The Brussels Times Magazine - Winter 2021/2022

Page 1

The Brussels Times

M A G A Z I N E N 42 o

Winter 2021 / 2022

When Antwerp was the centre of the world Pierre Marcolini, the chocolate king How the streets of Brussels became more people-friendly

Why Leopold must fall Special issue featuring Esmeralda de Réthy Pierre Kompany Pascal Smet Derek Blyth Alex Von Tunzelmann Mireille-Tsheusi Robert

Price: € 12




M O R E V A R I E T Y.






Book a Club tour

While you enjoy your stay in Belgium, we set up your current account

Join the Belgian bank most trusted by expats. Join ING. do your thing Access to the Home’Bank, Business’Bank and ING Smart Banking services of ING Belgium is free (except for the costs of your telecom operator or the costs of some transactions such as international transfers) for all holders of a Home’Bank, Business’Bank or ING Smart Banking subscription (subject to acceptance by ING and by mutual agreement). The terms and conditions of the Home’Bank, Business’Bank and ING Smart Banking services (general terms and conditions of the Home’Bank, Business’Bank and ING Smart Banking services as well as the General Regulations of ING, ING’s rates for transactions and any other additional information) are available at, at your ING branch or by calling 02 464 60 04. ING Belgium S.A./nv – Bank/Lender – Avenue Marnix 24, B-1000 Brussels – Brussels RPM/RPR – VAT BE 0403.200.393 – BIC: BBRUBEBB - IBAN: BE45 3109 1560 2789. Insurance broker registered with the FSMA under the n° 0403200393. – – Publisher: Sali Salieski - Cours Saint- Michel 60, B-1040 Brussels.

From the editor Welcome to The Brussels Times magazine, which has a special focus in this issue on Belgium’s long-overdue reckoning with its imperial past. It is 156 years since King Leopold II was crowned as Belgium’s second monarch, and 112 years since he died, but his painful legacy is still felt. Last year, amid the tumult of the pandemic, Belgians rose up to protest against the many statues and monuments celebrating Leopold and his murderous regime in the so-called Congo Free State, which was less a colony and more a personal fiefdom. The response from Brussels authorities was to set up an independent working group to look at what to do with the memorials to Leopold and the Belgian Congo scattered around the city. Their recommendations are due in December. At the same time, a Belgian parliamentary commission is examining the country’s colonial past, while some actions have already been taken: the 2.5km Leopold II tunnel that runs from Rogier to Koekelberg has been renamed after actress and singer Annie Cordy. Our special section on Belgium’s Heart of Darkness begins with Derek Blyth’s feature setting the scene on the issue. Lectrr created both the striking cover image and the inside illustration. We then have opinions from five distinguished voices, who all approach the issue from different angles. Esmeralda de Réthy, also known as Princess Esmeralda, says Belgium has not just to remove the statues of her great-granduncle Leopold II, but to formally apologise and begin a conversation about reparations. Pierre Kompany, Belgium’s first black mayor, calls on authorities to teach children the true history of what happened in Congo, the country where he was born. Pascal Smet, the Brussels State Secretary for Urbanism and Heritage, explains why he initiated the working group on decolonisation. Historian and screenwriter Alex Von Tunzelmann puts the rage against statues into the context: over the centuries, they have been pulled down almost as much as they are put up. And Mireille-Tsheusi Robert, founder and president of the anti-racism group of Bamko, outlines why the Leopold statues are so offensive: they celebrate cruelty and subjugation. Our magazine is packed with features on other aspects of life in Belgium. Sam Morgan looks at how the streets of Brussels have changed over the past decade, as new bike paths and pedestrianized streets made it more people-friendly. Michael Pye, author of ‘Antwerp: The Glory Years’, recounts the city’s 16th-century pomp, when it was at the hub of the known world, a sizzling cauldron of emperors, heretics, spies and killer bankers. Dennis Abbott tells the tale of Brand Whitlock, the writer, mayor and American ambassador to Belgium during the First World War. Maïthé Chini asks why Brussels is so far behind Flanders and Wallonia in rolling out its vaccines. Lauren Walker looks at why sexual harassment is still an issue in Brussels and asks specialists what can be done. Justin Stares looks at whether Belgium is ready to change its euthanasia law. Writer and photographer Paul Meller celebrates the ancient beauty of the Forêt de Soignes, Belgium’s unsung natural treasure. Brussels-based true-crime writer Nick Foster relates how he covered the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in Ireland, despite holding down a desk job at the European Commission. Geoff Meade ponders whether, in a post-Brexit era of choked supplies, Britons in Brussels can still enjoy their comfort foods. And Denis Maksimov unveils his selection of upcoming and ongoing art events, We have four food and drink features. Angela Dansby met Pierre Marcolini, who can claim to be the world’s most famous chocolatier. As Costa Coffee attempts to bring the bean the Brussels, Helen Lyons asks if Belgians are ready for takeaway pumpkin lattes. Our gourmet specialist Hughes Belin selects a café, a restaurant, a winery and the cougnou bun to try out. And as we approach the holiday season, Breandán Kearney (winner of three awards this year from the North American Guild of Beer Writers) explains winter beers and picks out three of the best. This is the fullest edition of The Brussels Times magazine yet. We’re immensely proud of it and we’re delighted to share it with you.

Leo Cendrowicz Editor, The Brussels Times Magazine

The Brussels Times M A G A Z I N E No 42 Winter 2021 / 2022

On the Cover Illustration by Lectrr Publisher The Brussels Times Avenue Louise 54 1050 Brussels +32 (0)2 893 00 67 ISSN Number: 0772-1633 Editor Leo Cendrowicz Managing Editors Jonadav Apelblat Omry Apelblat Graphic Designer Marija Hajster Client Accounts Manager David Young Contributors Dennis Abbott, Hughes Belin, Derek Blyth, Maïthé Chini, Angela Dansby, Nick Foster, Breandán Kearney, Pierre Kompany, Helen Lyons, Denis Maksimov, Geoff Meade, Paul Meller, Sam Morgan, Michael Pye, Esmeralda de Réthy, Mireille-Tsheusi Robert, Pascal Smet, Justin Stares, Alex Von Tunzelmann, Lauren Walker Advertising Please contact us on or +32 (0)2 893 00 67 for information about advertising opportunities.






Confronting Leopold’s ghost Derek Blyth


When Antwerp was the centre of the world Michael Pye


It’s not just the statues. Belgium must atone for what it did in Congo Esmeralda de Réthy


Brand Whitlock, Belgium’s beloved American Dennis Abbott


We need to talk about Congo and Leopold II Pierre Kompany


Why Brussels still lags with vaccines Maïthé Chini


Decolonisation is about making Brussels more inclusive Pascal Smet




How history can help us understand the rage against statues Alex Von Tunzelmann Removing the statues must be the start of a bigger Belgian effort to make amends Mireille-Tsheusi Robert Why the forest is Belgium’s unsung Treasure Paul Meller


48 52 58

106 Art and events

Denis Maksimov

Unlocking the mystery of Sophie’s murder Nick Foster

114 Another type of

How Brussels got its mobility act together Sam Morgan

120 ‘Tis the season...

Why sexual harassment is still rife in Brussels Lauren Walker


The right time to die Justin Stares


The chocolate king Angela Dansby

Belgian brew Helen Lyons

Breandán Kearney

126 Food and drink Hughes Belin

130 Brexit and the mushy pea conundrum Geoff Meade




Marching for climate justice. Thousands marched through Brussels in October to push world leaders to take bolder action to fight climate change at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. In this image, the parade is led by representatives from some of the poorest and most vulnerable countries, who have most to lose if temperatures and sea levels continue to rise. Other demonstrators, including families and children, chanted, danced and came dressed as endangered animals.




Let there be light. Postponed from February, the fifth edition of Bright Brussels took place over ten days during the halfterm break. Over 500,000 people visited the 16 immersive, fun-filled works of art installed along two routes that illuminated the Royal district as well as the European quarter all the way to Parc du Cinquantenaire. This is one of them: the view from the Mont des Arts, toward the Grand Place.


| 11


Cycling fiesta. The flags were out as Leuven hosted a week-long festival for the World Championship road races. However, local Flemish heroes Wout van Aert and Remco Evenepoel failed to claim the top prize, with France’s Julian Alaphilippe taking the glory in the 268km race that featured 42 climbs with gradients of up to 20%. Belgium’s top finisher, Jasper Stuyven, came in fourth and van Aert 11th.


| 13


Confronting Leopold’s Ghost King Leopold II took control of Congo during the 19th century scramble for Africa, but his ruthless plundering of the country is a stain on Belgium’s reputation. As Belgium finally confronts his legacy, Derek Blyth looks at the history and the ongoing controversies linked to the country’s colonial era


t’s one of those things you do with visitors to Brussels. You take tram 44 from Square Montgomery to Tervuren, or you drive out along the sweeping avenue that begins at the Cinquantenaire Park, visit the Africa Museum, and then stroll through a park that looks like Versailles. You might not realise it, but the invisible hand of King Leopold II has shaped your entire day. He created the park, the avenue, the tram line and the museum. It was all part of an ambitious marketing plan to showcase his colony in the Congo. He wanted to impress visitors to the colonial exhibition he organised in Tervuren in the summer of 1897. He aimed to show the world that he was bringing civilisation to Africa. But there was a dark side to Leopold’s plans. Walk into Tervuren’s main square and climb up the slope to the parish church. There are seven gravestones lined up against the wall of the church. Inscribed on the graves are names, almost worn away. Ekia, Gemba, Kitukwa, Mpeia, Zao, Samba and Mibange, the names read. Nothing else. For decades, this was a story the country preferred to forget. Later this year, the Africa Museum is organising an exhibition that aims to shed light on the seven people buried in these graves. Held to mark the 125th anniversary next year of Leopold’s colonial exhibition, it will take a hard look at the tragic ‘human zoo’ that was a key pillar of Leopold’s plan.


| 15

The Congolese village at the Brussels International and Colonial Exhibition held in Tervuren in 1897. Credit: RMCA collection

Down by the lake, where locals picnic and walk their dogs, Leopold built three fake Congolese villages to house 267 men and women shipped from the Congo to entertain the crowds.

Down by the lake, where locals picnic and walk their dogs, Leopold built three fake Congolese villages to house 267 men and women shipped from the Congo to entertain the crowds. The humans were put on display, paddling canoes on the lake or cooking over fires, while visitors looked down from a rope bridge. But it was a wet Belgian summer and seven people died of flu, pneumonia, or some European disease. They were buried without any ceremony and their stories barely remembered until a few years ago. But they are now part of a national debate that is finally, after more than a century of silence, examining Belgium’s involvement in its African colony.

Grandiose dreams for the little kingdom When he came to the throne in 1865, King Leopold II had ambitious plans for his little kingdom and its modest capital. He wanted to make Belgium a world power, and Brussels more beautiful than Paris. But he needed money. And he realised,


long before he became King, that the country was too small. On a visit to Athens in 1860, he commissioned a stonemason to carve a message on a marble slab removed from the Acropolis. ‘Il faut à la Belgique une colonie’ – Belgium needs a colony, it said. The marble fragment, sent to the Belgian finance minister, marked the beginning of a project that would reshape a large region of Africa. Leopold got his colony eventually, after sending the Welsh explorer Henry Morton Stanley to map out the Congo river basin. This vast region – nearly 80 times the size of Belgium – was Leopold’s private kingdom for 20 years, providing him with an endless supply of natural resources including ivory, rubber and coffee. By the late 19th century, Leopold was one of the richest people in Europe, ruling his colony from a timbered chalet next to the royal palace, but never setting foot on African soil. He spent some of his wealth on a string of pretty young women, but most of the money was devoted to ambitious architectural projects, including railway stations, hotels, law courts and


| 17

Above: the grandiose Palace of Justice was one of the Leopold II’s construction projects, as was the Cinquantenaire, below

By the late 19th century, Leopold was one of the richest people in Europe, ruling his colony from a timbered chalet next to the royal palace, but never setting foot on African soil.

museums. People called him the Builder King. The country is dotted with Leopold’s grand projects, marked with the carved initials LL, including the Palais de Justice and the royal greenhouses in Brussels, Central Station in Antwerp, the military barracks in Laeken (now a European School) and the royal galleries in Ostend. He also owned the fabulous Villa Les Cèdres near Nice, once ranked the most expensive property in the world. Leopold’s projects were often cloaked in secrecy. He constructed concealed entrances to his palaces and underground corridors for his mistresses. And in a similar spirit of concealment, his colony was named the Congo Free State, when it was neither free nor a state. He always claimed he was bringing civilisation to Africa, but his real aim was to extract Congo’s wealth. His grand plans for Belgium sometimes flopped. The massive triumphal arch in the Cinquantenaire Park, planned for an exhibition to mark Belgium’s 50th anniversary, was not finished in time. It had to be replaced by a replica made of wood and plaster. Petit pays, petits gens – a petty country of petty people, Leopold complained. The arch was formally opened on the 75th anniversary, in 1905, although it kept the name Cinquantenaire.


Despite the neoclassical swagger, there is a sad emptiness in many of Leopold’s buildings. The royal palace in Brussels is an echoing shell that is deserted most of the time. The Palais de Justice is so vast that the country can only afford to fund the scaffolding that stops the building from falling down.

Leopold’s ghost The country only began to seriously confront Leopold’s regime after the publication in 1998 of Adam Hochschild’s ‘King Leopold’s Ghost’, which detailed the systematic cruelty of Leopold’s rule. Hochschild shocked the world with the horrific figure of ten million Congolese dead in a ‘forgotten Holocaust’ – a figure some Belgian historians continue to dispute. When the Africa Museum organised a major exhibition in 2005 to mark Belgium’s 175th anniversary, the museum’s director, Guido Gryseels, used the occasion to fire the opening shot in a radical plan to reinvent the museum. He had inherited a run-down bastion of unreformed colonialism, its glass cabinets filled with exotic trophies, stuffed crocodiles and explorer’s relics. Gryseels gently pushed the museum in a new direction. His exhibition Memory of Congo, The Colonial Era confronted the darker side of the Congo, brought in


If what you are looking for is the chance to deeply understand Europe as it is, but also to contribute to shaping its present and future, the College of Europe is the place to be. Develop your ‘European Quotient’ as part of an extraordinary network. The academic programmes of Bruges and Natolin provide students with a specialised grounding in the European dimension of their fields of study, as well as an in-depth understanding of Europe in all its complexity. Think, breathe, shape Europe.



| 19

The huge dedication to Leopold II at the entrance to the Palace of Justice

Congolese academics to fill the gap in the collective memory, and ended with a joyful celebration of Congolese independence. The aim, he explained at the time, was not to condemn previous generations, but to stimulate debate on a neglected period

in Belgian history. Since then, Gryseels has cautiously steered the museum towards a progressive approach that challenges the prejudices of white superiority and black inferiority that had shaped the institution for a century. The country is still peppered with statues of Leopold, sometimes splashed with red paint to symbolise the bloodshed he caused. But they may not survive for much longer. The murder of George Floyd, an African-American killed by a police officer in the summer of 2020, changed everything. Across the world, protestors attacked statues seen as symbols of white oppression, from Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia, to English slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol. In Belgium, protesters attacked statues of Leopold II and other colonial monuments. Amid the ensuing turmoil, there was a change in tone from the Belgian establishment. Last summer, as the former colony, now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), celebrated 60 years of independence, King Philippe issued a statement expressing his “deepest regret” for the “acts of violence and cruelty committed” under Belgian occupation. The parliament announced a truth and reconciliation commission to examine “without taboos” the country’s colonial history. As for the statues, the Brussels regional government set up a diverse working group of outside experts to figure out some answers: they are set to unveil their proposals in December.

The Crocodile Room in the Royal Museum for Central Africa. Credit: J. Van de Vyver, 2019, RMCA Tervuren

The country is still peppered with statues of Leopold, sometimes splashed with red paint to symbolise the bloodshed he caused.


The Congolese village at the Brussels International and Colonial Exhibition in Tervuren in 1897. Credit: RMCA collection

Halle buries Leopold In some places, though, authorities moved on their own. As protests reached the quiet town of Halle, south of Brussels, where activists attacked a monument to Leopold in the Albertpark. It had been placed at the park entrance in 1953 when the king’s reputation was still basically intact (at least in Belgium) for bringing prosperity and civilisation to the Congo. Not any more. The statue of Leopold was covered in red paint. Someone scrawled the word ‘moordenaar’ (murderer) across the king’s face. The bust was pulled to the ground. But the council put it back and added a notice. ‘We won’t give in to vandals,’ it read. ‘We want to discuss.’ And so the statue of Leopold was back where it started, waiting for a verdict. Standing opposite Leopold is another statue. ‘In Honour of the Colonial Pioneers,’ it reads. It was put up in 1932 by the Cercle Colonial in memory of three men from Halle who died in the Congo. Standing on top of the monument is General Jacques of Dixmuide, a hero of the First World War who gave his name to Avenue General Jacques in Brussels. An

inscription praises his dedication to the Congo, while the figure of an African looks up in adoration. But Jacques, like Leopold, has lost some of his glory due to

The Congolese village at the 1897 Brussels Exhibition in Tervuren. Credit: RMCA collection


| 21

violent campaigns he waged in the Congo. In early 2021, the action group Decolonise Halle came up with a plan for the colonial sculptures. “You can’t confront this sensitive episode in our history by simply removing the statues and putting them in a museum storeroom,” said Andries Devogel, a local teacher and campaigner. “You can use the statues to educate people – especially school students – about the colonial past of Belgium.” A few weeks later, after consulting lo-

cal residents and historians, the council finally announced its plan. It would keep the bust of Leopold, but take it down from its pedestal. And it would plant ivy that would eventually bury the figure of General Jacques. “It means we can remind people of the controversial role that our country played as a coloniser,” explained mayor Marc Snoeck. “But we also make it clear that our city strongly condemns the colonial horrors and that there is no place here for racism or discrimination.” The plan was supported by eighty percent of locals. Halle is just one example. Other cities across Belgium have begun to grapple with the thorny question of Leopold II’s legacy. In the university town of Leuven, the council voted to remove a statue of Leopold from a niche in the Gothic town hall. In Ghent, the city hoisted a bust of him from its pedestal. And in Ostend,

Below: A woman knitting at the Congolese village at the 1958 Brussels Expo. Above, a Congolese girl at the 1958 Expo. Credit: R. Stalin (Inforcongo)


The Congolese village at the 1958 Brussels Expo. Credit: R. Stalin (Inforcongo)

protestors stole a bust of Leopold and replaced it with a modern bust of the murdered Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba. In other campaigns, protestors have tried to force councils to change the names of streets and avenues that honour Leopold II. Or they have urged the Belgian state to return Congolese art that was pillaged during Leopold’s reign. There is even a campaign to decolonise the Dutch language.

The coming exhibition on Human Zoos will add to Belgium’s understanding of its colonial period. The organisers will also look at similar human zoos in other European countries, as well as the United States and Japan. It is estimated that 800 million people visited these racist shows where as many as 30,000 people were exhibited. After 125 years of silence, the story of the seven graves in Tervuren is finally being told.

You can use the statues to educate people – especially school students – about the colonial past of Belgium.

