area of 200 hectares of the remaining Hambach Forest has been occupied by environmental activists trying to prevent further RWE exploitation. The activists' presence now includes a number of self-sufficient settlements or "barrios" made up of a dozen treehouses and numerous road barricades to prevent the RWE mining company and police vehicles from entering when another eviction effort is attempted. Their activism does not stop there. Several of the Barrio "Menschen” (people) have been involved in trespassing into to the mine, occupying and disabling the excavators. Those who
have been caught by RWE security constantly patrolling the area have been actively persuaded by RWE to sign a written ultimatum not to return to the forest or face a heavy fine of several thousand euro or prison. This has led the activists to be very wary of outsiders, and not inclined to interact with the “comers and goers”. To avoid recognition by RWE security guards, most activists opt for inconspicuous clothing and keeping their faces covered. Protesters come mostly from Germany and its neighbouring countries. The average age is 25 and everyone is expected to share tasks in the barrios, be it washing-up, building treehouses or cleaning up the improvised forest toilets. There are several permanent veterans keeping oversight. They are instrumental in instructing newcomers on how to keep their guard up and to teach them how to build treehouses. Each barrio or settlement has its own identity, be it centred around veganism, gender neutrality, or some other social justice or ecological related principle, and always focused on keeping the forest safe and fighting capitalism. Anarchist
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Some treehouses have two levels. Getting in and out requires some agility and not to be afraid of heights. The one in the picture is a rare “deluxe” version.
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The destruction of Immerath was long coming. In 2017, only a few inhabitants remained there, awaiting their resettlement to their new town.
slogans and iconography can be found throughout the barrios, in the treehouses and in and around improvised meeting areas. Barrios aim to be self-sufficient communities, but they do depend on external donations in the form of water tanks or solar panels, and the good-
will of local farmers. Freeganism – “recycling” discarded food items from supermarkets - is their main strategy for sourcing food. From time to time, however, water shortage is a problem. Barrio settlers and part-time protesters all share the common cause of “fighting capitalism”. They
Terra Nova viewpoint on the RWE Hambach mining site. This viewpoint is used for marriages and other activities. It is heavily promoted as a tourist attraction. The mining site is also commonly known as “Mordor” (with reference to Lord of the Rings).
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Treehouse construction in action. In order to be able and allowed to enter or set up a treehouse, one must follow a safety course.
“Protesters come mostly from Germany and its neighbouring countries. The average age is 25 and everyone is expected to share tasks in the barrios, be it washing-up, building treehouses or cleaning up the improvised forest toilets.” strive for a cleaner and more just future. Some call them eco-terrorists, a bunch of anarchists, or simply, marginalised rebellious youth. The truth is, however, that the tide seems to be turning in their favour. On 26 January 2019, Der Spiegel reported that the German government announced its intent to stop using coal to generate power by 2038. Chancellor Merkel indicated that there would be a gradual phasing out of coal, while simultaneously turning to natural gas and increasing the country's share of renewable energy to 65% by 2030. A final agreement to stop coal all together by 2038 at the latest was reached on 17 January 2020. The agreement also includes a provision to bring that deadline forward to 2035, following an intermediate evaluation in 2026 and again in 2029. With Germany stepping up, and the EU’s recent 1 trillion euro Green Deal to make Europe the world’s first climate-neutral continent, things seem to be going in the right direction. Hopefully, it is not all too little and too late for Hambi, Germany and the world.
Special thanks to the environmental activists of Hambach forest who were so kind to let me into their world and for sharing their thoughts and experiences. Michel Petillo is a Brussels-based freelance fine art photographer and photojournalist. His work can be best described as driven by close personal contact, and socially relevant themes. In 2014, he studied documentary photography at the LCC of the University of Arts and Magnum Photo. Besides being a photographer, Michel is also active as a psychologist. Instagram: michel_petillo, Facebook: Michel Petillo Photography, Website: www.michelpetillo. com, Email: email@example.com A first version of this article appeared in Revolve Magazine under the title: “Reality Check on the Energiewende”. Issue 28, Summer, 2018, p. 56-63.
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PHILOSOPHY, CULTURE AND HISTORY 83-117 p At the turn of the 20th century, China was a “hot commodity” in the eyes of Western imperialists. The history of King Leopold II’s dreams and ambitions to establish a permanent Belgian presence in this part of the world is relatively unchronicled. However, during one remarkable period of history, Belgium “shared” Tianjin - Beijing’s port city - with eight other nations; England, Italy, Germany, France, Russia, the Austro-Hungarians, the US and Japan.
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SECRET NETWORKS, INTELLIGENCE COLLECTION AND FIELD AGENTS THE UNTOLD STORIES OF BELGIUM’S FEMALE RESISTANCE DURING WORLD WAR I By Pauline Bock
he statue commemorating Gabrielle Petit, the young Belgian woman who spied on the German military during World War I and was executed in 1916, stands on Place Saint-Jean, in the heart of Brussels’ city centre. Petit is represented holding her chin up in a defiant last stand. “I have just been condemned to death, I will be shot tomorrow. Long live the King, long live Belgium,” reads the plaque which many tourists walk by as they leave the Mont-des-Arts for the Grand Place. At the Liberation, Petit was “given the equivalent of a state funeral”, Emmanuel Debruyne, a historian who has studied women’s lives and the Resistance during World War I, told The Brussels Times. Her funeral was held on 21 July 1919, Belgium’s national day -- the first one the country celebrated in freedom since 1914. By the time her statue was inaugurated in 1923, Petit had become a national heroine, and the first working-class woman in European history to be remembered by a monument. Yet through her very active engagement in resistance movements, and through her unique status of national martyr, Gabrielle Petit was the exception, Debruyne said. Petit, Edith Cavell, Louise de Bettignies and other famous women in the Resistance are rightly remembered for their courageous actions, but in doing so, Belgian history forgets all the other women, he explained.
Gabrielle Petit was born in Tournai in 1893. During the First World War, Petit spied for the British Secret Service, collecting information on enemy troop movements. She was caught by the Germans in 1916 and executed by a firing squad in Schaerbeek.
“I have just been condemned to death, I will be shot tomorrow. Long live the King, long live Belgium.”
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“Because in Belgium only around 20 percent of the country’s male population went to the front, the role of women in society was less altered than elsewhere.” When the Germans invaded neutral Belgium in August 1914, only about 200,000 Belgian men had been called to arms, unlike in France, Germany or the UK, where the vast majority of the male population aged 18 to 45 had been mobilised. In France, women had to take on almost every aspect of daily life, replacing men in factories and hospitals as well as managing home duties. But because in Belgium only around 20 percent of the country’s male population went to the front, “the role of women in society was less altered than elsewhere,” Debruyne said. “You will see how a Belgian woman knows how to die”. Commemorative statue and plaque for Gabrielle Petit who became a Belgian national heroine after the war ended.
The economic situation, however, was disastrous, with skyrocketing unemployment and food shortages, especially in urban centres. “In 1917, nearly the entire Belgian population resorted to humanitarian aid,” Marissal said. “Men and women alike found themselves in deep precarity, in a reverse situation from neighbouring countries where women took over men’s jobs. There was a sense of gender equality before the suffering.”
“By the time her statue was inaugurated in 1923, Petit had become a national heroine, and the first working-class woman in European history to be remembered by a monument.” Women’s roles during war time Despite the common vision of women embracing new-found freedom in wartime jobs, the lifestyle of most Belgian women was not turned upside down as radically as that of their European neighbours. “The war deeply shook up the way of life,” Claudine Marissal, a historian at the research centre on the history of women (CARHIF) told The Brussels Times. “But the situation in occupied Belgium was vastly different from France or the United Kingdom.”
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Yet in this crumbing economy, the few jobs that were left “mostly went to the men,” Debruyne explained, effectively rendering the vast majority of women unemployed. Feminist groups who before the war were petitioning for women’s suffrage turned to social work, founding the Patriotic Union of Belgian Women to give small jobs to women. New professions developed as well: nursing schools, which had opened before 1914, grew exponentially, offering women job opportunities. But in schools or in hospitals, women’s professional choices were reduced to positions close to their traditional role of mother, carer or housekeeper. The women who could not find work sometimes turned to prostitution. In Brussels, prostitution exploded, as did the number of children born of unknown fathers, due to the rapes that women suffered from German soldiers during the invasion in 1914. “Women were dominated in every way: the domination of the occupier towards the occupied, of men towards women, of the military towards civil society,” Debruyne said. “There was an intersectionality of domination, which made
figures such as Petit even rarer, and more difficult to emerge.”
Female resistance agents An exhibition on the life of women during World War I organised by Belgium’s Museum of Resistance and Amazone NGO in September 2019 shone a light on women who distinguished themselves during the war – through resistance networks but also other patriotic commitments in nursing and charity work. The British nurse and MI6 agent Edith Cavell, who was executed by the Germans in 1915 and, like Petit, became a post-war martyr figure, played a strategic role in evasion networks, helping soldiers to cross the border to the Netherlands. In Cavell’s network also worked Marie de Croÿ, who later played a role in the resistance in World War II. The Frenchwoman Louise de Bettignies launched a vast intelligence network throughout Belgium and northern France and spied on the German army until she was arrested in 1915. These women, more emancipated and active than most, were autonomous and able to act in part due to their celibacy, Debruyne observed: “They were not under a man’s tutelage, nor had the burden to care for a family.” Being female in the resistance could also work as an advantage: “In some
networks, women were used as liaison agents because the Germans were less wary of them.” The exhibition mentioned lesser known, everyday life heroes, too, like Madame Tack, a widow from Nieuwkappelle nicknamed ‘the soldiers’ mum’, who resupplied the troops despite the bombings; Hélène Dutrieux, who worked as a nurse and ambulance driver after training as a pilot; or Mieke Deboeuf, from Dixmude, who lost her house to German shells but continued to offer her help to soldiers.
“The British nurse and MI6 agent Edith Cavell, who was executed by the Germans in 1915, and became a post-war martyr figure, played a strategic role in evasion networks, helping soldiers to cross the border to the Netherlands.” Resistance in occupied Belgium took many forms – active resistance was only one of them. Debruyne, who has profoundly studied the topic, sets apart three kinds of resistance networks whose actions
German troops marching through Brussels during WW1.
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weaponry. Along rail lines, locals involved in passive intelligence resistance kept watch from their home, Debruyne said: “And who best than a family to take turns at the window without raising suspicion?” In these extremely important positions, the resistance counted “a great proportion of women”.
German troops marching through Belgium in 1914.
“In intelligence, women accounted for 20 to 25 percent of the 6,500 active agents in Belgium and northern France.” depended on each other: some provided intelligence on German troops while others organised the (forbidden) correspondence with the front or facilitated the evasion of foreign soldiers to the neutral Dutch border. Women took part in all three activities in uneven numbers, but the majority of resistance networks members were men, Debruyne noted. In intelligence, for instance, women accounted for 20 to 25 percent of the 6,500 active agents in Belgium and northern France. He estimates that among the 10,000 resistance agents he has studied in his research, at least 3,000 were women – of which 2,000 are named in resistance networks files. But despite the fiery memory left in history books by Gabrielle Petit, there were few female spies. Women were also absent from clandestine press circles. They were, however, more active in evasion and correspondence groups, Debruyne said: “The humanitarian character of these forms of resistance was closer to the gender characteristics that society attributed to women at the time, such as care or dedication.”
Collecting intelligence The traditional role of women within the family, reinforced by the dire war situation which left most at home, could also play a pivotal role in the resistance. “For women, commitment to the resistance heavily relied on another member of her family being involved,” Debruyne explained. Sometimes, the entire family contributed: in intelligence networks, information on rail was crucial to understand where the German army was moving and roughly calculate their numbers and
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One family, among many anonymous ones, is well-known: that of Thérèse-Marie de Radiguès, who brought her husband and daughters into the Dame Blanche intelligence network, which she had co-founded in 1916 with fellow resistant Walthère Dewé. The network, by far the biggest of the Belgian resistance, was made up of 30 percent of women, Debruyne said, and had developed an “alternative feminine structure”, so as to keep running with female-only operatives in case male agents would be called to arms. Dewé’s vision of the Dame Blanche hierarchy was “very gendered”, Debruyne explained: “His own words were: ‘It’s up to the men to lead’.” The role of women in the group was to act as a reserve in support of male members, just as a wife’s duty was to support her husband. This did not prevent Thérèse de Radiguès from being very active in the network and beyond: she joined the resistance again, at 75, in 1940.
