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.

Anneleen De Witte

Anneleen De Witte

Environmentalist at Kabas zero-waste shop (1990)

Can you describe what you do?

I am one of the founders of Kabas, the first zero-waste shop in the region of Mechelen. We sell food in bulk, without any packaging. We only stock products that are made with respect for the environment. Most of them have a bio-label, the rest are either local or fair-trade products. We also sell household goods, toiletries and other articles that help you maintain a zero-waste lifestyle. We are located in the Keizerstraat, near the Nekkerspoel district. It’s a diverse neighbourhood, I really love it here.

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 lived in Mechelen all my life. When I was a teenager, I wanted to get away and move to a bigger city. Mechelen was boring to me because it is a small place where everybody knows each other. I did my studies in Antwerp, but after four years I came back to Mechelen and from then on my love for the city grew bigger. You can find all different kinds of people here, only on a smaller scale than in the larger cities. Everyone is connected, which means you automatically start collaborating. This is what I love about Mechelen: we are a small co-working society. It has all the opportunities and positive vibes of a city, combined with the coziness of a town, which makes it even more lovable!

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

Mechelen identifies itself as ‘Mechelen kinderstad’, a town that is child-friendly. But I think it’s a city that has a lot to offer for all ages. There are many things going on, especially small-scale projects and co-working initiatives. It is not very big, but that is actually a positive thing. Everything is nearby, which gives the place a vibe that feels very much alive. It is also very practical: when you go shopping for groceries, you can take your bike to the centre and find everything you need.

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

The city has always emphasised cleanliness as a major asset for the community, for example with the recurring campaign ’Stad om te zoenen’ (roughly translated as “a truly adorable city”) to raise awareness about littering and waste in the city streets. I think this approach was an important influence on my decision to live a zero-waste lifestyle and start the shop.

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

I would love it if Mechelen continues its political actions for a better environment: a car-free city centre, improved cycle lanes, clean streets etc. I hope they keep up this policy, as well as a continued support for start-ups with an ecological approach. Another good move would be the restriction of plastic bags, straws and cups on festivals. Maybe it is time to start organising an eco-friendly festival in Mechelen?

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

Firstly, I would take them for a stroll through the city centre and climb the St. Rombuld’s tower (just like real tourists!). We also have to walk along de Dyle river in the Nekkerspoel area, just to show that you can be in the middle of the centre and still find beautiful nature. In the evening, I would take them for dinner at ‘Funky Jungle’, the first vegan restaurant of Mechelen. They have really good food!

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

This question will get the same answer from every true Mechelaar: it’s the urban legend of the ‘Maneblusser’. Do you want to know how it goes? Just ask any Mechlinian in the street!