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.

Els Van den Berghen

Els Van den Berghen

Accessory designer at Awardt (1974)

Can you describe what you do?

Together with my mother Wies Dehert, I run the Awardt shop in the centre of the city. We design and make colourful bags and hats for both women and men. We take great pride in our craft: everything is handmade and can be adapted to every individual wish. The shop is located near the Korenmarkt, but we live at the Zennegatvaart near the canal, where our workplace is located as well.

I was born in Mechelen and spent my childhood here. Four days a week I’m in the shop, the rest of the days I am mostly working on new items in our atelier. Any free time I have left is usually spent with my two kids, doings sports or visiting friends and family.

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?

Mechelen is not too big, but still you have everything you need nearby: sport facilities, plenty of restaurants and shops, and a lot of nice walking routs. All of our friends and family live here as well. There is definitely a good vibe!

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

I like that the city is so child-friendly –  there are lots of activities for the kids, in a safe and clean environment. As a shop owner I also think it’s a great place to do business. Fresh new local projects like ‘Mest’ (a coaching and support initiative for starters) keep the city centre interesting and spur growth. There’s a good dynamic between the city hall and shop owners. Everyone works together and helps each other to develop their projects and ideas.

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

Mechelen feels like a safe and friendly place to me. It is a good feeling to be surrounded by friends. Being in Mechelen is also good for our business. We sell to other shops in Belgium and have to visit them twice a year, so it is most convenient to work from a central location in Belgium, just in between Brussels and Antwerp.

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

We could do with some more restaurants! Other than that, I have no complaints.

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

I would take them on a boat trip on the Dijle river, or take a stroll by the ‘Dijlepad’ over the water. We could also walk to ‘Het Zennegat’, the place where different waterways come together. It is great to walk or ride a bike there.