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.

Jan Smets

Jan Smets

Medical nurse, citizen journalist and passionate local storyteller (1961)

Can you describe what you do?

I am a medical nurse and I work in a mental health facility at Sint-Katelijne-Waver. The last few years, I have been working part-time, and since then I’ve been managing ‘Mechelenblogt’ as a citizen journalist, covering the local news in Mechelen. I actually prefer to call myself a ‘verhalensprokkelaar’, a gatherer of stories. Every day, I meet a diverse range of fellow citizens, and I record their fascinating stories.I will soon publish my second book, which will once again contain the portraits of fifty Mechlinians. Apart from that, I’m engaged in a number of other projects around town. Just call me a passionate Mechlinian!

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 a very fun and engaging town to live in. It is perfectly located. The city is clearly in an upward spiral. It is almost a laboratory for new and fresh ideas on how to tackle diversity and how to reconcile the past and the present. Compared to other cities of similar size, I think Mechelen is head and shoulders above the rest in terms of culture, urban renovation and tackling diversity issues.

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

This town has a very significant past and this is apparent in the numerous historical buildings in a relatively small area. But that doesn’t mean it’s a museum, as there’s a clear vision to work forward towards a positive future. Mechelen fell of the radar for many years, but it is becoming a very vibrant and lively place. Outsiders are discovering the city, and slowly but surely, the city’s vibe is completely changing. This sense of pride is very noticeable among the inhabitants.

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

Mechelen is the city I “breathe”. It is my birthplace, and therefore it will always have a special place in my heart, regardless of its shortcomings. I am captivated by its many stories, as a lover of history but also as a people person. I can truly say I’m in love with this town, which has encouraged me to really invest in this hobby. It is getting a bit out of hand now, I literally live with and in this city from dawn until dusk.

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

The city has some serious challenges to tackle, but I think the issues are being met head-on by the locals and the council. One of the most complicated issues is mobility. The public transportation system isn’t yet what it should be. We have to try and find a balance between traffic being controlled and not taking over the city, but also securing the commercial centre is open to the people.

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

This town is the perfect choice for a weekend getaway, and best of all, everything is within walking distance. Our historical churches are a must-see, and they are all in the process of being renovated. Make sure to climb the Sint-Rumbold’s tower: it offers a stunning view but it is also almost a museum in itself.  Museum Hof van Busleyden is another key museum to visit, about one of the most important moments in our local history: the Burgundian period. Mechelen can be considered ‘Burgundian’: it is a place where you truly can enjoy the good life! I would also  recommend a visit to the brewery ‘Het Anker’. On top of this you can find a very diverse range of local shops and restaurants. A boat trip on the Dyle river is always a lot of fun, and Mechelen is an especially attractive place to visit for people with kids: the Toy Museum, the Technopolis education centre, the Planckendael zoo…

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

‘Opsinjoorke’ is a local mascot who gets carried around during parades. The original figure was quite the libertine: a drunkard and a slacker. But in another way, you can consider him as a symbol which really suits the city and its inhabitants: as an amiable guy who likes to wander outside the lines. He’s not perfect, but he’ll still capture your heart.

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