The Congolese village at the Brussels International and Colonial Exhibition in Tervuren in 1897. Credit: RMCA collection


| 23

It’s not just the statues. Belgium must atone for what it did in Congo Journalist, author and documentary-maker Esmeralda de Réthy – also known as Princess Esmeralda of Belgium – explains that removing the statues of her great-granduncle Leopold II is just a first step. Belgium must also apologise for its colonial atrocities, start teaching the true history of what it did in Congo, and begin a conversation about reparations

F He was also my greatgranduncle and I feel that I have a responsibility to join the growing numbers of Belgians breaking the taboo to talk about our country’s colonial atrocities.

or many, it only began last year, after the murder of George Floyd. The Black Lives Matter protests about police brutality in the United States were mirrored in Europe, where strains of racism are baked into the system. In Belgium, the focal points of the rage were the statues of King Leopold II who presided over the pillaging of Congo’s natural resources and the violent exploitation of its population. The sovereign’s rule was brutal, even by the standards of 19th-century imperialism. He seized personal control of Congo, a territory 77 times the size of Belgium, enslaved its people, plundered its resources,

Local Congolese carrying a Belgian


and left a death toll in the millions. He was also my great-granduncle and I feel that I have a responsibility to join the growing numbers of Belgians breaking the taboo to talk about our country’s colonial atrocities. The protests last summer were a tipping point. There is systemic racism in our European societies that can be traced back in history to colonialism and imperialism. Ethnic minorities continue to face discrimination when they seek jobs or housing, or when they are stopped by the police. The anger toward the statues is understandable. Why should people of colour trust the same authorities who have

Congolese study trip to Belgium, 1956. Credit: RMCA collection

kept monuments to colonisers and slave traders in place? They may be symbols, but they are not trivial. Their continued presence is a painful reminder of historical trauma. We should remove these statues. They glorify the men – and yes, they were all men – who were the white supremacists and who brought killing and suffering to the natives of so many countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas. Belgium also needs to apologise. Last year, on the 60th anniversary of Congo’s independence, King Philippe issued a statement expressing his “deepest regret” for the wounds of the past. At the same time, a parliamentary truth and reconciliation commission was set up to look at Belgium’s colonial history. These are important steps, but they do not go far enough. I believe that Belgium and all European former colonial powers must face the historical legacy of colonialism and white supremacy to build a fairer society. They must tell the truth. Even though the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been independent since 1960, schools here have long taught children about Belgium’s “civilising mission” to its former colony. We have to end the propaganda. We extracted resources out of the country using forced labour, terror and killings. The final death toll from our time in Congo will never be known but amounts to millions. These were crimes against humanity. We need to teach children in schools that Belgium’s wealth and great buildings

were funded by the sales of ivory, rubber and timber plundered from our colony. The Congolese had no right to own land or to vote, almost no access to higher education. The country belonged to the whites. The myths passed down from generation to generation are sanitised colonial nostalgia. They must be replaced by historical facts. Our final task will be to talk about reparations. This is a difficult conversation, yet we must have it if we are to confront our past. There are different ways of doing it, but it could start with a fairer trading system to help the developing world and the cancellation of debts held by former colonies. It should also include measures to halt the environmental exploitation that continues today. I'm an ambassador for the WWF and the president of the Leopold III Fund for Nature Exploration and Conservation. I can see the link between colonialism, racism and the climate crisis, as natural resources are still being pillaged in developing countries by multinationals for the benefit of consumers in rich countries. This brings environmental destruction, while indigenous people, treated as second class citizens, are displaced, brutalised or murdered. Who, today, can honestly defend the colonial system based on the alleged superiority of a race? Who can justify what Belgium did in the Congo? Now is the time to open a new page of history. If we want to heal and reconcile, we must start by telling the truth.

I believe that Belgium and all European former colonial powers must face the historical legacy of colonialism and white supremacy to build a fairer society.

Below, the Leopold II statue in Kinshasa in the 1950s


| 25

We need to talk about Congo and Leopold II After independence in 1960, many Congolese people moved to Belgium to build new lives. Pierre Kompany was one of them. He became Belgium’s first black mayor in 2018, while his son, Vincent, became the captain of the national football side. He explains why Belgium must do more to address its dark history in Congo


History has been taught badly. Children rarely learn about the pain and ruin that Belgium left in its wake.

believe in Belgium. That’s why I came here. Despite its complicated history, Belgium has always been a place of hope. And I still believe this, even if there is room to improve. I was born in Congo in 1947 when it was still a Belgian colony. The city where I was born, Bukavu, was known as Costermansville at the time. My family celebrated Congo’s independence in 1960, and it felt like a new era. But it soon soured and fell into dictatorship. I was part of a student uprising, yet was forced to flee to Belgium as a political refugee. It was 1975, and I was 28 at the time. I settled in Brussels and went back to school to study mechanical engineering. I studied by day and drove a taxi by night to support my young family. Seven years later, I became a Belgian citizen. I married and had three children. Belgium was good to me. I decided to give back to the community. I taught at the Brussels Institut des Arts et Métiers. I took part in political debates. I was elected to the Brussels Parliament in 2014. In 2018, I was elected as the mayor of Ganshoren and became Belgium’s first black bourgmestre. Two years ago, I became the speaker of the Brussels Parliament. In 2019, I also wrote my memoir, ‘Du Congo à Ganshoren: Un destin incroyable’ (From Congo to Ganshoren: An Unbelievable Destiny). And this November, the Free University of Brussels (VUB) will award me the Doctor Honoris Causi. Meanwhile, I’ve watched my children grow up and become part of the local community. Indeed, my son Vincent became the captain of the Red Devils, and is now coach of Anderlecht. But while I’m grateful for the opportu-


nities Belgium gave me, that does not mean I should stay quiet. There are chapters in Belgian history that need to be rewritten, in particular, those relating to the country where I was born. Some things need to be said. Belgians need to know the truth about Congo. For many people, Belgium was just doing what every great power was doing during the scramble for Africa in the 19th century. But history has been taught badly. Children rarely learn about the pain and ruin that Belgium left in its wake. This matters. Our understanding of history is mainly through school education, and I have long called for history books that reflect the truth. There was an unfathomable death toll during the years of the misnamed Congo Free State and the Belgian Congo. Some estimates put it at half the population, around 10 million. Not to mention the brutal treatment of local people, the maiming of men, women and children. This was an atrocious period. It makes me sad when people defend the carnage by saying the colonisers also did good things, like railways and hospitals. That doesn’t replace the devastation they caused. They don’t talk about what they had to do to build the railways, to harvest the rubber. Belgium is now slowly recognizing the hurt it inflicted. And I’m not the only one noticing this: Belgo-Belgians think the same. That is welcome. The state should atone for what it did in Congo and should apologise fully and unreservedly. It should also change the way the history of Belgium in Congo is taught today, and how it is remembered. King Leopold II bears particular

Banner celebrating Congo’s independence from Belgium

responsibility for colonisation. It took a true heart of darkness to order the occupation of Congo, claim it for his own personal use, and ruthlessly exploit its resources with no regard for the human costs. Yet today, his name and image are still visible across Belgium. A grandiose statue of him on a horse stands next to the Royal Palace in Brussels, facing the Matongé district. How do you think that makes the Belgians with Congolese backgrounds feel? Statues are symbols, but they are powerful. The Leopold II statues should have been removed long ago, long before the Black Lives Matter protests. There was an opportunity in 2009, on the centenary of Leopold II’s death - which the Belgian state rightly refused to celebrate – but it was not taken. The statues could have been quietly removed and placed in a museum. That was more than a decade ago. Today, there is no case for keeping the statues. When you make a mistake, you should

correct it. And if you want to correct how history is taught and remembered, you should make sure people are not permanently confronted with these monuments. The Congo colonisation was a shameful episode in our country’s history. But Belgium can still do the right thing. And that means talking honestly about what happened in the Congo and moving the Leopold II statues out of public places.

Statues are symbols, but they are powerful. The Leopold II statues should have been removed long ago, long before the Black Lives Matter protests.


| 27

Decolonisation is about making Brussels more inclusive Pascal Smet, the Brussels-Capital Region State Secretary for Urbanism and Heritage, explains why it is so important to have an honest and clear-eyed debate on the colonial monuments scattered around the city

A I proposed that the Brussels government should set up a working group to help our community face its horrible colonial past once and for all.

lthough Brussels is widely known as the capital of Europe, it also holds the distinction as the world’s second most cosmopolitan city in the world, right after Dubai. We are a global city, and we take that responsibility seriously. Our capital is unique in its public space and architecture, its policy and politics, its cuisine, its art and, most importantly, its people. I have seen Brussels change tremendously over the years. As a politician, I have been lucky enough to launch several positive changes across the city. When I try to imagine how Brussels will look in the future, I think of what will benefit people in the long run. In my previous mandate, I helped redesign public spaces so there is more room to walk, to meet, to bike, for kids to play, and for everyone to just live pleasantly. It was in this spirit that I encouraged dialogue on the decolonisation of public spaces in Brussels. This is not a new topic. Every so often, there is a debate on the notorious equestrian statue of King Leopold II near the Royal Palace. Indeed, there are hundreds of monuments, statues and symbols across the city and the country. In 2020, after years of talking, it was time for a serene debate on the city’s colonial past. As State Secretary for Urbanism and Heritage, I proposed that the Brussels government should set up a working group to help our community face its horrible colonial past once and for all. Indeed, I wanted to go further. I wanted to make the public space and the symbols in it more pleasant for the people of Brussels – the


Brusselers – and visitors. Decolonisation is a touchy subject for many people, so it was very important to have a well-balanced and diverse working group. With the help of cabinet advisors and administration officials, we managed to do that. We issued an open call through the portal so any person with an interest in the matter could apply. The administration selected the candidates in September 2020 and the working group on the decolonisation of public space had its first meeting at the end of November 2020. There are 20 people in the working group, representing different ages, cultural backgrounds, academic and artistic expertise. As for their working methods, I made it clear that they should decide for themselves how they wanted to see their meetings and their report through to its conclusion in December 2021. The group is autonomous: each proposal in the final report should be considered fully and executed as completely as possible by the Brussels government. This will be a challenge. Some monuments, statues and buildings are not the property of the Brussels government. This is the case for the Lever House next to the Congress Column, which belongs to the Wallonia-Brussels Federation. The equestrian statue of Leopold II, sculpted by Thomas Vinçotte, was funded by many contributors: there are over 20 pages in the Brussels city archives on the ownership, with more than 10 names on each page. The maintenance of the statue is done by the Brussels city authorities when there are

The Leopold II equestrian statue in Brussels is regularly defaced. Credit: Igor Pliner

paint or graffiti marks on it every so often. The decolonisation of the public spaces in Brussels is just one of many steps in the process of building a more, inclusive society in Brussels – as well as in Belgium as a nation. We still have a long way to go. One key area is education: we need to take a long, hard look at how Belgium’s colonial history is taught at schools. Children are our future: we must teach them our history, good and bad. As for our colonial legacy, we need to confront it and learn the lessons that still resonate today. That is what this decolonisation means. Only by looking honestly and openly at the past can we build a better society for everyone.

The decolonisation of the public spaces in Brussels is just one of many steps in the process of building a more, inclusive society in Brussels.


| 29


How history can help us understand the rage against statues Statues have been torn down for almost as long as they have been raised, but it was only last year that Belgium’s Leopold II statues were seriously in danger of being ripped from their plinths. As historian and screenwriter Alex von Tunzelmann explains, the push to pull down statues reflects a healthy public discourse


n 2020, there was a worldwide wave of iconoclasm: attacking statues. Damaging or destroying statues as a political act has accompanied such historical events as the French Revolution, the English Reformation, and the fall of communism. What was new in 2020 was the global scale. Following the killing of George Floyd and the #BlackLivesMatter protests in the United States, statues were attacked in North and South America, Europe, parts of Asia and Africa, and Australasia. The

targets were mostly connected to themes of racial injustice. In Brussels, the focus was on images of King Leopold II. Leopold’s bust in Ghent was covered in red paint and half of its face was knocked off. His statue in Antwerp was set on fire. In Brussels, thousands protested at the landmark equestrian statue of Leopold: it too was doused in red paint, and protesters climbed it, flying a Congolese flag. Shortly after the protests, the Brussels regional government set up a working group to look at the decolonisation of pub-

Left, Protesters throw the toppled statue of Edward Colston into Bristol Harbour, June 2020. Below, defaced Leopold II bust, Tervuren

The same arguments about statues tend to recur everywhere. Are they a form of art that is barbaric to destroy, or a form of propaganda that is barbaric to leave up?


| 31


lic space, an approach that aimed at a more orderly process of change. Some authorities worldwide have already taken similar action. In Richmond, Virginia, the equestrian statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee was lifted off its plinth and carted away in September 2021. By contrast, in Britain, the government itself has led a backlash against statue protests. It is currently proposing a new law to punish anyone who damages a memorial – regardless of the cost of repairing the damage – with ten years’ imprisonment. The same arguments about statues tend to recur everywhere. Are they a form of art that is barbaric to destroy, or a form of propaganda that is barbaric to leave up? There is anger about “erasing history” on one side, and anger about glossing over the historical roots of modern injustice on the other. Any individual’s position on these questions tends to depend – as it should – on which statues are under discussion. Few would dispute that East and West Germany were right to destroy all Nazi statuary after World War II. In the case of Leopold II, the man himself, his legacy and his monuments have always been controversial. During his own lifetime, Leopold became a pariah, criticized for his brutal administration of the Congo Free State by figures including Booker T. Washington, Arthur Conan Doyle and Mark Twain. Over the last century, statues of Leopold have gone up, come down, gone up again, and come down again.

The bizarre twin Leopold statues The equestrian statue of Leopold in Brussels is one of a pair. It was put up in 1926, 17 years after his death, by his nephew and successor King Albert I. Albert also unveiled its twin in 1928 in Léopoldville, Belgian Congo (now Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo). Following the trauma of the First World War in Belgium, these statues were part of a deliberate campaign to rehabilitate Leopold’s reputation – and entrench support for the monarchy. This campaign was successful for a while. But during the process of Congolese independence, cracks began to appear. Patrice Lumumba, Congo’s first prime minister after independence in 1960, was sharply critical of the Belgian monarchy’s colonial history.

Above, Saddam Hussein’s statue toppled in Baghdad, 2003. Left, the defaced statue of General Robert E. Lee, Richmond, Virginia

The statue of Leopold in Kinshasa was pulled down by Mobutu Sese Seko’s administration in 1966 and dumped behind a shed. In Belgium, too, academic historical attention returned to the colonial past. In 1998, the American historian Adam Hochschild, building on decades of Belgian scholarship, published ‘King Leopold’s Ghost’, a devastating account of Leopold’s private empire. It became an international bestseller. As it had in his lifetime, the mood started to turn against Leopold. In 2004, Leopold’s statue in Ostend was altered by a group called De Stoeten Ostendenoare (The Bold Ostenders). The monument includes a group of supplicatory Congolese figures: the hand of one of these was removed, to memorialize the many Congolese people whose hands had been hacked off for failing to fill Leopold’s rubber quotas. In 2006, a chain was put around the neck of the Leopold statue in Ekeren. It was splashed with red paint in 2007 and 2009. As for the equestrian statue in Brussels, one activist staged a “symbolic hanging” of it in 2008, with yet more red paint. Meanwhile, in the Congo, the equestrian statue of Leopold had a bizarre revival. On February 3, 2005, it was retrieved from behind the shed and put back up on a pedestal in Kinshasa. This had been done on the orders of Christophe Muzungu, the country’s Culture Minister, who argued that colonial statues were an important part of Congolese heritage. The Congolese public disagreed. Within hours, an angry crowd formed. The authorities lost their nerve: Leopold was pulled down again. This time, his statue had stood for less than a day. It was later

The authorities lost their nerve: Leopold was pulled down again. This time, his statue had stood for less than a day.


| 33

King Leopold II statue, Kinshasa, at the National Museum of Congo

discreetly moved to the grounds of the National Museum.

Historical facts do not change, but – as we can see from the rollercoaster of Leopold’s reputation – the ways we remember and commemorate our history change all the time.

What can you do with an unwanted statue? Now it’s the turn of Brussels and its working group on decolonisation to figure out what to do with their version of this highly contentious object. There are some intriguing precedents around the world, many far more creative than the humdrum option of adding an apologetic plaque. In Moscow, Budapest and Delhi, statues have been moved to outdoor sculpture parks – or ‘statue graveyards’ – which become extraordinary, haunting reminders of fallen regimes. Some monuments are imaginatively altered: one Lenin statue in Ukraine was turned into Darth Vader, his overcoat becoming a billowing cloak. The statue of slave trader Edward Colston that was dramatically pulled down in 2020 is currently on display in Bristol, England, complete with graffiti and protest signs. A statue of Kwame Nkrumah that was beheaded in Ghana’s 1966 coup


now stands in Accra with its severed head on a separate plinth next to it. An altered or damaged statue may tell a story at least as powerful, if not more powerful, than the original monument. Historical facts do not change, but – as we can see from the rollercoaster of Leopold’s reputation – the ways we remember and commemorate our history change all the time. Statues are not a record of history, but of historical memory. It is a sign of a healthy public discourse that every generation reassesses its monuments. From a historian’s point of view, one positive effect of the debate in Brussels is that more people are talking and learning about the history of Belgium and the Congo. Whatever happens to Leopold’s monuments, history itself is not being erased. But it may be remembered and understood more clearly than ever. Alex von Tunzelmann’s latest book, ‘Fallen Idols: Twelve Statues That Made History’, was published in July by Headline Publishing Group

Tax Advisers – Accountants

Belgium / International

Taxation of expatriates - Filing individuals tax returns (resident & non-resident-expats) - Contractors taxation - Tax help for people in split-payrolls situation - Special questions (dual taxation, stock-options, …) - Inheritance and wealth planning in international mobility background

Accounting and tax filings - For self-employed individuals, branches of foreign companies, Belgian companies - Setup, registration and closing - Bookkeeping - VAT return filing - Tax return - Various company tax questions - All in one assistance

ERYV sprl Avenue du Martin-Pêcheur, 15 Bte 24, B-1170 Bruxelles – Belgium Tel : +32 (0)2 675 42 40 -- Fax : + 32 (0)2 660 60 46, Email :


| 35

Removing the statues must be the start of a bigger Belgian effort to make amends Belgium’s ruthless exploitation of Congo caused unfathomable hurt and the continued presence of the Leopold II statues remains an ongoing affront, says Mireille-Tsheusi Robert, founder and president of the anti-racism group of Bamko

The statues are effectively a white supremacist marketing strategy. They perpetuate racial humiliation and mask the true history of colonial rape.

Father stares at the hand and foot of his five-year-old, severed as a punishment for failing to make the daily rubber quota, Belgian Congo, 1904


s a Belgian of Congolese origin, I bear the wounds of past generations who have suffered from colonial brutality. I still mourn the pain and the loss from the carnage of the colonial era. That is why I take offence at the statues of Leopold II that are still in place at crossroads, in squares and parks across Belgium. When people raise a statue, they honour the actions of the person depicted. In the case of Leopold II, it means accepting and confirming his exploitation and subjugation of the Congolese people. The statues


are effectively a white supremacist marketing strategy. They perpetuate racial humiliation and mask the true history of colonial rape. A statue is not a history book. History books are supposed to reconstruct facts. Statues reconstruct memories, which may be laden with contradictory assumptions and interpretations. Our collective memory is, by necessity, a contemporary exercise in which different groups explain their perceptions, express their emotions and display their ancestral scars on the public stage.

Black Lives Matter protesters in Brussels, June 2020. Credit: Igor Pliner

This can be done peacefully, through official commemorations. But as we saw in 2020, when communities feel ignored and ostracised, they show their rage in a more conflictual manner, by smashing statues. Vandalism, however, is also history. We should leave the damaged statues as they are because they bear witness to the way our Belgian and Congolese memories have changed as we start to question past actions and present inaction. The result today is a series of hybrid works and statues that reflect the troubled image of the current diverse population. The bust in Ixelles of the bloodthirsty Belgian general Emile Storms, an early enforcer in Congo, is regularly doused in red paint. It is too bad that it has been restored to its original white stone: a vital sociological protest has been erased. So, what should we do with Belgium’s colonial statues and monuments? It is only natural that a community should ask itself questions if it no longer shares the values or actions of the person depicted in the statues. Once the person is debunked, it is time to move the statue. And the obvious place to move them is to a museum. This is not about erasing history. The term ‘cancel culture’ is sometimes used to attack those of us who want to remove distasteful monuments. But that is not what we are doing. We need to keep the colonial

statues as proof that the slaughter of the Congolese was once glorified. It is the glorification of these massacres that must cease. At Bamko, we advocate a two-step plan. First, each monument should be given an explanatory plaque telling people what they really did. These plaques should stay in place for two to five years. This time could be used to arrange for their removal to various museums. But a better solution would be to create an entirely new space dedicated to colonial statues, monuments and artefacts. This space would be a Decolonial Museum. It would focus on showing exactly how the Belgian state managed to dominate, rule, steal, corrupt and exploit people and communities across Africa. It would also show how they succeeded in painting a rosy image of themselves despite the atrocities they committed. If we show how rich and powerful states like Belgium and people like Leopold II perpetuated their prestige, then we can rebuild our society on healthier foundations. That should take place alongside other measures to ensure our public spaces reflect our communities more accurately, with more racial and gender diversity in the figures celebrated. Only when we recognise the hurt and move to redress our collective memory can we start to repair the unspeakable damage from Belgium’s intrusion in Africa.

We need to keep the colonial statues as proof that the slaughter of the Congolese was once glorified. It is the glorification of these massacres that must cease.


| 37


Ecole Internationale Montgomery (EIM) a fun, caring international city school in Brussels IB Programmes EIM has full International Baccalaureate (IB) accreditation, offering the internationally recognized Primary Years Programme (PYP), Middle Years Programme (MYP) and Diploma Programme (DP). The Diploma Programme is a two-year course leading to the IB Diploma, one of the world's most innovative educational courses for 16-19 year olds, and is widely recognised and accepted by Belgian, European and international universities. EIM students end up studying in prestigious universities around the world.

