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.

Lieven Leemans

Lieven Leemans

Circus director at Circolito (1971)

Can you describe what you do?

I used to be an assistant-teacher at a university, a television researcher, a world-traveller, an engineer and an event manager. So of course I ended up at the circus!

I’m the coordinator of Mechelen’s circus school ‘Circolito’. About 650 children, youngsters and adults come here every week to ‘circus’: they learn how to juggle, ride a unicycle, do (aerial) acrobatics, and much more. Our team of dedicated teachers helps the children discover themselves in a creative, non-competitive, entertaining and fun way. Our motto is: ‘everybody can do something, nobody can do everything. Circus is for everyone.’

I live in Heihoek, a small and quiet quarter just within the city centre’s borders. It is the kind of place where kids hold water balloon fights or make colourful chalk drawings on the street. There’s a nice mix of younger and older people, with people from different backgrounds.

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?

Over the last decade, it has become a very nice city to live and work in. Mechelen combines the best aspects of a lot of other cities, all within one manageable place. Just like Leuven, we brew some amazing beers, our rich historical patrimony is just as great as Bruges’, we have a spacious zoo just like Antwerp, an the ‘international’ vibe you find in Brussels…

With Circus Ronaldo, Mechelen already features one world famous circus. And now some of our former students are well on their way to establish Collectif Malunés as the second one!

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

It is small enough so you don’t lose track of everything, but big enough to create great opportunities for its inhabitants. This applies to all the people living here, but also those who are working here or just passing by for a visit.

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

The title ‘Mechelen Kinderstad’ is not just some city marketing talk, because in practice, Circolito receives a lot of support from the city. As a result, our school was able to grow slowly but surely. We have just made the big jump to a new location, with a lot more space, more possibilities, new opportunities… We try to give something back to the city by participating in a lot of local events.

A nice career? An expensive car? A lot of money? A circus school won’t provide any of that. But I don’t care. My greatest reward is a kid’s smile, their look of amazement and wonder.

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

Maybe we could do with a bit more ‘edge’. At our school, we stimulate the kids to think creatively, to undersyand the beauty of a dropped juggling ball. I feel this city is in need of some out-of-the-box projects. They make run a higher risk of going wrong, but there’s sometimes a certain grace in not succeeding immediately.

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

Of course you have to climb the cathedral, or visit the beguinage. But what’s more important, you have to wander around in search of a nice restaurant, try to conquer a spot on one of the terraces at the Vismarkt on a sunny evening, stay in one of our original hotels, wander though the streets and talk to people.