Magali and Bart run Coffeeklatch, a self-described “slow journalism, fast medium” platform where they document their in-depth chitchats with Belgian creatives. One year ago they deserted Antwerp’s southern shores in favour of the north of the city and have already fallen in love with their new neighbourhood. Here’s why.Photography Bart Kiggen
Antwerp North is very multicultural. You can find any nationality here, from Portuguese to Turkish. We moved here because although it’s very close to the city centre, it’s still affordable. We were able to buy a house and we have lots of space now which was very important to us. And it feels like the most friendly part of Antwerp to us, though some people might disagree. People say “hi” to each other on the street and are very social. People look into each other’s eyes and greet each other and you know your neighbours, which is very rare in Antwerp. We’ve lived everywhere in Antwerp and here it’s really different. But lots of people tend to think of Antwerp North as the worst area of the city. It’s true that it used to be a kind of ghetto and there are still quite some durg-related activities going on. Maybe people are so friendly because they want to get rid of this stigma. Also, every street is different. Some are quiet with a lot of trees and some are crowded with lots of cars and people or squares with people standing outside drinking.
When we moved here our neighbours gave us a crash course on the street we live in. They told us this was where all the harbour workers used to live, the sailors etc. At every street corner there is a huge, beautiful house and this is where the harbor bosses used to live. This part of Antwerp has quite an industrial feel to it in general. There are lots of big bakeries, for example, and the building our neighbours inhabit is a former sugar factory. There are quite a lot of warehouses being transformed into apartments and lofts.
For food we go to this Indian place called Ballywood. The food is amazing but the interior not so much, which is why we always get take-away. When you don’t know it, it looks a bit weird and for one month we hesitated. It’s all neon lights and plastic table cloths. But as soon as we tried it we were hooked. They know us now and always make us taste new things; they’re so nice. When it’s dark outside they even bring us the food to our home. The Chicken Marsala is really good, but we also love the bread and the Samosas. Another place that has good food is De Rode Zeven which used to be a socialist bar and still has all the memorabilia from that time. It’s quite funny. They serve basic Belgian dishes like steak. Most places here look very plain, you won’t find anything fancy.
Our neighbourhood’s also got Belgium’s oldest gay bar. It’s called Café Strange and the owner is this super old guy, probably in his seventies. We’ve been there a few times because you can rent it quite cheaply for parties. There are a few places around here which people like to rent out for their own parties: another one is Café Vogelenzang. you can’t get scruffier than that. They rent out the room in the back, and there are actually quite a few events by fashion designers. But in the front you have factory workers and sailors – it’s a fascinating clash. The locals got used to it and everyone gets along. It’s a nice atmosphere.
One of our favourite things to do here is to hang out in Park Spoor Noord. It’s quite important for the neighbourhood because not a lot of people have gardens or a big square to come together. As soon as the sun is shining everyone heads to the park. People make barbecues and picnics. It’s really a place that brings people together. It’s also a nice place to go running. There are quite a lot of sport facilities and the Maroccan kids play soccer, the Indians play cricket, … Before this area was just a railway site with no greenery whatsoever. It’s really great what they did there – it kind of became Antwerp’s green lung.
There’s also a nice bar and lots of fountains and playgrounds. Kids love it. We try to go there before school finishes to have a little peace and quiet sometimes. As soon as the kids arrive lots of people leave and then they come back around ten in the evening when the kids are gone to bed, to go the bar! It’s called Cargo and we like to hang out in their beach chairs and have a beer and pizza.
For drinks we also like to go to Vino-teka, a very nice wine bar just a few streets away from our house. It’s on the edge of a building and when it’s sunny everyone sits outside on the terrace. They have a very good, high-quality selection.
For coffee or cake we go to Palanca, a rather new cute little place run by a Spanish girl. It’s not a Spanish bar at all but they do serve one Spanish dish which is delicious: Empanadas. They’re basically dumplings shapedlike half moons and filled with meat or vegetables. Palanca also serves great home-made lemonades and fresh juices. The interior is a mix of modern and vintage and it’s quite stylish.
Thanks to the big Turkish community here there are a lot of Turkish supermarkets which we love to shop at. They have great bread and pastries and fresh fish, meat and vegetables. We especially like the Mersin Market. It’s quite cheap, they’re open late and everyone is so friendly. They know your name and you don’t have to queue. It’s a family business and the dad and his sons all work there. It’s not anonymous like the big chains. And we like to support our local community.
Also worth a visit is the Panamarenko house, named after the Belgian artist who used to live there as a kid. His art is very imaginative. It’s a great place. To have a swim we like to go to the Veldstraat pool, a pool located in a beautiful art deco building which has been completely renovated. On Thursdays they have an hour which is reserved exclusively for women which is a nice initiative. They should do that more often. You can feel comfortable in your bathing suit. A lot of Muslim women come there. We also love to just take a stroll around the neighbourhood. It’s interesting to see all those different architectural styles clash here. Modernistic warehouses, old art deco houses…there is so much variety.
We really love this neighbourhood and hope more people like us will come here – and it’s already happening. There are a lot of artists moving here and young couples. If you want space, this is where you’ll find it.Park Spoor Noord Damplein Cargo Bar Viaduct-Dam 64-80 cargozomerbar.be Vino-Teka Cassiersstraat 41 Mersin Market Sint-Gummarusstraat 38 mersinmarkt.be Café Vogelenzang
Lange Beeldekensstraat 116 Café Strange Dambruggestraat 161 cafe-strange.be Panamarenko house Biekorfstraat 2 muhka.be Swimming Pool Veldstraat Veldstraat 81 Palanca Sint-Jacobsmarkt 59 Ballywood Oudesteenweg 115 De Rode Zeven Sint-Jansplein 7 rode7.be