What Makes EIM Special EIM has a very warm, family atmosphere in which everyone knows each other by name. Head of School, Danielle Franzen, was asked by The Brussels Times what makes the school so special “EIM has a team of highly qualified and dedicated teachers with a very strong group cohesion, which leads to engaging and creative collaborative projects for the students”. “Our small class sizes allow for close monitoring and support of individual student needs, so that they can reach their full potential. Students are actively engaged in class and our results are strong in all grade levels. We pride ourselves on our 100% pass rate in the Diploma Programme since its implementation at our school” she added.


is a fun, caring international school that offers a welcoming, friendly, family atmosphere with both a primary and secondary section. The school offers a truly international environment, with 150 students and teachers from as many as 40 different nationalities. Class sizes are always kept as small as possible, accommodating a maximum of 16 students.

“The mission of the pedagogical and leadership team is to guarantee highquality education, to develop the integrity, curiosity, and rigour of our students so that they can undertake university studies with brilliance” David Gerone - EIM Founder


“What I enjoy most about EIM is the fact that classes are small, allowing for close follow-up from teachers, as well as being able to have strong ties with most of the students from the class and the school community.” EIM DP Student EIM is also the only city school to offer the Advanced Bilingual IB Programme, Ms Franzen explains “The Advanced Bilingual Programme allows students to complete the IB programmes with some courses in English and others in French. It truly differentiates them when applying to universities.”

“What I like most about EIM is that it is a community that makes for a safe and friendly learning environment. Even if you are not close with everyone, you see them on a daily basis, and everyone helps each other out.” EIM MYP Student

EIM students demonstrate a high involvement in the school. Secondary students regularly organise activities for primary children during recess, tutor them, and even pop into lessons for teaching & learning activities. The students are also highly dedicated to the local and global community, organising activities and workshops to raise awareness on matters of global importance.

The City as their Classroom EIM fully embraces their central location. They take every opportunity to include as much fun as possible for the students, not only in the classroom but also at regular community events and school outings. These events are the ideal opportunity for students to get to know each other better, and to learn outside of the classroom. Recent and planned events include bowling, participating in the climate walk, visits to the Magritte Museum, I Love Science Festival, Pairidaiza, a car manufacturing plant and even visiting a brewery. Students also have their sports lessons at the local VUB sports centre and they perform their theatre plays in an actual theatre in Brussels.

“My school is so nice and everyone plays together, and with me. My friends are called brothers and we love to play football in the playground. I love maths and doing exams. My teachers always do nice things for me and I always listen to them. I also like the school lunch and they give me pasta and spaghetti.”

New Campus

EIM Primary Student

EIM is definitely on the rise and there has been important growth over the past few years with a new campus: the Montgomery campus is mostly for PYP and MYP students, with a lab and a library for primary and secondary. The new Broqueville campus is for DP students and has 5 extra classrooms, a black box theatre for primary and secondary, and a study space for DP students. The new campus is a big step forward in the history of the school, consolidating it as a “city school” with a contemporary outlook.

Location and Contact Ecole Internationale Montgomery (EIM) is located in the heart of Brussels in a welcoming old mansion “Hotel de Maitre”. It’s close to the European institutions and NATO and easy to reach by metro, tram or bus, with many of the secondary students taking public transport to get to school. Ecole Internationale Montgomery Rue du Duc 133, 1200 Brussels +32 (2) 733 63 23


| 39


Why the forest is Belgium’s unsung treasure Its majestic trees have stood for aeons, accompanying human history from the Romans to Napoleon: the Sonian forest, or Forêt de Soignes, is a glorious green tapestry that is forever inspiring, as Paul Meller relates


| 41

A fairytale land Where stags make love with wood nymphs And eagles prevail

If you go back to pre-history, the Sonian forest covered much of north-western Europe. But the felling of the trees to make space for farmland began 5,000 years ago by early settlers here.


ome people sleep on big decisions before taking them. I walk on them. I take them to Belgium’s greatest treasure, the Sonian forest – or if you prefer, the Forêt de Soignes or the Zonienwoud. Like many regular forest walkers, my relationship to this 44km2 stretch of verdant, often ancient beauty, is very personal. But strolling under the enormous beeches that take up over half of the entire forest, it is very easy to clear your mind of the bric-a-brac of daily life. No matter what season, these giants - many of which are older than Belgium itself - always look resplendent, and never cease to inspire. The beech trees are undoubtedly the rock stars of the forest. They are the reason UNESCO awarded five zones – all with


quirky names like Ticton and Grippensdelle - World Heritage status in 2017. These areas are among 94 so-called ‘ancient and primaeval beech forest’ patches in 18 countries in continental Europe. Most of them are in eastern Europe. To its credit, little Belgium punches above its weight in forestry terms, at least in this neck of the woods. It has the same number of classified World Heritage sites as Germany, while France has just one and the Netherlands none at all. None of Europe’s beech forests are natural. All were planted. If you go back to pre-history, the Sonian forest covered much of north-western Europe. But the felling of the trees to make space for farmland began 5,000 years ago by early settlers here.

All pictures: Paul Meller

Celtic hideout Today, many refugees fleeing conflicts in the Middle East make Brussels their base as they prepare to cross the Channel to the UK. During Roman times Celts did something similar. They hid in the forest before braving the icy waters of the Channel to escape the might of the expanding Roman empire. The forest as we know it today dates back to the 12th century when the Dukes of Brabant took ownership of it and used it for hunting and timber. They were the first ones to manage the forest. In addition to its economic and amusement value, the forest also had a spiritual significance. There are the remains of monasteries and other religious retreats, such as the


| 43

Like a rainforest Happening on my doorstep. No monkeys though.

The forest took on a special significance when Covid struck. Instead of going twice or three times a week as I have done for many years, I was there every day.

Augustinian priory of Groenendaal, and the newly-restored Rouge Cloître abbey, which dates back to the 14th century. Most of these religious retreats were demolished by Hapsburg Emperor Joseph II in the 18th century but some buildings still stand, including the farm building attached to the Groenendaal priory, which today houses a museum dedicated to the forest. The golden era was at the end of the 18th century when France annexed much of what now constitutes Belgium, and a massive reforestation project began, under the visionary guidance of forester Joachim Zinner. The oldest beech trees in the forest today date back to this time.

Waterloo sunset

The Napoleonic Wars were hard on the forest. It shrank dramatically during the first half of the 19th century, partly because Napoleon Bonaparte himself or-


der that over 20,000 oak trees should be chopped down to build his Boulogne Flotilla for an aborted invasion of England. Forest lovers will feel some schadenfreude knowing that a few years later Napoleon met his Waterloo, literally, just down the road. Indeed, the forest played a key role in the Battle of Waterloo. Before the battle that re-drew the map of Europe, the Duke of Wellington camped at Quatre Bras, the intersection of the Brussels Ring and the Avenue de Tervuren. It happens to be one of my favourite walking spots. When I look up at the tallest beeches, I sometimes think: did Wellington see this tree? Did he have lunch under its leaves? Did he take a leak against its trunk? That’s what comes from emptying your mind of daily duties and deadlines. Your imagination can run riot. When I’m not mulling big decisions, I’m looking around me, losing myself in thoughts in-

Face the city in the week, the outdoor in the weekend.

Featuring a combination of stylish urban design and rugged good looks, and new levels of capability to get excited about, the SUBARU XV is the inspiration to live the life you want. Whether it’s a night out on the town or a spur-of-the-moment weekend getaway, the SUBARU XV helps you do all the things you love, in style and in comfort. Discover the new Subaru XV: 8,0 l/100 km | 180 g/km CO2 (WLTP)

environmental information KD of 19.03.2004: - Give priority to security


| 45

Connected beneath by arm-like roots. How social! Who are my neighbours?

spired by our wooden cousins. The forest took on a special significance when Covid struck. Instead of going twice or three times a week as I have done for many years, I was there every day. Always with my dog, Otis, and sometimes with members of my family. Often twice a day. It was during these walks that I started to look closer for signs of what the German forester and author Peter Wohlleben calls the hidden life of trees. Sure enough, I found some and photographed them. In September my local commune, Woluwé St Pierre hosted an exhibition of my photos, together with haikus – short three-line poems – inspired by what I saw. One in particular shows signs of a hidden dimension to trees. Close to Quatre Bras there are two young American elm trees growing side-by-side in a clear-


ing. The photo was taken at the end of a sunny day in early/mid-spring last year. One tree is in full leaf while the other, slightly taller, is still bare. I came to the conclusion that the taller tree was sacrificing itself so that its ‘younger brother’ would develop a fully rounded and symmetrical crown of leaves (a tree’s symmetry is vital to ensure a long life). The resulting haiku is the voice of the taller tree speaking to his leafy sibling. Could my cherished Sonian Forest be telling me something about myself too? If so, it would be fitting. It has listened patiently to my thoughts over the years, and it is still inspiring me. Long may it continue. Paul Meller’s book of photos and haikus, ‘The Magic of the Forest’, will be published shortly.

I delay my spring So you can feel the late sun. Two weeks tops. Enjoy.


| 47

Unlocking the mystery of Sophie’s murder When Frenchwoman Sophie Toscan du Plantier was savagely murdered in Ireland, it sent shockwaves across Europe. Brussels-based true crime writer Nick Foster made it his mission to uncover the truth behind the killing


he puzzle intrigued me the first time I heard about it, some weeks after the crime occurred. On a freezing morning two days before Christmas in 1996, the body of Frenchwoman Sophie Toscan du Plantier, 39, was found on a track outside her holiday cottage in the remote settlement of Toormore, on Ireland’s Mizen Head peninsula. Appallingly, Sophie had been battered to death with as many as 50 blows from a piece of slate. Before fleeing the scene, her killer had dropped a heavy concrete block on her torso. There were no witnesses and no apparent motive since Sophie was liked by the few people locally who knew her. Meanwhile, the Garda, the Irish police force, thought the location was simply too isolated for a prowler. Sophie was a documentary film producer and lover of Irish poetry, so it was initially no surprise when investigators found an anthology of Irish verse in the cottage left open at a particular poem. It was just that the choice was baffling – even chilling – in the circumstances. The poem Sophie had marked was A Dream of Death by W.B. Yeats. It describes a beautiful young woman dying alone in a foreign land, far from her lover, her family and her friends, in an environment that is clearly rural.

Nick Foster’s book, ‘Murder At Roaringwater’, (above) was published earlier this year. Right, Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s Roaringwater home


Did Sophie have a premonition about her own death and select the poem accordingly? Or did her killer somehow enter her house after the crime, leaving absolutely no trace, and mark Sophie’s anthology at precisely this piece of verse as a kind of macabre calling card? I’ve been working for the European Union since 1994 – when I first heard of

Sophie’s murder, I was a translator – and for the past decade I’ve juggled work as an EU official with a sideline writing true crime books. My first book, The Jolly Roger Social Club, came out in 2016 and told the story of an American serial killer in an edgy, expat community in Panama, Central America, where almost everyone seemed to be on the run from something or somebody. My second – Murder at Roaringwater, on the Sophie case – was published earlier this year.

When EU overlaps true crime When people in the Brussels bubble find out about my second career, their jaw usually drops. If I had told them I moonlighted as a lion tamer in a circus, they would hardly be more surprised. Yet my experience as an EU official dovetails well with investigative long-form non-fiction. For both my books, I got my hands on the relevant police files and a big stack of court papers. This is key to true crime writing: there will be interviews to request and front doors to knock on, but the bread and butter of the story is likely to be the raft of statements and depositions available to detectives working on the case. This is the first thing you need. Working for the EU, I’ve often had to read vast volumes of background documents. Over the years, I have developed a good sense of whether an author of a letter or a report is being frank and sincere, or whether they likely are lying or have something to hide. My five years in the mid-2000s spent working at the EU Delegation in Caracas, Venezuela – a country with a reputation for sky-high levels of corruption – was a baptism of fire, but a very useful one. Another valuable lesson from Caracas was to know when to keep quiet, and observe. That led me to an interest in cold reading: trying to figure out details of a person I had just met from their body language, how they spoke and interacted, the way they dressed, and so on. The second thing you need to write true crime books is access. You need to get the main players in your story – the victim’s family and key witnesses, for example – to trust you enough to talk to you. Such people will naturally be wary of your motives. To be sure, the average Commission official needs this true crime skill like a fish needs a bicycle. By trial and error, I had to learn it by myself.

In the case of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, the question of access boiled down to getting to know Ian Bailey, an Englishman living a couple of miles from Sophie across a rough, windswept moor. Like Sophie, he was 39 years old at the time of the crime. He styled himself as a poet, performing his verse in pubs in the area (“whether we wanted to hear it or not” as one Mizen resident put it to me). Bailey eked out a living from gardening jobs and occasional freelance reporting for Irish newspapers. Broad-shouldered, with Byronesque good looks, Bailey was attractive to women, but had a temper he found hard to control, and a record of violent attacks on his partner. His northern English accent sounded plummy to Irish ears: local people mistook him for being a bit posh, and a faintly patrician bearing as he aged aided the misconception. Bailey was the first journalist to appear at the crime scene. His newspaper stories on the murder soon raised eyebrows among the detectives. How did this English reporter know so many physical details about the attack Sophie had sustained and snippets about her married life, despite not attending a single Garda press conference? Soon the newspaperman covering the crime became the main – and, ultimately, only – suspect. He was arrested twice, but never charged. In France, the public prosecutor took a different view. In 2019, the French authorities put Bailey on trial for Sophie’s murder, in proceedings he labelled a “farce”, and refused to attend. In a Parisian courtroom, Bailey was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years in prison. But Ireland turned down France’s extradition requests. On the Mizen Bailey is still a free man today. I got to know Ian Bailey in 2014. I introduced myself to him in Dublin where he was suing the Irish state and police for wrongful arrest and conspiracy. Essentially, his story was that he had been stitched up for a crime he had nothing to do with. Bailey treated me warmly from the outset. We are both from the north-west of England – Bailey from Manchester, me from Liverpool. It was clear that he was keen to talk about the Sophie case and its aftermath.

When people in the Brussels bubble find out about my second career, their jaw usually drops.

But Bailey faced a huge challenge to assert his innocence. He had no alibi for the night of the crime; and had scratches on his hands and forearms the day after it, but none the previous evening, according to


| 49

body. We set off to get the stones and arrived at what must have been Ireland’s smallest quarry – a semi-circular deposit of rocks next to a deserted lane. My new friend took some tools out of the back of his car. I watched as Bailey, a man of 58, picked up stones that must have weighed 15-20kg. He raised them with no difficulty at all. After a few moments, he selected one particular piece of slate and knelt next to it, bringing his hammer down sharply on his chisel. I could see the concentration in his face, a kind of tension in the muscles in his cheeks and around his mouth. As the hammer hit the slate, Bailey appeared to relax. The piece of slate had split in two. He said: “Look, the face of that stone hasn’t seen daylight in millions of years.” Bailey carried out the same operation on several more pieces of slate, carrying each one over to the boot of his vehicle. All the time I was thinking: Bailey knows that I know the case. He surely knows I am aware that Sophie was killed with a piece of slate and then a concrete block. In a short outing, I had seen him handle pieces of slate, and demonstrate that he was still powerful enough to carry heavy stones with ease. Bailey chose today of all days to carry out this task. I wondered: why is he doing this in front of me? Nick Foster at the Kealfadda Bridge on the Mizen peninsula in Ireland

In Dublin, crossing a bridge with Bailey over the dark water of the River Liffey on the way to a pub, I heard a man shout “Murderer!”

witnesses. Incredibly, he also appeared to have admitted carrying out the killing to several people he knew socially. In Dublin, crossing a bridge with Bailey over the dark water of the River Liffey on the way to a pub, I heard a man shout “Murderer!” I asked Bailey if that happened often. He replied: “Oh, every week or so.”

The clue in the slate Several months later, visiting Bailey at his home on the Mizen for the first time, he told me that a stone wall on his property needed repairing. It turned out that a farmer he knew had a quarry with slate stones, which Bailey said would be ideal for the job. Of course: it was a piece of slate that Sophie’s murderer had used to batter her


If he was trying to intimidate me, he failed. My book lays down an very powerful case against him. It has already had an effect: this spring, six years after my first trip to the Mizen, Bailey’s partner left him. He said my book was the “last straw” for their relationship. It’s been a long time coming, but Bailey could be facing his reckoning. Two major documentaries have been broadcast, adding to the piles of evidence: Jim Sheridan’s ‘Murder at the Cottage’ on Sky Crime (in which I feature fleetingly), and ‘Sophie: A Murder in West Cork’, a three-part series on Netflix. In the meantime, the Garda has set up a new unit to investigate this coldest of cold cases. With the 25th anniversary of Sophie’s murder looming, justice may finally be served.

Nick Foster’s ‘Murder at Roaringwater: The Inside Story of the Death of Sophie Toscan du Plantier’ is published by Mirror Books. It will shortly appear in French with the title Elle s’appelait Sophie, published by L’Archipel.

International School of Flanders

One School, Two Campuses English speaking education and care for children aged 6 weeks to 18 years

Rich in Diversity, United by Values ISF Waterloo International School Chaussée de Waterloo 280 1640 Rhode Saint Genèse +32 (0)2 358 56 06 ISF International Daycare Waterloo 280 Chaussee de Waterloo 1640 Rhode Saint Genese +32 (0)473 12 13 44

ISF International Daycare Tervuren Stationsstraat 3 3080 Tervuren +32 (0)470 11 75 03


ISF Tervuren International School Stationsstraat 3 3080 Vossem-Tervuren +32 (0)2 767 MAGAZINE | 30 51 98


How Brussels got its mobility act together Brussels is unrecognisable from a decade ago, according to the politicians who helped lay new bike paths and pedestrianize streets. It still has a lot more to do, but as Sam Morgan reports, it’s on the right track


rom the 13th floor window of her office, it is difficult for Brussels Mobility Minister Elke Van den Brandt to point out the sweeping changes she has helped bring to the streets of the capital. But they are most definitely there. New segregated cycle lanes, pedestrianised areas and a 30km speed limit across much of the city are just some of the mobility perks achieved over the last couple of years, with plenty more in the pipeline. “As soon as you go out you can feel it,” Van den Brandt says. “There is this positive vibe. Cycling home, I used to be alone waiting for the red light to change. Now there's always at least five or ten people waiting every time.” Cycling infrastructure is one of the most visible developments. Some 40km of extra bike lanes have been installed since the pandemic first struck and it is now nearly possible to cycle all the way from Anderlecht to the European Quarter without having to contend with traffic. “Corona really pushed the accelerator,” the minister explains. “People that don’t have terraces, don’t have gardens: public spaces are actually part of their homes in

a way. So rethinking how we use it has become even more important.” Cyclist numbers have gone up some 60 percent since the pandemic struck. The Brussels government hopes that figure will continue to rise so traffic congestion can be tackled further and the investments in bike lanes pay off. The moves to transform Brussels reflect broader trends in both Europe and the world. The European Union wants governments to spend big on active mobility as part of pandemic recovery measures, with one scheme helping European cities go carbon neutral by 2030. But, as Van den Brandt points out, there were also plenty of protests against the changes, singling out the new bike lanes along Rue Belliard and Rue de la Loi as examples of mobility tweaks that were unpopular at first. “Now we see that they are the most used bike lanes in Brussels,” she says, adding that non-cyclists are happier because pedestrians and motorists no longer contend with two-wheeled commuters. Everyone has their own patch now. Some challenges are ongoing. Legal action against the temporary ‘lockdown’ bike

Corona really pushed the accelerator. People that don’t have terraces, don’t have gardens: public spaces are actually part of their homes in a way. So rethinking how we use it has become even more important.


| 53

paths risked undoing some of the work. A court has now given the government two years to legalise the infrastructure so it can stay in place. Van den Brandt insists motorists protesting the loss of car lanes are a small minority, but there have nonetheless been setbacks in the pandemic-prompted rollout of bike and pedestrian space. A road through the Bois de la Cambre park recently reopened to cars after a court said its closure was unlawful, while plans to redesign the Marché aux Porcs in the city centre contain the same number of parking spaces as before.

When I started, they shouted at me to go back to Flanders, because people don’t bike in Brussels. Today people don’t shout that. They shout that they want more bike lanes!

