Area codes: Thierry and Sarah’s Antwerp

Curator and gallery-owner Thierry Vandenbussche and photographer Sarah Van Marcke have chosen Borgerhout for both their family and professional life. Sarah grew up here and when returning to Antwerp after living in Brussels for a few years, they didn’t really consider other places to live. They returned to this often-overlooked area behind the city’s central station, an area replete with authenticity, inspiration and creativity.

Order our latest edition here to read our interview with Thierry talking about his first-time at an art fair as an exhibitor. Photography Jonathan Rochart.

We already lived in the area when we opened Stilll gallery (12 Laar 2140). We weren’t specifically looking for a place in this area, but rental prices combined with the perfect timing and the growing potential of this area proved to be a perfect match. Stilll is now open for just over a year, and we haven’t regretted our decision in any way. One of the first places that took the risk of opening up something new and unseen here was Bar Leon (23 Reuzenstraat 2140). They created a new vibe, turning an ugly square into a vibrant meeting point. Leon showed that it was possible to do something lively and original in this hood, and many others have followed their lead. Bar Venetië (197 Turnhoutsebaan 2140) looks like a random rundown bar at first but at the back it hides a big hall where a lot of great parties take place, mirrored walls and neon light included. Unfortunately, the place will be shutting down soon, but we’re sure a new location will turn up in no time. Plaza Real (89 Kattenberg 2140) is also golden oldie for a nice drink and a good night out. They also host concerts sometimes. Another very inspiring place is Mokkakapot (2 Sergeyselsstraat 2140), a bar slash gallery slash shop were you can have your pick between exhibitions, coffee and objects from young, local designers. It’s located at Moorkensplein, which is another example of how new initiatives and venues can really turn an area upside down. Mombasa (37 Moorkensplein 2140) is café that is perfect for a cosy get-together and spending the day on a terrace. It is themed around local cycling legend Stanneke Ockers and they host their own cycling races for men, women, old, young, trained and less trained. The Turnhoutsebaan is a good starting point for shopping, as it is a perfect example of the multicultural side of Borgerhout. Moroccan spices and polskie delikatesy can be found right next to a to a hijab vendor. Completely different but as genuine is Atelier Solarshop (48 Dambruggestraat 2060) a fantastic space where you can find high-quality craftsmanship: beautiful trinkets, clothes and interior objects. Nearby, you can find De Winkelhaak (26 Lange Winkelhaakstraat 2060) a design centre hosting exhibitions, meetings and conferences, and that also has its own coffee bar and design shop. The area has been in a positive transition for a few years new, especially when it comes to art. Established names like Zeno X (15 Godtsstraat 2140) and Ingrid Deuss (11 Provinciestraat 2018) have paved the way for new and young galleries. The creative spirit of our area is enforced by noble initiatives like BORG and Borger (Zurenborgstraat 28 2730), which really put the local art-scene on the map. During Borger – which takes place three times a year – galleries and art centres open their doors and host special events, openings and finissages. A lot of people participate or pop by and the dynamic you feel during those nights in unbelievable. A lot of good things have happened in our neighbourhood, but there is still plenty of room left for improvement. Areas like Zurenborg are settled in now, but here everything still has to fall into place. The change has begun but the final point is still a long way ahead of us. We have a lot of undeveloped sites here that are a kind of no-man’s-land now, but that could be turned into wonderful projects if only people had a little bit more courage in decision-making. We often catch ourselves dreaming of a future where we take our kids out to play at Park Spoor Oost or have a picnic at the new green strip above the underground ring way. We love living here, but it would be even better if we could enjoy it any time, any day.