Can you describe what you do?
I’m the editor-in-chief of the youth media agency StampMedia. At StampMedia, we give a voice to youngsters and give anyone between 16 and 26 a chance to experiment with media. We’re also an officially recognised news medium and press agency. We share the work of our young reporters with mainstream and other media. We support the work of youngsters and influence other media at the same time – a unique and exciting concept.
Before that, I was a freelance journalist for almost seven years. I covered local news, but I also travelled abroad to report on international stories – from Iraq over Lebanon to Ukraine.
I work in Antwerp now, but I still live in the centre of Mechelen, next to the Veemarkt.
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 my home town. Although I didn’t actually grow up in the city, I still consider myself a Mechelaar and will tell other people I’m from here– and I’m quite proud of it. In my eyes, it’s really more of a village than a city. Here, I know a lot of people, my favourite football team is based here, it’s a real home.
This is quite boring and exciting in the same time – I often find it hard to explain what I mean here. Sometimes I think: “Mechelen, please, just be a bit more ambitious, and a little less narrow-minded. But that’s also typical for Mechelaars: we love to complain, but at the end of the day, we are quite happy people.”
What would you say is Mechelen’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?
Its good looks! The city centre is just beautiful. You can see it all in a few hours, or less. But you can take that same walk every day and never get bored of what you see. It’s small, but it has everything you need, and all that in the geographical centre of Belgium.
How has Mechelen contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?
It was my favourite football team, KV, that brought me to Mechelen. I started writing for the club’s magazine and the website when I was 17. After being a football journalist,I then covered the local news for years. Mechelen taught me what journalism is about. A lot of journalists and media disdain local journalism, but they’re wrong. Poverty, migration and many other big topics are ones that you will also be able to write about in a city as small as Mechelen.
On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?
Sincerity. The local government has become quite good in selling Mechelen as the promised land. It’s good to be proud, but on the other hand, Mechelen still has a long way to go when we’re talking about diversity and ‘living together’. The same goes for poverty, which is certainly visible in Mechelen, but is quite often overlooked. Mechelen is a nice city, and sometimes, maybe, a good example to others. But we can’t really boast about this when, in reality, we still have improvements to make.
To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Mechelen?
Don’t come with big expectations, just expect to have a relaxing time. Just stroll through the city. Enjoy the historical centre, look up at the beautiful buildings. Walk from the city centre to the Mechels Broek. Drink a beer in our local brewery, Het Anker, visit our bookshop De Zondvloed, maybe walk a little more to het Zennegat or het Vrijbroekpark. If you like sports, you can go and watch KV Mechelen play football. Finally, if you have some spare time, visit some cultural hotspots such as Nona or De Maan.
Another tip: a few kilometres outside of the city centre of Mechelen you will find the fort of Breendonk. In my eyes, this is a must-see in these polarised times.
Can you talk to us about a local legend, a neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth that, to you, encapsulates the spirit of the city?
Not really a legend or a myth, but a fun story that illustrates the Mechlinian underdog spirit very well. In 1988, the small football team KV Mechelen won the European Cup II. It was the first time in history they played on a European stage and they immediately won the cup. This never happened before, and sadly it didn’t happen again. However, the actual cup we won became lost. Nobody knows where it went.marijnsillis.be