Team effort Van den Brandt is also keen to pay tribute to the work of others before her, including her predecessor as Brussels Mobility Minister, Pascal Smet. Now Brussels State Secretary for Urbanism and Heritage, Smet is still closely involved with how public space is managed in Brussels. He also believes that the city has “evolved a lot” and that mentalities towards mobility are quickly changing. “People want bike lanes,” he says. “When I started, they shouted at me to go back to Flanders, because people don't bike in Brussels. Today people don't shout that. They shout that they want more bike lanes!” The guiding force behind mobility policies in Brussels is the Good Move plan, first put together when Smet was in the job, and was approved when Van den Brandt took over. Good Move aims to cut transport greenhouse gas emissions 35 percent by 2030, install 250km of ‘calm zones’ such as pedestrianised areas or low-traffic zones within the capital, and generally improve the city’s transport offering. Brussels is still synonymous with traffic jams, a point neither Smet nor Van den Brandt refutes, but there are schemes underway that aim to reduce the number of cars coming into the city every day, beyond improving cycling infrastructure. For the last six months, most roads in Brussels have shifted from a 50km/hour speed limit to 30km, a policy that was given a mixed reception when announced and which continues to provoke the ire of some motorists. However, Van den Brandt is adamant that it is the right decision, as initial data shows that journey times have been largely unaffected by the speed limit reduction and the number of road accidents have reduced. More time is needed to draw firm conclusions though. “The 30km zone is going to create neigh-


Cyclists crossing Place Louise on Car-Free Day

bourhoods and the conditions needed to make walking and cycling more fun and safer,’ she insists, sharing that as a mother she often worries when waving her children off to school in the morning. “That should not be normal,” she adds. Other factors such as upcoming bans on older, more polluting vehicles could also take more cars off the road, while the issue of company car policy — which is often criticised for encouraging the use of personal over public transport — will have to be dealt with at federal government level.

Transport for all Public transport in Brussels, as in most cities

around the world, took a heavy hit during the pandemic, as passengers either stopped going to workplaces altogether or avoided mass transit in a bid to reduce the risk of Covid infection. STIB, the capital’s operator of buses, trams and metros, reported a 42.9% drop in 2020 compared with 2019, but it is hoped that the recovery seen already this year can continue in earnest. New metro carriages, cheaper tickets for students and even new bridges across the city’s canal for both pedestrians and public transport promise to boost numbers. The new bridges in particular could play more than just a logistical role, according to Van den Brandt. “We needed these bridges be-

cause of the number of people we know that want to cross there but it is also symbolic, as the water really is a division between two worlds. Hopefully, this can help bring the two communes a bit closer together,” she explains. Public transport is not just promising to bring together different parts of Brussels but also different parts of Belgium, as a new unified passenger ticket — the Brupass XL — means that commuters from Wallonia and Flanders can travel hassle-free for the first time. Flemish Mobility Minister Lydia Peeters says the scheme makes “a huge difference” and that by “keeping it simple and easy to use, it makes public transport attractive”


| 55

Brussels Mobility Minister Elke Van den Brandt

The idea is to change a city designed to host cars into a city for people. We’re making a better city that is nicer to live in, nicer to visit.

and provides commuters with an alternative, along with the extra bike paths that have been installed. Peeters stops short of comparing cities like Antwerp and Ghent — both lauded internationally for their mobility progress — with Brussels. But she does acknowledge that both Flanders and Brussels recognise the importance of strong public transport systems. “After all, the more potential travellers, the greater the need for these kinds of publicly available mobility solutions,” she says, adding that Flanders is shifting away from a supply-driven public transport offering to a demand-driven model.

A different league? Neither Van den Brandt nor Smet want to compare Brussels with other Belgian cities either. Smet insists that “Brussels is play-

A 30km/h speed limit applies across most of the city


ing in a different league” due to its bigger size and different demographics. “Ghent is another scale. It's a town, especially the historic centre. But Brussels is a big capital city, with more commuters and it's the economic heart,” Smet insists, adding that “it's probably true that mentalities changed a lot earlier there but it's also a student city, so that has to be taken into account too.” There are similarities between what Brussels and Ghent are trying to do, including restricting traffic flow between different neighbourhoods and phasing in low-emission zones. However, the spark for the capital’s changes come from further afield. “Brussels is taking its inspiration from cities like Copenhagen, Barcelona, London, Paris,” Smet says. Van den Brandt agrees that Belgium’s capital can learn and indeed has already learned from other cities. “Before we put in the 30km zone, I spoke a lot with the mayors of Grenoble and Helsinki, as they already had results from doing it themselves,” she says. The Finnish capital recorded no fatalities after making the change, while in Grenoble the number of injuries halved. Van den Brandt says Brussels still has plenty of room to improve the way people move around the city – and even hopes that it will someday inspire other cities around the world. For anyone who remembers what Boulevard Anspach and Place Jourdan used to look like before cars were banished, that hope is not so fetched. "Change takes time,” she says. “The idea is to change a city designed to host cars into a city for people. We're making a better city that is nicer to live in, nicer to visit."

We are calling on

Mr. Janez Lenarčič,

European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management

Afghanistan is once again in the hands of the Taliban! Around 10,000 Christians are in fear of practicing their faith and risking their lives every day. Christians in Afghanistan must be protected!

“People eventually discovered that we were Christians. One day, I came home from school to find that the Taliban had destroyed our home and killed my parents. Me and my brother were forced to flee Afghanistan. He was 16 years old and I was eight." Ali Ehsani, 38 year old Afghani Christian


| 57


Why sexual harassment is still rife in Brussels For all the progress over the years, women still face sexual harassment on the streets of Brussels, with many avoiding certain neighbourhoods where they risk being pestered. Lauren Walker looks at why this is still an issue, and asks what can be done


| 59

Above, and right: Demonstrators took to the streets in October to protest against sexual harassment. Credit: Belga

O When I go out with a friend at the night, incidents like this always happen. It’s impossible to report them every time.

ne evening last summer, Gitte Peeters, a 20-year-old photography student, was hanging out in a square in Brussels with her friends. It started as a fun night: they talked, listened to music and danced. But then, some men started catcalling them. After that, Peeters looked around and spotted someone filming them. And finally, a man approached her and asked, “What’s underneath your skirt?” “It was so disgusting. It really got to me,” says Peeters, who is now an activist campaigning against casual sexual harassment. “But it was all in just one night.” Her experience is far from unique, even in Brussels, a city that prides itself on its modern, progressive and cosmopolitan character. Sexual harassment is rife and encompasses everything from catcalling and sexual comments to unwanted touching and rape. Indeed, the broadness of the term often results in victims not being aware it has happened. A recent study of young women and girls in Brussels, Antwerp and Charleroi by children’s rights organisation Plan International, found that


91 percent said they had been sexually harassed in public spaces. However, only six percent of women sexually harassed in public have ever filed a complaint with the police. “I can’t go to the police station every single time this happens to me,” Peeters says. “When I go out with a friend at the night, incidents like this always happen. It’s impossible to report them every time.” Nor can women be sure they are taken seriously when they lodge a formal complaint: the only time Peeters went to the police, she was told by a female officer that it was her fault.

Normalising and victim-blaming The inability of the police to take complaints seriously is a major barrier to women reporting harassment, says Lucas Melgaço, professor in Urban Criminology at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB). “Women see the police as a male-dominated institution and not an institution made for women by women,” he says. “When you look at these numbers, it is clear that

we are still a long way from having a police system where women feel represented.” However, the police are not the only obstacles, he says, pointing out that sexual harassment often stems from structural sexism. “Generations of women have been taught to see it as a compliment, even when they are bothered by it,” Melgaço says. Shrugging off the problem and saying, ‘boys will be boys’ means many women feel pressure to accept these incidents and move on. The result is that the crimes become normalised. This can be seen as a systemic issue. Sarah Schlitz, Belgium’s Secretary of State for Gender Equality, Equal Opportunities and Diversity says institutions that are meant to help victims of sexual harassment, including the police, are male-dominated, as are the public spaces where such crimes take place often are too. “The public space represents a common good, shared spaces for exchange and encounters. But the harassment that women sometimes experience in the public space sends a message to women that they are not welcome there,” she says.

Making public spaces safer Indeed, the Plan International study found that the way women interact with public spaces is influenced by their fear of being sexually harassed: it found around one in two young women feel these risks fundamentally impact their freedom of movement across the cities they live and work in. “Some women may think they haven’t experienced sexual harassment, but then they admit they don’t walk to certain places in the evening,” says Plan International Advocacy Coordinator Catherine Péters, “If they change the way they walk, it shows that such events take away people’s freedom, and it means that the way young women think they can use public space is being affected.” So, how can the cycle of harassment and intimidation be broken? Plan International says youth advocacy should be part of the solution. “Young people know how they live their lives and what they experience. Everyone is becoming more aware that young people have to be included in

A recent study of young women and girls in Brussels, Antwerp and Charleroi found that 91 percent said they had been sexually harassed in public spaces.


| 61

Shrugging off the problem and saying, ‘boys will be boys’ means many women feel pressure to accept these incidents and move on.

Above: Gitte Peeters began campaigning against harassment after being serially pestered by men

these projects,” Péters says. “You need to have their view and to understand how they use the public spaces.” As for tackling the root of the problem – fundamental sexism – and breaking taboos, Plan International is working with schools to help teachers educate young people. It has developed a pedagogical tool on gender as well as ‘digital training’ ses-


sions for teachers to understand how to avoid dangerous gender stereotypes.

Improving police action Brussels authorities accept that many women and girls have lost faith in the principle that complaints will lead to a perpetrator being reprimanded – a perception

that creates a barrier to reporting, ensuring that sexual harassment does not appear on the radar. “This is why we are working with an external partner to train police officers on the broader context of sexism, how this translates into daily life, and how officers should deal with these incidents,” says Olivier Slosse, spokesperson for the Brussels-Capital/Ixelles area. This training will teach police officers how to correctly file reports on incidents, and ensure officers treat victims seriously when they make a complaint. However, Slosse says that this is a bigger problem than just overhauling the complaint system. “The police alone cannot solve these issues, as it is a joint responsibility of society,” he says. As for Gitte Peeters, the final straw came when she came home after one particularly bad night of being harassed multiple times. “I told my dad about it. He is an amazing, sweet man and I am sure he didn’t mean ill, but he said: ‘These things happen when you are out with the girls so late at night,’” she says. That was the moment she decided to speak out, leading awareness campaigns against sexual harassment. Today, Peeters says that whenever she is asked how society can tackle the issue, she always starts with one basic message: improve education. “This should include

Protesters demonstrating against sexual harassment, Brussels, October 2021. Credit: Belga

telling young people that sexually harassing someone is just not the right thing to do,” she says. “Children learn from role models, including parents and teachers, about what is wrong and right. It is important that they understand from a young age that sexual harassment is not OK, why it is not OK, and what you should do when it happens.”

Sexual harassment in figures 1 in 2 young people said they often

take an alternate route to avoid certain places or don't visit them at all out of fear they will be harassed.

More than 9 in 10 girls have experienced a form of sexual harassment in a public space.

Fewer than 1 in 10 victims have filed a complaint with the police.

Forms of harassment and frequency Catcalling and whistling Prolonged staring Excessive flirtatiousness Unwanted touching

82% 79% 59% 36%

95% of all reports of sexual harassment come from girls.

80% of respondents indicated that they received no help from bystanders when they were harassed.

Data from Plan International Belgium


| 63

Credit: Michel Petillo


The right time to die Declared euthanasia cases have more than doubled over the last decade in Belgium since assisted dying legislation came into force. Now, however, supporters of the law want to go further, writes Justin Stares


he recent emergence in the Netherlands of suspected ‘suicide powder’ sellers helping hundreds to end their lives is reigniting the debate over euthanasia on both sides of the border. Dutch prosecutors are investigating a 28-yearold man from Eindhoven, named in local media as Alex S, accused of selling packets of a deadly cocktail for €20 to anyone who asks, irrespective of age and medical condition. Meanwhile, a 78-year-old Dutch psychologist, Wim van Dijk, claimed last month in a newspaper interview that he gave ‘suicide powder’ to more than 100 people.


| 65

Above: The start of the trial this year of the Tine Nys’s doctors - her psychiatrist, her general GP and the doctor - who carried out her euthanasia

A 78-yearold Dutch psychologist, Wim van Dijk, claimed last month in a newspaper interview that he gave ‘suicide powder’ to more than 100 people.

While euthanasia is legal in both the Netherlands and Belgium, assisted suicide can lead to a prison sentence. Yet the line between assisted suicide and euthanasia can be fine. Doctors in the Netherlands feel they can “interpret” the euthanasia law if the patient's wishes are unclear, the public prosecutor warned in letters leaked to media over the summer. But Belgium, too, has recently seen a high-profile court case. It centred around the euthanasia of 38-year-old Tine Nys, who was suffering severe “psychic” problems. In 2018, eight years after the act and after protests from Tine’s relatives, the three doctors who approved the decision were prosecuted for death by poisoning. In what was the first case of its kind since Belgium’s euthanasia law was introduced in 2002, a jury acquitted the doctors. The public prosecutor decided not to appeal, but Tine’s relatives did. The case is therefore ongoing and, despite the first acquittal, it has had a chilling effect on doctors’ willingness to practice euthanasia, says Jacqueline Herremans, president of Belgium's francophone Association for the Right to Die in Dignity. “I know of several doctors who say they would rather


not expose themselves to that kind of risk,” she says.

Who can conduct euthanasia? Euthanasia in Belgium may only be practised by a doctor, who applies drugs either intravenously or orally (the latter is rare). The law is in theory applicable to children (there have been four child euthanasia cases in since 2014). The law – controversially, for euthanasia supporters – requires not only that a patient have a “serious and incurable pathology” and the suffering be “constant and unbearable”, but that the patient be capable of “repeatedly” expressing his or her wish to die. Filling out a euthanasia request form in advance is therefore sometimes not sufficient if the applicant subsequently develops dementia and is no longer able to confirm his or her desire to die. As a result, only 48 dementia sufferers were recorded in Belgium’s euthanasia statistics for 2018-2019, a drop in the ocean of the country’s 150,000 dementia patients. No such confirmation is required in the Netherlands, where the law instead emphasises that the doctor should ensure an individual’s decision is “voluntary” and “well

thought-out”. Doctors can therefore end the lives of sufferers who have in the past expressed a will to die, and who are no longer able to do so (in one controversial case, a doctor sedated an agitated patient before administering the fatal dose). If doctors follow the right procedure, they are in theory protected by the law.

Right to die or ‘terminal sedation’ In the Netherlands, in 2019, out of a declared 6,337 cases of euthanasia, 162 were suffering from dementia, and another 68 from other psychological illnesses. In Belgium, there are around 2,500 declarations a year, compared to around 1,000 ten years ago. There was a dip in declarations in March and April last year, at the height of the Covid crisis, which Herremans attributes to doctors in many cases losing access to patients, including in care homes. Despite doubling, the 2,500 declarations are still less than 3% of all deaths in Belgium every year. Deaths in hospital following terminal sedation – arguably a form of euthanasia – are six or seven times as high. Non-residents can and do come to Belgium seeking euthanasia. While statistics have only now begun to be collated, there are known to have been referrals from doctors in other countries, including France. There is no mention in the Belgian law of nationality or residency requirements, Herremans says. She nevertheless discourages those who are suffering from a psychological illness from coming to Belgium because meeting the law’s requirements can take 18 months or more. For patients with a condition such as a terminal, incurable cancer, on the other hand, decisions can be taken much faster. One statistic that has hardly changed over the last decade is very Belgian in nature: the language used to fill out declarations. Around 76% of all declarations are in Dutch (ten years ago it was 80%), proportionally much higher than the Dutch-speaking-to-francophone ratio among Belgium’s inhabitants. This mismatch could be cultural. One of the hypotheses is that there are fewer euthanasia requests in French-speaking Belgium, perhaps because doctors are more reluctant to broach the subject.

field of euthanasia, though laws have in recent years started to spring up elsewhere. Portugal and Spain are among other European countries starting down the legislative path. Terminology can vary: Canada is moving towards a notion of “medically assisted death”, as is the US, where ten states have now adopted legislation (albeit significantly more restrictive than the Benelux laws). Colombia has a euthanasia law, and Chile could get one soonish. While Herremans says she feels “philosophically close” to those selling ‘suicide powder’, she warns against taking euthanasia powers away from doctors and handing them to the general public. “I doubt the efficacy of these powders and worry about side-effects,” she says. And she notes that though Belgian law is broad enough to help almost anyone seeking euthanasia, they must meet certain conditions (contrary to popular belief, this is also the case in Switzerland). The vast majority of those seeking to end their lives are however suffering incurably, Herremans points out. Despite its setbacks, euthanasia is now an option for sufferers looking to take control of their final days. 'Suicide powder' sellers, on the other hand, look set to remain on the wrong side of the law, in both Belgium and the Netherlands. Ending your life by the simple taking of a pill is considered a freedom-too-far, even in Europe's most liberal societies.

Despite doubling, the 2,500 declarations are still less than 3% of all deaths in Belgium every year.

Euthanasia pioneers Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland have been pioneers in the


| 67


The chocolate king Pierre Marcolini could be the most celebrated chocolatier in the world, his elegant boxes of exquisite concoctions available around the world. Critics say his reputation is built on suave marketing, but as Angela Dansby discovers, Marcolini is driven by an obsession with producing the perfect chocolate


| 69

My parents absolutely did not want me to be a chocolatier.


t’s the feeling like when you in fall love,” says Pierre Marcolini of his lifelong relationship with chocolate. “The first step is just connecting. Then the second step is marriage. The third step is babies and so on. And the passion is still there.” Marcolini certainly has a hunger for chocolate. He created his brand, simply called Maison Pierre Marcolini, more than a quarter of a century ago, and it has made him arguably the most famous chocolatier working today. His affection for confection began in his teens when he trained as a pastry chef at the Centre d'Enseignement et de Recherches des industries Alimentaires et Chimiques (CERIA) in Anderlecht. He hit the sweet spot with chocolate and never looked back. His ‘marriage’ wasn’t initially supported by his Belgian parents, who envisioned a more traditional career for their son, who was born in Charleroi in 1964 (the Italian surname comes from his maternal grandparents from Verona). “My parents absolutely did not want me to be a chocolatier,” he says. “I think they wanted me to be a lawyer, a banker (horrible!) or a doctor. When I told my mother, ‘I'm going to be a pastry chef who makes chocolate,’ she said, ‘What?!


That’s a simple job.’ I replied, ‘Sorry, mommy, I really want to do this.’” But Marcolini persisted, completing an apprenticeship with Belgian pastry pioneer Henri Wittamer III, and then working for him as head of decoration. He was 31 when he won the 1995 World Pastry Cup in Lyon with “a very innovative cake with mixed textures,” including chocolate, chocolate mousse, orange crème brûlée and hazelnut crust. That led him to open his first shop, which was outside Brussels, in Kraainem. In 1997, he opened his first chocolate shop in Brussels, in the Grand Sablon, across from his former mentor, Wittamer, triggering what he jokingly calls “the war.” “’The war’ was normal because I worked at Wittamer for two and a half years, then I moved across the street,” he explains. “Paul Wittamer, who is the owner now, said ‘the house of Wittamer is like a university of pastry’ and that's really it. When you look today at all the pastry chefs that have come out of this beautiful house – whether it's Marcolini, Van Dender, Marc Ducobu, Jean-Philippe Darcis, etc – there have been many, many people of the new generation who learned from Wittamer. It was a house that taught me a lot.”


| 71

Marcolini’s The bean-to-bar concept conceptual But Marcolini’s conceptual leap came later, in 2001, when he introduced bean-toleap came in bar production, a system that allows him 2001 when he to control quality at every step of the prointroduced bean- cess. This includes sourcing from tree to to-bar production, bean; storing and roasting cocoa beans; refining (finely crushing beans with sugar a system that and sometimes milk powder into a smooth allows him to paste); conching (emulsifying the paste for control quality at 48 hours) and moulding or creating chocoRoasting brings out up to 115 aromatevery step of the lates. ic notes in cocoa from bitter and woody to floral and fruity. Crushing the beans reprocess.

leases their full flavour. All chocolates, including those filled with ganache, praline or other confection, are handmade. Few chocolatiers oversee the entire supply chain process, with most only buying the chocolate from larger factories after conching. But this, Marcolini says, is too late. “The definition of a chocolatier is one who makes chocolate,” he says. “There is a difference between moulding chocolates for a large mass market versus creating those for tasting. The new generation of artisan

Marcolini in his office, Brussels, October 2021


chocolatiers is interested in bean-to-bar production. It’s a kind of revolution that we’ve seen with coffee, tea, olive oil and wine.” Marcolini’s is widely praised for his bean-to-bar innovation, and for his engagement with the growers in Africa, Asia and Latin America. “Twenty years ago, I thought we should work from cocoa beans and pay planters properly. Today, this is trendy,” he notes. “As well, our chocolates were more intense with unusual combinations, such as with tea or jasmine, which had never been done before. For example, we made the first pepper-based chocolates in 1995. I remember colleagues, who are chocolatiers, telling me I was crazy, that it would never work. And now, all the big brands are doing the same thing.” It was this pioneering approach that attracted interest in Japan, prompting him to open a shop in Tokyo in 2001 – another first in the industry. At that time, chocolate was new to Asia: the palate is more bitter and less sweet, so dark chocolate was a good fit. It’s now a symbol of gastronomic luxury and prestige.