“At the Liberation in November 1918, King Albert I spoke of “equality before pain and endurance,” yet announced that “adult men of all ages” – only men – would be granted the vote.” After the war, Belgian women found themselves in a paradox. At the Liberation in November 1918, King Albert I spoke of “equality before pain and endurance,” yet announced that “adult men of all ages” – only men – would be granted the vote. This, Claudine Marissal said, was felt by women as an erasure of their own wartime suffering. In 1919, only widows and female war heroes were granted the vote – more as a “replacement vote for the dead” than real suffrage, Marissal noted. “History books remember the figures of women in the resistance, Gabrielle Petit and Edith Cavell, or the figure of the nurse. But after women committed their work and help alongside the men’s to manage the immense suffering of the war, only men obtained political progress after the conflict,” she said. For their own emancipation through the vote, women would have to wait another 30 years.
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NEW EXPERIENCES AT CLUB MED LA CARAVELLE, GUADELOUPE If you have ever visited the French West Indies before you may already be familiar with Club Med La Caravelle in the popular beach community of Sainte Anne in Guadeloupe. If not, you should seriously consider paying a visit as its just had a fantastic renovation. It’s also now easier to get there, as Air Belgium are operating direct flights twice a week from Charleroi, saving time and effort travelling to Paris. To celebrate the renovation, more than 300 guests were recently invited to the re-opening of one of the Club Med's most legendary, beloved villages. Club Med La Caravelle has a special story, it originally opened its doors in 1969 and was renovated in 2006, but was ravaged by Hurricane Maria in 2017. Since then more than €47 million has been invested for its reconstruction including major renovations.
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Renovation Changes include the addition of 180 new rooms and the new “Zen Oasis”, where no children are allowed and everything is focused on maximum comfort for adults. There are 42 luxurious rooms with sea views, an infinity pool, jacuzzi, an adapted gym and new al la carte restaurant. New experiences for families are now offered with childcare facilities including a “Baby Club” for infants and toddlers and a water playground, a perfect place for families to spend time together. The renovation also includes two new bars on the beach, the main restaurant has been given a facelift and the resort has also added a new restaurant called Gourmet Lounge, a “Rum Cellar” and an all new spa featuring French spa brand Sothys, where adults can enjoy tailor-made treatments in stilted cabins with sea views.
Re-opening Henri Giscard d’Estaing, President of Club Med, welcomed the guests at the recent re-opening, “We are together today to celebrate and write a new page in the resort’s history, and for that I want to thank all our investment partners and the Club Med team. At Club Med La Caravelle we’ve built an ideal place for multi generational families, an ideal place to be happy. The purpose of life is to be happy. And the movement to be happy is now.” Christian Baptiste, the mayor of Sainte-Anne, spoke passionately about the economic boost this renovation project will have “Club Med has been involved in the island’s evolution since the resort opened in 1973 and we want to thank our valued partners because financial investments like this one will help us highlight Guadeloupe, this magnificent place, on the international stage.” This renovation has made the resort Club Med’s new flagship in the French West Indies, where its portfolio also includes the Club Med Buccaneer’s Creek in Martinique.
SEASIDE HEALING THE BELGIAN TOWN THAT ALMOST SAVED MARVIN GAYE By Marianna Hunt Photo Credits: Fam. Cousaert
ix thousand one hundred and five kilometres lie between Washington DC and Ostend. The Atlantic Ocean and a cultural chasm separate the urban slum where Motown icon Marvin Gaye grew up from this quaint fishing port and former pleasure resort of the Belgian royals. Both of these were crossed when the singer made the journey from America to Belgium in February 1981. What was he looking for?
“During his time in the Belgian beach town, Gaye dropped his party lifestyle completely, abstaining from sex, going for long runs along the North Sea in his Adidas tracksuit, and singing at church.”
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“Ostend is my orphanage. There are plenty of places I’d like to be rather than Ostend, but this where I need to be.” Battling drink, drugs and multimillion-dollar debts, the 42-year-old Prince of Soul fled it all for the brasseries and fried fish stands of Belgium’s only seaside city. It was during his nearly
18-month stay here that the voice behind Sexual Healing found some healing of his own, before returning to America – with tragic consequences. Gaye’s early years had been turbulent; he grew up in a household ruled by his severe father, a preacher from an ultra-zealous Pentecostal sect, also rumoured to be a crossdresser and a sadist. In a biography of the singer by David Ritz, his sister, Jeanne, described Marvin’s teenage years as “a series of brutal whippings”. Aged 17, he ran away from home to enlist in the American air force, though he left the service after only a few months claiming to be suffering from a mental illness. Just a few years later he was in Detroit and had signed with Motown, the record label that had already helped make stars of Smokey Robinson, The Supremes and Stevie Wonder. However, as Gaye’s fame grew, so too did his debts and dependence on drugs. In 1979, he tried to kill himself by swallowing almost 30g of pure cocaine while on a binge in Hawaii. Owing millions to the US government as well as $600,000 to an ex-wife as part of their divorce settlement, Gaye was reduced to living in an old bread delivery van. Things worsened when he fell out with Motown, cutting ties with the label completely in 1981. “It was when Gaye was in London trying to escape it all that he met Belgian music promoter Freddy Cousaert,” explains Pieter Hens from the Ostend tourist office. “Cousaert was a big fan and he knew about Marvin’s love of the sea – so he invited him to stay with his family in their apartment in Ostend to help him recover.”
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good friends with his own when they came to school here, and remember going to birthday parties with them. Lots of the local musicians reminisce about playing with him.” Gaye was very open about the solace he found in the town; he admitted on Belgian television that he felt like an orphan, claiming “Ostend is my orphanage”. He said: “There are plenty
“Ostend is my orphanage” During his time in the Belgian beach town, Gaye dropped his party lifestyle completely, abstaining from sex, going for long runs along the North Sea in his Adidas tracksuit, and singing at church. He was often to be seen playing basketball and darts with local Ostenders and visiting his favourite cafe, Floride, on the promenade for breakfast. “Some locals were a bit shocked at first,” says Hens. “There weren’t many non-white people in the town at the time and, of course, everyone knew his name. But many older Ostenders have happy memories of spending time with Marvin, and some of their children became
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“In autumn 1982, Gaye bought a 21-room mansion just outside of Ostend. But when he was offered the chance to return to America to tour just a few weeks later, he seized it and left his European refuge for good.”
in September 1982; it quickly reached No. 1 in the singles charts and spent a record ten weeks there. Its music video was filmed at Ostend’s art deco concert hall, the Casino-Kursaal. All these places are key stop-offs in the twohour “walkumentary” – a walking tour from the Ostend tourist board available to download
of places I’d like to be rather than Ostend, but this is where I need to be.” Surprisingly, given his lack of sexual activity at the time, the soul singer’s monastic existence in Belgium inspired him to write Sexual Healing, the song for which he won his first ever Grammy award. The song was written in Cousaert’s home at the Residence Jane apartment block and released
to your smartphone. “You can explore Marvin Gaye’s favourite haunts while watching original footage of him out and about in the town and interviews with people who knew him,” says Hens. “Most of those around him were convinced he’d settle in Belgium for good,” he adds. It certainly seemed so: in autumn 1982, Gaye bought a
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21-room mansion just outside of Ostend. But when he was offered the chance to return to America to tour just a few weeks later, he seized it and left his European refuge for good.
before his 45th birthday by his own father with a gun Gaye had given him as a Christmas present. He had been trying to break up a fight between his parents.
Less than two years after his return, Gaye was found dead at his parents’ home in Los Angeles. He had been shot at point black range the day
“Less than two years after his return, Gaye was found dead at his parents’ home in Los Angeles. He had been shot at point black range the day before his 45th birthday by his own father with a gun Gaye had given him as a Christmas present.” THE BRUSSELS TIMES MAGAZINE
ised a tour for him,” says Hens. “But in the end nothing came of any of the films because Gaye’s family were unhappy with the plans.” However, last year, talk of a biopic resurfaced, this time supposedly with rapper Dr. Dre as its producer.
Many attempts have been made to turn the singer’s turbulent life into the subject of a film, with A-listers including Lenny Kravitz and Will Smith among those rumoured to be playing him. “Lenny Kravitz visited Ostend and we organ-
Whether he is immortalised on screen or not, Gaye’s memory won’t be fading from the streets of Ostend anytime soon. The soul legend, who was born 80 years ago this year, is commemorated both physically by a life-size bronze statue outside the casino where the video for his greatest hit was shot, and virtually by the digital walking tour that attracts thousands of fans a year to this quiet corner of the Belgian coast. “Marvin Gaye is a name that is known across the world,” says Hens. “Most of our visitors are Belgian, but we also have people come from America...Asia...all over. We’d love to create a museum dedicated to him one day; I think a film would give Ostend enough of a spotlight to make it the perfect opportunity to open one.” From the holiday hotspot of kings to a modest fishing town, being gradually swallowed up by apartment blocks: just as Ostend gave Gaye, at least temporarily, the healing he needed, maybe the Prince of Soul can give this seaside resort a new lease of life.
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YOU DON’T EAT OUT IN KNOKKE-HEIST, YOU INDULGE From Michelin starred restaurants to cosy bistros. There’s something for everyone.
A drawing of the Boxer rebellion. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
A FORGOTTEN HISTORY KING LEOPOLD II’S CHINESE GHOSTS By Evie McCullough
n 9 February 1898, a white-bearded Belgian sat at a desk, holding pen to paper, daydreaming about the distant lands of the Far East. Bypassing niceties, the man addressed the letter to the then-rector of KU Leuven and wrote in French, “now that we are witnessing the opening of territories in the Far East, the study of the Chinese language by Belgians is of critical importance.” The man continued to write, describing the need for Belgians to learn “the Chinese language” as “urgent” as possible in order to communicate with the Chinese. He was urging the rector to organise a new course in the Chinese language because the professor who had previously been teaching it had reached an advanced age and was no longer able to instruct. But, who exactly
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“Today, King Leopold II’s brutal activities in the Congo Basin are well known and are often used as a point of reference when highlighting the devastating reality of nineteenth century colonialism. Importantly, however, King Leopold II’s dreams extended far beyond the artificial borders of the African continent created by the colonial powers.”
“Before being crowned King in 1865, Leopold was an active member of the Belgian Senate. Between 1855 and 1865, his interest in developing Belgian trade and expanding Belgian colonial acquisitions abroad led him to embark on long voyages to China, India and Egypt.” was this man, and where did his interest in China originate?
King Leopold II Best known for the atrocities committed during his reign of the Congo Free State at the turn of the twentieth century, this square-bearded, white-haired man in question was King Leopold II – the very man who has come to be associated with the evils of colonialism, both within Belgium and across the globe. Today, King Leopold II’s brutal activities in the Congo Basin are well known and are often used as a point of reference when highlighting the devastating reality of nineteenth century colonialism. Importantly, however, King Leopold II’s
dreams extended far beyond the artificial borders of the African continent created by the colonial powers. Unknown to many, largely because of both its relative lack of success, another dream of King Leopold II was to grow a Belgian presence in China. In China, the epoch of Western interventionist imperialism of the nineteenth century continues to be thought of as a source of humiliation. While incomparable in scale to the violence of Belgian imperialism in the Congo, Leopold II’s interest in China has been forgotten by many, or at the very least, been exiled to the outer reaches of history.
Ambitions in China Before being crowned King in 1865, Leopold was an active member of the Belgian Senate. Between 1855 and 1865, his interest in developing Belgian trade and expanding Belgian colonial acquisitions abroad led him to embark on long voyages to China, India and Egypt. In 1865, as crown prince, Leopold travelled to China – specifically to Shanghai. After being forced to return home because his father’s health had taken a bad turn, Leopold soon after suggested to the Belgian Senate that China should post consulates in Belgium for business purposes. Leopold was also pushing for the Belgian Senate to open a consulate in Shanghai, in the hopes that, over time, it might transform into a locus of a Belgian presence in the region.
The Belgian municipality of Tianjin, 1911. Credit: Belgian Diplomatic Archives
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The Belgian municipality of Tianjin, 1911. Credit: Belgian Diplomatic Archives
In 1865, Leopold became King Leopold II. In November of that year, the Sino-Belgian Commercial Treatise was agreed to, setting a framework for the economic and judicial understandings between the two countries for the next half century. From this point onwards, Belgium started sending an official envoy to China. China soon after started sending envoys to Belgium, and the history of Sino-Belgian official diplomatic relations, inspired by the ambitions of the Belgian King, kicked-off. Importantly, however, King Leopold II’s ambitions in China were not born in a political vacuum. In the nineteenth century, China was a ‘hot commodity’ in the eyes of the Western
“In 1865, Leopold became King Leopold II. In November of that year, the SinoBelgian Commercial Treatise was agreed to, setting a framework for the economic and judicial understandings between the two countries for the next half century.” 98 | THE BRUSSELS TIMES MAGAZINE
empires. It was a fresh target for conquest and the western “civilising” mission. Despite the intense competition, historians have argued that Belgium was the only small western power to participate with some success in the imperialist rush in China.
