Discover Benelux, Issue 79, June 2023

Page 1

Towards the future of furniture:

exclusive interview with Ineke Hans




ISSUE 79 | JUNE 2023

Surplombant le Bocq et la Meuse, les 2 gites de la Ferme de l’Airbois dominent la vallée à perte de vue, jusque la France, à 20 km. Un long chemin creux vous mènera à cette ferme isolée en pleine nature ou vous aurez l’occasion de poser vos valises et vous ressourcer en famille ou entre amis. | +32 (0) 484 161788
La Ferme de l’Airbois, 2 maisons de vacances de 12 et 14 personnes en pleine nature

It’s not a cliché – seemingly little things can make a huge difference. A few weeks ago, as I was getting rid of a broken wooden table at our local recycling platform, I couldn’t help but notice that some of the furniture being disposed of was actually in pretty good condition. In went what looked like an antique chair with intricately carved armrests. Sure, the upholstery was a bit frayed and faded, but with a little TLC, it could make quite the statement piece. In fact, I had done just that with a Louis XV-style armchair I found at a second-hand shop years ago. After some polishing and reupholstering in bright-pink velvet, it was as good as new.

I recently read an article about REX, the winning product at the 2022 Dutch Design Awards and the brainchild of renowned Dutch designer, Ineke Hans. Though REX is made from plastic (a material we don’t immediately link to sustainability), it’s the Netherlands’ first chair with a refundable deposit. My interest was certainly sparked, and not much later, I spoke with Hans about her innovative chair (and her career). You can find that enlightening interview on page 40. In this issue of Discover Benelux, we’re thrilled to spotlight some of the region’s fascinating design and feature creatives who are making waves with their knack for beautifying spaces or making exquisite pieces that also happen to be sustainable and environmentally friendly (page 12).

Speaking of sustainability, in our special business section this month, we’re featuring companies that are helping us make our workspaces not only greener but also safer (page 22).

Also included in this issue are informative stories about the water-laced Dutch village of Giethoorn (page 80); Plastic Whale,

an initiative that’s ridding Amsterdam’s waters of plastic waste (page 46); and the arts (go behind the Ghent Altarpiece on page 50 and find out about Van Gogh’s food paintings on page 84). We’ve also included a special on Brussels, in case you’re planning a trip to Belgium’s bustling capital (page 56). After reading about Jacques Brel – one of the city’s famous sons – I know I certainly am!


Discover Benelux

Issue 79, June 2023

Published 06.2023

ISSN 2054-7218

Published by Scan Magazine Ltd.


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Executive Editor

Thomas Winther

Creative Director

Mads E. Petersen


Paola Westbeek


Vera Winther

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Mercedes Moulia


Melissa Adams

Matt Antoniak

Kristel Balcaen

Lisa Burn

Jennifer Dewar

Steve Flinders

Tahney Fosdike

Monique Gadella

Debby Grooteman

Scheenagh Harrington

Lidija Liegis

Dana Marin

Alison Netsel

Noelia Santana

Paola Westbeek

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Annegien van Doorn

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Hans Van Muylder



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This magazine contains advertorials/promotional articles.

pages ahead and stay inspired! Issue 79 | June 2023 | 3 Discover Benelux | Editor’s Note



40 Towards the future of furniture

Dutch designers have managed to secure worldwide recognition and put the Netherlands on the map with their fascinating work. In recent years, these talented creatives have also been looking towards the future and seeking new ways of merging design with sustainability. An exclusive interview with renowned Dutch designer and winner of the 2022 Dutch Design Awards, Ineke Hans.


12 Top design

Benelux has brought forth its share of influential designers and design movements. Known for applying their forward-thinking approach to everything from architecture to interior design, the region’s talented creatives have a knack for making art out of the ordinary.

18 Highlights from Alsace

Looking to sip earthy Pinot Noirs and zesty Rieslings with dedicated ‘vignerons’? Eager to step back in time while strolling through pristinely-preserved medieval cities and villages? Want to cycle through the region’s 2,500 kilometres of specially marked routes and greenways? Craving a (culinary) city trip? Alsace happens to be just the place. The top three things to do when visiting the region, plus a museum that will delight even the youngest visitors.


22 Column, regulars and more

We take a look at the month ahead in Benelux business, as well as profiling the companies you need to know about.

40 4  |  Issue 79 | June 2023 Discover Benelux | Contents
JUNE 2023


46 Plastic fishing for a clean future

Beneath the beauty of our waters lies an unfortunate reality: a growing tide of plastic waste. This pollution crisis endangers marine life, disrupts ecosystems and contaminates vital water resources. Luckily, it’s being met with a wave of bold and diverse initiatives targeting this global challenge – and they certainly don’t lack ingenuity!

50 Uncovering the Ghent Altarpiece

For more than 500 years, the Ghent Altarpiece has been the subject of mystery, a holder of secrets and a pivotal work in the history of art. It also holds the dubious honour of being the most stolen work of art, with everyone from Napoleon to the Nazis claiming it for themselves.

56 Welcome to Brussels!

If you’re planning a trip to the Belgian capital, this special will provide valuable information on everything from when to go and how to get there to practicing proper etiquette when dealing with the Bruxellois. We’ve also listed interesting places to visit and some of the city’s must-try culinary delights (because there’s more to Brussels than waffles and chocolate)! Plus, you’ll get to meet two of the city’s biggest icons – Jacques Brel and Manneken Pis. On y va!

80 Giethoorn – Slowing down in a water-laced Dutch village

Travel writers often describe Giethoorn, a mostly car-free medieval hamlet in the Netherlands’ northeastern Overijssel province, as a “fairytale village”. It’s an apt characterisation of a drowsy town of just 2,800 residents that seems plucked from a Grimm’s fable – a sleeping beauty who wakes up to let down her wavy hair for visitors from around the globe to admire.

84 Van Gogh and his food paintings

Though most of us associate Van Gogh with his Sunflowers, Wheatfield with Crows, Starry Night and numerous self-portraits, the artist also produced a variety of food-related paintings. These artworks give us a glimpse into the life of one of the Netherlands’ most renowned artists.

6 Desirable Designs | 8 Fashion Picks 36 Out & About | 90 Columns 56 Issue 79 | June 2023 | 5 Discover Benelux | Contents


Expanding space with reflections

Does your home feel small? Use reflections to bounce colours and light around your place and create an illusion of depth. Arrange mirrors, shiny ornaments and reflective surfaces that embrace your surroundings. Imagine the following design concepts opening up even the smallest of spaces.

2. Pressure Vase

Made with extreme pressure deforming the metal of standard steel tubes, Tim Teven’s soft and wavy vases juxtapose their solid design. Their warped dimensions, available in various sizes, colours and finishes, invite a sensory experience in your home that can be further embellished with your favourite flower arrangements.


1. Mirror of Simple Souls

Multidisciplinary design studio COSEINCORSO imbues their projects with different regions’ history, archaeology and geography. The Mirror of Simple Souls (from their inaugural collection) draws from daily spiritual life during Belgium’s medieval times. Unlike other mirrors’ crystal-clear appearances, this item’s context and blurry finish go beyond first impressions, suiting those with a timeless taste.


6  |  Issue 79 | June 2023 Discover Benelux | Design | Desirable Designs
1. 2.

4. Chrome Pears

For something more subtle and affordable, browse the decorative collection of Sculptures Paradise, a well-known Flemish coast chain. This pear, one of their smaller ornaments, can bring fresh life into your home’s crevices. Let it glimmer in a fruit bowl, on a windowsill, under a lamp, or even by a mirror for some double-reflection experimentation.


3. Barbarossa candle holder

Studio Zoran Strijbosch’s candle holder pays homage to the Barbarossa chandelier in Germany’s Aachen Cathedral, which was created “to stun its beholder”. On a smaller scale, this historically-inspired rendition will still hold your gaze. Its wall mount, brass materials, angles and flickering flames will beautify your walls with an innovative perspective.


Studio Matta describes this mirror as having both feminine and masculine qualities. Indeed, its raw materials and imperfections leave plenty to the imagination. Look into its minimal polish for a glimpse of yourself, and use its shelf and steel vase to hold the tiny things you love in life.


Discover Benelux | Design | Desirable Designs
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Quiet luxury

Perhaps quiet or uncomplicated are not terms that come to mind when thinking about fashion, but the tables are always turning in the fashion world, and right now it’s all about elevated basics. Logos and gaudy clichés are a no-go. Instead, keep it classy and opt for clean shapes and lavish fabrics.

The exclusive leather jacket

This goat leather jacket by Mango has been crafted in Barcelona and has the feel and look of a designer piece with a high street price tag. Wear this beauty with everything in your wardrobe. In fact, don’t worry about the rest of your look – this statement piece will do all the talking.

Mango, 100% leather jacket, €199

The white shirt reworked

The classic white shirt gets a muchneeded update. A knit shirt with a bowling neckline that you can wear with your jeans or tailored trousers of your choice. It will even lift a pair of shorts when the warmer weather comes.

Mango, shirt with bowling neck, €49.99

Discover Benelux | Design | Fashion Picks

The shirt dress

A shirt dress is a no-frills basic piece that everyone should have in their wardrobe. This shirt dress balances its simple design with a vivid but modern colour. Fam’s ethos is to create clothes that empower women. They are simple but fun and made to last with materials that are sustainable. For example, the Nova dress is 100% Tencel, a textile made from eucalyptus wood.

Fam, Nova dress, €239

The knit dress

You know the type of dress that reminds you of a sultry summer holiday? Well, this is it! Put it on and you’ll suddenly feel as though you’re sipping cocktails on a Balearic Island overlooking the Mediterranean. Valentine Witmeur Lab is a Belgian brand that creates unique knitwear with carefully curated materials. This dress is pure versatility. You can slip it on over your swimwear, but it can also be worn over a pair of soft linen trousers in your day-to-day.

Valentine Witmeur Lab, Vacationist dress, €295

The tasteful bling

There is no luxury without a carefully curated piece of jewellery. This gorgeous set of earrings is crafted in 18-karat yellow gold with a diamond spiral that dangles a Baroque pearl. Baroque pearls are freshwater and known for being unique. No wonder such a timeless yet stylish set of earrings has been designed by none other than Belgian fashionista Sofie Valkiers.

Valkiers, Baroque pearl wave earrings, €2,850

Issue 79 | June 2023 | 9

The journey to regrowing healthy hair

From a receding hairline to going bald, people all around the world struggle with hair problems that can impact their self-esteem and confidence. The ‘Hair and Skin Clinic’ (Huid en Haar Kliniek) in Belgium is a leading institution dedicated to helping patients regrow their hair and boost their overall well-being. This clinic defies the notion that ‘hair that has fallen out can never grow back’.

Hair problems are more common than expected. If we look at our close circle of friends and family, we likely know one or more people who have problems with their hair. Perhaps you are even experiencing issues with your hair yourself. The Hair and Skin Clinic is here to revolutionise the way we address these issues, provid-

ing cutting-edge solutions in the hands of the esteemed Doctor Barry Dekeyser.

Comprehensive hair analysis for a tailored treatment plan

The world of beauty and esthetics isn’t new to Doctor Dekeyser and Marijke Wellens (nurse extraordinaire) who together form the foundation of the Hair and Skin

Clinic. With a background in esthetics, they embarked on a transformative journey when Doctor Dekeyser himself faced a receding hairline. This personal experience made him explore solutions for hair challenges. “There are many reasons for thin hair or hair loss,” explains Doctor Dekeyser. “Stress, seasonal changes, hormonal abnormalities, heredity. It’s important to identify the exact underlying reason in every patient, so that we can make a diagnosis and offer a personalised treatment plan.” Nurse Wellens adds that a lot of clinics only look at an individual’s hair. “We don’t believe this is the correct way to make a diagnosis. Understanding the complete story is crucial.”

The Hair and Skin Clinic follows a meticulous process to make sure no part of

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the patient’s history is overlooked. Doctor Dekeyser: “It starts with the story people have to tell. Each type of hair loss has a different story. Additionally, we look at the hairline, taking into account its shape and even the eyebrows. Finally, we take a closer look at the hair with a state-ofthe-art magnifying camera. This tool allows us to identify specific characteristics related to hair diseases, setting us apart in our approach.” Embracing modern technological advancements, the clinic also integrates Artificial Intelligence (AI) for the photos, enhancing accuracy and precision in their assessments.

A commitment to exceptional care and personalised solutions

Once the diagnosis has been made, the patient is the one who decides how to proceed and mark how far they are willing to go in their pursuit of regrowing their hair. Nurse Wellens: “It really depends on the hair problem and how far advanced it is. For instance, we have patients who currently rely on a wig. Depending on the hair problem, we can assess if an end result is possible where the patient regrows enough natural hair to confidently go without a wig.” The clinic offers a range of treatment options that can be used individually or combined. One of the treatments consists of medication prescribed by Doctor Dekeyser. Other treatments consist of laser therapy or even stem

cell therapy. “All the pieces of the puzzle should fit together,” explains Doctor Dekeyser, indicating the holistic approach taken by the clinic.

