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.

Christophe Busch

Christophe Busch

Director general at Kazerne Dossin (1977)

Can you describe what you do?

The Kazerne Dossin museum is situated at a place where more than 25,000 Jews and gypsies were deported during World War II. More than just a memorial, our museum poses the question of how this act of collective violence could occur, and how it can become a means to an end for a whole society. We want our visitors to become aware of the patterns that have defined the past and reflect on current events from that point onwards. Our institution combines a museum with permanent as well as temporary exhibitions, a memorial site and a knowledge centre. We also organise a lot of events together with a wide range of partners.

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?

Our museum and the new “Hof Van Busleyden” revive the age-old tradition of Mechelen as a place where humanism thrives. I think that speaks volumes about the current mentality here. I live in Ghent, and I think both places have a lot of similarities. They are similar in size but also in their approach to their local challenges, which they handle with a comparable and progressive mindset.

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

Mechelen is becoming a great example of a multicultural society which works. Actually, I think our museum is a good symbol of that. The Dossin Barracks are a reminder of a dark part of this city’s history, and I applaud the mayor and council’s decision to confront this uncomfortable past, rather than ignore or reject it. They have turned it into a positive and inspiring statement that enforces and reflects upon the inclusive community they try to build here.

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 and raised in Ghent, and for a long time my impression of Mechelen was that of a grim and dark provincial town. But when I started working here six years ago, I was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiastic mentality to change things for the better. In fact, I recognised this from my experiences with Ghent, a city which has gone through a comparable transformation, with a focus on quality of life and togetherness.

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

Mechelen doesn’t have the mobility problems that plague a large city like Antwerp… yet. But now that the city is quickly expanding and attracting more and more visitors, there is an urgent need for a long-term mobility plan that can handle the growth. Already, there is a shortage of parking spaces in the centre, so this is a problem that has to be dealt with quickly and efficiently. In that regard, I believe Ghent has taken a number of wise decisions, an example Mechelen could follow.

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

The Hof Van Busleyden museum is a perfect introduction to the history of this town. Whenever I talk to people who visit Mechelen on a city trip, they usually want to experience the same things: just go for a stroll through the inner city, and let the magic and beauty of these old buildings sink in and inspire you. A lot of these places have been preserved or restored, but they are also repurposed as shops and restaurants so that you can actually enter them and walk around in them. This is a city that truly breathes history. Of course there are the well-known landmarks like the St. Rumbold’s Tower, but I urge everyone to seek out their own personal favourite.