A Rocky Start In the final couple of years before the turn of the century, King Leopold II’s ambitions for a Belgian presence in China were starting to bear fruit. In 1898, to the frustration of other foreign powers in the region, a Belgian syndicate won a contract to construct a railway between Beijing and Hankou, in part because of the country’s reputation as a neutral state. Given Belgium’s size and resources compared to other nations, it was quite a considerable win against the other western imperialists seeking territorial gains in China. Belgium got going, constructing a railway line that was over 1,200 kilometres in length when construction was finished some years later. However, presumably to the dismay of the Belgian King, only a matter of months after the railway line contract had been won, Chinese frustrations with the presence of numerous foreign powers in the region boiled over and the ”Boxer
Rebellion” started. Wearing red sashes, the Chinese rebels were dismissively coined Boxers by members of Western embassies in Beijing. Thousands of anti-imperialist rebels, railed against the West, stormed the city of Beijing, leading to a siege in the foreign centre of the city, during which a number of Belgian railway engineers were killed. Forced to pool their resources and work together, eight foreign powers, including the besieged Belgians, eventually won out and quashed the Boxer rebels. On 17 September 1901, the Boxer Protocol was agreed upon. The Chinese government were forced to pay strict indemnities over a period of thirty-nine years to each of the eight nations involved in compensation for the unrest. Belgium was awarded an indemnity of 31 million francs.
Map from 1901 depicting the geographical split of Tianjin, or Tientsin, between foreign powers. Credit: Belgian Diplomatic Archives
Concessions in Tianjin It was not long after the defeat of the Boxer rebels that a Belgian diplomat with a pointed, upturned moustache followed in King Leopold II’s footsteps and took a liking to China. After much brinkmanship in smoke-filled rooms, the moustachioed man, Maurice Joostens, succeeded in 1902 in negotiating Belgian tenancy of a plot of land in Tianjin – the port city of Beijing. Following the traditional diplomatic jargon of the time, this plot of land, leased by the Chinese government to Belgium for an annual fee, was called a ”concession”. And it was there that
Belgians soon arrived, leaving their homelands behind them and instead setting up a life in a new world, thousands of kilometres from home. Much like slices of a cake, Tianjin was carved up into eight sections, and the Chinese government gave one concession to each foreign power interested in Beijing’s traditional port city. The Japanese, the Dutch, the Germans, the British, the Russians, the Italians, the Austro-Hungarians and the Belgians all got a piece of the spoils.
Defence work in central part of the river of the Belgian concession, 1908. Credit: Belgian Diplomatic Archives
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“What a weird city I grew up in. For three or four Chinese coppers, I could ride in a rickshaw from my home, in England, to Italy, Germany, Japan or Belgium. I walked to France for violin lessons, I had to cross the river to get to Russia, and often did, because the Russians had a beautiful wooded park with a lake in it.” While the different concessions varied considerably in size (Belgium’s was one of the smallest at 40 hectares), the concessions combined covered a total area of 15.5 square kilometres. Residents of the concessions would use rickshaws to travel between the different concessions. Children and adults alike would cross from one concession to another with ease, and life was relatively harmonious, with some of the world’s greatest powers, living, literally sideby-side. “What a weird city I grew up in. For three or four Chinese coppers, I could ride in a rickshaw from my home, in England, to Italy,
Germany, Japan or Belgium. I walked to France for violin lessons, I had to cross the river to get to Russia, and often did, because the Russians had a beautiful wooded park with a lake in it,” wrote American journalist, John Hersey, when describing his childhood in Tianjin. It is estimated that, by 1920, there were a total of just less than 6,000 European settlers in Tianjin, compared to an estimated 837,000 Chinese.
Slow progress Despite King Leopold II’s hopes and dreams that the Belgian concession in Tianjin would spread and transform into a colonial behemoth, general interest and investment in the concession, both emotional and financial, on the part of the Belgian government, was low. Nevertheless, Belgium in Tianjin did enjoy some successes; a bank specifically dedicated to Chinese-Belgian relations was set up in 1902 and a Belgian railway company, set up specifically for Tianjin, successfully established a railway network across all eight concessions. Yet, in spite of these successes, enthusiasm for Belgian activities in faraway China was low and it was only in 1913 that the concession received official recognition by the government. Yet it wasn’t only Belgians at home who were losing interest; back in Tianjin, Chinese citizens were
Embankment work in the upstream part of the Belgian Concession, 1908. Credit: Belgian Diplomatic Archives
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Police and soldiers of the Belgian municipality. Credit: Belgian Diplomatic Archives
“By the early 1920s, it was clear that the upkeep of the concession, with its high costs and little reward, was more trouble than it was worth. Tianjin would not be the stepping stone to further territorial gains in the region as King Leopold II had hoped fifty years earlier.” once more losing enthusiasm for the presence of foreign powers in the region.
Withdrawal By the early 1920s, it was clear that the upkeep of the concession, with its high costs and little reward, was more trouble than it was worth. Tianjin would not be the stepping stone to further territorial gains in the region as King Leopold II had hoped fifty years earlier. In essence,
Belgium in general was not, nor had ever really been, that interested in the concession. And so, in 1929, Belgium handed back its 40-hectare concession to China, waving goodbye to a unique period in its history, when Belgians lived beside Japanese, Dutch, Germans, British, Russians, Italians and Austro-Hungarians, far away from home. Although Belgium’s concession in Tianjin and the expansion of Belgian business in China may not have, in the long term, been ‘successful’, the history of Belgian imperialism in China provides insight into the different ways in which colonialism and imperialism took shape during the age of empires, as well as into the truly global ambitions of King Leopold II. For this monarch, his stepping stone theory did not bear fruit in China; Belgium did not succeed in expanding its territories in the country beyond its small concession in Tianjin. Nevertheless, just because history judges something to have been unsuccessful, does not mean that its origins or the intentions of those who spearheaded it should be forgotten or ignored. The story of Belgium’s history in China, and specifically Tianjin, is rich and complex, and tells us much about King Leopold II’s hopes and dreams for the small Western empire at the turn of the twentieth century.
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Alicja Gescinska is a Polish-Belgian philosopher and novelist.
THE STATE OF LANGUAGES IN BELGIUM AND THE NEED TO IMPROVE OUR SKILLS AND EXPECTATIONS
hereâ€™s something rotten about the state of our educational system. Over the past year, several surveys and analyses have warned of an important qualitative decline. Students are increasingly less competent in reading, writing, mathematics and other elementary skills. The most recent outcry came from Flemish university
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professors of French, claiming that the entry level standard of new students is abominable. It is in fact often too low to even begin the studies, let alone successfully finish them. At the end of 2019, the results of the PISA-report (the Programme for International Student Assessment) were made public. Those results
“Over the past year, several surveys and analyses have warned of an important qualitative decline. Students are increasingly less competent in reading, writing, mathematics and other elementary skills.” weren’t very uplifting. They showed that besides being less competent in reading and mathematics, the scientific knowledge of our 15-year-olds is also deteriorating. Perturbed, the Flemish minister of education reacted by calling a team of international experts together. By the fall of 2020, they must have a report ready with recommendations to counteract this decline in subject skills.
More demanding About a month later, the professors of French published their memorandum. They call for the introduction of non-binding French tests for those students who want to pursue a Master’s degree in languages. If we don’t react now, an overall qualitative decline is inevitable. We must not lower, but increase our expectations. We must be more demanding.
Economics The fact that Flemish students are less competent in French is not only a problem for the language departments. This academic year, the University of Hasselt introduced a general course of French at the faculty of economics and business sciences. They noticed that their students were not able to communicate fluent-
“The most recent outcry came from Flemish university professors of French, claiming that the entry level standard of new students is abominable.”
ly in French, which significantly weakens their position on the labour market. To meet the demands of the job market, we need to improve our French.
Bilingual in Brussels We must also strive to get more people to warm to the idea of multilingual education, especially in a city like Brussels. Several politicians in Brussels and leading academics – like VUB-rector Caroline Pauwels – have already emphasized the importance of such an educational reform. Why shouldn’t students whose mother tongue is Dutch be taught in French more frequently? Why should we confine the use of French to the French class?
“Another language is a gateway to another world. A language opens the windows of our soul which allows the gentle breeze and fresh air of another culture to drift in.” Many benefits There are plenty of benefits to being fluent in more than one language. It contributes to the development of one’s cognitive functioning. It can improve one’s long-term concentration, and short-term focus. Multilingualism is even believed to have health benefits. Some research suggests it helps to keep our minds active better and longer. But most importantly: another language is a gateway to another world. A language opens the windows of our soul which allows the gentle breeze and fresh air of another culture to drift in. Being fluent in another language helps us to get a better grasp of the world, because it makes our own small worlds a bit bigger.
Reading We must however not look at schools or politicians alone to tackle the issue. The problem won’t only be solved in class. Change must
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Flemish universities are flagging that many of their students are not able to communicate fluently in French.
“We must however not look at schools or politicians alone to tackle the issue. The problem won’t only be solved in class. Change must happen at home, as well.”
happen at home, as well. One obvious reason why our linguistic and reading skills are deteriorating is the omnipresence of screens: televisions, computers, mobile phones and video game consoles. Both as a source of knowledge and as a source of entertainment, it’s hard for books to compete with screens. A re-evaluation of reading – of the intrinsic value of the activity, as well as its outcome – is much needed.
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More human In our multicultural societies and globalized world, multiple languages co-exist. Our daily realities are essentially multilingual. It’s important that our minds sufficiently adopt – and are adapted – to that reality. Brussels is often considered to be one of the world’s most cosmopolitan, most multilingual cities. It is a matter of common sense consequently to stimulate our language skills as much as possible. Language is the fuel of every conversation; it is a precondition of interpersonal understanding. Knowledge of language is knowledge of each other. Hence, stimulating multilingualism can contribute to a better world, with more understanding and less conflict. Perhaps it can even help make us better persons. As the old proverb goes – sometimes attributed to Tomáš Masaryk, the great Czech statesman and philosopher – “the more languages you know, the more human you are.”
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Belgian gendarmerie during an identity check. Brussels, 9 February 1944. Creidit: War Heritage Institute
WWII EXHIBITION DILEMMAS IN WAR AND LESSONS FOR OUR TIME By Mose Apelblat
nter the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and of Military History at Parc du Cinquantenaire in Brussels. Walk past the traditional exhibitions of uniforms and weapons from Belgium’s glorified military past. Save the impressive wings of medieval armour, tanks and airplanes for another time, and go straight to the new permanent WWII exhibition on war, occupation and liberation in 1940 – 1945. There have been previous exhibitions on WWII, but this exhibition differs in depth and purpose.
“The permanent exhibition was opened on 8 May 2019, a symbolic day since Nazi Germany surrendered on that date in 1945 to the allied forces.” It was opened on 8 May 2019, a symbolic day since Nazi Germany surrendered on that date in 1945 to the allied forces, after having devastated
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Arrival of British troops during the liberation of Brussels, 3 September 1944. Credit: War Heritage Institute
“99% of all the items in the exhibition are our own, mostly from our underground storages. We found items that we didn’t even knew existed, because they weren’t listed in any inventory.” 108 | THE BRUSSELS TIMES MAGAZINE
Europe and committed war crimes and genocide on an industrial scale never seen before. Belgium was attacked by Nazi-Germany on 10 May in 1940. The exhibition highlights the Belgian dimension of the war. Other exhibitions on WWII can be found at the Bastogne Barracks and the National Memorial Fort Breendonk. The latter served as a transit camp for about 3,600 political dissidents and resistance fighters. Half of them would not survive the war. Since 2017, the three museums
“My favourite item is a wooden panel. It was found by a Belgian officer, broken, in a ruined factory in East Germany, saying in German that ´we’ll never surrender’. To me it reflects Nazi fanaticism even in the last months of the war when it was clear Nazi Germany would lose.” “In fact, we started to build up the new exhibition on WWII already in 2004 but it took several more years to finalise it, because of delays and lack of funding,” explains Kevin Gony, a historian at the War Heritage Institute and responsible for the exhibition. He is also co-editor of a comprehensive and well-researched anthology on Belgium during the war years. “I started to work with historical research in 2009. 99% of all the items in the exhibition are our own, mostly from our underground storages. We found items that we didn’t even knew existed, because they weren’t listed in any inventory. One of them is a flag of Jewish-Belgian war veterans in WWI, one of the most emotional items in the whole exhibition.” There are many more interesting, revealing or
Propaganda poster of the pro-Nazi DeutschVlämishe Arbeitsgemeinschaft (DeVlag) with a call for mothers to join the fight, Brussels 1942. Credit: War Heritage Institute
have all been part of the same institution, the War Heritage Institute. During the war, the Nazis stole more than 2,500 items from the Belgian army museum, and after the war, the museum started to rebuild its collections. What we today consider historically important however, may not always have been so in the past. When King Baudouin inaugurated a new museum wing in 1951, there was nothing on the persecution of the Jews in Belgium.
