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.

Hidde Moens

Hidde Moens

Poet and writer (1990)

Can you describe what you do?

I consider myself a poet and writer first and foremost. Probably a hipster second. Recently, I moved to Antwerp, but for all intents and purposes I am still based in Mechelen because of the collective ‘Dichtatuur’, which I founded with my brother and three close friends, out of a shared passion for language.

We write and perform stage performances and recitals, sometimes collaborating with local jazz musicians and other performers. I would dare say we have played a vital role in reviving poetry performance in Mechelen. We serve as artists in residence at the local library, and the city council has supported us since our inception. Another key figure to our small success is Jasper Benn, whose former pop-up art café Minimaal also served as a try-out stage when we first started out as a collective.

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?

Born and bred in Mechelen, it will always feel like home to me. When I was in high school, it felt like a place most artistic minded people could not wait to leave in favour of cities such as Ghent and Brussels. But nowadays, Mechelen boasts a flourishing generation of artists and creative entrepreneurs in its own right, which in turn attracts others to settle here as well.

Another key factor which makes Mechelen stand out for me is the humane aspect, specifically the way it handles the refugee crisis. There are a lot of initiatives throughout the city to welcome newcomers which are also supported by the city council. This is instrumental in working towards a healthy, multicultural society and a safe environment.

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

Most of its charm lies in the fact that it doesn’t feel as overwhelming as bigger cities do, but it still has plenty to offer. There are loads of nice bars (Zapoi and De Kuub are some great new additions), and a lot of fresh initiatives that focus on sustainability, like Kabas, Supergoods and Studio Swelvet. On top of that, there are still good housing opportunities for young adults and new families.

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

Having spent almost 25 years of my life there, I would say it has been a place where I always felt at home. It has definitely shaped me in a lot of ways, although it’s hard to put in words exactly how. I’ve worked all different kinds of jobs here, and doing so I encountered many individuals who in turn shaped my decisions, broadened my view on life and expanded my knowledge.

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

Perhaps I would like to see more derelict buildings being renovated and repurposed or made into co-housing projects. Initiatives like these already exist and have been very successful in the past and present, like the Artenova building near the railway station which is now occupied by local artists and social movements and groups.

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

I would most likely opt for a night at Kaffee Zapoi, maybe catch some live music there. During the day, I’d show them around the rest of the same street, which holds some of my favourite shops in the city.

Of course, speaking of symbols, I’d recommend the St. Rumbold’s cathedral, sporting the infamous and unfinished bell tower Mechelen is known for far and wide.

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

The tale of the burning tower of St. Rumbold’s cathedral comes to mind, Just about everyone growing up in Mechelen will hear it eventually, learning how we got the nickname of ‘Maneblussers’ (Moon Extinguishers).

For more on these sorts of myths, there is a bookstore in the city and there you can buy Marcel Kocken’s book on Myths and Stories on Mechelen, which vividly recounts a lot of these stories and details other historical facts and tales of the city. Alas, it’s not translated into English (yet?), so this tip only applies to Dutch speakers.