In early 2023, the clinic embarked on a new chapter by moving to a new, more spacious building. Avoiding waiting lists is a top priority for Doctor Dekeyser. “When people have their consultation and want to start a treatment, we guarantee they can begin within four to six weeks. Making patients wait for months or even years is not how we work.” Top level care is the standard at the clinic, where patients’ needs and well-being take precedence. “We don’t want people to feel like a number when they visit our clinic,” explains Nurse Wellens. “Our goal is to prioritise the patient. For us, that means offering

them a personalised solution in a caring environment. We know time is of the essence when it comes to hair problems, so we don’t want to waste valuable time with waiting lists and run the risk of having the hair problem worsen.”

In a world where hair problems can significantly impact one’s quality of life, the Hair and Skin Clinic uses advanced treatments to offer a world of transformation. The exceptional expertise and commitment to patient satisfaction help people overcome their hair-related struggles. Are you curious to see how the clinic can help you with your hair problems and help you gain back your confidence? Don’t hesitate to contact them for an initial consultation.

Discover Benelux | Beauty Treatments | Hair and Skin Clinic
Issue 79 | June 2023 | 11


Spotlighting Benelux design

Benelux has brought forth its share of influential designers and design movements. Known for applying their forward-thinking approach to everything from architecture to interior design, the region’s talented creatives have a knack for making art out of the ordinary.

TEXT: PAOLA WESTBEEK Rotondes, one of the venues of the European Design Festival. Photo: Bohumil KOSTOHRYZ boshua Rietveld Schröderhuis in Utrecht. Photo: Iris van den Broek, NBTC Holland Mediabank

Take De Stijl, for example, a Dutch movement which sought to do away with traditional artistic conventions and create a new visual language based on simplicity, geometric abstraction and the use of primary colours (along with black and white). De Stijl was founded in Leiden in 1917 by a group of artists, architects and designers, including Theo van Doesburg, Piet Mondriaan, Bart van der Leck, Vilmos Huszár and Gerrit Rietveld. Even to this day, their work continues to have a major influence on modern Dutch design.

Dutch design is not seen as a label for a certain group of designers nor a design aesthetic. Instead, it is regarded as a reflection of the culture and attitude of the Netherlands. Characteristics of this attitude include functionality, humanism, the ability to put things into perspective and a solution-oriented approach.

Dutch Design Week (DDW), held in Eindhoven every October, is the largest design event in Northern Europe. With exhibitions, lectures, debates and plenty of opportunity to network, it offers designers from every corner of the world a unique platform. Unique is that DDW focuses on the designs of the future by placing emphasis on experimentation and innovation.

Discover Benelux | Special Theme | Top Design
Hôtel Tassel. Photo: © Visit Brussels - Jean-Paul Remy Piet Mondrian’s Victory Boogie Woogie, 1942-44, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag.
Issue 79 | June 2023 | 13
Photo: Sailko

Belgium has also made notable contributions to design. In fact, Brussels is known as the capital of Art Nouveau, and it was there that the term was first coined in the 1880s. The first example of Art Nouveau style, the iconic Hôtel Tassel designed by Victor Horta and completed in 1893, can also be found in the Belgian capital.

In 2023, Brussels will be spotlighting 130 years of Art Nouveau heritage with myriad events such as exhibitions, city tours and festivals. It’s the perfect opportunity to discover this rich heritage and see some of the city’s most beautiful Art Nouveau buildings – there are approximately 1,000!

Luxembourg may be small, but the country has also played a significant role in design. Like the Netherlands and Belgium, Luxembourg hosts notable design events and exhibitions, such as the Luxembourg Design Awards, held every two years since 2015 (this year on 1 June).

Luxembourg designers can come together via organisations such as Design

Friends (founded in 2009) and Design Luxembourg (whose purpose is to unite the various design disciplines and make decision makers aware of designers and their skills). Design Luxembourg is the main partner of the European De-

sign Festival. Held in Luxembourg City until 4 June, the festival brings together like-minded creatives from all over Europe for five days full of inspiration, with conferences, studio visits, designers’ market and exhibitions.

Discover Benelux | Special Theme | Top Design
Casino Luxembourg – Forum d’art contemporain, one of the venues of the European Design Festival.
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Photo: Sven Becker, 2021

Elegant and sustainable artisan Belgian porcelain

Based in Genk, in the province of Limburg, Studio Pieter Stockmans is doing things differently. The atelier makes innovative designs in a unique style, producing high-quality hard porcelain tableware, interior pieces and art.

Contemporary design combined with a 200-year-old technique gives products made by Studio Pieter Stockmans an exclusive edge. Every piece is handmade and made to order. CEO Widukind Stockmans says: “Making new designs is at the heart of what we do.”

Hard porcelain is baked at 1400°C, making the material extremely durable. The finish is smooth, giving the pieces a luxurious feel. Hand-shaped works of art are manufactured using old and new techniques, creating larger and narrower products, and because the items aren’t glazed, fingerprints won’t be left behind when handling them. The tableware pieces also retain heat for longer, making cold plates a thing of the past. Dishwasher, microwave and oven safe, these products are meant to be used regularly.

Pieter Stockmans started designing 60 years ago. He invented ‘Stockmans blue’, the distinctive blue tint used in most of their designs. In 2007, he passed the company down to his daughter, Widukind Stockmans. Her husband, Frank Claesen, became head designer. She says: “I would like to propose a different approach to laying a table for friends or family. You’ll make lasting memories with our tableware as the centrepiece.”

She recalls the time when Alan Ducasse ordered items exclusively designed for his dessert menu at the three-Michelinstarred restaurant, Louis XV in Monaco. “We were thrilled to work with such a fa-

mous chef,” Stockmans enthuses. Many chefs have since ordered tableware from their company.

People often select an item as a business or personal gift meant to make a lasting impression on the receiver. You can browse through the website or visit the shop and take a tour through the workshop. The atelier is located in a building that belonged to the coal mining industry and is in itself worth a visit.

Pieter Stockmans Studio tableware pieces are sustainable and environmentally friendly. They will make a welcome addition to your dinner table and interior. Lasting a lifetime, their porcelain is designed to bring joy for many years to come.


Studio Pieter Stockmans is offering five readers who email a copy of the book about their story. Please mention Discover Benelux and your address.

Discover Benelux | Special Theme | Top Design
Playing chess becomes an experience with this set. Make dining an unforgettable experience with this handmade dinner set.
Issue 79 | June 2023 | 15
Drinking coffee from hard porcelain makes it more enjoyable.

The legacy of luxurious interior design

Home is where the heart is – so the saying goes – and it certainly holds true for luxury interior designer Vanina Henry. She brings her passion for colour and comfort to private commissions and commercial projects across Luxembourg, Germany, Spain and Marrakech, taking inspiration from these diverse cultures to create spaces that are both unique and beautiful.

Our modern world is fast-paced and endlessly busy: people are connected all the time, whether to work or social media, so down time can be both rare and precious. That drives our need to find comfortable places to rest – from hotels to our own homes.

“Comfort and elegance are key words in my designs,” says Henry. “For me, the most important thing is to create places in your home where you can sit in an ex-

tremely comfortable seat, surrounded by a soothing, calming colour harmony and be somewhere that does not require you to think.”

She swapped a career in the luxury hospitality industry for studying interior design at the prestigious Boulle School in Paris, before opening her first shop in 2007 in Trier, close to the border with Luxembourg. Since then, Henry has expanded both her store and range of expert services, enabling her to take on and complete interior design projects from start to finish.

She is currently working on projects in Luxembourg and Germany, is also busy with the interior design for a luxury Mal-

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Luxembourg-based interior designer Vanina Henry creates unique spaces that provide both luxury and comfort. Photo: Pedro Azevedo Villa Mallorca.

lorca property, as well as a “very enriching” project in Marrakech.

Her clients often provide the initial inspiration, whether it’s something physical or something less tangible. “It could be an antique object in their home, a painting, a move, a new life, a different profession or nationality. There’s always something that will inspire me,” Henry explains.

An interior design intermediary

“What interests me is knowing how clients are going to feel inside this universe, how they are going to evolve inside it and what their daily needs are. Also, their family life, whether they have children or not. Of course, they’re going to live there, and they always have the last word. I’m just the intermediary, but I aim to make everyone feel at home.”

Colour has been at the heart of what she does from the earliest days of her interior design career. For Henry, it remains the most important thing, even in an industry that reinvents itself all the time.

“The surprise is that we are still so attached to colour,” she says. “It’s the basis of interior design because colour is in all the materials we use. I’m not interested in pure, white spaces. I want to tell a story and give a soul to an interior with worlds inside: corners, atmospheres, lights. Designers need to express themselves. With every project, we develop our own

aesthetic, and clients always end up with something beautiful.”

Henry has customers across Europe and relishes that multicultural environment. “I like to be able to adapt and increase my creative abilities, use new materials and new colours with different atmospheres linked to the country where I’m working,” she says.

Despite her global outlook, she stays close to home when it comes to manufacturers. “I prefer to work with local businesses that we have good relationships with, and who make really customised products to make sure the carbon footprint is under control.”

Like many other industries, the world of interior design is also seeking to protect

the environment as much as possible – a sustainability shift that has been reflected in design trends, such as the recycled furniture and objects made by brands Henry represents in her online shop.

Brands with passion

Those connections are another fundamental part of her business. She has enjoyed a long association with paint manufacturer Farrow & Ball and counts Liberty among the many brands she works with. Yet when it comes to forming and cementing these professional partnerships, one thing is key: “The brands I work with create because they have a passion,” Henry says. “I still have it, and I always turn to passionate people who continue to create and don’t forget how they started at the beginning of their journey. I don’t gravitate towards brands that produce things on an assembly line. I’m interested in creating customised spaces that give people a feeling of comfort, well-being and harmony.”

For Henry, every interior design project is about developing and maintaining trust with a client. “It involves many different phases and, from the moment you develop the ideas to the final execution, there are hours and hours of work, communication and coordination with different craftsmen. It’s imperative you have confidence in your interior designer.”

Discover Benelux | Special Theme | Top Design
Project Mallorca.
Issue 79 | June 2023 | 17
Villa Marrakech.

Highlights from Alsace

Looking to sip earthy Pinot Noirs and zesty Rieslings with dedicated ‘vignerons’? Eager to step back in time while strolling through pristinely-preserved medieval cities and villages? Want to cycle through the region’s 2,500 kilometres of specially marked routes and greenways? Craving a (culinary) city trip? Alsace happens to be just the place. Here are the top three things to do when visiting the region.

TEXT: PAOLA WESTBEEK Petite France. Photo: © Lez Broz - Visit Alsace Alsace is a great region for cycling enthusiasts.
18  |  Issue 79 | June 2023
Photo:© N. Bronner - ADT

1.Become a ‘kougelhopf’ expert

Sure, if tasting the region is high on your list, you could dine at a winstub (eatery serving local classics such as ‘choucroute garnie’ and ‘tarte flambée’) or explore the more than 100 wine villages and many caves spread out over its 170km route des vins, but a better idea would be to first stop at a bakery for a piece of ‘kougelhopf’. This tender, brioche-like cake is made with flour, yeast, milk, butter, eggs, sugar, rum-soaked raisins and whole almonds. Walk into any bakery in Alsace and you’ll find several tasty variations, even savoury ‘kougelhopfs’ with ingredients such as smoked walnuts, cheese and onions.

After feasting on your share of ‘kougelhopf’, head to Poterie Beck in Soufflenheim to see how the traditional earthenware moulds have been handcrafted and painted since the mid-18th century. Available in different sizes and beautiful, bright colours with graceful patterns, they are so

decorative that you can even hang them on the wall – a unique souvenir!

2.Cycle along the canals

If cycling is your ideal way to spend a holiday, you’ll be pleased to know that Alsace boasts a wide variety of trails and routes that will take you through some of the most stunning landscapes and fascinating cities. There are six canal routes, for example, situated away from traffic and therefore perfect for the whole family. Highly recommended is the easy, 14km trail that takes you along the Colmar Canal to the village of Artzenheim. The canal dates to 1864 and runs past quaint villages replete with Alsatian charm.

3.Stroll through Strasbourg

Alsace’s cultural capital (and seat of the European Parliament) is a feast for all senses with its many historical landmarks (such as the Gothic Cathédrale Notre-Dame or the enchanting Petite France district), ex-

cellent restaurants and everything from medieval to modern architecture. There are more than 20 engaging museums, among them Le Vaisseau, a paradise of science and technology that will delight even the youngest visitors! (See following page).

Discover Benelux | Special Theme | Highlights from Alsace
Kougelhopf. Photo: © F. CLEMENT - ADT
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Cathédrale Notre-Dame. Photo: © Bartosch Salmanski

Hands-on science equals lots of fun

Traditional museum visits for children can be a bit dull with all that “look but don’t touch”. It couldn’t be more different at Strasbourg’s le Vaisseau. Eight interactive spaces covering science, environment and technology (to name just three subjects) actively encourage kids to get involved, think for themselves and have a lot of fun!

In 1998, the Departmental Council of Bas-Rhin hosted an exhibition of France’s Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie. It was such a hit with the locals that officials decided to create their own space that would approach science in a playful and interactive way. In 2005, le Vaisseau (‘The Vessel’) was launched by the European Collectivity of Alsace.