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“Some 100,000 Belgians were willing to cooperate with NaziGermany. After the war, some 40,000 Belgians were sentenced out of 53,000 convicted for military collaboration. A total of 10,000 Flemish and 8,000 French-speaking Belgians joined SS-units and were involved in war crimes.” tions of the Belgian-Congolese troops in Africa during WWII. The Belgian army surrendered on 28 May, 1940, after 18 days of fierce battles, but not its security troops in Congo. Belgian Congo with its wealth of minerals – including uranium – was used by the exile government in London for the war effort.
Propaganda image of Wallonian SS volunteers, 1943 – 44. Credit: War Heritage Institute
“The exhibition also reminds us about forgotten parts of Belgian war history, such as the operations of the BelgianCongolese troops in Africa during WWII.” emotional exhibits. “My favourite item is a wooden panel,” says Gony. “It was found by a Belgian officer, broken, in a ruined factory in East Germany, saying in German that ´we’ll never surrender’. To me it reflects Nazi fanaticism even in the last months of the war when it was clear Nazi Germany would lose.”
Other facets of Belgium’s WWII history The exhibition also reminds us about forgotten parts of Belgian war history, such as the opera-
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This colonial army of about 15,000 soldiers, under the command of Belgian officers, distinguished themselves in the campaign to expel the Italian army from Ethiopia, but was not allowed to participate in the liberation of Europe. The official argument was that there were not enough white officers to lead the troops but the real reason was the “negative” impact it could have on the Congolese soldiers. According to the anthology, the old collections still form the core of the exhibition, but they have been supplemented by a host of other pieces through wills, donations, deposits and purchases. As regards the Holocaust, it now fills 25% of the space. Does the exhibition re-evaluate the history of Belgium during the war? “Yes, very much so,” Gony replies. “We worked with a scientific advisory committee, which reviewed all texts in the exhibition, and made use of their most recent research. In doing so, we dispelled some myths, such as that collaboration only took place in Flanders. In fact, 95% of the population tried to stay neutral or to survive, and the rest either collaborated or resisted.” Still, some 100,000 Belgians were willing to cooperate with Nazi-Germany. After the war, some 40,000 Belgians were sentenced out of 53,000 convicted for military collaboration. A total of 10,000 Flemish and 8,000 French-speaking Belgians joined SS-units and were involved in war crimes.
“This is also the first exhibition designed twothree generations after the war, so we think it’s unbiased and more objective than previous exhibitions,” Gony adds. “It’s no doubt the most updated exhibition so far, but we cannot say it’s the last word. We have visiting school classes that can choose between different themes, but it’s too early to evaluate the impact of these visits.” Without specifying any number, Gony says that since the exhibition opened last year, the number of visitors has steadily increased. The museum has more visitors than ever before, and half of them are from abroad. Main findings and conclusions are pedagogically summarized in several languages and visualised through audio-visual media.
Germany invades Belgium Belgium was not completely taken by surprise by the Nazi German attack and had built up an impressive system of bunker lines and fortifications to stop an attack and give the French and British armies enough time to come to its aid. However, it decided not to rely on them and declared an armed neutrality. Until the war broke out, allied forces were not allowed on Belgian territory. The Belgian army had modern equipment, such as a 47mm anti-tank gun, which could pierce the armour of any German tank at normal combat
Propaganda photo depicting the advance of German troops in the streets of Saint-Vith, decorated with swastika flags, 12 May 1940. Credit: Collection CegeSoma - State archives
Families of executed prisoners from Breendonk visit the site after the liberation of Belgium, 1944. Credit: War Heritage Institute
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Refugees in the destroyed region of Bastogne, after the successful defence of American troops, December 1944. Credit: War Heritage Institute
“This is also the first exhibition designed two-three generations after the war, so we think it’s unbiased and more objective than previous exhibitions.” range. Still, its armed forces of 650,000 – 8 % of the total population at the time – were ill prepared for the war and most of them had to move on foot. The allied forces had expected a war of attrition and not tank units supported by dive bombers. “Everyone was mistaken about Nazi-Germany’s intentions,” says Gony. The first blow took place in the early morning on 10 May 1940 when German paratroopers using gliders took control of a strategic fortress defending bridges over a canal and the river Meuse. The fortress, one of the biggest in Europe at the
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time, had been built by a German firm in the 30s, so the Germans had the drawings of the bunker. They also knew that the biggest weakness of the fortress was its roof. Its capture was the first military use of gliders to bring paratroopers on the roof and take the fortress by surprise. When Belgium was forced to surrender, 6,000 Belgian soldiers had been killed but the invasion also claimed the lives of 6,500 civilians, some of them used as human shields or executed in revenge by the Nazi forces. 225,000 Belgian soldiers ended up in captivity. The exhibition continues to describe the economic hardships during the occupation, the German repression system, the conscription of forced labour, the persecution of the Jews, the collaboration with Nazi Germany, and the liberation. A total of 305 hostages were executed by the Nazis. 1,200 civilians were sentenced to death, of which at least 900 were executed. The image of a “fair occupier” is another myth as far as occupied Belgium is concerned. Pro-Nazi
Mayor Ernest Borrey from the Flemish National Party (VNV) salutes German troops at the town hall, Vilvorde, 1942. Credit: Collection CegeSoma - State archives
parties, in particular in Flanders, infiltrated the Belgian administration with the support of the occupying power. 25,250 Jews and 352 Roma were deported from the former military barracks at Kazerne Dossin in Mechelen, which became the gateway to death for almost half of the Jews in Belgium. During the war, the Belgian economy was tied to the German war effort. Under the politics of “the lesser evil” and the guidance of the industrialist Alexandre Galopin, Belgian companies co-operated economically with Nazi Germany. The “Galopin doctrine” said that it was not treason to do business with the occupier, if it excluded the export of weapons and preserved Belgian industry.
What certainly makes the museum attractive is its focus on lessons learned for our time and its questioning of black-and-white narratives. “We want to demonstrate the choices that people faced during the war so that the visitors can consider and ask themselves what they would have done in the same situation,” Gony says. “It’s not a matter of removing guilt from what people actually did.” Derailed locomotive as a result of a sabotage action by the resistance at the bridge over the Bergen-Condé Canal, Jemappes, 3 December 1943. Credit: War Heritage Institute
Today, the assessment of the Galopin doctrine is more critical, with doubts expressed about its worthiness. According to Gony’s anthology, the politics of “the lesser evil” expresses a moral weakness: a lack of democratic resilience in the context of a compelling dictatorship. Research on collaboration in Belgium focuses on political and military collaboration. In the majority of cases, collaboration was ideologically motivated, but money also played a role. After the war, more than 30,000 Belgians were accused of being informants, though fewer than 6,000 were effectively prosecuted.
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STRANGE LITTLE BELGIUM WHY SOME BRIDGES LEAD NOWHERE By Maïthé Chini
elgium has always had a hard time keeping its paperwork in order. Each year, the Federal Court of Audit chronicles the government’s mistakes, oversights and inaccuracies in what Belgians affectionately call the ‘Blunder book’. Belgium’s bad accounting dates back decades, and not only has poor credibility in the eyes of Europe to show for it, but the bookkeeping also reveals the construction of several unused motorways and a large gap in the national budget. From the end of the 70s to 1988, Belgium had a peculiar budgeting policy, which, in a very
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“From the end of the 70s to 1988, Belgium had a peculiar budgeting policy, which, in a very Belgian fashion, received the name “waffle iron policy”. The practice referred to the equal allocation of funds for large projects in the two parts of the country, Flanders and Wallonia.”
“If Belgium made money available for a project in Wallonia, then the same amount of money had to be spent on a similar project in Flanders, regardless of whether or not the other community needed it, and vice versa.”
Belgian fashion, received the name “waffle iron policy”. The practice referred to the equal allocation of funds for large projects in the two parts of the country, Flanders and Wallonia. The aim of the policy was to make sure that one side of the language barrier was not favoured over the other, and that the money for public works was divided fairly on a 50-50 basis. So if Belgium made money available for a project in Wallonia, the same amount of money had to be spent on a similar project in Flanders, regardless of whether or not the other community needed it, and vice versa. It was a way to, literally, buy peace between the communities, and became a very expensive way of governing. Due to this policy, money was often wastefully spent on both sides of the “language border”, which to a great extent resulted in Belgium’s relatively large public debt and the lack of needed public investment.
Growing public debt The result of the policy was a build-up of debt by the Belgian state that peaked in the late 1980s, reaching 129% of GDP in 1988, which Belgium is still feeling the consequences of today. The high-level expenditure had a snowball effect, leading to rising interest charges, budget deficits and explosive growth in debt. “In the 70s and 80s, we built bridges without roads leading to them, we built ports where no boats arrived, we built metro stations without metros,” said Wouter Beke of the centrist CD&V party. “Then, we decided that the ‘waffle iron policy’ was no longer tenable and that it only increased our national debt, and we gave the regions their own competences,” he added. That happened in 1988, and the waffle iron policy has largely disappeared since then.
The cable bridge of Godsheide goes over a canal, and was intended to be part of a new link connecting Hasselt and Genk. Today, only one side of the bridge is maintained for the small amount of traffic it serves, in addition to a bicycle path.
The national debt has decreased, and reached 99% of GDP in 2019. However, it is still used for matters coming under federal government auspices. A concrete example of this are the railways, for which investment is divided 60% (Flanders) to 40% (Wallonia). “It’s a typically Belgian, informal administrative practice, which gave priority to the equal treatment of the regions over the actual usefulness of an investment. Budgets for large-scale public projects always received equal or similar compensation in the other part of the country. This spending policy consequently led to unused or unfinished projects – ‘Great Useless Works’ – and is at the root of Belgium’s very high public debt,” according to the N-VA. Great Useless Works (‘Grote nutteloze werken’ in Dutch, ‘grands travaux inutiles’ in French) is a term coined by RTBF-journalist Jean-Claude
“When the port of Zeebrugge in Flanders was expanded in the seventies, in keeping with the waffle iron policy, Walloons were entitled to compensation. Guy Mathot, the then-Minister for Public Works, proposed to build a boat lift on the Canal du Centre, which cost €647 million. The lift, for which there was no need when it was built, is now mainly known as a tourist attraction.”
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One of the ‘ghost bridges’ of Varsenare, which was built over a railway line, but leads nowhere. Credit: Epyon
“In the 70s and 80s, we built bridges without roads leading to them, we built ports where no boats arrived, and we built metro stations without metros.” Defossé in the 80s to describe major public works or projects that were abandoned halfway through construction, only finished after they were no longer necessary or remained unused in the few instances in which they were actually completed.
around Kortrijk, the E19 interchange in Mechelen, the cable bridge of Godsheide and, last but definitely not least, the boat lift of Strépy-Thieu. “Our country houses a treasure trove of useless buildings,” said historian and cultural marketing manager Francis Weyns, who, as part of the Red Bull Lost Highway campaign in 2008, tried to highlight the potential of the abandoned structures by letting local people make suggestions on what to do with them.
“Unfortunately however, it’s not always easy to find them. A few books have been published about them, and everyone knows of an unused bridge in their neighbourhood, but an overall picture is lacking, and the government seems to be ashamed of it,” he added.
