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.

Jozef Op De Beeck

Jozef Op De Beeck

Traditional watchmaker (1954)

Can you describe what you do?

Together with my daughter Elke, I restore and repair antique timepieces: clocks, watches, hourglasses and the likes. This means I don’t just fix them – I completely reconstruct the piece to its original state. I often use the original tools and techniques and try to use the original material as much as possible. Since we have gathered a big number of rare and remarkable pieces over the years, we have also installed a museum where we show our collection and provide background information.

We are situated in a beautiful and quiet part of the city, right next to the Dyle in a restored house from the 16th century that once belonged to the famous painter Willem Geets. We are surrounded by a lot of green and in front of the house you can find the beautiful sculpture ‘The Three Graces’. I can’t think of a better place to be located, actually.

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?

Of course the city has become a whole lot prettier, but I’m sorry to say that we have also suffered quite a loss. Mechelen used to be filled with specialty shops that have largely disappeared: hardware stores, fur shops, coffee roasters… they’re all gone. In the place, a lot of retail clothing chains have opened shop here. The city council does makes an effort to bring life into the streets with a lot of events.

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

It’s the only place in Belgium where they have a clock and watch museum!

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

Historically, Mechelen was a city of watchmakers. This probably had to do with the wealth that was accumulated here during the glory years, in the 15th and 16th century. At that time, constructing watches was a costly activity so these business were set up in rich places. You could say that our workshop is rooted in that local tradition.

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

A great spot that is often overlooked is the collection of roses at the Vrijbroekspark. It is most impressive, and one of the most unique in the world. A local beer pub that has become truly iconic is Den Stille Genieter. I think there were more than 300 different brands of beer on the menu. It used to be near the Vismarkt, but a couple of years ago it was forced to close by the owner of the building. But only recently I heard that the proprietor Gerard is planning on re-opening at a new location on the Korenmarkt. For good food, I can recommend the Ronda, a Moroccan place with a very pleasant vibe.

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

One iconic folk figure I can remember was Mille Antiek, the owner of a legendary second-hand shop. In fact, the shop was antique itself, a rundown place that always looked as if it was about to collapse.