Le Vaisseau was founded on a simple premise: it is easier for young people to learn by having fun. “Our fundamental aim is to support scientific discovery among children,” says Sabine Ischia, head of le Vaisseau. Giving three to twelve-year-olds access to hands-on

experiments introduces them to science while enjoying themselves.

They can find out about the properties of water by slipping on a poncho and creating water circuits, or learn mathematics by solving puzzles. “Everyone explores, discovers and experiments together,” she adds. “Using our eight exhibition spaces, children can train their logical thinking and try out new things.”

Of course, le Vaisseau has changed a lot since its initial launch, and every year a new and unique temporary exhibition, designed and created in-house, is unveiled. Regular visitors are thrilled to know that, since 2022, permanent exhibitions are frequently updated to take in recent discoveries or the changing interests of children and grown-up visitors.

There are more exciting plans in the works for le Vaisseau. To mark next year’s Olympic Games taking place in France, there will be a temporary exhibition on the theme of sport, opening in February

2024. “As always, the focus will be on science and technology, and the aim will be to have a great time while learning,” enthuses Ischia.

Everyone’s invited to come and see what is happening. In fact, from October 2023, a newly reworked space dedicated exclusively to three to six-year-olds will launch in le Vaisseau. Science has never been more fun!

Discover Benelux | Special Theme | Highlights from Alsace
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Young children visiting le Vaisseau learn about the properties of water by getting stuck in and creating circuits.
? science while having fun Want to discover Le Vaisseau welcomes you all year round to experiment and manipulate as a family! 3-12 years

Benelux Business

Life lessons from (culling) books

In the recent French film, One Fine Morning (Un beau matin – recommended), the main character, played by Léa Seydoux, finds it difficult to part with her dementia-suffering father’s extensive library because, she says, she can see more of him in his books than in the now sad shadow of his former self.

This moving reflection in particular resonated with me because my partner and I had just disposed of a couple of hundred books which had been making our apartment look a mess. Going through our own library proved rather emotional as I re-encountered many old but neglected friends and companions who activated fond memories of happy and sometimes intense experiences in the past, stretching back to childhood.

The clutter had been getting worse for years, but we had seemed unable to deal with it – not a situation of conflict, just a stalemate we’d ignored. It took one of our sons to unblock the issue. With admirable assertiveness, he started to make a pile of books we really don’t need, ex-

plaining that his own partner had pointed out how people living together always think it’s the other person who should throw away their stuff and how useful an outsider can be to act as a catalyst. We got down to it and can now breathe more freely in our newly liberated living space.

What relevance does this have for business communication? Here are three reflections on this small domestic experience (and the movie) which I think are pertinent to the world of work.

• Stalemates are easy to ignore in a way that conflicts are not, but they also need attention.

• Asking a respected outsider to arbitrate in a stalemate can kickstart a solution with surprising ease.

• We are, to some degree, the books we’ve read, and we should embrace and nurture the friendships we form with books as an important part of our identity – and as a part of knowing oneself, important for every manager.

There are now even fewer business books on our shelves than before: I’ve rarely loved a book about management. No disrespect to the business gurus, but, for me, the best lessons for managing relationships – professional and personal –are still coming from those battered copies of great novels, going all the way back to Treasure Island and The Invisible Man.

Steve Flinders is a freelance trainer, writer and coach, based in Malta, who helps people develop their communication and leadership skills for working internationally:
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Business Calendar

Cosmetics Europe Annual Conference


14-15 June

Brussels, Belgium

Cosmetics Europe is a unique event where cosmetic and personal care industry leaders from all over the world meet to discuss the latest industry trends and innovations. The conference focuses on topics such as cosmetics and sustainability, understanding microplastic restriction, key business trends and more.

ICT Spring 2023

29-30 June


This prominent European tech conference is the highlight of Luxembourg’s business calendar. Business decision-makers, startups, researchers and venture capitalists will meet here for networking and showcasing innovative ideas. The event features a twoday program with workshops, exhibitions and specific events on a range of topics including sustainability, finance, cyber and quantum computing, big data, AI and customer experience.

Grow Digital

6-7 June

Brussels, Belgium

Taking place at the Egg in Brussels, this conference brings together innovators, startups and investors to discuss the latest in digital innovation. It’s a great opportunity to find new business partners and hear about the latest news in generative AI, space tech and deep tech.

GreenTech Amsterdam

13-15 June

Amsterdam, the Netherlands

GreenTech is the meeting place for professionals in the horticulture industry. The stages will be packed with outstanding speakers covering various topics that are relevant to the sector. At the exhibition pavilions, experienced people and newcomers in the industry will present the latest developments in areas such as AI & robotics, vertical farming and more. Participants can register their company for one of the two awards for the most high-tech and advanced technological innovation.

TNW Conference

15-16 June

Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Themed ‘Reclaim the Future’, The Next Web Conference offers all the benefits of a conference with the energy of a festival. International industry leaders, policy makers, startups and investors come together to discuss a more sustainable, equitable and inclusive future for technology.

Discover Benelux | Business | Calendar
GreenTech Amsterdam2023. ICT Spring Conference. Cosmetics Europe Conference 2023.
Issue 79 | June 2023 | 23
Grow Digital.

Flexibility, integrity, results, expertise

Industrial sites. Museums. Car parks. Data centres. They are all very different spaces, but they all have one thing in common: they could have fire detection and automatic extinguishing systems from Luxembourg and Belgium-based International Fire Control (IFC). This innovative company specialises in designing and installing complex, largescale projects that keep thousands of us safe, every day.

Most of us are only ever aware of a building’s fire defences when they are activated. We walk past fire alarms or under sprinkler systems without giving them a second thought. Thankfully, it’s not every day that a fire breaks out in a commercial or industrial setting, but it’s comforting to know the protection at our fingertips has been put there by a team of experts.

For IFC co-founders Pascal Daubechies, Rony Basselier and Bernard Coune, the fire protection and detection sector pro-

vided the opportunity to use their collective 30 years’ experience in firefighting to support the industrial and service sectors with a range of premium services from two strategic locations: Ellange in Luxembourg and Tournai in Belgium.

“Fifteen years ago, it was an adventure for the three of us: launching an entrepreneurial venture with a mission of responsibility that reflected our human and professional values. Now, it is an adventure for more than 140 employees across Luxembourg,

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Luxembourg and Belgium-based International Fire Control provides premium fire protection and detection services, tailored to their clients’ requirements.

Belgium and partly in France,” says Bernard Coune, CEO of IFC.

Tailored fire risk protection

Working exclusively on a B2B basis, IFC designs and installs a variety of fire detection and automatic extinguishing systems that have been specifically tailored to each client’s particular risks. That can include protecting logistics sites, or production, storage or recycling locations, as well as the aforementioned museums or car parks.

In the time IFC has been steadily growing and thriving, there have been many changes in the fire protection and detection industry, but one thing has remained the same: the absolute focus on safety. “There are no concessions,” Coune says. “We are all striving for Zero Risk, so fire protection and detection are an integral part of every project, regardless of the sector of activity.”

He adds that regulations and components have continued to evolve, based on fire tests and experience, while new technologies have also emerged to bolster the business.

“In recent years, we have been working in partnership with Victaulic® to implement the Victaulic VORTEX™ Hybrid Fire Suppression System and with Danfoss to implement the SEM-SAFE® high-pressure water mist fire protection system,” he explains.

“Both are based on water misting technology and each has its own specificity.

They can be used in a variety of applications such, as data centres, cogeneration, tunnels and museums, to name but a few.”

When it comes to protecting industrial or commercial spaces, whether they are existing constructions or new builds, IFC’s role often starts before a single brick has even been laid, and involves

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more work than most people outside the sector could ever imagine.

Coune explains: “We draw up the design plans, carry out prefabrication and assembly in our workshops and installations on site, take care of commissioning and acceptance by the inspection bodies and offer a maintenance service. All of this is, of course, supervised by our teams of project and site managers, so it’s a more complex and diverse ecosystem than it seems.”

IFC currently employs 19 assembly teams in fire protection, six in detection, while its design team work with 2D software and 3D building information modelling (BIM) systems.

In-house expertise

Coune is proud that every element of their fire protection and detection systems is dealt with in-house, fulfilling a long-held ambition for the trio of founders: “Working with our own staff has been our goal since the very beginning of our company. It means we can guarantee responsiveness, flexibility and impeccable quality,” he says.

“From the start, we made the choice to market ourselves as a premium company in the sector. Our values are even summed up by the word FIRE: ‘Flexibility, Integrity, Results and Expertise’.”

Of course, these days the majority of company directors, as well as the people who represent them, are all aware of why appropriate fire protection has to be implemented to keep both people and property safe. Luckily, they can call on IFC.

The company is on hand to offer a range of expert advice and support – from the earliest phase of a project, through to ongoing maintenance long after the installation is complete.

It’s comforting to know their experts are pulling out all the stops to keep us safe, creating and installing premium technologies everyone hopes will never have to be used.

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From grey to green

Millions of us spend a lot of our working lives at the office, but those premises are not always the most pleasant or environmentally-friendly places to be. Fidentia, a Luxembourg and Belgium-based sustainable and responsible real estate investment manager, is working hard to rip up that outdated working model, creating smart, green spaces for tenants and investors.

The past few years have been bumpy ones for many people and industries. From the climate crisis and the pandem-

ic to seismic events, the impact at home and abroad has been huge. This has changed what many of us have come to expect from our workplaces and prompted many businesses across a range of sectors to focus more of their attention –as well as their investment – on employee well-being and sustainability.

For Fidentia, this shift towards a greener, more holistic way of living and working is nothing new. The independent firm is proud of the fact it was Luxembourg’s first green investor, securing the coun-

try’s inaugural environmental certification for a 2006 development.

In Belgium, it was the first company of its kind to invest solely in certified green office buildings, while in 2009, it also launched Fidentia Green Buildings, underpinned by the groundbreaking value-added investment strategy: ‘from grey to green’.

For investors across the world looking to enhance their environmental credentials and be part of the green revolution, Fi-

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Buzz: a smart complex from Luxembourg and Belgium-based sustainable and responsible real estate investment fund manager.

dentia’s transformation of work spaces is hugely attractive.

Pleasant working spaces

“Office buildings today are designed as living spaces,” says Annick de Meel, who leads asset management and business development in Luxembourg.

“We spend more and more time in our offices, so it’s important to have the most pleasant working environment possible, with lots of light, green spaces, terraces and atria where people can relax and move around.”

A great example of Fidentia’s high quality work is the Buzz complex in Luxembourg’s Leudelange. It is certified by the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM), an internationally recognised certification mark, demonstrating a building’s quality, performance and sustainable credentials.

The ‘smart’ campus comprises four buildings, connected by footbridges, flexible office spaces and an on-site restaurant, as well as several locations for meetings. The complex promotes biodiversity and is practical, but above all, its design is aimed at achieving the same goal – to improve people’s lives.

Surrounded by open, natural spaces, Buzz is powered by solar energy, employs a rainwater collection system and is connected to the national cycle path network, encouraging workers and visitors to leave their cars at home.

Buzz doesn’t just look like an amazing place to spend the whole of your working day. This impressive project was also the first in Luxembourg to be created based on the SECO Comfort standard, which prioritises and maximises air quality, as well as the hygrothermal, visual and acoustic comfort for everyone using the building.

The inhabitants not only benefit from Fidentia’s efforts to ensure their comfort while minimising a building’s environmental impact, they are actually active participants in the development. “We are always attentive to our tenants and ensure there’s clear and open communication,” De Meel says.

Communication and collaboration

“We work hand-in-hand with tenants, explaining to them what’s going on with the buildings or the optimisations that are being done. If they have a particular request, we’re always there to listen to them.”

Fidentia understands on a fundamental level, the importance of creating a workplace where the human and environmen-

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tal elements are in harmony with, and benefit from, each other.

Monitoring and enhancing the building’s comfort conditions not only reduces the environmental impact and supports biodiversity, it also has a key role to play in the well-being of the people using it. Happier, more contented employees not only means more productive staff, but a positive work environment can help attract and retain all kinds of talented people.

When asked which was the most exciting part of each project, she enthuses: “It’s the complete cycle: from the acquisition of the project on plan, the construction, the marketing, the renting of everything, the whole thing.”

Domestic and international investor appetite for sustainable developments remains strong, and Fidentia has no immediate plans to look much further beyond Belgium and Luxembourg for interesting projects.

“These are two markets we know very well and in which we’ve invested. We prefer to really concentrate on the countries where we’re most effective,” she says.

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Luxembourg’s most unique conference centre

The European Convention Center Luxembourg (ECCL) stands as a testament to architectural brilliance, technical excellence and environmental consciousness. Located in the heart of Europe, this superb venue showcases environmentally-friendly practices, boasts state-of-the-art meeting rooms and benefits from its convenient location.

The ECCL’s strategic location offers easy access to the city centre and the airport thanks to the free public transport system, established in Luxembourg in 2020. This enhances its appeal as a preferred destination for events and conferences of all sizes.