Belgium is full of roads that lead nowhere, bridges that suddenly stop, and metro tunnels that have been abandoned. There are parts of the metro networks of Antwerp and Charleroi which have never been used, bridges in the town of Varsenare that were not connected to anything, the complex of the A19 motorway in Ypres which was never finished, the ring road
Possibly the most well-known ‘Great Useless Work’, resulting from the waffle iron policy, is the Strépy-Thieu boat lift. It lies on a branch of the Canal du Centre in the municipality of Le Rœulx in the province of Hainaut in Wallonia. When the port of Zeebrugge in Flanders was expanded in the seventies, in keeping with the waffle iron policy, Walloons were entitled to
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The boat lift of Strépy Thieu, which cost €647 million, was not necessary when it was built, and is today mainly known as a tourist attraction. Credit: Zinneke
“Everyone knows of an unused bridge in their neighbourhood, but an overall picture is lacking, and the government seems to be ashamed of it.” compensation. Guy Mathot, the then-Minister for Public Works, proposed to build a boat lift on the Canal du Centre, which cost €647 million. The lift, for which there was no need when it was built, is now mainly known as a tourist attraction. Another memorable example are the ‘ghost bridges’ of Varsenare, a town in the municipality of Jabbeke in the northern part of the province of West Flanders. They were widely regarded as two of the most photogenic examples of Belgium’s failed public construction policy. In 1977, they were erected in the middle of a meadow. The first bridge was a viaduct over a road that was never built, the second one spanned the Spoorlijn 50A railway line. A short section of both bridges was fully built to serve as a motorway and included asphalt and a guard rail. The Varsenare Twin bridges inspired several artists and creatives to make blueprints and plans for all kinds of happenings. However, they were never received well by the Belgian Directorate
of Roads, which kept insisting that the bridges had to be respected as public property because a motorway would be built one day, right up until the then-Flemish Minister for Mobility and Public Works, Hilde Crevits, decided to demolish both of them, 34 years after their constructions. The first bridge was knocked down in October 2011, and the second one followed not long after, in January 2012. “The goal was to create something positive out of these neglected constructions. The works were public domain, built with public funds. We might as well do something useful with them,” said Weyns. However, despite the dozens of ideas to turn the ‘Twins’ into an open-air theatre, a mountain biking trail, a site to organise parties, or a ski and snowboarding slope, the Minister decided to spend extra money on making sure all signs of the never-used construction were destroyed. “It is almost as if they are ashamed of them, which is the totally wrong attitude. What we have built up in Belgium, in this respect, has at least as much potential for tourism as Manneken Pis, or the Atomium,” the historian added. An increasing number of local Belgian tourists take a day to start short adventures to explore (for a lack of a decent road) a usually hard to reach bridge. “The aim is to promote the lost highways abroad. We call them ‘formerly unknown touristic attractions’. It’s Belgium, it’s surrealism, it’s waffles: everything fits.”
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‘Wolf’, a new 3,000 m2 indoor food market, is the latest addition to the changes taking place in central Brussels. Opened inside a converted former bank headquarter, the food market has kept many of the original details, such as the 500m2 glass ceiling, and the huge bronze front door. Housing 17 restaurants, an organic supermarket, a microbrewery and artisanal chocolate makers, the founder has set high ambitions, and is determined to not only put the new market on the local map, “but to make it the best in the world”.
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Best-selling author Derek Blyth takes you to some places you might never have heard about, in a country almost no one knows.
REDISCOVERING THE FORGOTTEN AND UNKNOWN BELGIUM The lost cemeteries of 1917 FLANDERS FIELDS Sam Mendes’ 1917 is the latest attempt to capture the horror of the First World War on film. Unexpectedly, it’s set in northern France, whereas most of the fighting in 1917 happened over the border in Belgium during the Battle of Passchendaele. One of the most costly military campaigns in history, it left at least 600,000 dead and achieved almost nothing. At the end of the fighting, tens of thousands of bodies lay scattered across the landscape. Some were buried in graves dug along the line of battle. Others simply disappeared into the muddy soil. The Imperial War Graves Commission was set up in 1917 to come up with a more dignified method for burying so many dead. The architect Edwin Luytens finally came up with a plan that led to the creation of the iconic British and Commonwealth war cemeteries. Luytens proposed creating cemeteries on the battlefield grouping together a minimum of 40 graves, including graves dedicated to unidentified soldiers. In total, 140 war cemeteries were created in the small hill region around Ypres, ranging from the vast Tyne Cot Cemetery with almost 12,000 graves, to tiny cemeteries with a few dozen graves hidden in the woods.
British soldiers passing through the ruins of Ypres in Belgium. Ypres was completely destroyed after the battles that took place there during the First World War. Credit: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
Most people visiting the battlefields focus on Tyne Cot, where the sheer scale of the killing is reflected in the endless rows of white gravestones. As you approach the impressive Visitor Centre, a woman’s voice slowly recites the names of soldiers buried in the cemetery.
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The small cemeteries are hardly visited at all. But they have a special atmosphere because of their location in the landscape where the soldiers fought and died. They are in isolated spots that are sometimes hard to reach. You might need to rent a bike in Ypres. Or hike down a muddy track. But these little cemeteries provide a unique way of understanding the war. You might begin by exploring the three cemeteries hidden deep in replanted forest near Ploegsteert village. The Ploegsteert Wood Cemetery can only be reached on foot along a muddy forest track. It is a strange, silent place. Leslie Beauchamp, brother of the writer Katherine Mansfield, was buried here in October 1915 after a grenade blew up in his hand. “Blown to bits!” his devastated sister wrote. Some of the strangest cemeteries are hidden behind houses in small villages and towns. Wandering in Poperinge, you could easily walk straight past Poperinge Old Military Cemetery, which is concealed behind a house on the road out of town. A narrow path leads to a large empty lawn that looks almost like an English back garden. Some 427 sol-
diers are buried in long rows here, among the Flemish family houses. It’s worth tracking down Hedge Row Cemetery, which is possibly the most beautiful of all the cemeteries around Ypres. Hidden in the Palingbeek woods, it’s a silent, forgotten place reached along a forest track. The cemetery stands in a clearing in the woods with three army packs lined up mysteriously outside the wall. They contain objects that soldiers once carried, like gas masks, handkerchiefs and makeup (to play female roles in amateur plays). After the original cemetery was destroyed by shellfire, the new gravestones were placed in a circle to mark the site of the shell crater. A narrow trail across a field brings you to Spanbroekmolen Cemetery. This is a quiet, lonely spot where almost no one comes, but it is a place where the futility of war can be understood. All of the soldiers buried here came from Ulster. They all died on 7 June 1917 when they were given the order to attack too early. They were killed by machine gun fire just seconds before a massive mine went off that obliterated the German defences. Deep in a forest, Rifle House Cemetery is one of the most remote cemeteries in Belgium. It can only be reached on foot along a dark forest trail. The track ends at Rifle House Cemetery, where one of the graves belongs to a young Jewish boy called R. Barnett who was just 15 when he died. The film 1917 ends happily, but the 150 war cemeteries around Ypres show that the war did not end happily for millions of soldiers, on both sides. www.flandersfields.be
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A sensual Belgian chateau CHÂTEAU DE SENEFFE The beautiful bluestone Château de Seneffe lies at the end of a long drive in a forgotten corner of Belgium. It is not too well known, yet this is one of the most intriguing castles in the country. It was built in the eighteenth century by a wealthy arms dealer from Brussels. The nouveau riche owner set out to impress his visitors with a classical château, formal gardens and a Palladian theatre in the garden. Abandoned in the twentieth century, the building came close to being demolished, but was eventually taken over by the Belgian government as a museum of silverware. Now owned by the Walloon region, it has been
impeccably restored to provide a grand setting for temporary exhibitions. The intimate interiors are creatively employed to evoke the intellectual and sensual mood of the Enlightenment. After slipping on shoe covers to protect the parquet floors, you wander through a series of elegant rooms where you can experience the sounds, smells and fabrics of the eighteenth century. It is an astonishingly rich and sensual experience, inspired by rococo paintings and the novel les liaisons dangereuses. You can watch a film inspired by old scientific experiments, eat lunch in the former orangery and listen to philosophical discussions in the little theatre in the garden. But perhaps the most decadent moment comes on Sunday afternoons when visitors can drink hot chocolate from a silver pot in a quaint Chinese salon. With a bike, you can head off into Seneffe town to pick up the Ravel cycle trail. Head north on the old railway line 141 to reach the pretty village of Arquennes, where you pass next to a spectacular double bridge across the Brussels to Charleroi canal designed by Gustave Eiffel. www.chateaudeseneffe.be
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You might start off by exploring the new cycle lanes around the leien boulevards which run all the way from the law courts designed by Richard Rogers to the MAS museum. Then take a ride along the dedicated cycle lane that runs along the Scheldt waterfront for six kilometres, from the innovative architecture of the Nieuw Zuid quarter to the Droogdokkenpark in the north. Along the way, check out the freshly-landscaped riverside park next to the Sint-Michielskaai where the city has replaced a former car park with a stylish waterfront promenade. For a more adventurous route, you can follow the Ringfietspad around the edge of the Antwerp ring motorway, all the way from Middelheimpark on the south side to the docklands in the north. Completed in 2019, the 12km route runs mainly through woods and parks bordering the six-lane ring road. The final stretch takes you through Park Spoor Noord and across the stunning new Parkbrug cycle bridge designed by Brussels engineers Ney & Partners.
Adventurous bike trails ANTWERP Antwerp was ranked last year as one of the top three cities in Europe for cycling, so now is the moment to explore its new infrastructure. Pick up a bike at one of the city’s Velo rental hubs, drop into the tourist office to pick up a free fietskaart (cycle map), and head off in search of the coolest routes.
You can also hop on a bike to explore Antwerp port where you discover a rich collection of architectural styles as well as new bars and restaurants. Begin on the Westkaai waterfront where six towers were built by international architects from 2001 to 2016. Ride to the end of the quay and cross the white bridge, then continue past the Stormkop building. Turn right along Siberiestraat to reach Zaha Hadid’s landmark Port House (worth a look inside if you are here on a weekday). Enjoy the view from the quayside before heading back into town along the bumpy cobbles of the Oostkaai quayside. Stop off for a beer at the Seef brewery at Indiëstraat 21 and take a look inside the curious Kerkschip (church ship) moored at HoutdokNoordkaai 25. A new free ferry service from the Steenplein pier lets you explore interesting spots on the left bank of the Scheldt. The ferry drops you off near the Sint-Anna beach where locals go to eat mussels, drink beer and walk their dogs on the little beach. Head back south to the Frederik van Eedenplein where the tiny frites cabin Frituur LO has stood for more than 60 years. The potatoes are cut by hand each morning and fried in beef fat while you wait. You can sit on the bench outside or cycle to the riverbank to eat your frietjes with a spectacular urban view in front of you. Then cycle back into town through the lovinglypreserved 1930s Sint-Annatunnel. www.velo-antwerpen.be
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The most beautiful library in Belgium HET PREDIKHEREN Most tourists skip Mechelen as they head to Bruges, Ghent or Antwerp. But this small town half-way between Brussels and Antwerp has recently completed some inspiring urban projects including a waterfront walkway along the River Dijle.
sit with a novel, and a coffee bar in the cloisters. It puts on an inspiring programme of events including philosophical cafés, poetry readings and Sunday jazz sessions when Flemish celebrities are invited to play a personal selection from the library’s collection of 6,000 vintage jazz records. It’s often argued that libraries are irrelevant in the age of digital technology. Step inside the Predikheren library and you will see that they are more relevant than ever. hetpredikheren.mechelen.be
The latest project is the radical transformation of an ancient 17th-century baroque monastery to create a new city library. Founded by Catholic missionaries fleeing from the Netherlands, the monastery has had a troubled history, having been used as barracks, a weapons store and a military hospital. Abandoned by the army in the 1970s, the building was left to rot for 40 years, until it was finally rescued in 2019 by the Rotterdam architect Mechthild Stuhlmacher. She has preserved intriguing traces from the past, including faded wallpaper, ancient wood beams and carved gravestones. The Dutch architect went on to reshape the monumental building with polished stone floors, reading desks and a fabulous children’s library under the roof beams. She has a special way with wood, which is incorporated into the fabric to create a warm, welcoming feel throughout the building. As you wander around, you see photographs taken before the renovation, showing the abandoned ruin at a time when it was colonised by bats, buried under ivy and flooded with rainwater. It’s easy to understand that it took a budget of €25 million to renovate the building. Meanwhile, the monastery church next door is still a decayed ruin waiting for a cash injection. The library has quickly become a focus of local life with meeting rooms, quiet corners where you can
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Bruges without the tourists BRUGES RAMPARTS Millions of tourists head every year for the crowded centre of Bruges, but almost no one walks around the former ramparts. Landscaped in the nineteenth century, they form an almost continuous green belt around the old city. Here is where to head if you want to escape the crowds. You might pass the occasional fisherman, or a local student on a bike, but almost no tourists comes out this far. The seven-kilometre trail takes you past city gates, forgotten windmills and a wooden crane, with authentic local cafĂŠs like De Windmolen providing stops along the way. The oldest green space was created on the site of the ramparts in 1853. The work was done by the Belgian landscape gardener Egidius
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Rosseels who had already impressed the city with his design for the Astridpark. Heading north, you come to the Dampoort, site of a former harbour, but now a confusing mess of roads and canals. A replica mediaeval crane overlooking the harbour basin was built by carpentry students at a local technical college in 2002. It is an exact copy of the old city crane that originally stood on the Kraanplaats, including a tiny wooden bird perched on the top. Continue along the ramparts route and you eventually come to the Verlorenhoek, or Lost Corner, a peaceful neighbourhood on the edge of town, far from the crowds. The narrow cobbled streets are lined with tiny workersâ€™ houses, rows of whitewashed almshouses and ancient monasteries hidden behind high brick walls. You can heave to the top of a hill with an old windmill perched on the summit. Standing here, you get a spectacular view of the church spires and red tiled roofs of Bruges. But hardly any tourists. brugge.be
SPONSORED Challenge 16: Taste a sandwich with cream cheese
Challenge 17: Visit a brewery
Challenge 18: Learn the language
DO LIKE THE LOCALS DO (AKA THE BUCKET LIST)
he move to Brussels is a big step, but big steps are what expats are all about. We’re a pretty fearless bunch, always itching to get out there and experience. That sense of wanderlust is what took me off the beaten path and into Flemish Brabant.
