The Leuven Hundreds

Portraits of a city's people, today

We’ve joined forces with Leuven to highlight 100 local people, places and projects that contribute towards making the city what it is today. From artists and architects to producers and professors, these are the driving forces powering Leuven forward one ingenious initiative at a time.

Els De Bodt

Els De Bodt

General manager, HETPALEIS (1971)

Can you describe what you do?

At the moment, I’m based in Antwerp, working as General Manager of HETPALEIS, Belgium’s biggest youth theatre. So I travel each day by train, from Leuven to Antwerp – something I enjoy. It gives me the opportunity to work, read, drink a coffee all at my leisure. By the time I arrive in Antwerp, I feel like I’ve already done quite a lot. I live in Heverlee, close to the Park Abbey, a really great place: close to the city centre, but also surrounded by green. I don’t see myself ever moving away from here. I studied languages and cultural studies in KU Leuven, and worked for five years in the STUK arts centre; so I still feel very linked to the cultural scene here. Professionally, I work together closely with two Leuven-based theatre companies – fABULEUS and Het Nieuwstedelijk, and I also frequently visit the cultural centres OPEK, M-Museum and STUK.

How do you perceive Leuven? In your view, what kind of city is it?

What I love about Leuven is that it has all the facilities of a large city, despite not being the same size as Antwerp or Ghent. It’s cosy and familiar – when out for a drink, you’re sure to come across someone you know. The cultural landscape is still developing, and I hope the City will continue to invest in the arts, including visual as well as performance art. It’s really important that a city like Leuven – with its hefty student population and high numbers of young children – does exactly that. The city must be careful not to fall asleep under the risk of its sweet cosiness – and art can help prevent this.

Leuven’s where the seeds were sown for my professional career in the arts.

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

Leuven is a small city, so you can do everything by bike, or even by foot. The city centre has some nice historical buildings, a giant library and great coffee-bars and shops. In the space of a ten-minute cycle, you can reach some of the greenest spots of the city – think Kessel-Lo’s provincial park, or Park Abbey. I think this combination of urban and nature is Leuven’s main appeal.

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

I studied in Leuven, and decided to stay on in even after having completed my studies. I met my husband and all my close friends here, so on a personal level, the city has been a very important setting for me – but professionally, too. I studied theatre here and would often attend performances in various cultural centres as a student. In a sense, Leuven’s where the seeds were sown for my professional career in the arts.

If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what would it be?

I would definitely start the weekend at Grote Markt, admiring its beautiful old buildings, then walk to Naamsestraat which not only has more architectural sights to see, but the excellent Noir Coffeebar too. My list would also include Parijsstraat and Mechelsestraat because of their nice shops; and then OPEK, a cultural hotspot within the Vaartkom neighbourhood. On Sundays, a trip to the farmers’ market in Heverlee can be combined with a stroll through Park Abbey.