“Japan was the first Asian market to discover chocolate and it immediately recognised a difference between mass-manufactured versus handmade products in terms of taste,” Marcolini says. “What’s important for the Japanese is that it’s an ‘author's chocolate.’ From the beginning, compared to other Belgian chocolatiers, we made our chocolate much less sweet. We were the first to make ganache and chocolates with 70 percent cocoa, while the national average was 50-55 percent. Still today, our chocolate is more intense, innovative, smaller and packaged so that you can see all of it.” This year marks the 20th anniversary of Marcolini’s bean-to-bar production. To celebrate, he released 20 new chocolate tablets – a format he considers the chocolatier’s essential identity – including 10 “grands crus” (pure chocolate from cocoa-growing terroirs) and 10 creations (chocolate mixed with other ingredients). His flagship Sablon store features a “cocoatechque,” to showcase bean origins. They include rare locations like Hainan Island in southern China, a small coastal town in Cuba (only 2-3 chocolatiers in the world have access to these beans) and Chuao region of Venezuela (only accessible by sea).

the highest quality cocoa beans, often from single countries of origin and individual growers. • Sensory perfection: coaxing unique flavours from cocoa beans so that their terroirs shine. Textures must be smooth and creamy (unless purposely for unrefined chocolate).

In 1997, he opened his first chocolate shop in Brussels, in the Grand Sablon, across from his former mentor, Wittamer, triggering what he jokingly calls “the war.”

• Minimal processing: artisan methods create minimally processed chocolate with flavour complexity. • Visual appeal: creation of stunning, perfectly finished products and artful designs. Marcolini ticks all four boxes. Indeed, he’s written two books on bean-to-bar production, most recently ‘Belgian Chocolate: Bean-to-Bar Generation’ (Lannoo 2018).

Defining fine chocolate According to the Fine Chocolate Industry Association, “fine chocolate is defined in terms of its flavour, texture and appearance as well as how its limited ingredients, high cocoa and low sugar content are sourced and processed.” It represents 5 percent or less of chocolate market sales and includes: • Sustainable sourcing: Committing to farmers and ethical practices, sourcing


| 73

The new generation of artisan chocolatiers is interested in bean-to-bar production. It’s a kind of revolution that we’ve seen with coffee, tea, olive oil and wine.

While this style is slowly increasing among artisan chocolatiers, Marcolini remains one of the few to partner with growers and roast cocoa beans himself. His beans come from eight independent plantations in the "Cocoa Belt," tropical regions located 20° north and south of the equator, including Cuba, Peru, Venezuela, São Tomé and Príncipe, Madagascar, Indonesia, India and China. “The difference is in the DNA: the style, flavour, approach and philosophy,” Marcolini says. “People always think that it is the percentage of cocoa that makes the most difference in taste. And I say no, it's the origin, it's the bean, it's the region.” The tour du monde en chocolat is essential for the Marcolini experience. He even sets the scene as people dip into his boxes. “You sit down and take off your shoes,” he imagines. “It's evening, there's a small fire crackling. You put on some jazz music and you take a little square of chocolate and say to yourself, ‘I want to travel. I want to travel in taste from Cuba to Madagascar to India.’” Marcolini does travel the world in search of new cocoa beans and other exquisite ingredients. For example, he imports pink peppercorns from Morocco, pistachios from Iran, pepper from China, vanilla from Madagascar, lemons from Sicily, cinnamon from Sri Lanka and hazelnuts from Italy. These ingredients are untainted by artificial flavours, colourants or preservatives. Marcolini only works with sustainable plantations that have ethical worker and environmental practices. He sources fairtrade cocoa at premium prices (two-tothree times the market rate) and maintains


close relationships with his growers for long-term supplies. Maison Pierre Marcolini and its cocoa growers are also moving to cut their carbon footprint: the workshop has solar panels, rainwater collection and biodegradable packaging.

Pierre and the chocolate factory As for the workshop itself, based in Haren, just outside Brussels, a visit is like getting a golden ticket to the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory. The warehouse receives and stores bags of cocoa beans from around the world. In an adjacent building, 11 rooms are used to 1) roast and crush beans; 2) grind and liquefy them; 3) blend cocoa liqueur with sugar or sugar and powdered milk to create dark and milk chocolate paste, then powdery flakes are ‘conched’ back into liquid; 4) design and cut chocolates into special shapes; 5) create ganache or other chocolate fillings; 6) create macaroon fillings; 7) create macaroon shells and assemble them with filling; 8) make other pastries like cakes; 9) coat pastries in chocolate; 10) package products and 11) test new ideas (Marcolini is in this “lab” every Saturday morning). The bean-to-bar process takes three days while turning out a box of chocolates an entire week. About 80 artisans handcraft and design everything, overseeing limited automated processes. Then there is the packaging. Marcolini’s clean, elegant boxes look like they were built by Apple or Tesla. His stores have a matching virtuosity. While critics assert that he focuses too much on marketing and design, Marcolini insists that high-quality


| 75

products deserve high-quality packaging. He just wants to give customers an emotional experience from store to stomach. “The first thing we try to do is to transport people via emotion. It starts with the look, with a window or with a store 360-degree experience. If you go into a restaurant that doesn't look like much, but it gives you a

People always think that it is the percentage of cocoa that makes the most difference in taste. And I say no, it’s the origin, it’s the bean, it’s the region.


nice plate, there's something wrong with that,” he says. Today, Maison Pierre Marcolini is a global luxury brand with 40 stores in eight countries: Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Monaco, Britain, United Arab Emirates, China and Japan. In 2020, Marcolini opened a shop in Victor Hugo’s former

Marcolini travels the world in search of new cocoa beans and other exquisite ingredients. For example, he imports pink peppercorns from Morocco, pistachios from Iran, pepper from China, vanilla from Madagascar, lemons from Sicily, cinnamon from Sri Lanka and hazelnuts from Italy.

home on Brussels’ Grand Place, a second store in Dubai, UAE in its famous Emirates Mall and a boutique plus workshop producing ‘grands cru’ tablets in Antwerp. This Christmas, he is offering a ‘magical mountain’ advent calendar with a ski resort theme and winter animals like polar bears as well as chocolate-based yule logs, Christmas trees and wreaths. Also new are star-shaped hazelnut chocolates derived from gianduja of Turin, Italy as well as whisky- and rare rum-infused chocolates with earth colours from plant-based sources such as raspberry and carrot powders. So, what is the best way to enjoy his chocolates? “At home in a temperature of about 20 degrees in a quiet place,” Marcolini advises. “First, you smell it, look at

it and feel it. Then you take time to taste it and let it melt in your mouth. And then you wait to see how long the taste will stay.” This is when chocolate buffs refer to the Caudalie, the unit of measurement used to determine how long a flavour persists. “At that moment, you have a beautiful tasting.” Some connoisseurs can even taste the author’s signature. "What I would like is when you taste a chocolate, when you taste a bar, when you taste a praline, you say ‘This is Marcolini,’ he says. Conversely, a world without chocolate would be unbearable: “How awful! Oh no, no, no! Chocolate is a universal product that makes faces light up and people say, ‘This is super, this is awesome.’”


| 77


Maison Pierre Marcolini Chocolate Production

Conching: This 48-hour step turns chocolate flakes into liquid, which is poured into shallow, rectangular containers for end-use.

Sourcing: Cocoa beans from eight plantations around the world are shipped to Haren and stored in a warehouse.

Moulding, Coating and Blending: Liquid chocolate is poured into moulds to create tablets, pralines, truffles or filled chocolates. It is also used to coat pastries like cakes.

Roasting and Crushing: A pastry chef roasts beans at 120 °C for 40 minutes. A machine next to the roastery ruptures bean shells. Another machine crushes them into small pieces (nibs). Grinding and Heating: Nibs are pulverized by a grinder into cocoa liqueur. This is transferred to a heated storage unit that transports the liqueur into another processing room. Blending: Cocoa liqueur is rolled in a vat to a blender where sugar is added to create dark chocolate and powdered milk from a local Belgian producer is also added for milk chocolate. A three-cylinder machine blends these ingredients into a chunky paste. This paste is hand-shovelled into a five-cylinder machine that presses it into powdery chocolate flakes.

Filling: Ganache, made by adding cream and sometimes flavouring ingredients to chocolate, or other fillings like caramel is put inside truffles or other confections. Water-Cutting: Special chocolates like gianduja are cut into unique shapes by a machine that uses water like a jet laser. Packaging: Boxes are hand-filled with chocolates in an assembly line and tablets are machine-wrapped in plastic and inserted into boxes. All packages are stamped with a “best before” date.


| 79


25 YEARS OF SWEET SUCCESS 1995: Crowned World Pastry Cup champion, Pierre Marcolini opens his first atelier in Kraainem 1997: Marcolini opens his first store at Place du Grand Sablon, Brussels 1999: Maison Pierre Marcolini atelier grows to 1,500m2 and relocates to Haren 2001: Marcolini introduces the “beanto-bar” concept, producing his own chocolate from cocoa beans. He opens his first boutique in Tokyo 2003: Marcolini opens his first boutique in Paris 2009: Marcolini becomes 100 percent autonomous in chocolate production 2015: He opens his first boutique in London. Maison Pierre Marcolini becomes an official caterer of the Belgian Royal Court 2016: Marcolini opens his first boutique in China (Shanghai) 2019: He opens his first store in Dubai 2020: Marcolini is crowned ‘Best Pastry Chef in the World’ at World Pastry Stars 2020

Picture credits: All pictures Michael Chia except p68-69 Maison Pierre Marcolini, and p81, top, Nicolas Buisson

2021: Maison Pierre Marcolini celebrates its 20th anniversary of beanto-bar production


| 81


When Antwerp was the centre of the world In its 16th-century pomp, Antwerp was at the hub of the known world. It was a cauldron of emperors, heretics, spies and killer bankers, all stirring religious, sexual and intellectual scandals. Michael Pye, author of ‘Antwerp: The Glory Years’, recounts what it was like to live in a city that oozed power and plots


| 83

What it had was a market in secrets and spices, diamonds and pictures, wool, copper bangles, and tombs that looked royal.

Above: Gilbert van Schoonbeke, who shaped the city. Page 82-83: Antwerp in 1540


here are rules about any expedition to find lost cities and their riches. You need a legend, a jungle, a river, a dugout canoe and a guide and a machete, an ancient, tattered map, anti-malarials and something to keep off jaguars, piranhas and anacondas. There may be traps, an enemy or something more deadly and uncanny. Or, if you don’t have the time, you could always take the train to Antwerp. Among the frocks and beers and chocolate, there are the remains of another lost city. In the 16th century, Antwerp was the hub and centre of the known world, and


the city’s great rivals like Venice said so when they reported home. The world waited for every bit of news: the market in money or gold, the rumours of peace or better yet, scandal. Killer bankers, money being cornered like any other commodity on the Exchange, women who laughed at dirty jokes in front of their own husbands. You could go from dinner table to dinner table round Europe with a stock of Antwerp stories. That city is long gone, hidden behind the 17th century story, which is Rubens and pious Catholicism and respect for Hapsburg rulers. True, the city itself is still a great port as it was in the 16th century when

it connected the new trade routes over oceans with the northern seas that were easier to enter and escape than the Mediterranean, and the great rivers that carried goods into Europe much more efficiently than ruined roads. It isn’t buried or overgrown like lost cities are meant to be. Although rockets rained down on it in World War II, it was the first civilian target in Europe bombed in the First World War and it had town planners in the 19th century. The line of the streets in the old centre is still much as it was, although you buy Louis Vuitton on the Meir instead of cabbages.

The lost city of secrets and spices Today, you must hunt for clues to the 50-years when Antwerp was a new kind of world city: no empire, not even an army or a navy, no king or royal court, no convincingly important lord and not even a bishop. What it had was a market in secrets and spices, diamonds and pictures, wool, copper bangles, and tombs that looked royal. It also had books, ranging from Bibles in

many languages to the new medical ideas coming over the oceans, with roots and leaves from Asia, America and Africa. The city was a crossroads of every kind of information, where spies went to find out what they couldn’t find anywhere else. People buying guns and armour meant war. Even more important was what kind of money they were raising to pay troops: the coins they wanted would show where they meant to find soldiers and where they would fight. The city was always being read as closely as any set of documents. The king of the Exchange kept 20 thugs to keep him safe but also to watch the streets to see who was going where to make deals with whom. You could even buy a very early kind of Financial Times: lists of the exchange rates and commodity prices issued each day and for sale around the city’s true heart: its Beurs, its Exchange. Antwerp was about business, and its business was about discovering the world. The grandest of thinkers and scholars – Roger Ascham for example – said they felt at home with Antwerp merchants. The merchants among themselves grumbled about how business got in the

Below: the hedge-preachers, the Calvinist teachers. Top: Atlas publisher Christophe Plantin


| 85

Above: the Antwerp aldermen feast in the van Lieren house. Below: The Beurs or Exchange of Antwerp

You could even buy a very early kind of Financial Times: lists of the exchange rates and commodity prices issued each day and for sale around the city’s true heart: its Beurs, its Exchange.


way of the next edition of some Latin poet or the great history they were planning. But somehow the books still appeared. The docksides were full of strange new goods with strange new uses, enough for the great doctor Paracelsus to say he learned more from Antwerp’s markets than from any school.

The world’s first modern cosmopolis The world connected in Antwerp. It was a buzz of excitement that changed the way we think about money for example: in a town of deals, money quickly becomes an abstraction. Many varied groups did deals there: the ‘new Christians’ from Portugal, who were often still practising Jews; the Lutherans from Germany; the Calvinists who became less and less discreet until they made a Calvinist Republic of the town; assorted Anabaptists; and even the secretive Family of Love. Officials of the Hapsburg empire complained it was somehow unfair to have so many varieties of heretic. Charles V, the Hapsburg emperor, kept saying he wanted to stamp out heresy, but he also needed money. Antwerp was a place to raise cash quite cheaply. That was the very delicate balance on which the city’s kind of unacknowledged independence rested. The city ran around the Emperor’s will, got sick or

got up late to give the heretics time to get away, printed Bibles in English which were still illegal in England but burned them in the streets the next year. It was an elaborate, knife-edge game that kept the wars of the Reformation out of the streets the night when a handful of men rushed into the churches and smashed up images and pictures. An attack on the Church’s authority was an attack on the Emperor’s authority – or so the Emperor thought. So the armies had to come into the streets. A fortress was built with its first guns pointed at the city – not the river – which might bring an enemy. The greatness of Antwerp began to drift and then to run North. In 1585, after a long siege, Antwerp was back in the hands of the Spanish, Protestants were allowed to leave and they did, and the city began to have lovely baroque churches, a dearth of heretics, none of the great publishers and a new kind of holy art very different from the more earthy Brueghels. The new city hid the old city away. It would always be a great port, but the glory years were not so visible – or known. That is

why I ignored the friends who kept asking rather plaintively why on earth I was writing about Antwerp. I knew it was a star of a city whose story was largely untold, a lost city to be rediscovered and given its due. I did have a legend: the sideways references to the glory days in many documents, in Lisbon and Zurich and London and Seville as much as Antwerp – and in Florence, because Cosimo de Medici followed Antwerp gossip as well as buying pictures and horses there. I had an ancient, tattered map of sorts: the city records of Antwerp have a gap from the days in 1576 when mutinous, murderous soldiers set fire to the town hall. I had to explore records across Europe, but then as a foreigner, I needed the reports of other foreigners who had to explain Antwerp to the people at home. I hope I found the life in the glory years, that the extraordinary Antwerp I found is buried no longer. And from my limited experience of tropical rivers, I found that the Thalys is almost too easy a route to a lost city. Michael Pye’s latest book, ‘Antwerp: The Glory Years’, was published in July by Allen Lane

Charles V, the Hapsburg emperor, kept saying he wanted to stamp out heresy, but he also needed money. Antwerp was a place to raise cash quite cheaply.

On the top floor of the Beurs: the market in art


| 87


Brand Whitlock, Belgium’s beloved American He’s mostly known today for the boulevard he gave his name to, but as the US’s ‘Minister’ in Belgium during the First World War, Brand Whitlock was ensured aid reached millions who risked starvation from the blockades. A former mayor of Toledo and prolific writer, Whitlock’s wartime heroics earned him the thanks of the grateful Belgian nation, as Dennis Abbott reports


ay “Brand Whitlock” to most people in Brussels and chances are you’ll get directions to a noisy dual carriageway that leads from the notorious Square Montgomery rushhour bottleneck to the Art Deco enclave of Square Vergote, where Schaerbeek and Woluwé-Saint-Lambert meet, close to the E40 motorway access. Originally Boulevard de Grande Ceinture, the thoroughfare was renamed Boulevard Brand Whitlock by the conseil communal on March 6, 1915, to honour a US First World War hero. Today, Whitlock is largely forgotten, in both his homeland and Belgium. So, who was he? Joseph Brand Whitlock was a journalist, author, politician and diplomat. Born on March 4, 1869 in Urbana, Ohio, to the Reverend Elias D. Whitlock, a Methodist minister, and Mallie Brand, he had two younger siblings, Mary, who died aged 11, and Francis, a brother who also pre-deceased him. After leaving school, Whitlock passed

up on university. He headed instead for the port city of Toledo on Lake Erie, where he cut his teeth as a cub reporter on newspapers including The Toledo Blade. In 1891, he moved to The Chicago Herald, where he covered politics and baseball. He caught the eye of Illinois Governor John P. Altgeld who asked Whitlock to work for him in the state capital, Springfield, where he also studied law under Senator John Palmer, a Civil War general in the Union army. It was in Springfield that Whitlock met his first wife, Susan Brainerd. She died, aged 18, four months after their wedding in 1892. Whitlock married her sister Ella, known as Nell, three years later. They were inseparable for the rest of his life. Whitlock quickly made his mark as a lawyer. In 1893, he drew up an appeal for three men convicted of involvement in a bomb attack that left 11 dead, including seven police, at a Chicago workers’ rally. Samuel Fielden, a British-born Methodist pastor, and two other men from immigrant

In parallel with his political career, Whitlock was a prolific writer, churning out novels, nonfiction and magazine articles.


| 89

In December 1913, US President Wilson appointed him Minister to Belgium, a minor diplomatic posting but perfect for Whitlock who saw the country as a quiet backwater where he could absorb European culture and write.

Three mayors: H.T. Hunt of Cincinnati, Brand Whitlock of Toledo, Newton Baker of Cleveland

backgrounds, Michael Schwab and Oscar Neebe, were found guilty of conspiracy. Governor Altgeld, himself a German immigrant, granted Whitlock’s appeal, signing pardons for the three. Four co-defendants were less fortunate and hanged.

Four-time mayor of Toledo Whitlock returned to Toledo to set up his own legal practice in 1896. He was a supporter of the city’s popular Welsh-born mayor, Samuel ‘Golden Rule’ Jones, whose nickname referred to his business motto: “The golden rule: Do unto others as you would do unto yourself”. When Jones died unexpectedly in 1904, Whitlock ran for mayor, vowing to continue his predecessor’s social reforms such as free kindergartens and an eight-hour working day. Whitlock was elected for four consecutive terms from 1905 to 1913. He twice introduced bills to abolish the death penalty in Ohio, but both failed. In parallel with his political career, Whitlock was a prolific writer, churning out novels, non-fiction and magazine articles. His work often focused on political and social issues, with thinly veiled autobiographical content. His 1902 debut, ‘The Thirteenth District’, the story of the rise and fall of a congressman, was an instant success. ‘The Happy Average’, about a young lawyer, and ‘Her Infinite Variety’, supporting the vote for women, appeared in 1904. ‘The Turn of the Balance’, a critique of the judicial system, published three years later, was hailed by Call of the Wild author Jack London as “a


splendid book [which] displays a noble and sympathetic understanding of society.” Whitlock followed it with a biography of Abraham Lincoln. After his fourth term ended in 1913, Whitlock decided to focus on his writing. He was 44 and putting the final touches to his autobiography, ‘Forty Years of It’. His friends, however, urged the new US President, the progressive Woodrow Wilson, to find Whitlock a position. In December 1913, Wilson appointed him Minister to Belgium, a minor diplomatic posting but perfect for Whitlock who saw the country as a quiet backwater where he could absorb European culture and write.

