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.

Jelena Lopouchanskaia

Jelena Lopouchanskaia, 10

Russian Carillon Player

Can you describe what you do?

I studied at the Royal Carillon School in Mechelen, and now I host guided tours of the St. Rumbold’s tower for groups from all over the world. I tell them the history of the rich carillon tradition in Mechelen, and of course, I always finish the tour with a short live performance, so they can have a first-hand look at the instrument.

After my musical studies in Russia, I moved to Paris, where I worked as a cultural and music journalist for a Russian magazine. I never intended to play an instrument professionally, but when I wanted to write a thesis on carillon, the principal of the school in Mechelen advised me to learn to play it first. I already knew how to play the piano, so I started studying the carillon, and to my surprise, I found it so amazing I never wanted to stop playing.

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?

Unfortunately, I don’t live here. My mother lives in Antwerp, and when she became ill, I moved there and started my current job in Mechelen. It is such an inviting city with an ancient and fascinating history, which still lives in the buildings and monuments. I also really like the fact that the central statue in the city is a woman, because it’s something you don’t see very often!

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

I have the feeling Mechelen has become a lot cleaner and livelier over the years. I love Antwerp, but Mechelen has a very different atmosphere. After all these years, I am still discovering new things which I hadn’t noticed before. The city’s rich history is an endless source of anecdotes, and that’s something I find very inspiring.

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

Throughout time, Mechelen has always been considered as the world’s capital city for carillons, so for me, it is a great honour to work here as an official ambassador of this legacy. My work is also my biggest pleasure, I really don’t think life gets any better than this!

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

Well, of course I have to say I would take them to the St. Rumbold’s tower and cathedral. I also have a soft spot for the many beautiful churches here, like the gothic Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-over-de-Dijlekerk, which also has a very impressive carillon, and the Saint John’s Church. I also like to wander around the little gardens in the Beguinage. The Court of Savoye, also known as the Palace of Margaret of Austria, is a must-see as well. If you keep walking around town, you will discover something interesting around every corner.

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

I can’t tell you a local anecdote, but I can tell you about a very interesting connection between Mechelen and my birthplace. In Russia, we have an expression that is often wrongly translated as “the sound of strawberries”, but it actually refers to “the sound of Malines”, which is used to describe a very beautiful sound. To me, this is the perfect example of how famous the carillon tradition of Mechelen is around the world.