Located at the centre of the Convention Park Luxembourg, it’s within walking distance of a wealth of amenities and attractions, including a rich cultural heritage, a diverse culinary scene and five top hotels, offering 785 rooms. There are 12 bars and restaurants, a shopping centre, over 74 meeting rooms and reception areas, cultural attractions such as Mudam (the modern art museum) and the iconic Luxembourg Philharmonic concert hall. In

collaboration with the Convention Park, the ECCL offers a VIP pass to conference participants and organisers which provides discounts and special offers such as free upgrades and welcome drinks.

The ECCL, which hosts the European Union’s Council of Ministers for three months annually, is a prime choice for a range of events and conferences. Its multiple highend venues include 11 meeting rooms for 35 to 380 people, one amphitheatre with 646 seats, two plenary rooms for up to 800 people and 30 breakout rooms for 20 to 70, plus 3500m2 of modern and bright foyer spaces for receptions or exhibitions. ECCL will open a beautiful outdoor terrace shortly, available for al-fresco drinks, breaks and dining from the summer months through October.

The ECCL’s state-of-the-art amenities can be accessed through an Easy Event Package with services including high-end AV-equipment, a security and cleaning service, personalised and digital signage, secure customisable WiFi, a business centre, a reception area, a

cloakroom, parking for VIPs and staff, and much more.

“The ECCL is proud of its commitment to sustainable and environmentally-friendly practices. From utilising energy-efficient sources and implementing efficient waste management systems, to promoting green transportation options, we strive to minimise our carbon footprint and set a positive example for sustainable event venues,” notes CEO Patrick Hoffnung. The site’s catering partner, Sodexo, also guarantees the use of regional and seasonal products.

The centre looks forward to welcoming you to Luxembourg soon!

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Standing out from the crowd

In today’s world, despite the proliferation of social media, getting noticed is not always easy. Sometimes it seems like everyone is just being bombarded with information and images led by algorithms. As the world changes at lightning speed, penetrating through the noise to reach your customers requires a more intelligent approach, which is where STORYBOROS comes in.

STORYBOROS is a multi-service agency based in Nancy and London, founded by CEO Irina Rojnova. The agency covers strategy, graphic design, websites, events, content creation, social media, and much more. Its core skill is to drill down to find their client’s story and to help them understand their audiences in order to create a symbiotic relationship. In Rojnova’s own words: “You need to tell the story – your story – to attract the right audience. Our expertise lies in helping companies find their unique story and to develop a strategy that fits. It’s rarely simply a case of updating a website.”

The agency has gained such a strong reputation that its clients now cover the whole of Continental Europe, the UK and the US, together with Asia and Australia. STORYBOROS’ clients are also diverse and include the Cardiovascular Clinical Trials Forum in Washington, an elite matchmaking agency called Berkeley International that has a strong presence in Benelux and the Salon Congres City Healthcare in France. The team can work in German, Italian and Russian, as well as French and English, which means the agency’s remit often goes beyond national borders.

The STORYBOROS team is committed to helping their clients succeed and takes great pride in their work. Central to the agency’s philosophy is to ask clients why they do what they do. Rojnova remarks: “It’s never about money, but generally it’s about a goal much bigger than themselves.” STORYBOROS knows that the world is made of stories, so they help companies tell theirs, to make their businesses successful.

So what does the future hold? Rojnova: “Today, we see that transparency has become a real trend, especially in social media. People expect companies to show their true values and beliefs – and they swipe left or right accordingly.”

The agency’s mantra is inspired by entrepreneur Seth Godin’s words: “People don’t buy goods and services; they buy stories and emotions.” If you need to refresh your marketing and re-examine where your business sits in the real and virtual communities, STORYBOROS can help.

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Irina Rojnova, founder and CEO of STORYBOROS.
STORYBOROS. new era. new marketing.

Out & About

That celebratory summer feeling is here, and the longer days mean spending more time with family and friends. As June bursts into life, embrace the sunshine and embark on a cornucopia of exciting events tailored to all ages and interests. From outdoor markets to immersive digital experiences, there’s something for everyone to enjoy this month.

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Photo: Eva Broekema

Fête de la Musique

16-21 June, various cities, Luxembourg

The biggest music event in Luxembourg brings hundreds of concerts around the country. Musicians of all genres and skill levels will perform in public spaces such as parks, streets and squares. The program is diverse, aiming to entertain all audiences. The festival is a celebration of cultural diversity, promoting music as a universal language that brings people together.

Erwin Olaf & Hans Op de Beeck: Inspired by Steichen

Until 11 June, Luxembourg City, Luxembourg

This exhibition marks the 50th anniversary of Edward Steichen’s death and features contemporary artists Erwin Olaf and Hans Op de Beeck collaborating for the first time. Photographs, watercolours and sculptures come together to create a unique experience and new, unexpected connections between three artists who are quite different.

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Museum Night Leiden. Photo: Franck Doho
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Erwin Olaf & Hans Op de Beeck.Inspired by Steichen. Photo: MNHA Tom Lucas

Museum Night

3 June, Leiden, the Netherlands

Who hasn’t dreamed of spending a night in a museum? Museum Nights are popular events in the Netherlands, taking place in various cities. In June, it’s time for Leiden’s museums to open their doors for a night. The 15th edition of Museum Night Leiden offers a thrilling array of

museum events in the city, ranging from creative workshops and discussions, to guided tours of the city. The event takes place between 8pm and 1am, followed by an afterparty. There are many museums open that night, among them, the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Museum Volkenkunde, Hortus Botanicus Leiden and more!

Open Garden Days

16-18 June, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Every year, on the third weekend of June, Amsterdam unveils one of its hidden treasures: the canal gardens. These gardens, privately owned or belonging to an institution, are closed to the public during the rest of the year. On the Open Garden Days weekend, people can admire the amazing green oases and marvel at the mastery of the gardeners who designed them. This year’s theme is: The Canal Garden as Decor. The event is also an opportunity for visitors to get a unique view of the canal houses from the gardens’ vantage point.


Until 24 September, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

The Amsterdam Sculpture Biennial’s eighth edition brings art to the streets! With Jasper Krabbé as curator, ARTZUID showcases a two-kilometre art route in the Amsterdam Zuid neighbourhood, featuring 50 artworks by Dutch and international artists. One of the best things about this exhibition is that it is

Open Garden Days. Photo: Peter Kooijman
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accessible to everyone, with no schedule or entrance fee required.

Vondelpark Open Air Theatre

Until September, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Taking place at the beautiful Vondelpark in Amsterdam, the Open Air Theatre features a broad variety of performances – from concerts to stand-up comedy and from dance to classical music. Every weekend, people enjoy the gezellig atmosphere of the park and spend quality time with friends and family.

BAM! Brussels Artisan Market

3 June, Brussels, Belgium

BAM is a chance to discover unique talents and original gift ideas. The Brussels Artisan Market will feature around 40 local and sustainable creators showcasing their work in jewellery, textiles, cosmetics, decorations and more. There will be food and drinks on offer, as well as activities for children, making this a fun day out for the entire family!


Until 24 September, Brussels, Belgium

The artist collective Visual System will occupy the exhibition space of the Atomium and create a digital experience that invites people to become immersed in sounds and light. Through an abstract narrative and raw emotion, RESTART elevates light, sound and architecture to a poetic level, creating an intimate and mesmerising experience.


28-30 June, Brussels, Belgium

The Ommegang Pageant has its origins in the 14th century, when it was a procession of the guilds and bodies constituting the city of Brussels. For a few days each year, Brussels’ Grand Place sees the past coming back to life through a historical re-enactment of the gala of 1549 procession, accompanied by music and dance, pyrotechnical effects and other captivating performances.

Kiss Concert

13 June, Brussels, Belgium

The famous hard rock band Kiss is coming to Brussels for a concert, part of their extended End of the Road world tour. This is the band’s final concert tour, ending in December 2023 in New York, where the band started. Fans will be thrilled to find out that Skid Row is a special guest for this show!

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RESTART. Photo C. Licoppe Ommegang. Photo: Ommegang
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Kiss Concert. Photo: Keith Leroux

Towards the future of furniture

It’s no secret that Dutch designers have managed to secure worldwide recognition and put the Netherlands on the map with their fascinating work. In recent years, these talented creatives have also been looking towards the future and seeking new ways of merging design with sustainability.

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Fishing nets and industrial waste are being used for a second time.
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One of these forward-thinking figures in the world of Dutch Design is Ineke Hans. An acclaimed product and furniture designer, Hans studied 3D design at the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten in Arnhem and graduated with an MA in Furniture Design from the Royal College of Art in London. Her impressive portfolio boasts work for names such as Habitat, Iittala, Magis, Royal Ahrend and Royal VKB. Most recently, she partnered with Circuform and created REX – the Netherlands’ first chair with a refundable deposit and the winning product at the 2022 Dutch Design Awards.

If you consider that according to the latest numbers, approximately 247 million kilograms of furniture gets thrown away in the Netherlands alone every year, it’s evident that we need to rethink our use of these everyday objects. Whether a chair or table is replaced in lieu of the latest interior trend or simply because it

was not built to last, much like clothing, ‘fast furniture’ is ending up in ever-growing landfills. With REX, Hans is resolutely distancing herself from the take-makewaste economy which is wreaking havoc on our planet. REX – made through the process of injection moulding using recycled nylon and PA6 (a thermoplastic used for fishing and cargo nets, office furniture and other industrial waste) –comes with a guaranteed refund of €20. If the chair no longer suits your taste or shows too much wear and tear for your liking (though it’s built to last a lifetime), you can simply bring it back. REX has been lauded with numerous awards (including this year’s Green Product Award) and is part of the collection of five museums (Vitra Design Museum Weil am Rhein, Neue Sammlung München, Design Museum Ghent, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and Museum Boijmans van Beuningen Rotterdam). We spoke with Hans, who currently divides her time be-

tween Arnhem and Berlin, where she is professor of Design and Social Context at the University of Arts in Berlin.

Last October REX won the Dutch Design Awards. Can you tell us more about the chair?

I actually designed REX back in 2011 as a product from recycled materials, but production problems meant it never really got off the ground. The company involved saw it only as a concept project and never invested in proper tools for production. This turned out to be a big mistake when the chair won awards and was requested for major projects. By then, the financial crisis meant that they did not have the budgets to invest in the proper moulds. Luckily, the design was picked up by Circuform (a Dutch label that only produces industrially designed, circular furniture) and relaunched in September 2021. As a start-up, the three of us [including Circuform founders Sander van Doorn and

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Newly designed moulds to produce chairs with lowest possible ecological impact.

Richard Westerhof] were able to produce and market the chair as I had originally intended, adding an extra layer to it: the deposit system.

These days, furniture isn’t always used for long. People will get rid of something simply because they don’t like the colour anymore. REX can be returned to designated collection points when you no longer want it. If the chair is still usable, we’ll clean it or even repair it. If it’s in really poor condition, we’ll shred it and use the materials for a new production.

When you think of plastic, however, sustainability isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.

Ten years ago, approximately 8% of all plastic was recycled. These days it’s only 18%, meaning there’s still a lot of material that isn’t used. It gets thrown away and burnt. We have been producing plastic

since 1862. The first plastics were biobased [for example celluloid, made from plant cellulose and camphor] and used for luxury objects that were made to last. After the 1960s, however, plastic became a throw-away material. It’s shocking, but 50% of the plastic produced in the past 160 years was made after the year 2000. This has a lot to do with our consumption patterns and the demand for plastic in things like food packaging.

It also has a lot to do with the way plastic is designed. If you’re only willing to spend €10 on a poorly made plastic chair, you can’t expect it to last long.

Is the chair comfortable?

Yes! It consists of two parts [the backrest and the seat and legs] and is therefore quite flexible, making it suitable for people of all shapes and sizes. It’s also stackable and comes with or without armrests.

Basically, REX was designed as a proper chair and can be used in many different settings, such as in project environments, canteens and at your kitchen table.

In order to make REX’s concept clearer, we did a photo series [with visual artist and photographer Annegien van Doorn] explaining its circular aspect to the general public in a fun way and showing that it’s more than just another ordinary chair.

Have you considered applying this concept to other types of furniture?

Yes, however, this requires a considerable amount of organisation. To give you an example, we don’t sell the chair in countries where we don’t have the guarantee that it can be returned. It also depends a lot on the materials. For REX, we use a mono-material, which makes things easier. When you’re making furniture using various materials, it becomes more com-

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plicated. But this is definitely an example of how we can do things in the future.

Let’s talk about your career a little. How did your interest in design come about?

It started at a very early age. When I was a child, during school holidays, I was always making new plans for my room and thinking about moving all the furniture around. I would make all kinds of drawings and then ask my dad if he could build those things for me. (Laughs) Back then I had no idea this was actually called ‘design’.

Soon after starting art school, I switched to design. I really like to think about people and how they use things, or how the world changes, and how you can adapt to these new contexts with furniture and products.

Besides REX, is there something in your work that particularly stands out?

I’ve always been very interested in looking at how society changes and working with new materials and new ways of production. In 1997, I was already making furniture with recycled plastic and people were more focused on it being quite handy and sturdy than on its circularity. So the perception has changed. The furniture I made back then was already quite well received. I’ve always been interested in how you can use materials as efficiently as possible, and with as little waste as possible.