Diplomatic idyll He quickly embraced the diplomatic lifestyle, enjoying long luncheons, receptions, nights at the opera and chauffeur-driven cars. He found a pleasant villa, Bois-Fleuri, at Quatre-Bras, near the top of Avenue de Tervuren. An oasis of peace – there was no ring road then – it was handy for Ravenstein golf course, as much a favourite with diplomats then as today. Whitlock was at his villa when he first heard of the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie by a Bosnian Serb student, Gavrilo Princip, on June 28, 1914. Whitlock barely paid attention to the incident, assuming it was a local issue that would soon be resolved. He was more interested in the trial of Henriette Caillaux, the socialite second wife of France’s ex-Prime Minister Joseph Caillaux, who had shot and killed Le Figaro

Brand Whitlock and his wife Ella (known as Nell)

editor Gaston Calmette after he published her love letters (the jury decided it was an unpremeditated crime of passion and acquitted her). Even when Germany backed Austria against Serbia, few thought the situation would escalate. “Life went on quite the same. The Legation was quiet, deserted, dull. [US Secretary Hugh] Gibson and I strolled down to the Caveau de Paris, the little restaurant in the Rue du Marché aux Herbes, where diplomats were always to be found at noon,” wrote Whitlock. Instead, the 1914 ‘July Crisis’ triggered a

seemingly unstoppable sequence of events, all recorded by Whitlock in a daily journal which would later form the basis of his wartime account, ‘Belgium, A Personal Narrative’. Russia backed Serbia and mobilised on July 30. Germany declared war on Russia. France, allied with Russia and Britain in the Triple Entente, mobilised on August 2. The same day, Claus von Below-Saleske, Germany’s envoy in Brussels, delivered an ultimatum to Belgium’s Foreign Minister Julien Davignon, demanding free passage for the Kaiser’s army. “To the Belgian ministers, the summons

He quickly embraced the diplomatic lifestyle, enjoying long luncheons, receptions, nights at the opera and chauffeurdriven cars.


| 91

in Vilvoorde. She later would become the wife of Joseph Goebbels. German troops crossed the frontier on August 4. The Belgians put up a brave defence, holding out for longer than the Germans expected. Liege finally fell on August 16 and the government abandoned Brussels. The Belgian army withdrew to Antwerp and then the Yser where it halted the enemy by opening sluice gates to flood the plain.

Boulevard Brand Whitlock, 1927

to let the German troops pass over Belgian soil to attack France came as a blow that was not diminished in its force by the fact that it was not unexpected. It seemed, indeed, but a detail in the midst of those tremendous events that were tumbled each moment, into the horrid chaos of the world,” wrote Whitlock.

Belgian defiance The American was present when Belgium’s King Albert addressed the Parliament on August 4. “[It is] a scene one would not soon forget,” recalled Whitlock. As the sovereign entered, the room erupted in cries of “Vive le Roí!” Wearing his general’s uniform, his sabre clanking at his side, the King asked: “Are you unwavering in your determination to keep the sacred heritage of our ancestors intact?” “Oui, oui, oui!” the deputies and senators roared in unison. “I find myself leaning over the balcony rail, a catch in my throat, my eyes moist,” Whitlock wrote. The US Legation, on the corner of Rue Belliard and Rue de Trèves, was besieged by panicking US citizens, pouring into Brussels from all over the continent. “In many instances, the women are calmer, braver than the men,” Whitlock observed. He immediately expanded his team, securing the services of Gaston de Levai, a lawyer, and Caroline Larner, a State Department official who was in Brussels at the wrong time. As the representative of a neutral country, Whitlock was asked to take over consular operations for Britain, France, Denmark, Austria-Hungary, Japan and Germany, whose 60,000 expats were also in a panic to leave. Several thousand were put on a cattle train at Gare du Nord, among them a frightened 13-year-old girl, Magda Behrend, from the Ursuline Convent of Virgo Fidelis


Fear of attacks by armed civilians, francs-tireurs as they were known, resulted in the invaders adopting a policy of terror, Schrecklichkeit. The summary executions, use of human shields and indiscriminate torching of towns became known as the ‘Rape of Belgium’. On August 25-26, German troops burnt down the university library in Leuven, destroying 230,000 books and a thousand precious manuscripts.

Emergency relief for millions Up to three-quarters of Belgium’s food was imported and supplies quickly ran low. Border closures and the Allied blockade meant many began to starve. The Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB), founded by future US President Herbert Hoover, raised $1 billion and shipped five million tonnes of food, feeding nearly 10 million people in Belgium and, later, in northern France. Whitlock played a critical role in persuading the German authorities to allow the food to get through to those in need. He

Brand Whitlock at his Brussels residence, 1917

worked closely with the Comité National de Secours et d’Alimentation, supported by Belgian business leaders such as Ernest Solvay, Dannie Heineman and Émile Francqui. In addition to food aid, the CRB set up job schemes. The lace-making sector, which employed 50,000 women before the war, was badly hit. Irone Hare, the US-born Viscountess de Beughem de Houtem, persuaded Hoover to send thread on the boats bringing flour. As president of the Comité de la dentelle, Nell Whitlock was ideally placed to support her friend. Brand Whitlock’s unstinting work to secure food supplies and his appeals for condemned Belgians earned him the sobriquet Le Ministre Protecteur. He could not, however, save the British nurse Edith Cavell, sentenced to death for helping British and French soldiers to escape. Despite being bedridden with illness, Whitlock wrote to the German governor, Baron Oscar von der Lancken, underlining that Cavell “had bestowed her care as freely on the German soldiers as on others”. The letter was hand-delivered by Gibson, de Levai, and the Spanish

Boulevard Brand Whitlock, 1927

America increasingly supported the allied war effort with materials and loans to buy munitions. Germany’s promise to help Mexico regain its old territory was the final straw. The US entered the war on December 17, 1917 and Whitlock had to leave Belgium. Before his departure, he negotiated for neutral Dutch and Spanish officials to continue the CRB food aid programme. He accompanied compatriots to Switzerland, before moving to Le Havre to be close to the Belgian government-in-exile.

Post-war return

Still from Hearst-Pathe news report: Brand and Nell Whitlock visiting a camp where US soldiers guard German prisoners at Chateau-Thierry, France. Whitlock is wearing top hat, wing collar and tie

Minister, the Marques de Villalobar, who also begged the governor to show mercy. It was to no avail. Cavell was shot at dawn at the Tir National in Schaerbeek on October 12, 1915, alongside a Belgian architect, Philippe Baucq. Cavell’s execution received worldwide condemnation and her stoicism (“Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness,” she told Anglican chaplain H. Stirling Gahan) was exploited in British propaganda. Her death and the sinking of the Lusitania, torpedoed with the loss of 1,198 passengers and crew, 128 Americans among them, hardened US attitudes.

After the Armistice, the Whitlocks returned to Brussels, arriving in time to witness the royal entry on November 22, 1918, when King Albert rode through the city, accompanied by the Queen and Britain’s Prince Albert, the future George VI. Life gradually returned to normal. Whitlock welcomed President Woodrow Wilson to Belgium on June 18, 1919. Wilson, driven personally by the King at breakneck speeds, visited Ypres, Nieuwpoort, Diksmuide and Ostend. The President proposed the Legation in Belgium should be raised to an embassy and nominated Whitlock as its first Ambassador. One of his first duties was accompanying the Belgian royals on a month-long US tour in October 1919. Whitlock’s tenure as Ambassador was short. Warren G. Harding won the Presidency in 1920 and, as a Wilson appointee, Whitlock had to resign. On July 28, 1921, he was a guest at the laying of the foundation stone of the new university library in Leuven. Attendees included the King, French Prime Minister Raymond Poincaré and Marshal Phillipe

Despite being bedridden with illness, Whitlock wrote to the German governor, Baron Oscar von der Lancken, underlining that Cavell “had bestowed her care as freely on the German soldiers as on others”.


| 93

Whitlock welcomed President Woodrow Wilson to Belgium on June 18, 1919. Wilson, driven personally by the King at breakneck speeds, visited Ypres, Nieuwpoort, Diksmuide and Ostend.

Bust of Brand Whitlock, Belgian Senate

Pétain, the lion of Verdun who would later serve as President of Vichy France. The library replenished its collection with donations from all over the world. Sadly, it was wrecked again during another German invasion in May 1940. For the rest of his life, Whitlock and his wife lived in Europe, mostly near Cannes. According to Edward and Libby Klekowski, authors of Americans in Occupied Belgium 1914-1918, Whitlock never adjusted to postwar America. “In his view, it had become the land of philistinism and of prohibition. The couple became part of the American expatriate colony: winter in Cannes, spring or


fall in Brussels or Paris, summer at Vichy, always living in hotels, always writing.” Between 1923 and 1933, Whitlock published seven more novels and a biography of Lafayette, the French aristocrat who fought in the American War of Independence. To Whitlock’s consternation, his later books received only lukewarm reviews. He suffered frequent bouts of ill health. The New York Times reported on December 4, 1932, that Whitlock was being treated for shingles. On March 5, 1934, he entered the Sunnybank British-American hospital in Cannes for an operation on an enlarged prostate. Friends thought he was

recovering, but he soon needed further surgery. Whitlock died on May 24, with devoted Nell at his bedside. He was 65. Reporting on his passing, the Associated Press described Whitlock as an “outstanding world war figure” whose “vigorous ef-

forts on behalf of the Belgian civilians in the face of strong opposition by the German military leaders won for him the admiration and affections of the Belgians, to a degree only slightly less than their love for their fighting king.”

Whitlock’s literary journey Brand Whitlock wrote dozens of short stories, published in magazine titles such as The Reader, American Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post. The Philadelphia-based Post, the lavishly illustrated and most popular magazine in the US in its early 20th century heyday under editor George Horace Lorimer, regularly featured Whitlock’s work. It published one of his earliest short stories, The Finals and Alice Gray, on March 21, 1903, as well as one of his last works, The Place At Table, on August 13, 1932. The latter focuses on the world of diplomacy and an envoy who is infuriated when a rival deliberately seats him in a place which, he feels, does not accord with his rank. Whitlock almost certainly witnessed the sensitivities aroused by seating plans during his time in Brussels – though there is no hint he was personally snubbed in this way. The story is illustrated by Henry Raleigh, the most fashionable society artist of his day and a friend of F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby. Brand Whitlock, whose short stories were compiled in two books, fell out of fashion after the war and found it increasingly hard to win magazine commissions. Former associates felt his writing style had changed and become too highbrow.

Brand Whitlock’s 1932 short story in The Saturday Evening Post, illustrated by Henry Raleigh

Howland, from his pre-war publisher, Bobbs-Merrill. De Wolff, comparing his early writing with his post-war output, comments: “Brand Whitlock was writing real stuff, as he did in The Thirteenth District. No straining for effect, no plain attempt to use big words, no ‘titivation’, no ‘ineluctable’, no ‘exiguous’, as show up in the new preface – just plain English. In his last novel, J. Hardin & Son, I picked up a list of 100 words of that class that, I believe, not one in a thousand would understand.” Howland replies: “You are dead right about Brand, I’m afraid. Between us, Belgium has worked an amazing change in him. He has lost the common touch, been completely de- democratized, politically, socially and literarilly [sic].”

An article by Joyce CheBrand Whitlock’s memoir, noweth entitled Like the Their views might have ‘Belgium: A Personal Narrative’ Brand Whitlock We Once been coloured by WhitKnew? Hell, No, published lock’s decision to leave in The Indiana University Bobbs-Merrill for D. AppleBookman in 1967, includes excerpts from ton & Company, which published Belgium, letters exchanged in 1924 between two of A Personal Narrative in 16 editions between Whitlock’s former editors, De Wolff and 1919 and 1920.


| 95


Why Brussels still lags with vaccines Belgium has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, but in Brussels – particularly the poorer neighbourhoods on the west side of the canal – the numbers are shockingly low. Maïthé Chini joins the Vacci-Bus mobile teams crisscrossing the city to find out why there are still vaccine holdouts


| 97

Angela, a 56-year-old at the Vacci-Bus in Saint-Josseten-Noode, says she resisted the jab because her friends said the pharmaceutical companies making the vaccines skipped the testing phases, and the government was using them to experiment on the population.


t first, neither of us wanted to get vaccinated because we read a lot of scary things about how it would cause fertility issues or problems when you’re pregnant, and we really want to have children,” says 28-year-old Samira. One Monday in October, Samira was walking with her 27-year-old fiancé Rachid, when was approached by staff from a Vacci-Bus, a mobile vaccination unit that travels to various sites in the city. The staffers chatted with them, asked why they were didn’t want a shot, and then suggested some useful websites. “We were still unsure, but they told us the bus would be at Saint-Josseten-Noode until the end of the week,” Rachid adds. “We discussed it at home and, well, now we are here.” The Vacci-bus is just one of the tools Brussels is using to bring the vaccines to the people, instead of the other way around, using the one-shot Johnson & Johnson version so the process is completed on the spot. It’s an unusual measure, but the authorities know they have some catching up to do. Although Belgium is one of the most vaccinated countries in Europe, with a total coverage of 74 percent (86 percent of adults), Brussels is well below the national average,

Below, and right: the Vacci-bus on tour around Brussels

All pictures, Belga, except p100, Olivier Papegnies / MdM


with just 55 percent fully vaccinated (68 percent of adults). While the main wave of inoculations took place in spring, in sports centres and other major spaces, 60 percent of current vaccinations in Brussels are made through the buses and other local initiatives, says Inge Neven, the head of the Brussels health inspectorate (Cocom), which is responsible for the region’s vaccination. "Less than 40 percent of vaccines still happen in our vaccination centres, but we are putting a lot of effort into decentralised, local actions to bring the vaccines as close to the people as possible," she says. "We try to raise awareness and give people the correct information first and hope to vaccinate them afterwards."

Vax in the city That first move, giving people information, is crucial, as much of the vaccine hesitancy is due to the vast swirl of misinformation about the process. Take Angela, a 56-yearold at the Vacci-Bus in Saint-Josse-tenNoode, who says she resisted the jab because her friends said the pharmaceutical companies making the vaccines skipped the testing phases, and the government was

using them to experiment on the population. "My daughter had been telling me for a while that this was not true, but it wasn't until some people I knew had gotten the shot and were completely fine afterwards, that I actually started considering it,” she says. But despite the reassurances from the Vacci-Bus teams, many people still believe a lot of myths, as Inge Neven points out. "The fertility issues and the concerns that the vaccines were supposedly made too fast come back a lot," she says. "But people are also concerned that getting a shot will alter their DNA, that the government is implanting a chip in their arm, or they are afraid of unforeseen side-effects in the long term. Now, many people are also wondering how effective the vaccines actually are, especially now that the elderly are getting a third dose." Individual Vacci-Buses can vaccinate between 50 and 150 people every day, which is relatively meagre, but it is slowly bringing the Brussels rate closer to that of the rest of the country. Flanders has a particularly high rate: 80 percent is fully vaccinated (92 percent of adults), and even Wallonia is doing better than Brussels, with 69 percent fully vaccinated (81 percent of adults). These numbers also mask local variations. Within the Brussels region, it ranges from around 65 percent (around 80 percent of adults) being fully vaccinated in well-off municipalities like Woluwé-Saint-Pierre, Watermael-Boitsfort, Auderghem and Uccle, to just barely over 40 percent (around 55-60 percent of adults) in poorer, western neighbourhoods of Anderlecht, SaintJosse, Koekelberg and Molenbeek. There is a striking correlation between wealth and vaccination: the Sciensano figures for rates across the 581 Belgian communes are very similar to those of Statbel on annual incomes. Brussels communes account for six of the 10 poorest in the country, and nine of the 10 least vaccinated.

Marginalised communities and protest voters This is a logical correspondence, according to sociology professor Ignace Glorieux from Brussels’ VUB university. “Disadvantaged people participate less in public life, especially anything organised by what you might call mainstream,” he says. “You need to target those disadvantaged people specifically, with organisations and com-

munity workers, for example. This is what Brussels is trying to do now. But as a rule, underprivileged people participate less in such initiatives, and this is the same with vaccination.” Glorieux says there are many reasons why poorer, marginalised communities might be harder to reach. Some just don’t speak the language, or if they do, might not understand the terminology, or the instructions. Others might not bother to open their mail. Or they have low-paying jobs with long working hours and might not have the time to go to a vaccination centre. “Additionally, there is generally more distrust among poorer people, towards everything that comes from the government, or everything that is considered official,” he adds. “They often have bad experiences with the authorities, such as the police, schools, and all institutions that are related to administration. They are less familiar with them, which in turn makes them more suspicious.” Distrust can be further fuelled by rumours, misinformation and conspiracy theories on social media. “Underprivileged people are also more susceptible to those conspiracy theories and fake news, precisely because they are - often understandably - more distrustful of regular media,” Glorieux says. He also identifies some vaccine refuseniks as people taking a resistance stance against mainstream society, like protest voters at elections. “With protest votes, people often vote against their own best interests, yet they feel it is the only way to make themselves heard. It could well be that the same is happening here with vaccination,” Glorieux says. While some of the unvaccinated can be persuaded, Glorieux says that it is almost

Figures for rates across the 581 Belgian communes are very similar to those of Statbel on annual incomes. Brussels communes account for six of the 10 poorest in the country, and nine of the 10 least vaccinated.


| 99

As mediators, I think it was really important to go to where the people are, to explain, have a coffee together, try to understand people’s motivation a little and answer some questions.

impossible to win over those entrenched in their ideological silos. "The louder you shout that we are all in this together, and that it is important for everyone to get vaccinated, the harder they will resist." He says the only way to change their minds is through confidants, people who can mediate between residents and authorities, like social workers. "These are the people who they know will help them when they need it, who they trust,” he says.

The cup of coffee method This is also the way that Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), Samusocial, Médecins


du Monde and the Red Cross approached the Mobivax campaign to vaccinate the most vulnerable population in Brussels. Between May and September, Mobivax vaccinated some 2,000 homeless people, migrants, undocumented people, and people in shelters. "We never forced anybody,” says Julien Buha Collette, MSF's Head of Mission in Belgium. “Just like in the general population, there are doubts and questions. That is why we really put the emphasis on first giving them the right information and then providing the time for them to process this information.” In practice, they organised specific

sessions on the spot, and said they would come back the following week, so people had some time to think about it. "By the time next week rolled around, people had often already approached us with some extra questions which we could answer. Like in the rest of society, some myths, misunderstandings and misinformation were going around. That had to be tackled," Buha Collette says. "As mediators, I think it was really important to go to where the people are, to explain, have a coffee together, try to understand people's motivation a little and answer some questions." In May, Mobivax was the first initiative in Belgium and the first to offer access to

vaccination regardless of people's administrative status. But as the campaign went on, they persuaded the main vaccination centres to open to everybody in Belgium, not just those with the correct documents or papers. “A lot of effort is still needed to remove potential administrative obstacles,” says Buha Collette. This can mean adapting services to provide information that is explained in a simpler, clearer and more engaging format. Together, these initiatives are gradually raising the vaccination rate in Brussels. "It is going slower than we had hoped, but there is progress. The work is not finished,” says Buha Collette.

The louder you shout that we are all in this together, and that it is important for everyone to get vaccinated, the harder they will resist.


| 101


100 % ELECTRIC. Environmental information (RD 19/03/04) :

0,0 L/100 KM • 0 G/KM CO 2 (WLTP)

Juma Mechelen • Kruisbaan 125, 2800 Mechelen • Tel. 015 42 30 00 • Juma Leuven • Brusselsesteenweg 72, 3020 Herent • Tel. 016 49 98 70 •

22100807-2021_DEALERS_JUMA_advertentie_iX3_132x185.indd 1

17/09/2021 16:43


AN ETERNAL GAZE 15.10.2021 > 16.01.2022







Welcome to Leuven


ust like everywhere in Belgium, Leuven has been affected by the COVID-19 restrictions, but are you now very welcome to visit if you can follow the safety guidelines. Leuven is a small town and is very easily accessible with Brussels Airport only 15 minutes away, and Brussels Midi station less than 30 minutes away, thanks to a direct train connection. It radiates a hip and urban vibe, guaranteed to draw you into its vibrancy, with 157 nationalities from all walks of life calling it their home, and are the beating heart of the city. The traits of every true metropolis are all there: creativity, versatility, diversity and shopping, nightlife, history, culture and art. And… you’ve got everything you need at your fingertips, plus cosy cobbled streets to mosey down with friends, and the locals are more than happy to point you to the best eats and drinks around. So, give into the temptation and immerse yourself in timeless and happening Leuven!

Leuven like a local Exploring Leuven is a breeze with parks,

shopping, the local markets, and historic

buildings galore, it’s the place for a weekend out and about. Walk, or hop on a bike like the locals do and cycle round the 2 km city centre. What is there to do? Plenty! All the classic highlights are there, but the specialty shops, coffee bars, pubs, restaurants offering everything from traditional Belgian cuisine to the best vegetarian eats, and eco-friendly shops are a must. Feeling daring? Leave your map at home! Wander the streets aimlessly and get pleasantly caught off guard by the city’s many hidden gems. Finally, drop by the Oude Markt (the world’s longest bar) and throw back a beer with the locals and drink in the town’s unparalleled ambiance.

