The Brussels Bike Hundred

100 portraits, stories and bicycles

We’re teaming up with Bike for Brussels to put together a 100-strong selection of local heroes shaping the city each in their own way. From designers and DJs to performers and publishers, these are the creatives riding Brussels forward.

Girls Like Us

Girls Like Us

Katja Mater (1979) and Jessica Gysel (1969)

Describe yourself, your background and what you do today.

Katja is a visual artist from Amsterdam whose work addresses the parameters of film and photography from a metaperspective. After living in a list of different cities, she decided to stay in Brussels after participating in WIELS’ art residency in 2014. Jessica works as a creative strategist and copywriter for both commercial and cultural clients, with a focus on LGBTQ visibility. She’s Belgian, lived most of her professional life in Amsterdam and moved with Katja to Brussels.

Together we make Girls Like Us magazine, in collaboration with Sara Kaaman and Marnie Slater. Girls Like Us is a queer, feminist arts publication turning the spotlight on to an international community of women from all genders within the art, cultural and activist scenes. Mixing politics with pleasure, the magazine maps out collaborative routes towards a non-patriarchy. More recently, we’re also part of a collective running an ephemeral lesbian bar called Mothers & Daughters in downtown Brussels.

How has Brussels shaped you as an individual as well as your professional activities?

Katja: Brussels gave me a new kind of space compared to Amsterdam or Berlin. It feels rougher but also more free and open; there’s more space to try things out. Also I feel like it’s been easier for us to start new projects and dream things up from scratch – and there seems to be more urgency in what we do.

Jessica: It’s been amazing to be able to apply some of the conceptual skills learned while living in the Netherlands to Brussels’ no man’s land. So much is possible here and it’s been a super interesting ride so far, with ups and downs.

Riding a bike gives me a kind of freedom and autonomy that matches no other.

What do you like the most about Brussels?

Katja: Coming from a very flat country, Brussels’ hills and vista’s are very exciting to me. I just love biking downhill, from Avenue de Jupiterlaan all the way to Rue de Lombardstraat, and along the canal and through Anderlecht’s eclectic mix of architectures.

Jessica: For me, the lack of infrastructure for bikes is in a weird way refreshing after the over-designed layout of the Dutch bike paths and streets in general. No bike traffic in the morning, feeling wild and free and of course dangerous – but I like that. My biggest issue is with automobile pollution and the fact that Brussels has such a strong car culture.

List three deciding factors that converted you to bicycle use.

Katja: I never converted to bicycle use; I grew up biking in Amsterdam and it has always been my main means transport. Riding a bike gives me a kind of freedom and autonomy that matches no other. I enjoy it intensely. That being said, moving to Brussels basically flipped everything I thought I knew about moving through traffic on a bicycle – including teaching me to demand more space.

Jessica: I grew up in Bruges and cycled everywhere from a very young age as well. One thing I would advise to get more people to bike in Brussels though is to change the look of it. Most cyclists look like Ninja Turtles with their helmets, protection gear, fluorescent jackets. I personally don’t find it attractive and inviting at all, and find that it makes cycling in Brussels seem like some sort of survival trip. It probably is in a way, but I think it’s also cool and pleasant, and there are much better strategies (and looks!) to get people to bike.

List three favourite bike routes in Brussels.

  • The downhill route mentioned above.
  • Along the canal, in both directions. The best however is to head to Halle and continue on until you get tired, take a break and go back along the other side.
  • Cycling through Anderlecht without a purpose. We both like this neighbourhood a lot for its eclectic mix of architecture, from the completely industrial to super residential.