How do you think your work has evolved in the last few decades?

Things have become much more complex. I’m very interested in the context in which objects have to perform and how I, as a designer, can help by changing production or selling methods.

What inspires you?

Everyday things, or the way people behave. Fifty years ago, for instance, people were still sitting down to dinner at the table, whereas now they’re eating while watching TV or series online. You can also design with those changes in mind. When women got married, they were gifted a set of cutlery with 12 forks, knives and spoons. That’s not the norm anymore, which means that the whole cutlery indus-

try has also had to rethink what they’re doing. I find these changes, the anthropological aspect, extremely interesting.

What does the future have in store for Ineke Hans?

I’ve been banging on doors for the last 12 or 15 years and talked to so many companies, insisting that we look at the production of furniture and products in a

different way. It’s great to see how REX has been picked up so much, and to realise that perhaps it is possible to do things differently. I hope that what we’ve done with REX can evolve and that this will be my path, not only as a designer, but also keeping in mind what the world of products should look like. I would like to actually contribute something and not just ‘make’.

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The chair can be returned locally for a guaranteed deposit of 20 euros.
Discover Benelux | Editorial Feature | Plastic Fishing for a Clean Future 46  |  Issue 79 | June 2023

Plastic fishing for a clean future

Beneath the beauty of our waters lies an unfortunate reality: a growing tide of plastic waste. This pollution crisis endangers marine life, disrupts ecosystems and contaminates vital water resources. Luckily, it’s being met with a wave of bold and diverse initiatives targeting this global challenge – and they certainly don’t lack ingenuity!

Walking along the picturesque canals of Amsterdam, one might spot small boats filled with cheerful people wielding landing fishing nets, trying to fish out something from the water. Instead of catching fish, however, they only seem to catch trash. Yet, rest assured, they were not looking for fish in the first place! These are the boats of the Plastic Whale company, the first professional plastic fishing company in the world. Based in the Netherlands, Plastic Whale is an innovative company determined to make a difference in the world and inspire others to do the same.

Stop talking. Let’s start doing! Global issues generate a lot of discussions, and that’s not a bad thing, because we have to first talk about problems in order to fix them. However, if no action is taken, nothing will change. The founder of Plastic Whale, Marius Smit, knows this

well, and that’s why he chose “Stop talking. Let’s start doing!” as the company’s motto. He also came up with an original idea to tackle the plastic soup issue: plastic fishing.

Every big dream starts with a small step, and that’s how it started with the Plastic Whale, too: a challenge to build a boat out of plastic waste, in 2011. That boat was built, and more followed over the years. Nowadays, Plastic Whale is a social enterprise with a mission – a plastic-free land and sea, worldwide. Its mission is to raise awareness about the plastic issue, educate people and help them take action. It achieves this by organising plastic fishing events in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, land cleanups and workshops. Companies are the key participants in these actions, partnering with Plastic Whale for team building or volunteer days.

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Many tourists contribute to keeping the beloved canals free of plastic every year as well, and everyone can participate in the two public events organised the day after King’s Day and the day after the Pride Canal Parade, when the canal waters are the most polluted. On those occasions, the plastic bounty is impressive. Plastic Whale thinks children can be their most important ambassadors for a cleaner future. That is why The Plastic Whale Foundation was born, a non-profit developing free educational programmes for primary schools and organising cool cleanups for children. In 2022 alone, 4,287 schoolchildren came on board for plastic fishing!

From floating plastic bottles to the conference room

Some might wonder how big of an impact these fishing trips can have. Sceptics

would say that this is only a drop in the ocean, and that solving the plastic issues takes more than just a few enthusiasts collecting plastic bottles. That might be

true, but the primary goal of these activities is not to clean the entire plastic from the canals; it’s to raise awareness on a larger scale. The more people get educat-

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No bottle left behind. From trash to treasure.

ed about the issue and get involved, the bigger the chances to clean the waters of plastic waste and keep them clean.

The stats regarding the quantity of collected plastic are not negligible and indicate the impact of these actions: In 2022, Plastic Whale removed 25,834 PET bottles and 6,530 bags of trash from nature and had 14,417 people on board to fish for plastic.

Collecting so much plastic is an achievement in itself, but Plastic Whale didn’t stop there. Instead of relying on others to recycle this plastic, they took matters into their own hands and partnered with Vepa, a sustainable office furniture manufacturer, to transform the plastic bottles into special design objects. The collect-

ed plastic was used to build boats (like the ones that are used for the fishing trips) and office furniture. Inspired by the amazing shape of the whale, the furniture was designed by LAMA Concepts, and it brings an ocean vibe into the conference rooms. The table imitates a surfacing whale, the chairs remind of the flipping tail while lamps are like the barnacles on the skin.

Every action count, and every innovative idea matters in the long journey to clean our waters of plastic debris. And while there is still a long way to go, maybe if more people get involved in this mission, the journey might prove to be a shorter one. Together, we can transform our oceans and pave the way for a sustainable and thriving future for all living beings.

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Fishing for plastic is fun.
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There is too much plastic in the waters.

Uncovering the Ghent Altarpiece

For more than 500 years, the Ghent Altarpiece has been the subject of mystery, a holder of secrets and a pivotal work in the history of art. It also holds the dubious honour of being the most stolen work of art, with everyone from Napoleon to the Nazis claiming it for themselves.

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Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, Van Eyck, Saint-Bavo’s Cathedral, Photo: Dominique Provost.

For all the drama, amazingly, the entire altarpiece is only missing one panel, and a copy exists to make it complete. Now, for more than 10 years, restoration work has been painstakingly performed on the entire altarpiece, leading to the discovery of some forgotten secrets, though other secrets remain shrouded. While the restoration work is not the first attempt, it is the most extensive and has made use of the latest in technology to give restorers and art historians a new understanding of what is considered to be one of the most influential works in the Western World.

Pivotal work

The Ghent Altarpiece, also known as the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb for the primary panel, was constructed and painted by the brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck and finished in 1432. No other attributable work by Hubert is known, but his younger brother Jan is one of the most highly respected Early Netherlandish artists, shepherding in the Northern European Renaissance with his skill with oil paint.

The altarpiece is one of the first major oil paintings and helped herald the shift of art from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. As well as the change in paint medium

–tempera and other faster-drying paints were previously used – there’s a greater focus on portraying a more naturalistic world, with recognisable flora, softer drapery and more realistic bodies, compared to the flat, angular depictions of the previous Byzantine period.

Open and closed

Consisting of 12 interior and 12 exterior panels, the altarpiece is incredibly large, measuring approximately 4.6 x 3.5 metres when open. However, the altarpiece

would only be opened, typically on feast days. When open, the altarpiece is divided into two horizontal registers. The top central register is a Deësis, a typical Byzantine element with God or Christ in the centre, with the Virgin Mary on the left and John the Baptist on the right. The upper register is completed with further flanking panels of musical angels and, finally, Adam and Eve at the ends after they have been cast out of Eden. The lower register has the primary panel with the adoration of the mystic lamb, the fountain of youth before it and groupings of saints, martyrs, church figures and prophets spread out on each side. The Just Judges and the Knights of Christ fill out the rest of the lower register panels. It is the Just Judges panel on the left that is the only non-original piece. It was stolen in 1934 and never recovered, but a copy by a Belgian art restorer (and art forger) was produced to create the complete altarpiece.

When closed, there are 12 smaller panels with lunettes of prophets and sibyls at the top, above a depiction of the annunciation, and below are paintings of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, in the centre, flanked by larger-than-life, but realistic portraits of the donors, Joost Vijd (a wealthy merchant and mayor of Ghent) and his wife Lysbette Borluut.

Restoration then and now

The first restoration of the altarpiece was conducted in 1550, roughly 125 years after the painting was completed. One of

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Restorer Saint-Bavo’s Cathedral Ghent © Art in Flanders vzw. Photo: KIK-IRPA
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Restoration Saint-Bavo’s Cathedral Ghent © Art in Flanders vzw. Photo: KIK-IRPA
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Closed Ghent Altarpiece, Van Eyck, Saint-Bavo’s Cathedral, Photo: Dominique Provost.

the people involved in the restoration was Jan van Scorel, a famous artist in his own right and personal artist to the only Dutch pope, Adrian VI. However, the restoration had some setbacks as the cleaning process resulted in damage to the padella, the illustrated base of the frame.

Another restoration was done in 1823 during which an inscription was discovered that stated the names of the donors, the date completed, and who created the altarpiece. Hubert van Eyck was described as “greater than anyone”, having started the altarpiece, but he died before it was completed, and his brother, Jan van Eyck, listed himself as “second best in art”. After a great deal of study by historians and restorers, it is now believed that this inscription was a loving tribute from Jan to his older brother.

Another restoration took place in 1950, after the altarpiece was recovered from the Austrian salt mines in which it was stored at one point during WWII, as various Nazi officials – including Hitler and Göring – tried to lay claim to it. The recovery after the war is even mentioned in The Monuments Men film (2014). Between the extensive travel done to protect it and the storage in the salt mines, there was significant damage.

Finally, in 2010, a study was conducted that determined there was the need to remove the yellowing varnish and adjust some of the colours from previous retouches. The work first began in 2012 and continues in phases, with individual panels restored one at a time to allow the work to remain on display. In addition, an exhibit hall at The Museum of Fine Art in Ghent was turned into a conservation studio designed to protect the restoration work, but with large windows so that visitors can see the work in progress.

Advanced imaging techniques and new mathematical techniques have been used to reverse the effects of ageing and determine what is original and what is overpainting. The use of macrophotography, infrared macrophotography, infrared reflectography and X-radiography have provided new insights into the painting of the altarpiece and the extent of overpainting.

They discovered that some panels had more than 70% overpainting. Even the face of the Lamb of God was changed considerably. It was overpainted to create a more natural-looking lamb, but it was discovered that van Eyck intentionally painted a more humanoid face, with forward-facing eyes that look to the viewer. This was a typical stylistic choice in the Middle Ages,

particularly as the Lamb of God is a representation of Christ, and the more human and intense gaze further strengthens the correlation between the sacrificial lamb and Christ. Though the appearance may be disturbing to contemporary viewers, it would have been understood and accepted when painted in the 1400s.

The removal of the overpainting was able to be done because the original varnish served as a barrier to the later painting, so with solvents and scalpels and painstaking work, the altarpiece is slowly returning to its original glory and iconography.

The majority of the altarpiece has now been restored and has been returned to its original home in St. Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent. Though originally housed in the donor’s Vijd Chapel, it now makes its home in the Villa Chapel, which is larger, enabling more visitors. However, the altarpiece is housed within a climate-controlled, bullet-proof glass display case. A special website called Closer to Van Eyck has also been developed with high-resolution images of the altarpiece, including the various infrared and X-ray images, to allow everyone a chance to get up close and personal with this iconic altarpiece that has captured the interest of so many throughout the centuries.

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Lamb of God, (before and after) Saint-Bavo’s Cathedral Ghent © Art in Flanders vzw. Photo: KIK-IRPA
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Ghent Altarpiece, Van Eyck, Saint-Bavo’s Cathedral, Photo: Dominique Provost.
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Mont des Arts. Photo: Unsplash

Welcome to Brussels!

If you’re planning a trip to the Belgian capital, the following pages will provide valuable information on everything from when to go and how to get there, to practicing proper etiquette when dealing with the Bruxellois. We’ve also listed interesting places to visit and some of the city’s must-try culinary delights (because there’s more to Brussels than waffles and chocolate)! Plus, you’ll get to meet two of the city’s biggest icons – Jacques Brel and Manneken Pis. On y va!

Discover Benelux | Special Theme | Welcome to Brussels!
Photo: Unsplash Mont des Arts. Photo: © Visit Brussels - Jean-Paul Remy Grand Place. Photo: Milo Profi

Allow us to point out some easy ways to get more out of your city trip to Brussels. When should you go? What’s the best way to get there? Where should you stay? Which items are indispensable in your luggage? There is so much to see in Brussels, so don’t waste your valuable city-tripping time on figuring it all out on the spot.

When to go?

Let’s face it: Brussels isn’t exactly an exotic, sunny paradise. In fact, the weather is pretty much the same as in the United Kingdom, if a tad drier. To increase your odds of having a sunny stay, late spring or

Before you go

summer are the times to go. From April on, the temperatures are mild and the number of rainy days decreases. In July and August, the temperatures can climb up to 25 degrees – or even a rare 30 degrees, if you’re lucky. If you go between September and April, you might want to wear a warm coat and bring an umbrella. These are just statistics, though. The weather in Brussels is always a Russian roulette – you can never be sure what to expect.

What to pack?

Besides warm, waterproof clothes (if you go in winter), you’d better bring some cash with you. While supermarkets, res-

taurants and major shops almost always accept card payments, smaller purchases often have to be made in cash. Of course, the city counts ATMs aplenty, so you can withdraw money anywhere you want. Brussels is easy to walk through, so hiking boots are not strictly necessary. Avoid entering the historic centre on stilettos, though. Its cobbled streets make it a high-heel nightmare.