A smart city for the curious Leuven is a university town and is jampacked with students, professors, innovators and inventors. Its internationally renowned university, KU Leuven, has shaped the city since 1425 and is always poised on the cutting-edge of innovation, green and smart tech. KU Leuven and its high-tech spin-off companies infuse the city with unbridled genius and creativity. But that’s not all,


| 103


Leuven is where the curious get their kicks, with hidden gems around every corner, you’re in for a treat! The city radiates oldworld grandeur with its cobbled streets, churches and great beguinage.


Did you know that Leuven is the birth place of the Big Bang Theory? In 1931, George Lemaitre introduced his revolutionary theory of the primaeval atom and the expanding universe which rocked the world of science to its core. Its no wonder that Leuven has made the Big Bang the theme of its sensational city festival, taking place now until January 30th 2022. Enjoy music and events, with one of the highlights being the impressive four exhibitions, including a prestigious art exhibition at M Leuven, featuring pieces from major Belgian and foreign collections. Their “Imagining the Universe” exhibition reveals how the mysteries of the cosmos have inspired the world of art and philosophy and it focuses on a period that spans from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. Another exhibition is taking place in the historical setting of the KU Leuven library, “To the Edge of Time” which tells the fascinating story of modern cosmology through modern and contemporary works of art and intriguing scientific objects. High accessibility makes this exhibition a treat for everyone, you don’t have to be a science buff to enjoy it! Discover more at

KU LEUVEN ONLINE OPEN DAY 1 DECEMBER Discover Europe’s most innovative university. Learn more about our international programmes, admissions, housing and much more.

The Online Open Day website and materials will remain available for perusal until 1 February.

KU Leuven. Inspiring the Outstanding. THE BRUSSELS TIMES MAGAZINE

| 105

Art and events

by Denis Maksimov

David Hockney BOZAR // Until 23 January 2022 Open daily, 10 am to 6 pm Rue Ravenstein 23, 1000 Brussels €20 admission; €18, €10 concessions A major double exhibition marks the return of David Hockney to Bozar, the Centre for Fine Arts, some 30 years after his last show here. One of the world’s most influential living artists, the 84-yearold is a master of reinvention. Works from the Tate Collection, 19542017, opened by King Philippe and Queen Mathilde, is a retrospective of Hockney’s entire career, with iconic images of the ‘swinging sixties’ in London, southern California, his famous double portraits and vast landscapes. The second exhibition is much more recent and showcases Hockney’s hunger for experimentation: The Arrival of Spring, Normandy, 2020, presented in partnership with the Royal Academy of Arts, includes the colourful iPad paintings he created during the first lockdown.

Standing Stones ADAM BRUSSELS DESIGN MUSEUM // Until 2 January 2022 Open daily, 11 am to 7 pm Place de Belgique, 1020 Brussels €10 admission; €8 concession Modern artists like Pablo Picasso and Constantin Brancusi have taken inspiration from Cycladic idols, the Bronze Age sculptures from the Greek Aegean islands. Architects and designers Eleni Petaloti and Leonidas Trampoukis freshly interpret ancient Cycladic aesthetics with their situ installation, Standing Stones. The Brussels Design Museum (ADAM) has been given carte blanche to play with the mysterious shapes of the idols, re-envisioning them as inflatable transparent sculptures. Petaloti and Trampoukis focus on liminal space between the disciplines and the conceptual interplay makes the weight becomes light, and solidity translucent.


Fred Sandback FONDATION CAB // Until 22 June 2022 open Wednesday to Saturday, 12 noon to 6 pm Rue Borrens 32-34, 1050 Ixelles Free admission Fred Sandback (1943-2003) was a quintessential American minimalist, his art characterised by clean lines, empty spaces, symmetries and pure geometrical forms. This exhibition at Fondation CAB features some seminal works as well as some never exhibited, tracing different periods in the artist’s career, highlighted by the transition from one material to another, including acrylic yarn, elastic cord and steel rods. His works appear simultaneously solid and ephemeral: he played with the notion of weight and weightlessness, exploring lines and space, form and geometry. As the artist himself wrote, “The idea was to have the work right there along with everything else in the world, not upon a spatial pedestal… the sculpture was there to be engaged actively, and it had utopian glimmerings of art and life happily cohabiting.”

'To see with ellipse' by Fabrice Samyn ROYAL MUSEUMS OF FINE ARTS // Until 22 February 2022 Open Tuesday to Friday 10 am to 5 pm; Saturday and Sunday 11 am to 6 pm Rue de la Régence 3, 1000 Brussels €10 admission; €8 concession The Royal Museums of Fine Arts has tasked Brussels-based conceptual multimedia artist Fabrice Samyn to reinterpret its displays with some 70 works of his own. The result is a subtle dialogue, with hints and gestures in his work paralleling the mystery of the museum’s masterpieces by Old Masters and Magritte. Samyn’s work spans a variety of media from painting, drawing, photography and sculpture to performance and writing. He centres his messages around revealing the hidden and vocalising the silenced.


| 107

SWIPE RIGHT! Data, Dating, Desire IMAL CENTER FOR DIGITAL CULTURES AND TECHNOLOGY // Until 9 January 2022 Open Wednesday to Friday, 1 pm to 7 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 12 noon to 6 pm Quai des Charbonnages, 1080 Molenbeek-Saint-Jean €8 admission; €4 concession Tinder, Bumble, Grindr and other apps have become part of the dating toolkit. The exhibition SWIPE RIGHT! at the iMAL questions the future of romance in the data-harvesting reality of today. Is there space for spontaneity and chance in finding a partner in love? The exhibition, curated by Valentina Peri, features the artworks and projects looking at whether we can still be genuinely intimate amid the technological revolutions. Among the artists are the German writer Ingo Niermann & his Army of Love, Dani Ploeger, Noemi Iglesias, Joana Moll and Belgian multimedia artist Dries Depooter. The subtitle of the exhibition is Data, Dating, Desire, and they define the rules of attraction in the age of the Internet and hyperconnectivity. However, the exhibition questions whether this technological possibility pulls us further away from human connections. Does that make us more prone to coldness, cruelty, indifference – or nurture compassion and solidarity?

Marcel Broodthaers: Industrial Poems, Open Letters WIELS // Until 9 January 2022 Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10 am to 6 pm Avenue Van Volxemlaan 354, 1190 Forest €10 admission; €7, €4 concession Marcel Broodthaers was one of Belgium’s most important 20th century artists and the exhibition at Wiels showcases his iconic plaques, which he called ‘Industrial Poems’. Instead of direct messages, the plastic street signs contain enigmatic poems with signals, images, letters, words, and punctuation signs. The hieroglyphic, iconic, symbolic, and textual are intertwined in communications through centuries, disciplines, cultures, and languages. With soft contours and seductive graphics, the aesthetics of the signs make the symbols attractive for gazing or appreciating without necessarily reflecting on the meaning contained within. The exhibition assembles about 120 plaques, 70 drawings and documents, with prototypes and a selection of 14 'Open Letters'.


Go local ...





Film, concerts, theatre

Dutch courses, practice

Clubs and activities

RandKrant and RINGtv local information and events on -

Festival cinéma méditerranéen de Bruxelles


Cinéma Palace Cinéma Aventure Bozar



| 109


Mauritius is back open


ollowing the recent closure due to COVID-19, Mauritius has now reopened fully for vaccinated travellers, who can now enjoy a totally unrestricted holiday! The miles of palm fringed sandy beaches, almost entirely encircled by coral reefs, offer sanctuary for those who want to spend long days lounging on the beach. The crystal clear waters are perfect for diving, snorkelling, swimming, kayaking and that’s just the beginning. What makes Mauritius different is that it has so much to offer beyond the beach. Whether it’s skydiving out of a plane, hiking through the mountains and National Parks or soaking up the culture, this is truly a destination with something for everyone!

Climate Mauritius benefits from a mild climate all year round with an average temperature of 25ºC and a pleasant water temperature suitable for swimming, both during summer and winter. The best times to visit the island are from April to June, and from September to December to avoid the peak of summer and winter, the only two seasons in Mauritius.

Families Looking for the ideal destination for your next family vacation? With its beautiful sandy beaches, protected lagoons with a nice temperature all year round, and countless activities for all ages, Mauritius is perfect for a family getaway and quality time. Whether at the hotel or during the journeys awaiting you, your stay in Mauritius promises to be memorable for young ones as well as for the young at heart.

Couples Mauritius is the perfect destination for a romantic getaway with its idyllic beaches, hotels


appealing to romance and stunning sceneries. Whether you are on holidays with your loved one or on your honeymoon, your stay promises to be unforgettable. Hotels offer a wide range of services and experiences for couples, from room service, romantic dinners in the sand to wellness packages for couples at the spa. If you want to spend the most beautiful day of your life on a tropical island on the beach at sunset, you can make it! Almost all hotels offer the possibility to plan your wedding in Mauritius, from the paperwork to the wedding plans itself, as well as the honeymoon!

Nature Mauritius is the ideal destination for a return to nature. Forests such as the Black River Gorges National Park, Ebony Forest in Chamarel or the Bras d’Eau National Park in the East, will plunge the whole family into an unexpected world, in the heart of a preserved nature. Discover centenary endemic trees and protected native animals such as the Pink Pigeon, the Mauritian Parakeet, the Paradise Flycatcher and the very rare Kestrel. Ile aux Aigrettes is also worth a visit. The island is part of a conservation program and encompasses a unique flora and fauna. That will be a complete change of scenery! Leisure parks are very appealing to the more adventurous. From quad biking to zip lining, and safari to approach African animals, countless possibilities are available to families at the Gros Cailloux Park, Casela and La Vallée des Couleurs. Giant Aldabra tortoises and crocodiles will also be waiting for your visit at La Vanille reserve.

Escape for a 7-night stay & pay only for 5 nights



YE 0-11






Book directly on (quoting 7FOR5EU) or contact your Local Travel Agent.


*Terms & conditions applicable





T2 022





TH E 30 NO V















21 20




Exquisite gastronomy • Creative cocktails • Exceptional accommodations


Designed for tranquility between lagoon and sea


onstance Prince Maurice, paying tribute to Prince Maurice Van Nassau, pioneer of the spice trade in the Indian Ocean, is a luxury 5* hideaway and is part of the Leading Hotels of the World. Enter your own Mauritian paradise, which is designed in harmony with nature, between tropical gardens, mangrove lagoon and sea. This plush hotel is easily accessible by a 15 minute helicopter ride from the airport, and is 35 km away from the capital, Port Louis. It’s location is ideal, situated on a sheltered, natural leafy spit on the northeast coast, an arm of the hotel juts out into the mangroves with a view of far away mountains, and a few secluded white sand beaches lie on the calm bay. Accommodation includes 64 juinor suites, 12 family suites, 3 lagoon villas on stilts, 9 beachfront villas with private pools, and the lavish Princely Villa, which is one of the island's most private villas, with its own beach, two pools, three terraces and round-the-clock butler. Peaceful by day, with the lush tropical greenery, infinity pool and natural reserves adding to the décor, and picturesque at night, as the structure of the hotel is enhanced by warm lights positioned to harmonise with the environment. Leisure activities include paddle boarding, water skiing or kitesurfing in the lagoon. The resort is also a dream place for golfers, with one of the most beautiful 18-hole golf courses on the island, the Legend and the Links.

ing The Archipel, you can enjoy fine dining and discover Constance's philosophy of food with a light Mauritian twist. Beautifully crafted food is served in an elegant setting with views out across the beach or the infinity pool. Le Barachois is the only floating restaurant and bar on the island, offering fusion cuisine. Stroll down a lantern-lit pontoon that heads mysteriously through mangrove trees until you find yourself in the romantic seclusion of the restaurant, where you can enjoy a candlelit feast of authentic Indian Ocean flavours as you float above the calm water, on one of the restaurant’s five floating decks.

Cuisine and Wine


The resort boasts four bars with the Indian Ocean’s largest wine cellar, you can choose from a selection of 25, 000 wines, many of which are exclusive wines from around the world. There are three gourmet restaurants includ-


Wellness Pampering is guaranteed at the Constance Spa, offering massages, facials, and body treatments, using aromatic natural products inspired by plants from the Indian Ocean. It has a heated pool, sauna, steam room, cold plunge pool, hairdresser and offers podiatrist Brice Nicham’s exceptional manicure and pedicure treatments. The French luxury skincare brand Sisley collection is now exclusively available at Constance Prince Maurice and offers a lush range of phyto-aromatic facials and body treatments to harmonise your body and mind. Fitness programs including weight training, yoga, personal training and cardio equipment. A nutritional wellness option available in the hotel restaurants and in-room dining.

Choisy Road Poste de Flacq Ile Maurice


Discover the Wild Side of Mauritius


he Outrigger Mauritius Beach Resort is promoting itself as an ideal base to explore the ecotourism attractions of the ‘wild’ south of the island. The resort is on the doorstep of the original Bel Ombre and Macchabee nature reserve, which was declared a sanctuary in 1960. It later became part of the spectacular Black River Gorges National Park, a unique 6574 hectare biosphere comprising steep waterfalls and forested slopes rising up to Little Black River Peak at 827m, the tallest on the island. However, from the 17th century onwards, Dutch, French and British colonialists had a massive impact on the island’s flora and fauna. Species extinction was caused by invasive alien species, loss of habitat and over exploitation. The last dodo bird was wiped out by Dutch settlers around 1662. Since then about 100 species of plants and animals have become extinct, including the Saddle Back Tortoise (hunted for its meat), Small Mauritian Flying Fox, the Blue Pigeon and Mauritian Goose, in total 10 animal species. Starting in the 1970s, however, conservation efforts have had a benign effect. The endangered Mauritius Kestrel, Pink Pigeon and Echo Parakeet all look like they will survive, as will the Orange-Tailed Skink. In all, there are today 10 endemic protected nature sites across Mauritius, most of them in the south. All are all open to the public. As part of Outrigger’s ZONE, its global conservation initiative on land and sea, Outrigger Mauritius offers numerous ecotourism experiences across the whole south of the island for ecotourists to enjoy the amazing biodiversity and ecological history of the Indian Ocean island. Find Outrigger Mauritius and Outrigger’s ZONE on


| 113


Another type of Belgian brew Belgium does beer and bars brilliantly, but it’s not so obviously hot about coffee and cafés. As Costa Coffee attempts to bring the bean the Brussels, Helen Lyons asks if Belgians are ready for takeaway pumpkin lattes – or if they just prefer sipping their espressos slowly


f you order a coffee in a Belgian restaurant, blendmaster Manuel DeMets has some advice on what to expect: it should be a short-extracted coffee - a mokkatje in Flanders or a petite espresso if you’re ordering in French. The blend should be Arabica: floral, sweet and round. “If the restaurant respects the customer,” DeMets says, “you'll have a little speculoos or chocolate beside the coffee.” And most importantly, the 120ml pull should be topped with a long-lasting cream. “If there’s no crema on top, that’s a catastrophe. Refuse to pay. Throw it in the face of the barista.” He jokes, but DeMets knows his coffee. He completed his culinary studies in his native Belgium, but he has travelled all over the world – most recently with Belgian coffee company Rombouts – and he owned and operated a cafe in Brazil for years. But his coffee expertise is rarely heard. In a country renowned for its beer, waffles and chocolate, the Belgian fascination with (and expertise in) coffee is often overlooked. Belgium has a chapter in the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), boasts multiple barista champions: Kenny Burssens of restaurant Invincible in Antwerp and Kathleen Serdons of Hasselt took home

best-espresso awards, and Rudy Dupuy of Malongo is a two-time latte art champion in France, just to name a few. And there’s enough of a market for even the big-name chains are starting to take notice: Costa Coffee is joining Starbucks in setting up shop in the capital of Europe, with a first wave of openings targeting Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent and Liege, and plans for Mechelen, Bruges, Leuven, Hasselt, and Charleroi to follow. “Belgian people are true coffee lovers with a consumption per person 25 percent higher than the European average. The average Belgian consuming nearly 7kg of coffee a year,” says Matt Timmons, Costa Coffee’s Brand Manager Belgium. Timmons says that the coffee category is one of the fastest-growing, and that they and their local partner in Belgium, Coca-Cola Europacific Partners (CCEP), see the market here as, “an ideal target market to not only deliver great quality coffee, but also to offer the innovation that characterizes us as a brand.” But Costa Coffee is a different sort of café than what Belgians are used to. “Belgians are not the kind of people who are already familiar with takeaway coffees,” said Tom Wuyts of Horeca Belgium. “We have a very strong bar culture. When we drink


| 115

Alessandro Carnazza, owner of Caffelatte. Credit: Helen Lyons

a coffee, we want to sit down with it. We drink it at a table, sitting with some friends or company. Picking up a coffee to go isn’t so typical in Belgium.”

Coffee and nibbles

Belgian people are true coffee lovers with a consumption per person 25 percent higher than the European average. The average Belgian consuming nearly 7kg of coffee a year

Belgians also like their coffee with something to nibble on, Wuyts says, be that a waffle or a chocolate or a pastry. That’s not as easy to have on the go even if someone wanted to, but Wuyts says they largely don’t. “It's not like, for example, in New York where people are always rushing to their job, so they grab a coffee for takeaway. In Belgium, people have their pre-

ferred places where they go. We already have a strong coffee culture, with a lot of small family brewers,” he says. That strong coffee culture, which emphasises the café experience, is perhaps why it’s taken chain coffee shops like Starbucks and Costa longer to make their debut here. “It takes time,” said Peter Scholliers of VUB, co-editor of Food & History and a member of the editorial boards of Food and Foodways, and Food, Culture & Society. He draws a comparison to the arrival of McDonald’s in Belgium in the 1970s, much later than when it came to neighbouring countries like the Netherlands. “It was very difficult to get into the country because of the different culture around takeaway food,” Scholliers said. “It took a lot of marketing to get to where they are today, and I imagine it would be the same for Costa and Starbucks.” He says that the existing cafés throughout the country, in particular in cities like Brussels and Antwerp, will compete fiercely for chains like Costa. “In most coffee bars you visit, they advertise with wellknown brands like Illy or Rambouts. It's very Belgian,” said Scholliers. “They’re advertising with the message, ‘We are Belgian, or we are Brussels, we’re all from here and we make coffee as you knew it and as your mother and grandmother served it to you.’” While Costa and Starbucks are decidedly un-Belgian, both in style and in origin,

A coffee in Belgium usually comes with a speculoos on the side




A CLEANER PLACE Belgium is the reigning world champion in the collection of discarded batteries with an annual collected weight of over 3.6 tonnes. Bebat gives a new life to each collected battery by extracting all metals and other raw materials and re-using them in other applications. In doing so, these materials must not be extracted from nature, and natural ressources are saved. A small gesture from our side, by handing in discarded batteries can make a huge difference for our nature. Want to learn more about Bebat, go check out


| 133

Belgians are not the kind of people who are already familiar with takeaway coffees. We have a very strong bar culture. When we drink a coffee, we want to sit down with it.

Scholliers points out that they’re targeting different types of people. For his part, Alessandro Carnazza of Caffelatte isn’t worried. His espresso bar in the European Quarter, close to the Parliament building, doesn’t quite fit the Belgian archetype for a café. That’s perhaps in part because he’s not selling coffee to Belgians. “We have customers coming from all over the world,” says Italian-born Carnazza, who opened Caffe Latte with his brother eight years ago. “The Belgians are maybe five or ten percent of our customers. The rest are foreigners, often Eurocrats.” He likes this about the job. Caffelatte offers a variety of coffee drinks to cater to the variety of tastes his international clientele


have. “Brussels is a European melting pot,” he says. “I find it way more interesting to work with coffee outside Italy than inside.” Carnazza is quick to add that Belgians “drink a lot of coffee,” pointing out that the country “is fifth in the world for per capita coffee consumption per year.” But his café isn’t particularly large - only around 50 square metres - which means there isn’t a lot of room to sit down with a drink. And its location in the European Quarter plays a big role, as well. “Because we're in a strategic area, a lot of people take a coffee to go. Around 70 percent of our daily coffee drinks sold are take-away.” While they’ve got food offerings like pastries and a best-selling tiramisu, Carnazza

different target that we have,” Carnazza explains, who says they often get lines so long they struggle to cope with the demand. “We're more of a specialty store than a commercial one.”

Can competing coffees coexist? Blendmaster DeMets agrees that there’s room for both the traditional Belgian cafés and the international chains - even if he isn’t the biggest fan of their coffee. “When you go to places like Starbucks, you drink mainly milk-based drinks, with syrup and sugar and ice and cream. Some beverages are more like milkshakes. I never drink my coffee with sugar - you don't put grenadine in your wine, do you? - but the customer drinks it the way he wants.” But DeMets admits that the Starbucks and Costa coffees are popular with the younger crowd. “They're not discovering anything about coffee there, but they're enjoying themselves,” he says. He calls the premise of international chain coffee stores “extremely clever”: customers can get the same drink in different parts of the world, and have it taste the same, even as the way of drinking coffee differs from one country to the next. “As a roaster, I tell people to stop criticising Starbucks because it’s a clever matter. It’s the McDonalds of coffee. You can say whatever you want about that, but they’re doing business, and fantastic business at that.”