Thankfully, as you may have guessed already, ‘there’s an app for that’: the ‘Become a Local’ Bucket List (www.bucketlistflemishbrabant.be)! There’s no, ‘Here’s a city, or a nice monument to stop by.’ No – there’s a bucket list, full of fun, sometimes quirky, things to do away from the hustle and bustle of Brussels. It’s your one-stop ticket to discovering Flemish Brabant’s hidden gems, those secrets only locals know. So how does it work? The bucket list contains pastimes that locals enjoy on a regular basis. Click a bucket-list tile for additional info (Time for the next trip… What strikes your fancy?) or to tick them off your list (I’m one step closer to becoming a local!). It’s perfect for tracking your progress and testing your skill and expertise as a true (g)local. Naturally, this can’t be done in a single day. Over the course of a year, I’ll be putting my best foot forward to explore as much of Flemish Brabant’s highlights as I can, using the bucket list as my guide. After all, locals don’t become locals overnight… If you’d like to read about my previous experiences with bucket list challenges 1 through 15, you can check them out on www.brusselstimes.com (search for ‘Bucket List’).
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Challenge 16: Taste a sandwich with cream cheese A little birdy told me to head for Beersel to try one of Pajotteland’s famed ‘cream cheese’ sandwiches. With that in mind, I visited 3 Fonteinen, a restaurant praised for its local Belgian dishes and fantastic selection of Lambic beers. Now, I’ll be honest… I had no idea what to expect. My experience with cream cheese had, until then, been largely limited to Philadelphia on bagels and artichoke dip. I was in for quite a surprise. Cream cheese at the 3 Fonteinen – and in the Pajotteland in general – is closer to quark or ricotta. It’s fresh and light. It also turns out that it’s the perfect thing to eat on a sultry summer day. Spread on thick pieces of rustic country bread and topped with radish slices and chopped green onions, this local treat is out-of-this-world delicious! Hats off to 3 Fonteinen for introducing me to what is now one of my favourite summer treats!
Challenge 17: Visit a brewery Belgium has no shortage of breweries, and Flemish Brabant is no exception to that rule. My goal was to try a few local beers I’d never tried before. So, I ended up in Tildonk, at the Hof ten Dormaal farmhouse brewery. Let me tell you – if you’re down for good beer, quirky ingredients, and witty names, you can’t
Challenge 19: Get acquainted with a local hero!
do better. The brewery sources its ingredients straight from the farm and constantly comes up with innovative brews from common, local staples. There’s the ‘Witgoud’ made from Belgian endive, the ‘Tempelhof’, an imperial stout that’s a punch in the face, and an IPA with a cracking-good title, ‘The Politician’, with the clever subtitle, ‘I promise you…’. Brewer Andre never thought he’d end up doing anything like this, but I promise you… He was born for it!
Challenge 18: Learn the language For a native English speaker, Dutch is an acquired taste. Especially when learning those g’s and vowel combinations like ‘oei’, you may go through a period of contorting your face into some truly hilarious expressions. But don’t give up! While you’re entertaining yourself and others, you’re also getting an inside look at the local culture. The first lesson to learn when learning Dutch is that the Flemish adore proverbs. The first course I took involved an entire class dedicated to learning adages about falling through baskets, gnawing on bones and lots of allusions to fish or poo. Throwing in a proverb or two when practicing your Dutch is a sure-fire way to score points with the locals.
Challenge 20: Follow in the footsteps and/or tracks of a local!
daily life of peasants, making him not only an artist but a 16th century visual historian of sorts. In fact, one of his piece’s, Netherlandish Proverbs, uses people, objects and animals to depict literal translations of some of those funny proverbs I mentioned above.
Challenge 20: Follow in the footsteps and/or tracks of a local! Once I’d ‘met’ Bruegel, it only made sense to trace a few of his footsteps. Perfectly tailored for the task, the Bruegel Trail helped me do just that. I didn’t pass any peasants, but from the views it was abundantly clear that little of the landscape has changed since Bruegel’s time. Fields of green and gold and orchards full of ripening fruit are still part of the landscape’s tapestry. And despite its proximity to ‘civilization’, the walk is surprisingly quiet. I took my husband and kids along. There’s a great treasure hunt for kids on this walk, which makes it the perfect family art, history and nature outing!
Flemish Brabant, a definite to-do on your own bucket list
Challenge 19: Get acquainted with a local hero!
If it’s not on your list, it should be. Flemish Brabant is full of treasures good for the soul. If you are interested in hearing more bucket-list adventures, stay tuned to the Brussels Times.
You might not know it, but there are loads of local heroes in Flemish Brabant. For example, Georges Lemaître (Leuven) inventor of the Big Bang Theory, Eddy Merckx (Meensel-Kiezegem), five-time winner of the Tour de France, and… Pieter Bruegel the Elder.
However, if you just can’t wait, check out the ‘Become a Local’ bucket list (www.bucketlistflemishbrabant.be) and sign up for the newsletter. You can stay up-to-date on what’s happening in Flemish Brabant and get tips from genuine local ‘heroes and heroines’ of Flemish Brabant.
Bruegel is one of the preeminent artists of the Dutch and Flemish Renaissance and is famous for painting people and landscapes in the countryside around Brussels. He focused on the
© Jokko Photography (photo 2), © Lander Loeckx (photo 3, 4 and 5)
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MOLENBEEK IT’S JUST A PLACE By Jules Johnston
olenbeek. Everyone knows Molenbeek, sort of.
To some, it’s the place that led to Brussels being labelled “the jihadist capital of Europe”. If not that, it might be the commune that caused Trump to label the entire city “a hellhole”.
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At the very least, a mention of the Brussels commune to an international audience generally leads to stories of terror and arrests all muttered fearfully. What it’s not however, to many, is just another Brussels commune, and a part of the city which offers cultural melding in a way unheard of in many other parts of the international city.
“Once called ‘little Manchester’, this former home of factories and industry was an important contributor to the eventual wealth of Brussels.” where the November 2015 Paris attacks were planned. The Brussels attacks of March 2016, which saw bombings at Brussels airport and Maelbeek metro station, further cemented the neighbourhood’s negative reputation in the eyes of the world, as these attacks were also planned there. Furthermore, these attacks were executed by associates of Salah Abdeslam, who grew up in Molenbeek and has been described as centrally involved in the attacks in Paris. “A breeding ground for violence,” the then-mayor of Molenbeek, Francoise Schepmans, said of her commune. “Almost every time there is a terrorist attack, there is a link with Molenbeek,” said former Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel. All of this took place in an area less than 20 minutes from the chocolate shops and tourist throngs of the Grand Place.
“A Google search of ‘Molenbeek’ produces a long and monotonous list of search results that all focus on the same thing: its connections to the terrorist attacks in Paris (2015) and Brussels (2016)” Like any other commune, city, suburb or district, Molenbeek is neither all good nor all bad. It is, however, notorious. A Google search of ‘Molenbeek’ produces a long and monotonous list of search results that all focus on the same thing: its connections to the terrorist attacks in Paris (2015) and Brussels (2016). It is indisputable that Molenbeek became infamous, when it was named as the location
It’s a lot, and to many, it’s still all they know.
A lesson in history Molenbeek has changed an astonishing amount over the years. Once called ‘little Manchester’, this former home of factories and industry was an important contributor to the eventual wealth of Brussels. The Industrial Revolution and the building of the Brussels–Charleroi Canal changed Molenbeek. By 1785, the town regained its status as an independent municipality, and people came to stay in droves as the population boomed, resulting in cramped living conditions because the available housing could not meet the demand. Until the early 20th century, Molenbeek boomed. The end of the war, however, brought industrial decline and an eventual dip in popula-
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The terrorist attacks in Paris (2015) and Brussels (2016) made Molenbeek infamous worldwide when it was revealed as the location where the attacks had been planned.
“Until the early 20th century, Molenbeek boomed. The end of the war, however, brought industrial decline and an eventual dip in population. By the 21st century, increasing poverty began to leave a mark on the former industrial hub.” tion. By the 21st century, increasing poverty began to leave a mark on the former industrial hub. Rising crime rates, cultural intolerance and unsuccessful redevelopment projects began to characterise the neighbourhood, and this was all before terrorism became its most famous claim to notoriety. “Before the attacks, Molenbeek was a neighbourhood that people didn’t go to because it was perceived as a place where there was nothing to do, and no capacity to change,” explained Hanna Bonnier, founder and co-manager of Le Phare du Kanaal, a co-working café.
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“That’s not even true, the people here want to eat, learn, work and interact as much as anyone else. They’re hungry for it.” Despite the years which have passed since the worst times in Molenbeek, as another local business owner put it: “The fear stays forever.” “Alone, I can’t convince people to change their minds about Molenbeek,” said Raphael Cruyt, one of the founders of the MIMA museum of visual arts. Located in the much sought-after canal district, MIMA represents one of the more obvious projects drawing people to Molenbeek. “The attacks really made us rethink our place in Molenbeek, what we could do and what our presence would mean,” said Cruyt. “Those of us working, living, thriving in Molenbeek, we feel a need to change minds, but I think it is naive to think we can do it so easily.”
A new face for an old town To those working in Molenbeek, a constant barrage of people highlighting the worst aspects of the neighbourhood grew tiring.
Molengeek is one of several recent projects aimed at empowering the youth of Molenbeek and stimulate innovation and entrepreurship.
“Upmarket development projects sit nearby houses that have been in families for generations. The Canal district – seldom called Molenbeek despite its 1080 postcode – is one such area fast becoming another place to be for the middle class. ”
“Following the attacks, there was an influx of foreign journalists to Molenbeek, and we saw a lot in the cafe,” said Bonnier. “The things I overheard, from interviews and meetings, it made Molenbeek sound like a warzone. It was all feeding into stigmatism with very little truth behind it.“ The Molenbeek of 2020 is a new area for a new age of the city.
Upmarket development projects sit nearby houses that have been in families for generations. The Canal district – seldom called Molenbeek despite its 1080 postcode – is one such area fast becoming another place to be for the middle class. The question, however, is if this move is the beginning of gentrification or something else entirely. “They first moved into new buildings and didn’t take anything away, so, in my definition, it was not yet gentrification but just a natural flux in the city,” Cruyt explained. “Many people own their houses – they won’t get forced out. You can see that people love this place, that people want to make it better, and this only grew after the attacks,” explained Bonnier. “This won’t play out as traditional gentrification,” she added. The canal area, and those who buy the property, will potentially have a large impact on the rest of the commune, she added.
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“Many people own their houses – they won’t get forced out. You can see that people love this place, that people want to make it better, and this only grew after the attacks. This won’t play out as traditional gentrification.”
A search on real estate website Immoweb at the end of 2019 showed that a two-bedroom 113 m2 loft, by the canal, comes in at €360,000. Near the Gare de l’Ouest, another area facing potential gentrification, a penthouse was selling for €600,000.
Academically speaking, gentrification is generally thought of as fluctuating between the idea of revitalising a neighbourhood, and a potential cause for social unrest, conflict and polarisation if not used effectively. The outcome, however, often takes time – and Molenbeek is still on the cusp. “What we’re quite sure about is that, by this side of the Canal, Brussels is changing at an impressive speed. One of the densest, youngest and poorest areas in Belgium is getting even more crowded,” added Luppari. “From June to September, it’s not unusual to see many new faces in the neighbourhood. The feeling is that these small waves are anticipating the flood.” Despite an influx of new arrivals, some things will take longer to change in the commune, if they ever do.
Yet, go further back into Molenbeek, and renovated two-bedroom properties are starting at €250,000 – in line with the Brussels average – or sometimes as low as €150,000 for a similar size, number of rooms and facilities; the only difference being the properties’ location within the community.
“Molenbeek is a refuge for people who cannot afford more. This means there is quite a strong social control in action, so prices will not change easily in the face of opportunity,” Luppari explained. “In Molenbeek, oranges can cost 90 cents / kilo. In Sainte-Catherine, it’s easily double. A sandwich chain versus a local shop - 8 euro versus 3 for roughly the same product.”