What to book?

Brussels isn’t overly touristy, so booking your visits in advance is usually not required. Only a guided visit to the European institutions requires a reservation.

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Saint Mary’s Royal Church. Photo: Pixabay

When going for dinner, however, we advise you to book a table in advance, at least if you’ve got your mind set on a specific place. Belgians eat around 7pm, so by then, it can be hard to find a vacant table anywhere. If you want to go to a concert, play or sports event, check in advance whether a reservation is necessary.

How to get there?

Brussels is easy to reach by plane, as most British and European international airports have at least one daily connection with Brussels Airport. Moreover, flights are usually very cheap. If you are lucky, you can get to Brussels for 20 euros or less. If you want to travel by train, you can take the intercity from Amsterdam (3 hours), the Thalys from Amsterdam (2 hours) or Paris (1.30 hours), the Eurostar from Amsterdam (2 hours) or London (2 hours), the ICE from Cologne (1.45 hours) and Frankfurt (3 hours), or the night train from Innsbruck (15 hours) or Vienna (14 hours).

Where to stay?

As a genuine business centre, Brussels counts numerous affordable business hotels. If you crave a bit more luxury, lush places like Steigenberger Wiltcher (from €179) and The Hotel – where Barack

Obama used to stay when he came to Brussels – (from €112) are great options. If you search a bit, you will also discover that the city counts plenty of well-hidden boutique hotels and charming bed and breakfasts – both wallet-friendly.

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Brussels Airport. Photo: Visit.Flanders
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Grand Place. Photo: Pixabay
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Galeries Saint-Hubert. Photo: Unsplash Place Poelaert. Photo: Milo Profi

Brussels for beginners

As a tourist on a visit to Brussels, you share the city with its locals. Therefore, it is only right to try to blend in, get acquainted with the local customs and habits, and understand the peculiarities that give the metropole its unique vibe.

Belgian traffic

Belgium is a small country with a lot of cars. When on the road, you might get stuck in traffic quite frequently. In the city centre, the many traffic lights, the pedestrian zones and the lack of affordable parking spots make it unattractive to move by car. In the suburbs, the big ring road is home to many a traffic jam as well, especially in the morning and around 5pm. An easy way to avoid getting stuck is to opt for public transport. Train, metro and tram are ideal, but also

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Mont des Arts. Photo: Visit.Flanders Photo: Pixabay

the buses and taxis can save you time as they have priority on the highways. Note that services like Uber do not offer this benefit.

The Brussels Capital Region is a low emission zone. Check on if your car is still allowed to enter the city and its suburbs.

Proper etiquette

Tipping? Don’t! Service is always included on your bill in Belgium. In a more up-market establishment, you might want to simply round up the total. Otherwise, you only tip if the service or food was really extraordinary.

Being late? Don’t! Belgians are quite punctual, and they will expect the same from you. If you have a reservation or an appointment, try to arrive on time. If you arrive over 15 minutes late without notifying the other person, it is considered very rude. Ironically, public transport in Belgium is often far from punctual, so if you arrive five minutes late at the station, chances are you can still catch your train.

Smoking? Do – where appropriate! Belgium is not a country of smokers. As such, you can hardly ever smoke inside. Restaurants, bars and other public places are strictly off limits. Some establishments might have designated smoking areas, but waiters are not allowed to serve food there, so you’ll have to pick up your plates and drinks at the bar.

SOS Belgium

Hopefully, once back home, you’ll find that reading this part turned out to be a complete waste of time. Yet, should something go wrong during your stay in Brussels, you’d better know where to go for help.

Like in the rest of continental Europe, the general emergency number is 112. If you call this line, they can help you in Dutch, French, German or English. For ambulance, police or the fire brigade, this is the number to call. Regarding moderately urgent health issues, you can go to the nearest doctor or hospital. On evenings, weekends or public holidays, you can consult the on-duty doctor (find out which on A general consul-

tation with a doctor will cost you about €25. If tests or procedures have to be done, this can be more expensive. If you have an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card), you’ll be refunded the difference between what you’ve paid and what you would have paid for the same procedure in your home EU country. As a European citizen, having private travel insurance is not strictly required when visiting Belgium.

Belgium has both a federal and a local police force. The former, you will only meet when at the airport. The latter is divided into 185 jurisdictions, each with a proper office. If you need police assistance in the city of Brussels, you can find their office close to Grand Place (Rue du Marché au Charbon 30).

If your passport gets stolen or for any other reason you need to reach your country’s authorities, you can head to the British (Avenue d’Auderghem 10) or American consulate (Boulevard du Régent 27). Most other nations have a consulate or embassy in the European capital as well.

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Metro. Photo: Unsplash
Discover Benelux | Special Theme | Welcome to Brussels!
Drug Opera. Photo: Unsplash
Discover Benelux | Special Theme | Welcome to Brussels!
Mont des Arts.
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Photo: Visit.Flanders

A first impression

Arriving in a cultural melting pot like Brussels can be a bit overwhelming. Luckily, there are a few spots in Brussels that lend themselves perfectly to acting as starting points to give you a warm welcome to the city. This way, you can take the edge off your city-tripping appetite as soon as you have dropped your bags at your hotel.

Shopping in and around the city

If it is shopping that you are after, you’ve got plenty of places to go. For high-street brands, head for Rue Neuve or one of

the nearby shopping centres: City 2 and Anspach Shopping Centre. Another lovely shopping paradise is the brand-new Docks Bruxsel. Here, you’ll find your regular high-street fashion brands, as well as the White Cinema: a theatre entirely designed in bright white and fluorescent purple, as if it were a Star Wars spaceship. Unfortunately, this mall is a bit further away from the centre. For designer brands, Avenue Louise is the place to go. Along this busy avenue, you’ll find household names such as Chanel and Louis Vuitton, as well as outlets of Belgian de-

sign heroes like Natan. If you are in the mood for some perusing and strolling, try Marché Aux Herbes and Rue des Fripiers, which are packed with adorable, fun shops.

Rue Neuve, City 2, Anspach Shopping Centre, Marché Aux Herbes and Rue des Fripiers are all close to Plaçe de la Monnaie (De Brouckere, metro 1 and 5). Avenue Louise is on metros 2 and 6, and Docks Bruxsel on tram lines 3 and 7.Shops are usually open from 10am to 6pm.

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The medieval heart


Îlot Sacré, or ‘the Holy Islet’, as it could be translated, is a maze of medieval alleys and streets that form the most picture-perfect neighbourhood in the entire city. It only covers about eight streets and a handful of galleries, yet most tourist snapshots are taken right here. In the 1950s, when tourism in Brussels started to pick up, plenty of restaurants opened up here, all serving the legendary Belgian classics that foreigners like so much. The famous Rue de Bouchers in particular is a tourist hotbed. It is, therefore, hardly a surprise that Îlot Sacré isn’t the place where you get the best value for your buck. Yet, a walk through its streets is an absolute must. Deep inside the maze of streets, you’ll find Jeanneke Pis, the better half of the city’s iconic peeing statue (see page 74). This fountain of a peeing girl was placed here in 1987 by the restaurant owners in a quirky attempt to lure more tourists to their establishments.

Îlot Sacré can be entered through the majestic Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert or through one of the many alleys that enter the ‘islet’ from Marché Aux Herbes, Rue des Fripiers or Rue de l’Ecuyer (De Brouckere or Gare Centrale, metro 1 and 5). From the central Rue de Bouchers, you can enter most of the neighbourhood’s side alleys.

Visit a brewery


Think about Belgium, and you’ll likely think about beer. A visit to Brussels is, therefore, not complete without a tipple or two. To fully immerse yourself in the country’s centuries-old brewing culture, visit one of the traditional breweries. Brussels counts plenty of them, but most famous is the Cantillon brewery, the specialities of which are its iconic lambic, its sweet Kriek and Framboise, and plenty of other great brews. On Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays, you can join a 1.5-hour-long tour in English – but this excursion must be booked in advance.

It takes you through the brewing halls, explains the path from barley to beer, and finishes with a tasting of the exquisite brews. At other days and times, you can visit the brewery on your own.

Rue Gheude 56 (Anderlecht) (Clemenceau, metro 2 and 6). €9.50 including guide and tasting; €7 for a self-guided visit (discounts available). Guided tours in English are available on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays (timetables vary, see website). Self-guided visits are possible from Mondays through Saturdays (with the exception of Wednesdays) from 10am to 4pm.

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Rue des Bouchers. Photo: © - Jean-Paul Remy Jeanneke Pis. Photo: Pixabay Moeder Lambic.
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Photo: Visit Flanders

Textbook authenticity and charm MAROLLEN

Like in most cities, modernisation, gentrification and globalisation have had their effect on Brussels’ so-called ‘couleur locale’. Luckily, one iconic neighbourhood resisted these external influences and is still inhabited by a colourful mix of authentic Bruxellois: the Marollen. Since the Middle Ages, this area has been drenched in authenticity. To date, the central Place du Jeu de Balle fills with salesmen every morning, all aiming to sell their merchandise at the popular flea market. If you want to buy antiques after 2pm, you can still roam the Marollen’s streets, as they are packed with ‘brocanteries’ and peruse-worthy antique shops. If you speak French or Dutch, you will also notice that the locals speak a tongue of their own, somewhere halfway between the city’s official idioms. This peculiar language is one of the last remaining Brussels dialects.

Enter the district from the north-west (Bruxelles-Chapelle or Bruxelles-midi, most NMBS-SNCB trains pass here) or from the south-east (Louise, Porte de Hal and Hôtel des Monnaies, metro 2 and 6). Flea market daily from 6am to 2pm (to 3pm on weekends).

The best view in town MONT DES ARTS

If there is one panorama in the city that you just can’t miss, it is that of Mont des Arts. This stunning view (which also adorns this weekend guide’s cover), is the perfect place for watching the sun rise, set or just shine upon the city. Centrally, you’ll see the neo-gothic tower of the city hall, and in the distance, you’ll spot the Koekelberg Basilica. Besides its stunning view, Mont des Arts is also known for its lush flower beds and the regal statue of King Albert I on his horse. Every hour, you can also enjoy the music of the carillon, which is hidden behind the giant clock that adorns the right-handside gate to the hill. In the evening, you’ll hear many a jazz musician play the saxophone in the park.

(Bruxelles-Central or Parc, metro 1 and 6 or NMBS-SNCB train.) Accessible 24/7.

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Shopping, EDA. Photo: © - Eric Danhier

Culinary Brussels

A popular saying suggests that Belgian cuisine combines the quality of the French kitchen with the quantities of the German one. Expect plenty of finger-licking-good dishes that leave you satisfied for days. So, don’t leave any treat unsampled or dish unfinished this weekend. There is no better souvenir to take home from Brussels than a few extra kilogrammes.

Carbonade Flamande

Unlike what its name suggests, carbonade Flamande (or, Flemish stew) is enjoyed in all corners of Belgium. It is a slow-cooked beef stew with dark beer, bay leaves and thyme. During the cooking process, you add a slice of bread with mustard or a slice of gingerbread to the mixture as well. Enjoy with a side of fries with mayonnaise. You can try this dish in a sit-down restaurant as well as in most ‘friteries’.


No marriage is as tasty as that between mussels and fries. The two seem made for each other and form a wildly popular dish in Belgian restaurants and taverns. Every year, between 25 and 30 tonnes are eaten in Belgium alone. The mussels are served from July until April, come in a typical, black mussel pot, and are traditionally cooked in a broth of celery and other vegetables. Many restaurants also serve varieties with white wine sauce, garlic, or ‘à la crème’.


Sure, you can eat steak with chips anywhere you go. Yet, most Belgians will tell you that this is the most Belgian dish of them all. Crispy fries, quality mayonnaise and béarnaise sauce (a sauce of egg yolks, butter, vinegar and herbs) form a perfect harmony on this finger-licking-good plate. Béarnaise is in fact French but is consid-

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PHOTOS: VISIT FLANDERS Moules-frites. Carbonade Flamande.

ered by the Belgians to be their very own. Note that, in Belgium, they express the desired doneness of the meat by the French names: bleu (rare), saignant (medium-rare), à point (medium) and bien cuit (well done).


This velvety chicken-meatball-mushroom stew is a popular dish that many Belgians prepare themselves. It is usually served in a little puff pastry cup with – you guessed it –fries! While the dish is usually referred to as ‘vol-au-vent’, this is actually just the name of the pastry. The ragout inside is called ‘vidée’ or ‘fricassee’. This dish also goes great with potato croquettes – just in case you are tired of fries already.

Brussels sprouts

To some, they are a delicacy, and to others the devil in disguise. Few vegetables are as polarising as these little green cabbages. In Belgium, however, people have been eating them ever since the 13th century, 600 years before the country was even founded. To date, they remain a strong symbol of the city. If you spot sprout stickers on buildings, mailboxes or

benches in Brussels, they are likely from Sprout to be Brussels, a positive citizens’ initiative that was founded shortly after the terrorist attacks in Brussels in 2016.


