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.

Ann Meskens

Ann Meskens

Essayist and magazine creator at Artenova

Can you describe what you do?

I’m a philosopher who is blessed to be able to make a living by reading, writing and giving lectures. This means I tend to work from home, by myself. I’ve always loved to be intra-muros, in the centre of the city. I live next to the Grote Markt at the Ijzerenleen, a place enriched by its history. Nowadays, it’s a square filled with a lot of useful shops. On Saturday morning, there is a food market right under my window. So I have everything I need just a few footsteps away. When I am tired of being alone with my books I go outside (not without a book though!), and sit under the trees on a cafe terrace,  and again I am right by my front door. I am engaged in some projects with photographer and visual artist Tatiana De Munck, and together we have an atelier at the artist co-working space Artenova.

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’ve written about my love for Mechelen in a book called Eindelijk buiten, meaing “Outside at last”: ‘There, outside, is my town. It is a town that calls itself medium-sized, because ‘big’ would be a lie and ‘small’ sounds so insignificant. And yet. It is a town with a centre and suburbs, with classic buildings next to new construction and neon advertising. A town with citizens, commuters and tourists. On the streets, you’ll meet the nervous shopper, the lonely jogger, the by-now-familiar migrant, the not-yet-familiar refugee, the youngster in love, the weary mother, the indifferent or the agitated crowd.”

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

I was born in a village, and I voluntarily moved here when I was young because I wanted to become part of the broader world. I learned everything here: how to make friends, how to make love, how to go to the theatre and see movies, how to stay in cafes on terraces until the city starts waking up. I learned to talk with neighbours on the pavements, to drink with Eastern Europeans and eat Moroccan food. The city became my way of life, and now that I am older, I realise it is showing in my behaviour, my language, my taste in food, drink and clothing. It is showing in the way I freely and happily breathe the city air.

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

I hope that we’ll see more and more experiments to live together in the 21st century. I want to see vegetables growing on our rooftops, innovative mobility solutions in our streets, smart energy, new ways to educate our children and to take care of senior citizens.

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

I like to wander around and let things happen by chance. A smaller city like Mechelen is ideal for this, because the downtown area is not too big. Historically, Mechelen has a lot of indoor gardens, and nowadays a lot of them are open to the public. These gardens really reflects upon the interesting local history, as well as the everyday life with children playing, people eating lunch, reading a book or taking a little nap.

Can you talk to us about a local legend, a neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth that, to you, encapsulates the spirit of the city?

I have a beautiful personal anecdote about my son and a friend of the family from outside of the city. My son went to the neighbourhood school, so he could go by foot and get to know the children of the quarter, many of them from different cultural backgrounds. My friend (who worried somewhat about the multiculturality) made the remark, “There are a lot of strangers in your school, aren’t there?”, using the Dutch term vreemdeling or migrants. My son pondered this for a while, then answered, “No, there are no strangers at my school. I know them all!”