Despite the influx of people moving to the neighbourhood from across Belgium, the internal community of Molenbeek remains mostly unchanged.
Fundamentally, Molenbeek and its people are facing massive changes, but it is the direction it takes that will shape how it is thought of from here on out.
“As a result, there’s increased social diversity in the neighbourhood, in schools, in sports, as people start to find ways to get to know who they live with,” said Cruyt. “Kids interact, they don’t care who with, or where they’re from. For my kid it’s normal, but to me, it’s astounding to see.”
“Gentrification is going on here, but so is the upskilling of the people of Molenbeek. Whether this will be good for the local communities is up to the people with the skills, and the local policy,” said Ricardo Martínez Herrera, Creative Director of training in the co-working space Molengeek.
Because despite it all, Molenbeek remains diverse.
The nuts and bolts “I wouldn’t be that sure that what’s going on is classical gentrification. In the first place because of the special character of this popular side of the city,” explained Edoardo Luppari of the Centre Communautaire Maritime CCM. “We shouldn’t underestimate the attachment of many inhabitants to these popular areas, many of whom are owners or live in social houses. The social and familial link is like the egg for the flour. So, we could talk of a sort of resistance - or resilience - to gentrification.”
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“The two don’t cancel each other out, and diverse meeting points can help create cultural overlaps. If you provide the opportunity here, diverse groups happen, it’s not something you have to target. The will is there, people want to grow, and Molenbeek is starting to provide the opportunity to do so – that’s the Molenbeek of now.” Molenbeek has a complicated history, and a reputation to challenge, but it's not alone in that. “The next challenge for Molenbeek is to face up to the future,” said Luppari. “First, however, Molenbeek must overcome its own prejudices before others overcome their prejudices towards Molenbeek.”
INTERNATIONAL GASTRO-PUB | LIVE JAZZ SUNDAY BRUNCH FREE LIVE BAND PLAYING EVERY SATURDAY NIGHT FROM 20:00 Situated in the heart of the the EU Quarter, 100 meters ftom Maalbeek Metro stalion. We provide an ехрепепсе thal exceeds people's expeciations for quafity and service.
LIVE SPORT Doing Sports laid back. Ali the important sports events on several screens in a friendly. welcoming atmosphere. Come in and join us for a champions league match or watch rugby and hurling with a cool pint of Guinness.
FOOD & DRINK Wholesome. fresh. hearty. food combines unpretentious modern pub flavours with classic french cooking styles inspired by seasonal influences. accompanied by a concise but delicious wine menu. The Wild Geese Pub Restaurant offers a broad variety of Belgian and International beers, high end spirits and a wide-ranging menu of topnotch Whiskeys served in casual. relaxed and comfortable surroundings. Please see our website or follow us on Facebook to browse our drink cards our seasonal changing food menus. live sporfs. special events and our live music line up. Food served all day everyday from 12:00 - 22:50.
“A public house which specializes in serving high-quality food” Gastropub, n. Brit.
Follow us on Facebook for sports info and events ! For reservations use our website www.thewildgeese.eu or email to email@example.com Avenue Livingstone 2-4 | 1000 Brussels. Belgium | Phone +32 258 868 03
Hughes Belin is the author of the first-ever gastronomic guide to Brussels’ European Quarter. After covering EU energy policy for 18 years, he now writes about food and personal development. He won the Louise Weiss prize for European journalism in 2007.
THE BELGIAN GOURMET CORNER
n this issue, I wish to pay tribute to professionals who manage to create premium products with simple, not to say common, ingredients. It’s a skill I admire more than anything because this is the real talent of people involved in the food business, and the true manifestation of the concept of ‘added value’. The notion simply wouldn’t exist without those people. Let’s first
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taste the most expensive vegetable in the world – originally a waste product. Next, let’s drink a unique beer made like no other. Fancy another drink? A pioneering bar in Schaerbeek will show you what magic can be achieved with mere apples. And finally, let me take you to a gastronomic restaurant, where its chefs present amazing food, using simple ingredients.
THE FOOD PRODUCT
HOP SHOOTS It’s perhaps the most expensive vegetable in the world, going for more than €1,000 per kilogram at the first auction of the season. Fortunately, you don’t need to pay that much to enjoy it, but at an average price of €200 a kilogram, 100-150 grams per person still makes it a luxury product. The season is particularly short, running from mid-February to the end of March. The product is so niche that only connoisseurs know when it is available. Its rarity makes it expensive, so why isn’t there more on offer in a world flooded with beer, and hence hops? It’s because they are difficult to harvest: the farmers from Poperinge, Aalst and Asse in Flanders – and there are also some producers in France, Germany and a lot more in the Netherlands – break their backs in cold, damp winter weather digging into the ground to collect just a few centimetres of the shoots peeking out from the roots of their hop plants. You need two hours to harvest a kilo of them. Not to mention, they only keep for a week afterwards. Some are harvested all year round in greenhouses, but according to François Vossen, head of the vegetable and fruit department at luxury supermarket Rob, “the difference in taste is the same as between full-earth and hydroponic chicory”. He sells 30-40kg of them a year, from a single supplier. Are they worth it? There is certainly a growing hype around hop shoots, but their taste is unique.
They look like long straight soy sprouts and are crispy when fresh. They have a light bitterness reminiscent of chicory but with a hint of earth, like asparagus, with a touch of hazelnut. You don’t eat them raw but lightly poached in boiling water with a bit of lemon juice to keep their whiteness. You should then place them immediately in ice cold water to keep their crunchiness. They are usually served with a mousseline sauce and Belgian grey shrimps, a poached egg, sweetbreads or simply whipped cream. Rob’s restaurant has them on the menu throughout the season. Hop shoots are a cultural phenomenon in Belgium, especially in West-Flanders at Poperinge, the capital of Belgian hops, which hosts an annual hop shoots festival. This is also where Houblonesse products are manufactured. These social entrepreneurs produce a whole range of beautifully packaged delicatessen items made with hop shoot extract, such as brandy, genever, advocaat (egg liquor, fantastic with a coffee), cheese, etc. Hop shoots are originally a waste product from hop agriculture because no more than 8 cm of the 30 cm stems are edible as such. The rest is normally discarded because it is brown and fibrous. Blended with taste enhancers like chocolate, caramel or alcohol however, you can really taste the delicate freshness of the hop shoot, a genuine treat.
Rob - Boulevard de la Woluwe 28, 1150 Woluwe-Saint-Pierre – rob-brussels.be Houblonesse - Vlaanderenlaan 25-27, 8970 Poperinge - houblonesse.be
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MONTE CRISTO In today’s busy beer world, and particularly in Belgium, THE beer country par excellence, how does one innovate and launch a new beer? The two-century-old brewery Bosteels, close to Ghent in Buggenhout, has taken up the challenge in a magnificent way. It has created a unique beer with wine in it, and the result has been stunning. Although I haven’t quite understood the subtleties that lead to its unique name, Monte Cristo, – the narrative features a hidden treasure referring to Alexandre Dumas’ novel – it is now in a category of its own. The beer contains a small percentage of real wine: sherry wine, to be precise. The sherry is stored in oak vats for several weeks and then blended with the beer – the total process takes 11 weeks. It increases the alcohol content up to 11.5%, which means you will probably have just one 33cl bottle during a meal, just like wine. The bottle has a unique design, and its high shoulder together with its white on black label reminds me of a port bottle. The beer was born a few years ago thanks to the creative power of Antoine Bosteels and his master brewer Hans Van Remoortere. After the takeover by brewery giant InBev in 2016, the fear was that the former family-run plant would lose its soul and discard such niche products, but this concern was unwarranted in this case. On the contrary, the
Monte Cristo is evidence that Bosteels has some leeway to create distinctive products of its own. Despite their modest range, they have been quite successful with this strategy: Kwak and its famous drop-shaped glass, and the Tripel Karmeliet are best sellers among Belgian speciality beers. The Champagne-like DeuS is unique and being promoted as a gastronomic beer. The Monte Cristo completes the collection. It is a dark beer, a niche in itself on the Belgian beer market and designed for interesting food pairings. The taste of this dark beer is marked by vanilla and banana, as well as warm spices like cinnamon, Jamaican pepper, gingerbread, and caramel. It’s very round but a little bite of bitterness (coming from malted cereals) at the very end gives it some freshness in a long finish underpinned by the high alcohol content. It’s a strange beer because you cannot ignore the taste of wine in the background. It’s not sweet as such, but as a sommelier, I would qualify the beverage as gourmand (quaffable), i.e. very pleasant to drink and drink again, perfectly balanced. According to Karl van Malderen, founder of professional beer pairing academy Bapas, it’s best served with duck, spiced carbonnade (beef stew), Shropshire cheese and desserts based on premium dark and fruity chocolate, pear, strawberry or ice cream. “Its complexity should even increase if you keep it 2-3 years,” van Malderen adds. I bet I won’t be able to wait that long to enjoy it.
Monte Cristo will soon be sold at a retail price of around €3 and will also be available in beer bars and restaurants. Bapas will publish a taste factsheet on Monte Cristo – see bapas.be – by the end of February.
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JORAN Don’t look up Joran in the dictionary: it’s not a wind blowing across the Jura and Lake Geneva, but simply the first name of the owner of this unique place in Brussels. Joran, a young Breton, opened Belgium’s first cider bar off Place Dailly in Schaerbeek in September 2019. He spent the two years before that travelling around Europe to learn about the incredible variety of beverages that can be made from apples. The definition of ‘cider’ varies from one country to another: in France, it must be made from at least 90% apples, whereas in the UK, it’s only 30%. This explains the huge difference in quality between ciders. You won’t find industrial beverages here. Whether you are a beer or wine lover, you will find something you like – cider too is a fermented drink that can have many tastes and flavours. Sparkling, still, dry, sweet, acidic, fruity; the world of cider is infinitely diverse. And Joran’s range is quite impressive: 80 different brands to drink on site (with a corkage fee) or take away. The ciders originate from France, the UK, Germany, Spain, and it also includes some Belgian rarities. He has five highly distinctive varieties on tap plus some excellent craft beers and organic wines for those who simply want to enjoy the bar. Joran is first and foremost a very nice place for a drink or snack, completely retrofitted with plenty of wood and great lighting. Hopefully, Joran will have time to renovate the back garden in time for the summer, although there is already a terrace on the front for sunny days.
You can eat here too: the cook Gaëtan (another Frenchman) will serve you the house special, galettes (buckwheat crêpes), with a classic eggs, ham and cheese topping, a veggie version with mushrooms or a sweet variety with salted butter caramel (which is a little dry, though). He also offers patés, cold cuts and spreads, as well as melted camembert with potatoes. Finally, have a look at Joran’s agenda because he also organises events centred on food-cider pairings, such as a 3-course meal with matching ciders or an entire evening built around a traditional French dish. “Cider is like wine: it covers the whole range of tastes to match any dish,” he explains. The man is not only an expert, but also a passionate guide who will make you discover a whole new world of tastes in this cosy setting. JORAN – Rue Jacques Jansen 3, 1030 Schaerbeek - joran.bzh
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RACINES I will certainly not risk writing an article on Brussels’ “best” Italian restaurant. The backlash from such an opinion would be swift and sustained, especially from each and every Italian in Brussels who has their own unique opinion on the subject. Nevertheless, Racines is a serious contender for being one of the best restaurants in Brussels, period. I wouldn’t say you forget it is Italian, because it is difficult to ignore the strong personality and roots of its two owners, the influence of the nonna (grandmother) and, of course, the signature dishes. What I want to emphasise however, is that you don’t go to Racines to eat Italian, but to have a great gastronomic experience, from food to wine to service. Apart from decorative paintings on the wall, little emphasis is put on the décor, although I noted that tables are not too close to each other. Oh, did I forget to mention that is is a meatless restaurant? Yes, you read that correctly, and that is what makes this venture even more interesting. It’s not vegan – you can eat fish, seafood and animal products such as dairy, for what would Italy be without cheese? There’s just no meat on the menu, no flesh. For the carnivores among you however, who still want to enjoy Racines’ signature style, head next door to Petit Racines, their excellent sister restaurant and site of a 150m2-pasta workshop (and fresh pasta shop). Racines is a genuine slow food restaurant – the slow food movement was launched in Italy, and its aim is to promote a genuine respect for seasonal and local products. Chef Ugo masters his craft with talent and humility. The menu changes often according to what he finds at the marché. The excellent food is accompanied by mainly natural wines, i.e. organic, with no additives. The wine list is impressive with 100 references, including eight wines by the glass. Naturally it features aged vintages and wines from small producers. Francesco, the cellar master and co-owner, is an expert. Ask him for advice and, with his sonorous
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Exclusively for The Brussels Times readers, a recipe from Ugo Federico and Francesco Cury’s new recipe book ‘A tavola’, Racine Publishers.