Potatoes, vegetables and a bit of cream, all mashed together – that’s how simple a Belgian classic can be! Usually, this dish

is prepared with carrots, but it can also be done with broccoli, cabbage, leeks or other vegetables. Belgians typically complement it with a sausage and a spoon of Belgian pickle sauce or mustard.

Chicon au gratin

As white chicory is almost exclusively produced in Belgium and the Netherlands,

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Chicon au gratin.
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both countries harvest them in high quantities and export them to all corners of the world. In Belgium, it is wrapped in ham, covered in a bechamel sauce, cover them in grated cheese and bake them in the oven. The subtle flavours of the sauce and the ham go great with the bitter, sharp taste of the vegetable, making it a simply amazing meal.


Even on the other side of the world, waffles are referred to with the ‘Belgian’ prefix. And that’s despite the fact that Belgium counts numerous different kinds of waffles. The traditional ‘gaufre de Bruxelles’ is very big and light and usually served in tea rooms and restaurants with a scoop of ice cream. The waffle you might pick up at a stand in the city centre is likely a ‘gaufre de Liège’. This is heavier, sweeter and far more popular. If you’re up for a sugar rush, add some fruit, cream, Nutella, chocolate or other sweets to it.


Belgian chocolates might be a tad pricy, but they are worth every penny once you discover their sweet fillings. As Forest Gump used to say: “Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna to get.” So, when at the chocolaterie, dare to make a selection of the chocolates that appeal most to you, without asking the salesman what’s inside. This way, eating them will prove to be a real adventure.

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Sprouts. Photo: Unsplash
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There are two sorts of tourists: those who consider a stroll past Manneken Pis the highlight of their trip, and those who want to avoid the little peeing boy at all costs. Which type are you? We list the pros and cons of Brussels’ bronze icon so that you can figure out whether to pass by or not.

What we like about Manneken Pis

Like Paris’ Mona Lisa and Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid, Manneken Pis (Dutch for ‘little peeing boy’) is infamous for its humble size. No matter how much you prepare yourself for it, you will likely be shocked by how small the statue is. This fact alone makes hanging around by the iconic corner to look at all the surprised faces amusing indeed. Furthermore, Manneken Pis has a great story – or, stories! One heroic tale states that Brussels was about to be blown up by its enemy but that a little boy managed to pee on the fuse and prevent the catastrophe. More likely, however, the statue was a salute to the city’s tanners, who used the urine of small children to make their leather soft. But the funniest thing about Manneken Pis is that he is dressed

Manneken pis

up for every special occasion. Whether it’s the national holiday of a faraway country or a local folklore festival, Manneken Pis always wears a fitting ensemble. His outfit schedule can be found at the gate in front of the statue. In total, Manneken Pis has more than 1,000 outfits, 133 of which you can discover at Garderobe MannekenPis, a museum just around the corner.

What we dislike about Manneken Pis

As fun as watching the disappointed grins on the faces of tourists can be, the disappointment of arriving at Manneken Pis yourself is sobering to say the least. With its 58 centimetres, there is not much to look at; you might have seen enough of it after just a few seconds. Another disadvantage of the spot is that it is often packed with tourists. Brussels usually isn’t a very touristy city, but at the corner of Manneken Pis, there are always picture-taking visitors aplenty. This fact is even more surprising, and indeed sobering, if you know that it isn’t even the real Manneken Pis you are staring it. Over the years, the statue has been stolen many times, sometimes by students just for a

few hours, and other times by burglars and political enemies. In 1965, it was decided that the original would be replaced by a replica, and the number of thefts has diminished ever since. To see the original statue, visit Maison du Roi. Here, you can still spot the original little guy.

On the corner of Rue de l’Etuve and Rue du Chêne (Bourse, trams 3, 4 and 32).

What to do instead?

What many tourists don’t realise is that Brussels is the home of an entire Pis dynasty. Besides Manneken Pis, you can also visit his girlfriend, Jeanneke Pis, and his loyal canine Zinneke. The former is a fountain as well and hidden in the heart of Ilôt Sacrée (see page 68). The latter can be spotted near Saint Gery, at the crossing of Rue du Vieux Marché aux Grains and Rue des Chartreux. Zinneke isn’t a fountain, but simply a bronze statue of a dog peeing against a traffic bollard. Rumour has it that it embodies the Bruxellois’ ‘I don’t care’ attitude.

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Jacques Brel –Belgian superstar

Anyone who has ever seen a video of Jacques Brel singing – or anyone lucky enough to have seen him live – will surely have been captivated by the raw emotion of his vocals. Tears in his eyes, perspiration on his brow and his voice breaking with sadness, elevate his performance of Ne Me Quitte Pas to the realms of the sublime.

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L’Envol, the statue of Brel by sculptor Tom Frantzen on Place de la Vieille Halle aux Blés. Photo: © Visit Brussels
Issue 79 | June 2023

Brel was a man the world listened to.

His was a journey through the richness and beauty of French chanson; to discover Brel was to discover a powerful tradition that meandered via the works of Piaf and Montand, rocked to the rebelliousness of Hallyday and Dutronc and culminated in the ballads of Jean Jacques Goldman.

Many assume Brel was French, but they assume wrong. He was a Brussels boy (born and bred) and another one of Belgium’s most famous exports, along with great chocolate and great beer.

The Brussels of Jacques Brel

Any illusions about possible French origins are surely put to rest when you arrive at Place de la Vieille Halle aux Blés in central Brussels and set eyes on L’Envol, the statue of Brel by sculptor Tom Frantzen. The amazing larger-than-life bronze depicts

Brel singing with arms outstretched, holding his audience captivated by his passionate, often bawdy, sometimes humorous lyrics. It is a must-see for any Brel fan.

Just a minute’s walk away across the square, the Brel Foundation is home to a permanent exhibition of the artist’s work, including photos, news reports, and many examples of his writing and music. You can also watch his final concert at L’Olympia, Paris, captured on film in 1966, as well as interviews and documentaries. His daughter France introduces some of the exhibits, and she hosts regular talks about her father and his music. It’s well worth spending an afternoon here, looking at photos and listening to Brel’s music, not to mention that of the artists he inspired – the foundation holds an astonishing 80 foreign language versions of Ne Me Quitte Pas and Quand On N’a Que l’Amour alone!

In the footsteps of an icon

Whether you’re a devoted Brel fan or a novice, discovering his intensity for the first time, the profound sadness and joy of his songs, his risqué lyrics and sublime poetry, no trip to Brussels can be complete without seeing the city through his eyes.

Brel was born and grew up in Schaerbeek, north-east Brussels, moving to Paris when he was 24 years old. You can stroll down the streets of his youth, visiting the bars and cafés he frequented, in the company of a guided audio walk from the Brel Foundation.

Depending on your schedule, walks range from 1hr15 to 2hr40, but take the opportunity to stop and savour the sights as well as the beer, as you soak up images of bygone Brussels in the company of one of its most famous sons.

Discover Benelux | Editorial | Jacques Brel – Belgian Superstar
Photo: Rob Mieremet, Anefo
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Photo: Joop van Bilsen, Anefo

Essential bio

Brel was born in Brussels on 8 April 1929. Though not particularly academic, he showed a talent for writing and acting. He started work in the family cardboard packaging business in 1947 and began his national service the following year.

His destiny lay in songwriting and singing, however, and he started performing live at La Rose Noire in Brussels in 1953. A record deal with Philips Records followed, and his first record, Il y a was released the same year.

A move to Paris ensued, and the live gigs continued with performances at L’Ecluse, Les Trois Baudets and L’Olympia. He released his first album, Jacques Brel et Ses Chansons, in 1954. He had his first big hit in November 1956 with Quand On N’a Que l’Amour, which reached number three in the French charts.

Brel married Thérèse Michielsen in 1950. The couple had three daughters: Chantal, France and Isabelle. Though his family joined him in Paris in 1955, they returned to Belgium in 1958, leaving Brel behind.

He recorded his album La Valse A Mille Temps, which included Ne Me Quitte Pas in 1959 and No.5 (containing Marieke and Le Moribond) in 1961. Signing to record company Barclay in 1962, releases includ-

ed Les Bourgeois (1962), Ces Gens-Là (1966), Jacques Brel ’67 and J’Arrive (1968).

After touring extensively, including Europe, the UK and the USA, Brel decided to stop, performing his final concert in Roubaix, France, in 1967.

He continued to record, but his art also took him in new directions. He moved into musical theatre, adapting Man of La Mancha for French audiences (L’Homme de la Mancha) and made his film debut in Les Risques du Métier (1967). He continued to act and direct, appearing in 10 films until 1973.

Brel was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1974. With his health starting to fail, he indulged his passions for sailing and flying, eventually dropping anchor at Hiva Oa in the Marquesas Islands where he lived with his partner, actress Maddly Bamy.

He released his final album – Les Marquises – in 1977 and died in hospital in Bobigny, north of Paris, on 9 October 1978. He was just 49 years old.

Discover Benelux | Editorial | Jacques Brel – Belgian Superstar
Brel is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Atuona, Hiva Oa. Ben van Meerendonk AHF, collectie IISG, Amsterdam
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Photo: © Visit Brussels

Giethoorn: Slowing down in a water-laced Dutch village

Travel writers often describe Giethoorn, a mostly car-free medieval hamlet in the Netherlands’ northeastern Overijssel province, as a “fairytale village”. It’s an apt characterisation of a drowsy town of just 2,800 residents that seems plucked from a Grimm’s fable – a sleeping beauty who wakes up to let down her wavy hair for visitors from around the globe to admire.

TEXT: MELISSA ADAMS | PHOTOS: PIXABAY 80  |  Issue 79 | June 2023

It’s easy to wax poetic about Giethoorn. With its manicured lawns, leafy pathways, 18th-century thatched-roof farmhouses and flower-bedecked bridges, the tiny village midway between Amsterdam and Groningen could be the setting for a romantic fairytale. Boats move along at a snail’s pace here. Waterside dining is

anything but rushed. Window-shoppers amble along on wooden footpaths, idly browsing in boutiques that line the canals. Sure, an aggressive seagull might swoop down to grab a hot French fry from an unsuspecting tourist, but the pace is otherwise chill in a pastoral setting where the loudest sound is sometimes a symphony

of birdsong, with quacking ducks providing percussion.

A network of lakes and 90 kilometres of winding, hand-dug canals replace paved roads in Giethoorn. Named after hundreds of goat horns were discovered in its marshlands – remnants of a 10th-century flood

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–what was established as a settlement of peat harvesters is now a place where time has stopped. Although no animal horns litter the village today, little else has changed in a landscape that can appear primeval on foggy mornings when mist hovers over the waterways or hardy souls skate on frozen canals in the coldest winters.

In this bucolic landscape, even the village postman delivers mail via punt boat – a flat-bottomed vessel powered with a long pole that facilitates navigation through the reeds. Red whisper boats glide noiselessly through lush forests and under private bridges leading to homes built on peat islands, inaccessible by motor vehicle. Powered by eco-friendly electric motors that create none of the clamour of gas-powered outboard models, the craft function as cars do elsewhere, but without noisy horns or road rage.

As the most popular mode of transit in a village with no public trams or buses, whisper boats ferry visitors around Giethoorn’s waterways on narrated tours. Those who want to play captain for a day need neither technical skill nor a license to operate the vessels, which can be rented at many local establishments. Electric-powered sloops are a faster, more luxurious option, with more powerful engines, leather cushions and a steering wheel that makes them easier to control than whisper boats. More adventurous souls can rent canoes, sup boards, and of course, bikes.

Comparisons with Italy’s Venice

Giethoorn’s winding canals have inspired writers to call it Europe’s “Venice of the North”, the same nickname sometimes applied to Amsterdam. While its water-laced setting bears some similarities with its Italian counterpart, Giethoorn’s laid-back vibe is nothing like that of its frenetic cousin in the Adriatic Sea. In place of a pigeon-filled main square, it boasts a relaxed waterfront peppered with cafés, hotels and boat rental agencies. Lacking Renaissance mansions and Gothic palaces, it surprises with centuries-old cottages and wooden bridges. Rather than Byzantine mosaics and a towering bell tower, it seduces with immaculately groomed lawns bursting with

pink hydrangeas and fruit trees dripping with ripe apples and pears.

But like Italy’s Venice, Giethoorn can get crowded, especially on warm days in the height of summer. Since 1958, when Fanfare, a Dutch comedy filmed in Giethoorn, was released, the off-the-beaten-track destination has become increasingly popular. As word of its charms has spread, some one million tourists now descend annually, making Giethoorn one of the Netherlands’ top 10 attractions and tourism its main industry. In summer, many come in organised groups that sometimes crowd the canals in slo-mo bumper-boat games.

Giethoorn is accessible from Amsterdam via trains to Zwolle or Steenwijktrain, then bus 70 from Zwolle or 270 from Steenwijk. However, most visitors arrive by private motor vehicle or organised tour bus, busting the myth that the village is entirely carfree like Venice. Parking is available in lots outside its commercial heart. From these, a five-minute walk along the Binnenpad foot/cycle path leads to restaurants and shops in the car-free centre.

