The Mechelen Hundred

Portraits of a city's people, today

Nestled between Brussels and Antwerp, Mechelen has often been overshadowed by its larger neighbours. Yet teaming up with the City of Mechelen, our line-up of 100 of the city’s most prominent people, places and projects proves the extent of its potential. From artists and creatives to critical thinkers and fighters, these are the powerhouses driving Mechelen forward one step at a time.

An Volckaert

An Volckaert

Gardener and art historian at Tapestries De Wit (1962)

Can you describe what you do?

I am a working parent who is fascinated by art, nature and people. I pratically live in the shadow of the cathedral, very close to the Dossin Museum.

I have been working as an art historian at the Royal Manufacturers of Tapestries De Wit for over 30 years. We focus on the restoration of antique tapestries by using contemporary techniques for clients worldwide: the Louvre, the Malta Cathedral, the Chicago Art Institute, the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam and many more.

For 6 years now, I have had my own gardening side activity named TUINMan (which means “gardener” in Dutch, although it is also a pun on my first name) for six years now. I find nature complements art (and can often be just as artistic!), and working with my hands gives me a rewarding sense of achievement.

And finally, I also have a volunteer job in the parish team of the very lively community of Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-over-de Dijle.

How do you perceive Mechelen? In your view, what kind of city is it? Its people, its cultural landscape, its vibe? How does it compare to other, similarly-sized cities?

I have seen this city grow from a dull and somewhat neglected place to a colourful, vibrant hotspot: here, you can find culture, nature and water, plenty of schools, many opportunities for young people, a mix of many ethnicities… I love the local patrimony that has been carefully restored, and the intriguing cultural life the city has to offer. I also think it is impressive we have so many volunteers who are involved in doing heartfelt work to make the city more welcoming for visitors and newcomers.

There’s simply so much added value to Mechelen: everything is close to each other, there are no traffic jams, there is beautiful nature within cycling distance, it is remarkably clean and quiet, and there is a heartwarming network of neighbours and friends. Every day I’m reminded how lucky I am to live here.

What would you say is Mechelen’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?

Mechelen is located right in between Antwerp and Brussels. The historical heart in combination with contemporary architecture, the multicultural atmosphere, the dynamic city council … they all contribute to giving a unique colour and flavour to this city.

How has Mechelen contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?

For me, Mechelen was an unfamiliar place somewhere in Flanders until I was offered a job here. Since then, most of my life has become centered around this town. I got married here and our children were born here. Through my gardening job I continue to discover a lot of hidden spots and meet a lot of passionate people. Mechelen has become so unique to me, I definitely think it was an important place for me to grow as a person.

On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?

I already feel very spoiled in Mechelen, to be honest. I would actually prefer some more time to fully enjoy the many possibilities that are on offer. Which is not to say that there aren’t any challenges still to be resolved here: the multicultural society, urban poverty, ecological issues…

To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Mechelen?

I would take our guests on a bike tour around the city past the attractive panoramas on display: the top floor of the Dossin Museum, the St. Rumbold’s tower, and the Lamot congress site. Of course, a guided visit at the Manufacturers De Wit is a must, truly a unique place. For a tasty bite to eat we would go to the Ronda for Moroccan cuisine, or Stassart 11 with their unique food-sharing concept and beautiful interior. In the evening I would take my visitors to a concert in one of our beautiful churches.

But then there’s also the shops, the Sint Rombouts cemetary, the OH house, the meandering Dyle river…actually a weekend wouldn’t suffice!