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.

Carmen Van Buggenhout

Carmen Van Buggenhout

Food blogger for the Healthy Ever After (1992)

Can you describe what you do?

I write a blog on healthy eating and lifestyle. Aside from doing this, I work in advertisement. It is a hectic business, but everyday there’s something new to learn and to discover. The place where I work is located in Vilvoorde, but what a dream it would be if they’d move to Mechelen. I just love this city so much! I live in the Coloma neighbourhood. In our street we have an African restaurant, an Indian night shop, some local shops, and two schools. In January, I spent two weeks traveling through Thailand. When my train arrived back in Mechelen, I just felt overwhelmed with love. I want to spend the rest of my life 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 can’t really compare it to any other city. It’s smaller than the biggest Flemish cities (Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent), but also a lot cosier than a similarly-sized place like Leuven. It’s a sparkling city full of youngsters, hipsters and young families. It is also very eco-minded, with a lot of environment-friendly projects popping up.

Mechelen has a bit of everything: you have the nature aspect (Vrijbroekpark, Kruidtuin, Nekker), you can go shopping (Bruul, the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwenstraat full of boutiques), there are plenty of places to find entertainment (theatre, UGC cinema), bars (Makadam, De Gouden Vis, Bar Popular)… There’s always something going on.

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

It is great that the city is constantly trying to improve and make itself better. The council invests in pop-up shops and gives local projects a chance to step up their game. A lot of money is invested in ensuring the nature spaces are reserved and better cycling paths are built. There are a lot of multicultural events, so that everyone feels welcome and included. This is what I like the most about this place. I wouldn’t want to live in a city where there’s no room for other cultures or vibes.

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

This city truly made me who I am today. I studied in Mechelen for three years at Thomas More University College, I met some really good friends here and – most importantly – the love of my life. At that time, Mechelen was close to being dead: there were little to no lunch hotspots, nowhere to go out.. We never thought we’d come back to the city that brought us together. But when our mayor, Bart Somers, started to upgrade the city, we saw the potential and came back.

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

I don’t think it can get much better than this. The city is almost totally renovated, and a lot of new, authentic and mostly local shops are constantly opening their doors. The only thing I’d like to see more of is places to go out at night. We have ‘the ‘Vismarkt’ and ‘Makadam’, the occasional event on at Grote Markt, but bigger parties bringing people together are always nice to have, and right now there’s not too many of those.

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

I would suggest renting a bike and making a tour around town, with a stop at the ‘Vrijbroekpark’. This is an amazing park where you can have a nice drink on one of the terraces, play games, visit the flower gardens, and so much more. After that, I would suggest to return to the city centre at noon to visit the local market, which is surprisingly big for such a small town. Another stop would be at the Kazerne Dossin, a museum dedicated to the holocaust. Last but not least: Mechelen has a lot of amazing foodie hotspots. From healthy lunch bars to high quality restaurants: you just need to find them and discover it for yourself.

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

Of course, we all know the story of ‘De Maneblussers’. A drunken man stirred up the whole city to extinguish the flames he saw burning in the St. Rumbold’s tower. When the people trying to extinguish the fire got to the top of the tower, they found out it was only the moon shining so brightly that it seemed as if the tower was indeed on fire.

I really like this story, because it symbolises what kind of village Mechelen was: small and a bit clueless, but full of people who are willing to take care of each other no matter what.