An idyllic destination

Giethoorn is glorious in summer, when temperatures tend to be mild and flow-

ers are in full bloom. Crowds are generally modest in spring and autumn shoulder seasons and minimal in off-season, making it serene for day-trippers willing to risk inclement weather from November through March. Throughout the year, Giethoorn is an idyllic destination for nature lovers, watersports fans and anyone who wants to escape big city buzz and congestion. Set in De Weerribben-Wieden National Park, one of the Netherlands’ top nature reserves, it’s less than two hours from Amsterdam by car but worlds away in spirit.

Beyond boating, window-shopping and outdoor dining, attractions include the Olde Maat Uus Museum, offering a glimpse into the region’s history; De Oude Aarde, featuring bling from around the world, including precious stones, minerals and fossils; and Art Pottery Giethoorn Floramics, a museum and workshop in a centuries-old farmhouse stable.

Whenever you come, an overnight stay at one of Giethoorn’s many hotels, bed & breakfasts or hostels will provide time to see the fairytale village at its best, when the tourist hordes have left and you can join locals for a sunset toast or morning coffee, while watching the boats, ducks and swans glide by.

Discover Benelux | Editorial | Giethoor n: Slowing Down in a Water-Laced Dutch Village
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Discover Benelux | Editorial | Van Gogh and His Food Paintings
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The Potato Eaters (1885), Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

Van Gogh and his food paintings

Though most of us associate Van Gogh with his Sunflowers, Wheatfield with Crows, Starry Night and numerous self-portraits, the artist also produced a variety of food-related paintings. These artworks give us a glimpse into the life of one of the Netherlands’ most renowned artists.


Still-Life with Vegetables and Fruit (1884, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam).

Discover Benelux | Editorial | Van Gogh and His Food Paintings
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Born in the village of Zundert in North Brabant on 30 March 1853, Van Gogh’s career as a painter was relatively short. His oeuvre, however, was vast. Even during his darkest moments, the troubled Dutch artist managed to keep producing emotionally charged paintings that reach straight into the soul with their broad brushstrokes, sentiment and vivid colours. It is hard to believe that during his lifetime Van Gogh only managed to sell but one painting.

Though he showed an interest in art early on, before ever considering a career as a painter, Van Gogh’s calling was to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a

preacher. He was a deeply religious man who firmly believed his main purpose on earth was to serve others, especially the poor. In an effort to unite himself with their suffering, he led a simple life and did not care for worldly luxuries. He studied theology in Amsterdam and worked as a missionary in Belgium, but was neither successful as a student nor as a preacher. Therefore, at the age of 27, he decided to dedicate his life to art, hoping to somehow find solace in this creative profession.

One of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings –not only a brilliant example of his early work, but also of his respect and admiration for modest, hard-working people – is The Potato Eaters. Painted in 1885, the masterpiece shows a group of farmers huddled over a humble meal of potatoes and coffee. With its dark tones of greens, browns and greys, and brusquely painted faces, the monochromatic masterpiece is as austere as it is intriguing. To many, the large ears, fleshy lips and protruding features of those depicted were highly displeasing (if not shocking) and therefore, the painting was not as well-received as Van Gogh had originally hoped. In fact, he was fully convinced that this work would demonstrate his skills as a figure painter and become his first masterpiece. His mission in this creation was also to mythologise how simple people earned a living by working the land. In one of his many letters to his brother Theo, dated 30 April 1885, he wrote that the painting was

Discover Benelux | Editorial | Van Gogh and His Food Paintings
Still-Life with Cabbage and Clogs (1881, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam).
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Self-Portrait (1887), Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

to show how the farmers have “tilled the earth themselves with these hands they are putting in the dish, (...) and that they have thus honestly earned their food.” In a letter written just a few days later, on 2 May, he said the following about the heads of the figures: “I had finished all the heads and even finished them with great care — but I quickly repainted them without mercy, and the colour they’re painted now is something like the colour of a really dusty potato, unpeeled of course.”

Just one year later, while in Paris, he painted what could perhaps be seen as his most appealing potato still-life: StillLife with an Earthen Bowl and Potatoes (Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam). In this painting, we see a fondue pan known as a ‘caquelon’ filled to the brim with ochre-yellow and red potatoes. More potatoes are strewn about, and

Discover Benelux | Editorial | Van Gogh and His Food Paintings
Still-Life with Lemons (spring of 1887, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam).
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Still-Life with an Earthen Bowl and Potatoes (1885, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam).

much like The Potato Eaters, the painting is executed in thick brushstrokes and a dark palette. Similar still-lifes (equally somber in colour) produced during the first half of his artistic career include: Still-Life with Cabbage and Clogs (1881, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam), StillLife with Vegetables and Fruit (1884, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam), Still-Life with an Earthen Bowl and Pears (1885, Centraal Museum, Utrecht) and Still-Life with Apples and Pumpkins (1885, KröllerMüller Museum, Otterlo).

A change was noted in his oeuvre after he moved to Paris at the end of February 1886 and came in contact with leading artists such as Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Seurat and most importantly, Gauguin. He was greatly influenced by their use of vivid tones, and it wasn’t long before colour became one of his main forms of expression. It should come as no surprise then, that some of his most colourful (food) compositions were produced in Paris just a year later in 1887. One thing, though, remained the same – the simplic-

ity of the composition. A wonderful example of this development is his Still-Life with Lemons (spring of 1887, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam). Five lemons are

seen on a simple white plate set on a table covered with a light-blue tablecloth. Upon closer inspection, subtle nuances in colour, both in the lemons and in the background, can be noted. The influence of the impressionist painters is evident in his use of brighter colours and preference for a more finer brushstroke.

During the course of that year, his use of colour would only intensify. Somewhere in the late spring/early summer, he painted his Still-Life with Decanter and Lemons on a Plate (Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam). Here, we notice that the colours are a bit richer. In the somewhat clashing composition we can also detect how he was influenced by Japanese prints. Other stilllife examples of this more colourful style of painting include his lively Still-Life with Apples and his Still-Life with Grapes, both produced in the autumn of 1887 and at display at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. In the latter, the use of contrasting shades is especially striking.

In February of 1888, Vincent left Paris for Arles where he would enter one of the most productive periods of his career. Of course, the lush landscape of the Provence with its explosion of colour would also leave its mark in his works. In his 1888 Still-Life with Blue Enamel Coffeepot, Earthenware and

Discover Benelux | Editorial | Van Gogh and His Food Paintings
Still-Life with an Earthen Bowl and Pears (1885, Centraal Museum, Utrecht).
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Still-Life with Blue Enamel Coffeepot, Earthenware and Fruit (private collection).

Fruit (private collection), Van Gogh proudly painted some of the first things he purchased when he moved into the famous Yellow House: plates, cups, pitchers and a coffee pot. Van Gogh did not have an extravagant taste in food and could do with very little. One thing he could not do without, however, was coffee. He once survived for five days on nothing but dry bread and 23 cups of coffee!

Whether in his food paintings or other types of still-lifes, landscapes or portraits, Van Gogh’s work is moving and attests to an incredible vitality despite a most tragic life. On 29 July 1890, two days after shooting himself in a field outside of Auvers-sur-Oise, a small village near Paris, Van Gogh breathed his final breath leaving behind an oeuvre that would become renowned the world over.

| Editorial |
Discover Benelux
Van Gogh and His Food Paintings
Still-Life with Grapes (1887), Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.
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Still-Life with Apples (1887), Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.


Vincent’s final months

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. To honour this special occasion, they have brought together a remarkable collection of over 50 paintings and drawings by Van Gogh, never seen together before. Van Gogh in Auvers. His Final Months showcases the artist’s work made towards the end of his life, when he was living in the small French village of Auvers-sur-Oise.

It is an often-overlooked period, with attention more often focused on his time spent in Arles (where he painted Sunflowers and developed a friendship with Paul Gauguin) or Saint-Rémy, which inspired Starry Night. The paintings made while in Auvers featured a more subdued colour palette, full of minty spring greens and deep blues. They still have that trademark Van Gogh touch of thick impasto paint and mesmerising, hypnotic compositions.


Vincent moved to Auvers in May 1890 and only lived there for a few months before his death in July. The mental health issues that accompanied him throughout his life followed him to Auvers, and he struggled with overwhelming feelings of failure and loneliness. When you look at these works, you can see those sentiments writ large. His landscapes appear still and sombre or feature vast imposing skies. Even his portraits from this period, such as the famous Dr. Paul Gachet painting, feature the eponymous doctor with a

furrowed brow and a melancholic expression.

It is a stellar exhibition of a prolific period in the artist’s life. Knowing what was soon to come for Vincent, you can only look at the works pensively, but they are no doubt the products of a genius.

Spioenkop Pinot Noir

Not all Benelux winemakers are growing grapes on our local soils. Some have ventured far and wide, seeking fortune in distant lands, with different climates and distinct grape varieties. Many are now making wines – and waves – all around the globe.

Like Koen Roose, a Flemish engineer, who, after sommelier training and starting a wine import business, worked as an assistant winemaker in Burgundy and on South African estates. While searching for a plot of land to build a holiday home, he found a vacant 50-hectare farm in South Africa’s Elgin Valley. This is where, in 2008, Spioenkop Wines came to life, producing its first vintage in 2011.

Koen is a rebel at heart; wilful and outspoken. Yet his wines exude an elegance, nuance and purity that reveal a poet’s soul. The en-

tire ‘Spioenkop’ range, also featuring Chenin Blanc, Riesling and Pinotage, is splendid. But my wine of choice for June is his Pinot Noir –an excellent ambassador for the Elgin Valley’s cool yet sun-kissed growing conditions.

The 2015 vintage is at peak maturity now, offering enticing aromas of violets, forest fruits, black pepper, coffee and baking spices. Savoury notes of cloves, autumn leaves, charred wood and smoky bacon provide further depth. With smooth tannins and a modest alcohol percentage, this is a classy, food-friendly wine with a seductive personality. Just in time for the prime barbecue season!

Vintage 2015. 12.5% alcohol. Serve at 14-16°C.

Ageing recommendation: drink now. Points of sale are listed on

Van Gogh in Auvers. His Final Months is on show at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, and runs until 3 September 2023.

Kristel Balcaen is a Belgian wine writer, educator and consultant. She is a Sommelier-Conseil, holds the WSET level 4 Diploma, and was named Belgium’s Champagne Ambassador and Wine Lady of the Year in 2018. Matt Antoniak is a visual artist and writer living and working in Newcastle, UK. He works mainly in painting and drawing and is a founding member of the art collective M I L K. TEXT & PHOTO: KRISTEL BALCAEN TEXT: MATT ANTONIAK Vincent van Gogh, Fields near Auvers-surOise, 1890, oil on canvas, 50 x 101 cm, Belvedere Museum, Vienna
Discover Benelux | Culture | Lifestyle Columns
90  |  Issue 79 | June 2023

Bring your creativity.

We’ll do the same

Elten Kiene is entrepreneurial and recognizes opportunities. He teaches workshops at schools in Rotterdam and in museums and youth detention centers throughout the Netherlands. He also creates programs and recently developed theater programs. This versatile artist uses the spoken word as his instrument.

Elten believes that we must view art through the lens of what it can be. For everyone. “Art is a very important tool for everyone. I believe that art can help make things bearable. Not just visual art but also books, music, or dance. Art can help you understand yourself and can provide comfort and support if you’re going through a rough patch. It’s there for you in good times and bad. I believe that everyone has a creative skill and discovering that skill

can be quite an enjoyable process.”

“For me being an artist in the Netherlands means freedom, possibilities, and discovering new ways of the self. The writing process reveals new ideas, new thoughts about myself, and new values. It also provides clarity on what I want to pursue, or not. Writing takes me on a continuous journey of discovery; a journey that’s always in motion.”

Position/ organization Author and spoken word artist / City Rotterdam

See more on

Elten Kiene (38), a spoken word artist in Rotterdam, was born in Suriname and raised in Dordrecht. He speaks of his journey with gratitude and confidence.

Articles inside

Bring your creativity.

page 91

Spioenkop Pinot Noir

page 90

Vincent’s final months

page 90

Van Gogh and his food paintings

pages 85-90

Giethoorn: Slowing down in a water-laced Dutch village

pages 80-84

Jacques Brel –Belgian superstar

pages 76-79

Manneken pis

page 75

Culinary Brussels

pages 71-75

A first impression

pages 67-70

Brussels for beginners

pages 63-66

Before you go

pages 59-62

Uncovering the Ghent Altarpiece

pages 50-59

Plastic fishing for a clean future

pages 47-49

Towards the future of furniture

pages 40-46

Out & About

pages 36-39

Standing out from the crowd

pages 34-35

Luxembourg’s most unique conference centre

pages 32-33

From grey to green

pages 28-31

Flexibility, integrity, results, expertise

pages 24-26

Business Calendar

page 23

Life lessons from (culling) books

page 22

Hands-on science equals lots of fun

pages 20-21

Highlights from Alsace

pages 18-19

The legacy of luxurious interior design

pages 16-17

Elegant and sustainable artisan Belgian porcelain

page 15

Spotlighting Benelux design

pages 12-14

The journey to regrowing healthy hair

pages 10-12

Quiet luxury

pages 8-9

Expanding space with reflections

pages 6-7


pages 4-6
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