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.

Jente De Wilde

Jente De Wilde

Chef at Wagenoord eatery (1991)

Can you describe what you do?

Together with Mattijs Nackaerts, I run the eatery at the co-working space Wagenoord. It’s the perfect place to grab lunch or enjoy dinner, or a quick aperitif after work. The restaurant actually takes up most of my time. Not only do I run the kitchen and create the menu, I also coordinate the day-to-day workings of the business.

Before Wagenoord, I ran a couple of eateries around Mechelen like Fiston at cafe Zapoi. But when Sara Feskens asked me to join her at Wagenoord I jumped at the chance. Here, I am given much more freedom to develop my own ideas.

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 an up-and-coming town, and many people, especially outsiders, would now agree it is a nice and homely place. However, for young people; there is not that much going on. The inhabitants also tend to stick to what they know, and are reluctant to try out new things and places. But if you find the right way to address them, you can definitely pique their curiosity.

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

I think the small scale of the city combined with the diversity of cultures here actually creates a lot of room for opportunities. There are several promising neighbourhoods like Nekkerspoel where there’s little happening at the moment, but they do show a lot of future potential. All we need is the right initiatives.

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

From my personal experiences as an entrepreneur, I feel it is difficult to find your way, as you are pretty much left to your own devices. Lucky enough, there’s a big network of young people who have a lot of knowledge and experience in these fields, and they help each other out a lot. However, I do feel the city could provide more guidance to young entrepreneurs in their projects, especially regarding practical matters, like construction licenses.

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

Vrijbroekpark is always a good idea, just to hang out and sit on the grass. The St. Rumbold’s Tower may be a cliché answer, but there’s a good reason for that – it’s a must-see. But I have to be honest: after living here for so many years, I tend to go elsewhere in my free time, or just hang around in my own garden. That’s not an open invitation though!

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’d like to nominate a very personal hero of mine: my grandfather. He worked in the media and he has seen it all, from radio and the first television sets to the usb stick. He was a very religious man, and he actually coordinated pope John Paul II’s visit to Mechelen in 1985! He was a true pioneer and I’ve always found him a fascinating and most inspiring figure.