The kind of person that comes to our place for a coffee is looking for quality - for the perfect extraction from a professional barista who can extract the best coffee they can get.

says that 80 to 85 percent of their revenue comes from coffee alone. Even with the amount of takeaway business they do, he does not see chains like Costa as a big threat. “Our way of doing coffee is very difficult,” he says. “The kind of person that comes to our place for a coffee is looking for qauality - for the perfect extraction from a professional barista who can extract the best coffee they can get. It’s about the quality of products, the way we prepare them, and the customer experience.” Caffelatte’s baristas know many of their clientele by sight and their orders by heart - even when the customers themselves forget. “It's a totally


| 119


‘Tis the season... As the days get shorter and the jumpers get heavier, Belgian breweries release their offerings for the season. But what exactly is a winter beer, and which ones are worth trying? Breandán Kearney tests some of Belgium’s thickest and spiciest brews


| 121

E Winter beers originated in Belgium during the Second World War when breweries decided to compete with the popular, imported Scotch Ales introduced by British soldiers stationed here.

very December, a remarkable Belgian beer festival takes place in Essen, a town north of Antwerp that sits on the border with the Netherlands. Each one of the more than 150 beers served during the two-day Kerstbierfestival is a Belgian winter beer. Winter beers originated in Belgium during the Second World War when breweries decided to compete with the popular, imported Scotch Ales introduced by British soldiers stationed here. These were beers that were dark and malty, higher in alcohol, often quite sweet, and sometimes heavily spiced. Chimay Bleue – the famous Trappist beer – began life in 1948 as Chimay Bière de Noël, for example, before being released as Chimay Bleue as a year-round offering in 1954. There is no agreed definition of what constitutes a winter beer, but there are common characteristics that drinkers have come to expect. Winter beers are often high in alcohol, mostly falling between 9 and 12% ABV, their boozy warmth intended to stave off the sting of the coldest months of the year. They are often brewed with spices you might find in a hot toddy or a mulled wine: cinnamon, star anise, and cloves. And their flavours are driven by characterful yeast strains which present with notes of Christmas pudding: sultanas, plums, treacle, and alcohol. There’s quite some variety amongst Belgian winter beers. There are dark, sweet classics such as St. Bernardus Christmas Ale (10% ABV) or St-Feuillien’s Cuvée de Noël (9% ABV). There are fruity, intense, boozebombs, like Dubuisson’s Bush de Noël (12%

Below: Stille Nacht, in a glass, bottle and barrel


ABV). And there are even drier, hoppier, amber-coloured ales, such as Père Noël (7% ABV) from De Ranke brewery. What follows are three of Belgium’s most interesting – and unique – winter beers for you to try this coming season.


Stille Nacht (12% ABV) De Dolle Brouwers, Esen

Stille Nacht or Silent Night – a Strong Belgian Pale Ale of 12% ABV – was first created 40 years ago by architect, artist, and historian Kris Herteleer, the charismatic owner of De Dolle Brouwers (‘the Mad Brewers’). Herteleer’s trademark outfit consists of pointed red-leather shoes, a polka-dot dicky-bow, and a jacket featuring images of his brewery mascot, Oerbier Man, who is a character depicting a yeast cell which Herteleer has illustrated himself. Stille Nacht is a blend of 10 different batches of beer brewed immediately after the fresh harvest of hops arrives from Poperinge in the autumn. It started life dark, in 1981, but Herteleer resented that it was considered an amped-up version of his Belgian Dark Strong Ale, Oerbier. So he changed the recipe, using only pale malts. Stille Nacht has become a much-garlanded prestige beer for Herteleer. Its long boil, use of white candi sugar, dry-hopping with hop variety nugget, and subtle lactic fermentation result in a strong, complex beer, with notes of caramel, raisins, and orange. It’s a crowd favourite every year at the kerstbierfestival in Essen.

Above: Brouwerij Het Anker in Mechelen. Below: Gouden Carolus Christmas


Gouden Carolus Christmas (12% ABV)

flying above the city on his sledge: just in case you miss the name and forget for which season it’s intended.

There is no agreed definition of what constitutes a winter beer, but there are common characteristics that drinkers have come to expect.

Brouwerij Het Anker, Mechelen

Het Anker brewery in Mechelen named their core range of beers Gouden Carolus. ‘Golden Charles’ were coins used in the city in the 16th century, the currency named after Emperor Charles V, who ruled the Holy Roman Empire from Mechelen at the time. Het Anker brewery has its roots as a beguinage, a semi-monastic community of religious women who brewed beer on the site in the 1400s to comfort the sick and dying in their care. No-one is exactly sure why the brewery is called The Anchor. One story is that it is a maritime reference to the nearby port of Antwerp. Another is that it comes from the Dutch verb ‘verankeren’, meaning to firmly secure in position or provide a basis or foundation. Most likely is that it was as a mark of respect to the famous Mechelen maltster and brewer of the 1300s, Jan In Den Anker. Gouden Carolus Christmas is a ruby-red coloured ale of 10.5% ABV. “The nose is floral and intensely spiced with liquorice and aniseed aromas,” write scientists Miguel Roncoroni and Kevin Verstrepen in their 2018 tome Belgian Beer: Tried and Tasted. “It has a sweet palate of raisins, dried plums and port wine, complemented by biscuit, caramel and roasted barley flavours.” The label of the beer features a snow-scape of Mechelen, with Santa and his reindeer


| 123

These were beers that were dark and malty, higher in alcohol, often quite sweet, and sometimes heavily spiced. Above: Brasserie Dupont, Tourpes. Below: Avec Les Bon Voeux



Avec Les Bon Voeux (12% ABV) Brasserie Dupont, Tourpes

Bon Voeux, as it’s often referred to amongst beer enthusiasts, was brewed as a one-off New Year’s beer in 1970; an end-of-year gift to the loyal customers of the Dupont brewery in Tourpes. At the time, it didn’t have a name, labelled instead with a short message: Avec les bons vœux de la brasserie Dupont (With best wishes from the Dupont brewery). The beer was a hit, and the brewery kept the beer in production in small quantities, available to those on an ever-growing reservation list each winter. It found its commercial name in that first short message. “Bon Voeux is an atypically festive beer,” says beer writer Eoghan Walsh. “Bitter in place of sweet, citric instead of jammy, golden instead of dark, and with a beautiful pillowy, meringue-soft mouthfeel.” There are similarities between Bon Voeux and Dupont’s famous Saison beer – the black pepper spice and zesty lemon ester notes, as well a background hint of hop tannin – but in reality, it’s its own thing, the most special of special winter gifts.

YOU DON’T EAT OUT IN KNOKKE-HEIST, YOU INDULGE From Michelin starred restaurants to cosy bistros. There’s something for everyone.



| 125

Food & Drink

What are the most delicious foods, refreshing drinks, coolest cafés and chicest restaurants in Brussels at the moment? Our wandering food and drink expert Hughes Belin selects the best of the best


L’Espérance Brussels boasts some stunning Art Deco facades, but if you want a genuine immersion into this glorious architectural and design movement, there is one special place: L’Espérance tavern. This is one of the city’s hidden gems, a stylish, cosy café that takes you back to the 1930s. Designed by architect Léon Govaerts, the building was listed in 2008. It is unchanged since its construction in 1930. It’s a living museum where every detail, from seats to mirrors, windows, lamps and the clock is from another era. The place is still a working café offering the usual warm drinks (although the list of coffees-with-a-twist is quite long) and a wide range of Belgian beers, including some very rare ones. The menu has expanded since the café reopened after the lockdowns: shrimp croquettes, cheese croquettes, croque-monsieur, spaghetti, salad du chef and the day’s specials for a heartier meal. Everything is homemade and fresh. Desserts, sandwiches and finger food are also available. With a neoclassic 12-room hotel above the tavern open seven days a week, the restaurant is open for lunch and dinner every day until 9pm. Just off the busy Rue Neuve, it promises a moment out of time. Taverne L’espérance Rue du Finistère 1-3, 1000 Brussels



Kokotte This is not about a restaurant, but an address and an innovative concept to encourage young entrepreneurs. Kokotte is a pop-up restaurant on Rue des Bouchers where wannabe chefs get real-life experience for four months. They enjoy a huge discount on renting fees plus coaching on marketing, sustainability, staff management and digital strategy from, the Brussels Region’s agency for business support. The agency also helps promote their cuisine on social networks and finds them another place after their Kokotte trial period has expired. Candidates still have to formally start a company, send a thorough outline of their project, and if they are shortlisted, pitch it in front of a jury and showcase their cooking abilities. Elie and Raphaël, founders of Konchū, successfully passed the selection process and will be at Kokotte until 4 December, 2021 (a special event is planned for their final day). Their concept is innovative in several ways. First, they propose no-sushi, no-ramen, no-gyoza Japanese cuisine: Japanese curry! No competition in town, definitely: “We want people to get to know something really new,” Elie explains. Second, their foreign dishes, like shredded beef curry, use local ingredients, such as sirop de Liège and Belgian chocolate. And they are delicious! They also include fermented ingredients, such as this

great vegetarian dish, the miso eggplant curry. Their extras offer a deeper trip into Japanese cuisine. I can still taste the amazing hamburger taste of their incredible okonomiyaki, a kind of (not fried) cabbage roesti base topped with bacon, black sesame, katsuobushi (bonito flakes), Japanese mayo and sweet sauce. I hope they will find another place to pursue their adventure – and can’t wait to try their successors, Refoodgees, a restaurant that hires refugees and lets them create a dish reflecting their history and culture. Kokotte is the place to discover new cuisine concepts, right in l’îlot sacré. Kokotte Rue des Bouchers 30, 1000 Brussels Konchū


| 127


Gudule A winery in Brussels? And a winemaker who doesn’t grow grapes? Are you kidding me? Well, winemakers don’t need their own vineyards, as the Champagne houses and famous domaines of Burgundy or Côtes-du-Rhône can tell you: they buy grapes from all around to make their renowned wines. With Gudule, the winemaker has simply gone three steps further by firstly, buying his grapes outside the region where he makes the wine; secondly, using very different regions; and thirdly, throwing grapes together that are rarely found in the same bottle. The result: wines which unlike any wine I know.


Thierry Lejeune, Gudule’s owner, has the same spirit as New World winemakers, much more creative than Old World’s traditional ones. Making wine is a complex and demanding task, much more than just blending two or more wines together. Each of these wines has their own personality. That was indeed the starting point for designing them: Lejeune wanted a recognisable style for each, and went through his address book to find organic grapes first in France, then in Europe. During my visit to Gudule, I saw a batch of petit manseng grapes from Jurançon region arrive in small crates. Fresh as if just harvested, it followed the usual process like in any winery, from press to ageing. The grapes will be part of the next vintage of Afterworkf en terrasse, the “easy-todrink” white (€14.50). Gudule wines are characteristically brusseleir in their genes: the different grapes create a tasty and unique character, truly zinneke, the essence of Brussels’ inhabitants. And the grapes from different European countries are mixed in the capital of Europe. I’ll stock a few bottles of Dîner en ville, the gorgeous premium red (€24), for Christmas. And for the first time this year, a sparkling zéro dosage (very dry) will enter the range - and my cellar.

Gudule Winery - Rue Dieudonné Lefèvre 37 – atelier 37.8 1020 Laeken

Cougnou This traditional Belgian bun, also called cougnole in the Liège region, is usually homemade and eaten with hot chocolate on the morning of 6 December (Saint Nicolas Day) or at Christmas, when kids discover the presents that Santa has left for them. A delicious brioche, it is also on sale in Belgian bakeries throughout the month of December. It normally contains pearl sugar, raisins or sometimes, chocolate chips. Its shape is supposed to show a swaddled baby, symbolising the new-born Jesus. Ingredients: - 21g of fresh baker’s yeast (half a cube) - 10 cl of milk - 300g of sift white flour Type 55 - 5g of white sugar - 2 eggs - 50g of kneaded butter - 6g of salt (20g/kg of flour) - A total of 100g of pearl sugar, raisins and/ or chocolate chips - 1 egg yolk, a tbsp of water and a pinch of salt Preparation: melt the yeast in lukewarm milk. In a bowl, mix it with flour, white sugar and eggs.

Knead it 5 mins, then put in the butter and knead the dough another 5 mins to make it perfectly homogeneous and sticky. Put in the salt, then knead it 2 mins to obtain a big ball. Leave it to rise for at least an hour in a bowl topped with a wet towel to protect it from air. Then make from it several 100g balls (or more if you want bigger ones). Spread each of them roughly on a slightly floured surface and put in the raisins, pearl sugar or chocolate, fold it and press it together to obtain a ball again. Tip: incorporating raisins, pearl sugar and/or chocolate chips into each ball separately allows you to make different cougnous from the same batch. With the palm of your hands, turn each ball into a 12cm sausage shape, then roll it delicately, pressing with the edge of both hands placed 3cm from each extremity to obtain a dough shape of a big ball flanked with two smaller ones holding together. Place them on a baking sheet with baking paper. Leave them to rest for 30 minutes or until the volume has doubled. Whisk an egg yolk with a tbsp of water and a pinch of salt in a little bowl. Gently brush it on each of the dough shapes. This will give your cougnous a shiny golden-brown colour. Cook in a warm oven at 185°C during 12-15 minutes. Leave your cougnous to rest on a grid. Enjoy with warm chocolate milk!


| 129

Brexit and the mushy pea conundrum For decades, Britons abroad in Belgium always knew where to find their home treats: the Stonemanor store. It was stacked with comfort foods from mushy peas to Stilton cheese and from Yorkshire pudding to Mr Kipling cakes. But earlier this year, vital supply lines stopped, leaving Geoff Meade facing a crisis


oris Johnson was just a young Etonian when Roger George started waving the British flag in Brussels.

We Brits tried to fit in here, really, we did. We adopted crevette grise, buckets of moules-frites, and mayonnaise in place of ketchup.

But far from opposing European Union membership, Roger was waving that flag for British food. He felt his home country’s cuisines was drastically under-represented in Belgian shops, considering it had been in the then European Economic Community (EEC) for nearly a decade at the time. Roger spotted a gap in the supermarket and he filled it. He launched what became ‘Stonemanor - the British store’ from his garage. His USP? British produce, yes, but especially those quirky, nibbly things that can’t be found in Belgian supermarkets. Our new EEC partners had not exactly been gagging to try custard creams and baked beans and prawn cocktail-flavoured crisps and would probably gag on them if they did, assuming they had heard of them in the first place, which most hadn’t and still haven’t. But when he started in May 1982, Roger’s mission was, as the Stonemanor website explains, to serve “the large expatriate community in the Brussels area, as well as bringing a little part of the UK to Belgium.” I was one of those deprived expatriates at the time, pining for a taste of home in the form of Heinz salad cream, Mother’s Pride white sliced bread, mushy peas, Fray Bentos meat pies, Yorkshire pudding, thick-cut


marmalade and clotted cream and scones. We Brits tried to fit in here, really, we did. We adopted crevette grise, buckets of moules-frites, and mayonnaise in place of ketchup. But there comes a time when a chap just craves a chip butty on square floppy white bread with a mug of English tea and to hell with integration. And that’s why the street outside Roger’s house in a leafy Brussels suburb used to be lined with cars once a week as expats waited for his metallic gold Volvo estate car to return from Dover laden with British produce he’d picked up on his weekly cross-Channel run. He’d stock the stuff on his garage shelves, and most of it, including square bread for the toaster, Jaffa cakes, Cadbury’s chocolate, Pot Noodles, Mr Kipling cakes and Bisto gravy granules, was sold before he’d had time to get it out of the car.

Nutritional clues to the British psyche There are two large Stonemanor stores now, selling all sorts of British goods, including, indeed, liquorice allsorts. One shop is in a former dairy farm just up the road from where Field-Marshal Montgomery set up his operational headquarters in 1941. The other is just down the road from the site of the Battle of Waterloo. I’m sure the locations are just a coinci-

The London taxi parked outside the Stonemanor store

dence, but those links with legendary European confrontations, combined with the spectacle of Stonemanor’s magnificent old London taxi with its Union Jack red-whiteand-blue paint job, should be enough to warm the cockles of Prime Minister Johnson’s buccaneering, Brexiteering heart. However, Stonemanor has long since ceased to be a supply shop of interest only to misty-eyed Brits looking for comfort food from the old country. That certainly was how it started. It’s now a regular haunt for large numbers of Belgians and other nationalities looking for nutritional clues to the British psyche while experimenting for themselves with Rolo chocolates, lemon curd, Cornish pasties and custard creams. The last time I was there to stock up on

frozen kippers and bottles of Rochester Dickensian-Recipe Ginger (“with the kick of two very angry mules”), was early this year. It was just as shelves were emptying amid bureaucratic chaos as Brexit destabilised cross-channel mushy pea supply lines. One of the BBC’s Brussels correspondents, Gavin Lee, broke the news to British radio listeners in solemn, Neville Chamberlain tones. “I’m standing outside the Stonemanor British store,” said Gavin. “This is a place which serves lots of mainly British nationals with a taste of home. It’s where I get my custard creams for example. I’m just going inside and it’s in a sorry state. There’s no custard creams for a start: the shelves are almost completely empty, no digestives, no oatcakes,

In May 1982, Roger George launched what became ‘Stonemanor the British store’ from his garage. His USP? British produce, yes, but especially those quirky, nibbly things that can’t be found in Belgian supermarkets.


| 131

For four days, Stonemanor was forced to close for the first time in nearly 40 years. It only reopened after turning to Ireland for food supplies to bypass UK customs paperwork triggered by Brexit.

no (baked) beans, no meat, no dairy because they have not had a single delivery since Christmas…” For four days, Stonemanor was forced to close for the first time in nearly 40 years. It only reopened after turning to Ireland for food supplies to bypass UK customs paperwork triggered by Brexit. Initially, a supply of Irish sausages helped keep the British flag flying over Stonemanor. One thousand Cadbury’s Creme eggs were ordered through Ireland too, amid predictions that things would soon get back to normal.

Irish is new normal Now, just back in Brussels after months on a small European island where Brexit is just a funny, far-off word signifying little or nothing, I find we are far from back to normal.


Day One of return: we go for a full English breakfast to a Brussels brasserie. Afterwards, I congratulate the host on some exceptionally tasty sausages. He grins and says: “Ah, maybe that’s because now we’re only getting them from Ireland…” Day Two of return: a visit to a small shop in the EU quarter which sells a small variety of quirky national foodstuffs from the UK and elsewhere. It’s where I buy my frozen English kippers. This time I couldn’t find them. When I asked where they were, the chap behind the counter said with a wry grin: “Have you heard of Brexit?” Then he cheered me up with his new supply of Irish kippers, and very good they are too. Day Four of return: a big Belgian supermarket turns up a couple of new anti-Brexit newcomers. One is “Fruitfield (since 1853) Old Time Irish Fine Cut marmalade” instead of “Frank Cooper’s Fine Cut Oxford

One School. One location. 100% more BEPS.

BEPS International School

BSB offers a safe, secure and green environment where children are curious about the world around them.

Where I’m curious about the world around me Alice, aged 4

Visit us


| 117

This is a place which serves lots of mainly British nationals with a taste of home. I’m just going inside and it’s in a sorry state. There’s no custard creams for a start.

marmalade (since 1874)”. The other is my favourite: the Irish version of my good old English can of Batchelors mushy peas. I couldn’t resist digging out an old tin of the English version for comparison. The mostly-blue label on the English can declares the peas to be “one of your fivea-day” and carries a heart-shaped Union Jack proudly declaring “British Grown and Packed”. The English label also boasts: “Nothing beats the flavour of British peas”.


The replacement Irish version, also made by Batchelors, states on the appropriately all-green label that the peas inside are “an Irish favourite” and also “the ultimate fish and chip companion”. Disappointingly, there’s nothing on the Irish label saying: “Nothing beats the flavour of Irish peas”. Both tins declare the contents to contain three servings, although the English version contains 330 grams compared with 420 grams in the Irish can – presumably reflecting statistical evidence about portion size differences. I will end by saying that none of the above amounts to a complaint: far from it. Indeed, I look forward to more foody conversions to Ireland’s finest. However, for the moment I notice that my tea bags remain stubbornly Yorkshire and my pasties Cornish.


| 135



Protect your right to live in Belgium Apply for an M card by 31 December 2021. Applies only to UK Nationals living in Belgium before 1 January 2021. TIME IS RUNNING OUT. FOR MORE INFORMATION VISIT GOV.UK/LIVINGINBELGIUM 136 | THE BRUSSELS TIMES MAGAZINE

Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.