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.

Marian Verhelst

Marian Verhelst

Professor in Micro-electronics at KU Leuven (1980)

Can you describe what you do?

I am a professor in micro-electronics at the Department of Electrical Engineering of KU Leuven, which means I teach classes in micro-chip design to engineering students and I do research in the development of new computer chips for artificial intelligence. Besides that, I host a TV show, podcasts and lectures for senior citizens in hopes of engaging a wider audience with science.

Although my office is in Leuven, my husband and I decided to live in Mechelen with our family. We live in the “Heihoek”, a very vibrant, youthful and colourful neighbourhood. Our three girls attend school in Mechelen and have several really diverse hobbies.

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 a wonderful city to live in, especially for families. It is large enough to offer everything bigger cities offer too: a wide variety of cultural activities (theatres, concerts…), wonderful delicatessen shops, nice boutiques, bars and restaurants of every price range. But it is also small enough so that everything is within walking distance.The best thing is, you only have to ride your bike a little bit further to find several parks, swimming pools, a nature reserve and various lakes for sailing, wind surfing and swimming.

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

Mechelen’s beauty lies in its diversity and history. The city is young and vibrant due to its diverse populations, as many people from many different backgrounds live together in the same place. This interculturality is evident when you look at the range of shops which sell goods from all around the world: Moroccan bakeries, Mediterranean nut shops, Polish super markets, Asian spice shops etc.

At the same time, Mechelen is also very old. The cobblestone roads, old churches, courthouses and markets are just wonderful. This contrast gives Mechelen a special allure, it is both energising and soothing at the same time.

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

Mechelen has put me in the centre of Belgium! It is my home base to which I can always return, but it also keeps me close to everything. Its central location, together with a great public transport system, makes it the perfect place to base yourself both professionally and personally.

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

The city should organise more things to do for people of all ages. In my opinion, we could still do more for kids, like constructing some more playgrounds. For teenagers, it would be nice to have more sports facilities in the city centre instead of locating them all outside of the city. When it comes to the adults, the city should support people to open up more restaurants. There’s already quite a good choice, but I would love to see even more of them. We love to go out for dinner and try out new places, but after 10 years living in this city, we’ve tried most of them.

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

I love to take people for a walk up the St. Rumbold’s Tower. From the top, you have a great view over the complete city. On a clear day you can even see the Atomium in Brussels and the harbour of Antwerp.

Afterwards, we would go for a long walk through Mechelen past all the beautiful corners: the beguinage, the court house, the boutiques in the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwe-Straat, or the maze in the Hanswijk basilica. During summer, we would end the day in one of the open air pop-up bars of Mechelen, such as the fairy-like T’île Malines.

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

There is a remarkable car which is always parked somewhere in our neighbourhood, an old dark green mini-van covered in stickers with a huge yellow banana doll in the passenger seat. Our kids are always on the outlook for the banana car. When we see it on our way to school, it makes our day and brings a smile on everyone’s face!