Scarole acciugate imbottite (broad-leaf endive stuffed with anchovy) Ingredients: One broad-leaf endive, fresh water and ice cubes, 100g fresh breadcrumbs, 100g dry breadcrumbs, 50g parsley, one garlic clove, 50g minced premium black olives, 50g minced capers, salt and pepper, 4 anchovy fillets in oil, virgin olive oil. Preparation: Preheat the oven to 190°C. In a blender, blitz all the fresh breadcrumbs with half the dry bread crumbs, parsley and garlic. Add the olives and capers to the bread mixture, season with salt and pepper, then mix by hand to combine. Clean the entire endive in water without breaking it and blanch for 15 seconds in boiling water. Place it in ice cold water to preserve colour and crispiness. Dry the endive with a towel. Open it carefully with a knife, stuff it with the bread mixture, add three whole anchovy fillets and close it again. Place the stuffed endive on a parchment-lined baking tray, season with a pinch of salt and pepper, and a splash of olive oil. Cut the last anchovy fillet into small pieces and spread them over the endive, sprinkle the remaining half of dry bread crumbs over the endive. Bake for 10 minutes and finish by placing them under the grill for 2 minutes.
voice, he will be happy to recommend the best potential pairings based on the vegetables in your dish. Of course, you pay a price for such premium food and drinks, but it’s worth it. Note: you don’t pay for water here, unlike most other restaurants in Belgium. And check their agenda, Racines holds several musical events during the year. Racines - Chaussée d’Ixelles 353, 1050 Ixelles - racinesbruxelles.com
FRESH SUSTAINABLE FISH & CHIPS The revisited Fish and Chips of Bia Mara are tickling our taste buds since the opening of their first restaurant in 2012. Now, they are to be found uptown and downtown Brussels, in Antwerp and Leuven. In the French fries’ kingdom, how did this simple, popular and traditional street food dish become a real gourmet trap?
At Bia Mara, each chef chooses three to four varieties alternately, starting from more than twenty types of fish fillets. Each day, their names are written in chalk on the big board. On the menu, you’ll have the choice between two tempura preparations (13 €) and four types of fillets coated with dough and panko, a crunchy Japanese breadcrumb (13 €). Each dish is distinguished by its unique flavoured breading and its exclusive sauce. All dishes are served with large hand-cut fries cooked in 100% vegetable oil and salted with seaweed. To be enjoyed with a wide choice of sauces: 10 sauces, and they’re all homemade! At a modest price of 10 €, the lunch formula is completed with a biweekly special inspired by flavours from all around the world. Get your dish served within the 10 minutes upon order during lunchtime…Beyond that, don’t be surprised to have your drinks offered!
Bia Mara, Brussels Place de Londres 1, Ixelles Monday to Friday: 12:00-14:30h / 18:30-22:00h Saturday: 18:30-22:00h, Closed on Sunday Rue du Marché aux Poulets 41, 1000 Bruxelles Monday to Friday:12h - 14:30h / 17:30h - 22h Saturday: 17:30h - 22h, Closed on Sunday www.biamara.com/ www.facebook.com/BiaMaraBrussels/
Forget the large and greasy pieces of industrial fish drowned in a thick layer of breading and served with sticky fries. Instead, think of a fresh fish from a sustainable fishery, caught on small boats that can’t stay long at sea and which therefore quickly bring their catch to the quay. Tasty fish, often poorly known and therefore unloved, such as hake, sea bream or red gurnard, are offered according to supply.
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DISCOVER AND EXPERIENCE BRUSSELS’ NEWEST HOTSPOT
Between the vibrant nightlife of Flagey and the prestigious Avenue Louise, Qbic offers a range of experiences, so you’ll never get bored! As soon as you enter, you can see how quirky and different it is, check in at one of the iPads or be welcomed by one of the friendly Qbic employees. Take a seat on one of the swings and don't forget to take a selfie in the large round mirror above you. Click, post, share & like! Did we say a new hotel experience?
bic Brussels has opened the doors of its first Belgian branch in the most booming area of our capital. Business and holiday travellers, but also locals, can’t wait to discover this new place to be, for dining, working out, working, chilling and sleeping at this special setting! You won't find another place like Qbic in Brussels!
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Follow the green walls and have a seat at Motley, a refreshing place where restaurant, bar, entertainment and work meet. Qbic likes to bring people together. With Motley they create a living room, a playful but relaxing environment, a place "just like home", where you can hang out, work, drink coffee and flirt. When the weather is fine, you can enjoy a delicious cocktail on the terrace that is hidden in a green oasis in the middle of the city. After an adventurous day in the city or a busy day at work, you can take the elevator (or stairs) to one of their 148 hotel rooms. Everyone comes home to Qbic. Young travellers, families or business people will find what they are looking for in the Mini, Cosy, Fun or Fancy Rooms range. Expect to be adopted by great design that resounds throughout the hotel. Once in your room, you can finish those last work emails on the super-fast WiFi while you charge your mobile via UK, EU or US port. But first enjoy a fresh glass of filtered water, coffee or tea and jump under the smart rain shower. Lay down on your bed and dream away with the gigantic Netflix offer. At Qbic you go for an amazing experience! Whether you want to sleep comfortably, eat and drink well, organize a meeting with colleagues or
customers or just want to relax, Qbic is the right place for you! Each of the functionally furnished bedrooms is equipped with the so-called "Cubi" or Qbi. Moreover, every Qbi in Brussels is unique because the furniture's wall is decorated with scenes from "The Adventures of Tintin", designed by Belgian cartoonist Hergé.
Share drinks & dinner! Wake up with the scent of freshly ground Parlor or Purocoffee coffee and start your day full of energy with an invigorating breakfast at Motley. The restaurant serves dishes made with local ingredients such as chocolate from Frédéric Blondeel and meat from Dierendonck, and various types of milk to pimp your drinks and home-made lemonades. Would you rather have a savory bite? Then enjoy one of the sandwiches served on authentic wooden boards.
Our Place, Your Space Meetings, presentations, networking events, interviews or workshops can take place in the 3-in-1 meeting rooms. Read: inspiring spaces, which are not at all reminiscent of the boring meeting rooms of other hotels. It is the ideal location for anyone who wants to do the greatest things in a stimulating environment. In need for some entertainment? Transform the meeting tables into a game of chess, checkers or Monopoly or enjoy a movie in the Qbic movie theatre with its extremely comfortable velvet seats. And for the more active visitor? They can empty their head at the gym with high-tech equipment. Qbic Rue Paul Spaak 15, 1000 Brussels +32 (2) 645 61 11 www.qbichotels.com/brussels
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700 World Wines 500 World Spirits 50 Beers From Belgium: • 50 wines from Flanders & Wallonia • Gins, Pekets & Whiskies (including Belgian Owl, Carolus & Filliers 10 years)
• Beers from Brussels Mig’s World Wines Chaussée de Charleroi, 43 - 1060 Bruxelles 02/534.77.03 www.migworldwines.be
Go local ...
TASTE THE CULTURE
SPEAK THE LANGUAGE
MEET THE PEOPLE
DISCOVER THE REGION
Film, concerts, theatre
Dutch courses, practice
Clubs and activities
RandKrant and RINGtv
welkom.derand.be local information and events on www.randkrant.be - www.ringtv.be
Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling The 500 Hidden Secrets of Brussels. He picks out ten of his favourite hidden secrets in each issue of The Brussels Times Magazine.
DEREK BLYTH’S HIDDEN SECRETS
AKASO Former diplomat Philippe Vertriest made a dramatic career switch in 2014 when he launched a Belgian fashion label inspired by African body painting art. He has put together a team in Ethiopia to create warm, abstract designs based on ancient traditions of the Kara tribe. You can follow the Akaso story in a slideshow projected on the wall of the flagship store, located in the Galeries Saint-Hubert.
Galerie du Roi 1, Central Brussels +32 (0)2 513 20 07, www.akaso.eu Akaso
PARC DE LA MAISON DES ARTS
THÉRÈSE ET DOMINIQUE
Most people in Brussels have never set foot inside this secret urban park. It lies hidden behind a neoclassical mansion in Schaerbeek. Built in 1826 by a wealthy cloth merchant, the ancient crumbling mansion is now occasionally used for art exhibitions, while the garden at the back is dotted with old trees, benches and statues. But the most striking detail is the Brussels estaminet (bistro) in the former saddler’s building which has a wood-panelled interior rescued from a demolished restaurant. Open for lunch from Monday to Friday.
Established in a back street off Avenue Louise in 1999, Thérèse et Dominuque make some of the best Italianstyle sandwiches in town. They recently upgraded the interior and introduced online reservations to beat the long queue. Try their Bonne Maman sandwich made with meatloaf, courgettes, grilled red peppers, rocket (arugula in the US) and their own homemade cocktail sauce. Or put together your own sandwich with just about any ingredient you want.
Chaussée de Haecht 147, Schaerbeek
Rue Dejoncker 23, Ixelles www.theresedominique.be
BELGE UNE FOIS Local creatives Natacha and Arthur run a charming store in the Marolles where they sell quirky Belgian objects along with vintage furniture. You can pick up Brussels craft beers, odd postcards and clothes for kids. Or even a vintage school map of Belgium to hang on your apartment wall.
Rue Haute 89, Marolles +32 (0)2 503 85 41, www.belgeunefois.com
Parc De La Maison Des Arts
THE MODERN ALCHEMIST Three young barmen run this cocktail bar in a hip corner of Saint-Gilles. It’s a relaxed spot where the focus is on rum cocktails made from their stock of 70 carefully-chosen brands. They will also pour you a gin cocktail if that is your thing.
Avenue Adolphe Demeur 55, Saint-Gilles www.themodernalchemist.be
The Modern Alchemist THE BRUSSELS TIMES MAGAZINE
TOKIDOKI You can’t miss Tokidoki. It’s the restaurant with the bizarre messages written on the window. This surprising and still secret spot is run by Loïc, an Italian video artist who learned to cook in Japan. He offers authentic Japanese home cooking in an intimate setting using fresh vegetables from local farms. Send an email or text message to book.
Chaussée d’Alsemberg 128, Saint-Gilles +32 (0)486 55 68 31, www.tokidokirestaurant.com
LLOYD CAFÉ PRESSE
Sisters Liu and Lin have created a relaxed urban canteen where you can try vegan versions of Taiwanstyle streetfood. They offer a long list of options, including Taiwan dumpling soup and “crispy chicky bowl”. It’s an inspired experiment in plant-based cooking that might impress even the most stubborn of meat eaters.
This stylish corner coffee shop opened recently in a back street off Place Louise. It’s the latest in a new wave of Brussels cafes with bright, relaxed interiors. The style is eclectic, with multi-coloured chairs, bookcases and potted plants. But maybe the big attraction here is the glass-walled kids’ room filled with toys and books. Perfect for stressed urban parents.
Rue Haute 20, Marolles +32 (0)2 455 08 30, www.liulin.be
Rue Jean Stas 26, Saint-Gilles
BRASSERIE DE L’UNION This old corner café was once a meeting place for local trade unions. It has kept its authentic Belgian bar interior including wood-panelled walls, ancient furniture and even the little metal sign pointing to the urinoir. Football fans come here to watch the local team Union Saint-Gillois on a flat screen TV perched precariously on a wooden beer crate. The terrace on the cobbled square quickly fills up at the first hint of spring.
Parvis de Saint-Gilles 55, Saint-Gilles Brasserie De L’union
BRUSSELS CEMETERY The city’s largest cemeteryis a romantic spot to go on a winter afternoon. Located in Evere commune, a 30-minute bus ride from the centre, it is landscaped with broad tree-lined avenues. Here you find the graves of burgomasters and generals, many of them familiar from Brussels street names. There are also several memorials to soldiers who died in various conflicts, including an impressive British monument commemorating officers killed in the Battle of Waterloo.
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20 â€“ 22 MARCH TO U R & TA X I S BRUSSELS Over 90 galleries exhibiting over 700 established and emerging artists
ART IS ESSENTIAL affordableartfair.com
ST-ÉMILION AND BASSIN D’ARCACHON IN SIGHT! ALL ABOARD FOR SOUTH-WEST FRANCE! The Thalys Sun train runs every Saturday from 27 June 2020 to 29 August 2020, linking Brussels with Bordeaux. Book your journey from now to benefit from the best prices!
BRUSSELS > BORDEAUX
*One-way ticket in Standard from €40. While stocks last. Non-refundable, non-exchangeable.
WELCOME TO OUR WORLD
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