Can you describe what you do?
I am an actor and storyteller living and working in Mechelen. One of my main projects is Studio Belle Epoque. We perform historical evocations and provide work for events, television and movies. The name really reflects our thematic focus: the flourishing European culture just before WWI, between 1895 and 1905. I am truly fascinated by this period, as I am by the history of my hometown. This comes in handy for my other occupation as a themed tour guide in Mechelen.
I was born just across the Dutch border in Roosendaal, but my family moved here when I was five years old. My dad was born a Mechlinian, and funnily enough, from the very moment we first arrived here, I had this strange feeling I had been here before. I was immediately captivated by the historical stories about Mechelen’s glory days in the 15th and 16th century, as a capital of the Netherlands.
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?
For me, Mechelen is a great place to work. Firstly, there is the rich heritage that inspires me, but the vibe here is also extremely inspiring and stimulating for young artists like myself. The city council and local entrepreneurs really support our causes, which is great. Apart from that, there are always lots of things to do every weekend, sometimes overwhelmingly so.
Historically we have always been seen as an outsider city, and because of this past, Mechlinians traditionally have a complex relationship with their city, a sort of love-hate relationship. Over recent years, this has definitely changed, and the locals clearly are falling in love with the city, as there is increasingly more to love and be proud of.
What would you say is Mechelen’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?
I think it says a lot that international media visit Mechelen to see how things are done. We have become pioneers in so many things concerning city planning and social organisation, thanks to our current mayor’s great visions and understanding of the people.
On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?
The new museum Hof van Busleyden is a great achievement, as it beautifully evokes the Burgundian period and its culture. But Mechelen has so much more heritage that deserves to be known, so I think we could use a museum that covers other time periods as well. In the 19th century for example, Mechelen had a great deal of interesting artists living here, and it was the cradle of the European railway system. The first railway connection on the continent was between Brussels and Mechelen.
To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Mechelen?
In our inner city, there are a couple of less well-known spots that are certainly worth seeking out. For example, the Schoutetstraat where you can find the Royal Manufacturers De Wit and some beautiful sanctuaries from the renaissance – this is a very authentic part of Mechelen. The Church of Our Lady-across-the-Dyle has a few valuable art treasures and is a must-see. I always refer visitors to the Dijlepad, which provides a view on a number of very authentic facades. But in the end, if you want to discover the real Mechelen, just wander off the beaten path through the narrow streets. You’re bound to discover some hidden pearls.
Outside of the city centre, you have to see the Vrijbroekpark, with a beautifully prestigious rose garden that won the international Garden of Excellence award. It’s a provincial domain with sights that can match any internationally renowned landscape park. And again: try to go the extra mile and you’ll find incredible spots like the Ursulinen Winter Garden, a truly astonishing art-nouveau building.
Can you talk to us about a local legend, a neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth that, to you, encapsulates the spirit of the city?
Mechelen used to be the judicial capital of the Low Countries. If your local court couldn’t help you, you could always take your case to the Grand Council in Mechelen. This fact remains set in stone up until this day, as it was the inspiration for a French expression “on va jusqu’à Malines’, which roughly translates to “I’ll go get my justice in Mechelen.”