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.

Johan De Vleeshouwer

Johan De Vleeshouwer

Bee keeper at Pro-Polis (1984)

Can you describe what you do?

I am trying to restore the tradition of beekeeping in Mechelen at the city’s original apiary. The practice of beekeeping is becoming increasingly popular with the younger generation, and it is my aim to build a place where all local activity around beekeeping is centred, so the beehive stock, a shop selling the honey, a workshop space… are all on the same site.

My fascination with bees actually came from watching a documentary about sharks! It really made me realise that they are actually crucial for the survival of mankind. This inspired me to start working with animals that help preserve the ecological balance of our planet. Since sharks are a bit difficult to keep in a city, I decided it would be more practical to go for bees.

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?

Our city is ideally located in the heart of Flanders. I guess you could call it a large village – you don’t know everybody, but after a while, most faces are familiar. That aspect contributes to the homely vibe you can really feel here. I grew up in Nekkerspoel and I’ve seen the city grow to what it is now. Although I must say that this mostly relates to the inner city. The natural environment of Mechelen has always been beautiful.

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

The perfect balance there is between culture and nature, in and around the city.

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

I think cities will be crucial in tackling the environmental challenges of today and the future. This is in fact one of the reasons why I started this project. The urban area is actually a great environment to keep bees in, much better than the countryside, because there is much more biodiversity here. I have noticed that Mechelen pays a lot of attention to initiatives that try to find urban solutions to ecological problems. They are really trying to bring nature and natural sources back into the city.

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

I think the mobility plan is on the right track, but it can go even further with more bike streets and even less cars. Also, as the population of Mechelen is expanding fast, I think we need to make the right decisions when it comes to housing development. As far as I’m concerned, compact construction and more open spaces are the future, but it will be a difficult balancing act.

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

Of course there’s the historical centre, but I’d also show our guests a number of the city gardens that have recently been renovated. One that immediately comes to mind is the garden of Oh! Mechelen, the meeting space for entrepreneurs – it really is an oasis of calm in the city. Then, I’d get on the bike and go explore the banks of the Dyle river: Mechels Broek, Zennegat…

In the evening, we would hang out at De Hanekeef, a cafe where I’ve been meeting up with friends since I was a student. It’s a typical Mechlinian pub with a couple of long tables where all ranks and classes sit and drink together, workers and doctors alike.