Can you describe what you do?
I sell fish, shrimps and mussels on daily markets around the country. Every Saturday at the market in Mechelen, I host a beautiful open air eatery, right beside the statue of Margaret of Austria. Here you can taste oysters, herring (the famed ‘maatjes’), shrimp croquettes and calamares. Besides cava, wine or water, we also serve the famous Maneblusser beer from the local brewery ‘Het Anker’. The location of our stall is the most beautiful spot in the city, right in-between the three ancient town halls. I mostly work together with my two sons but we get help from a lot of motivated collaborators from all corners of the world – even a Mexican and several Assyrians.
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 the most beautiful city in the world. It might be the size of a little village, but it is brimming with all the opportunities of a big town. The geographically central position between Antwerp, Brussels and Leuven makes it the most accessible city in Belgium. Even from the heart of the centre, you are only a few minutes away from the ring-road. Mechelen has more monuments than the touristic hotspot Bruges, a lot of gorgeous parks (the Kruidtuin, Tivoli, Vrijbroekpark…) a flourishing economy and industry at the outer edge of the city.
What would you say is Mechelen’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?
The inhabitants and the government have worked together to transform Mechelen from a rather sleepy, dirty town into a world-class city we can be proud of.
How has Mechelen contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?
I went to school in Mechelen, I was a member of the local youth movements and I used to go out in the bars and discotheques of Mechelen. So by the time I started my business, I was already familiar with the locals and their funny quirks. A ‘Mecheleir’ tends to act rather distant at first, and may come over as a little negative. But once you get know him/her better, he/she will become the most enthusiastic and helpful person you’ll ever meet.
On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?
The city has changed a lot, and at this point all I do is hope it will continue to improve. I wish with all my heart that there will be peace and friendship between the new inhabitants and the old ‘Mecheleirs’. Bart Somers is really the driving force behind this difficult issue, and is really encouraging the locals to try their hardest to integrate newcomers.
To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Mechelen?
You should start by booking a hotel for several days. On Saturday, just visit my open-air restaurant at the local market for the best aperitif in town! We’ll also give you some valuable tips on how to best spend your time in Mechelen.
If you want to visit cultural events, we can always suggest the best ideas and direct you to what is going on at that point in time. There are also permanent things to do, like visiting the Toy Museum, Planckendael zoo, Technopolis, Museum Hof van Busleyden, Kazerne Dossin… The options are endless.
When it comes to eating or drinking, we’ll inform you on the best restaurants and bars, some places may be hard to find by yourself if you don’t live in the city. Another great thing to visit is the special event every year, ‘Maatjesfeest’, which is organised around mid June. More than 5000 enthusiastic Mecheleirs gather here to enjoy the first new herring of the year. Local artists play their hearts out, and the young and old locals mingle and have a great time together. On a sunny day, I would really suggest to go for a swim at the pool in the Nekker.
Can you talk to us about a local legend, a neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth that, to you, encapsulates the spirit of the city?
Did you know Margaret of Austria really didn’t like the smell of fish? She removed the fish market no less than three times during her lifetime. And nowadays, I ‘m right beneath her nose with my fish every Saturday… and nothing she can do about it!lucvis.be