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.

Michel Vanholder

Michel Vanholder

Volunteer ambassador of Mechelen (1948)

Can you describe what you do?

I live on the edge of the city, about a 15 minute bike ride from the centre. My wife and I are retired, so our pace of living has decreased, but we still like to stay busy, and everyday we take part in many different activities. We travel a lot, especially because our children and grandchildren live abroad. But we always enjoying coming home to Mechelen. I used to be a CEO, and I apply my experience to my job as board member for Flanders Festival, the heritage society Het Firmament, and TEJO, a volunteer organisation for youth therapy. I feel inspired when I’m working together with a group of like-minded of people of all ages, who want to help make this world a better place.

I also volunteer at one of the eight historical churches in the city. A couple of days a month, I am on standby to welcome visitors and have a little chat with them. I enjoy the interaction and I like to see tourists become interested in the history of Mechelen.

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?

For a long time, Mechelen was neglected and disregarded by the local government as well as its own residents. But thanks to the efforts of the city council and several private initiatives, the city transformed from a grey and unsafe place into an exemplary city. We have become pioneers in the fields of city planning, cultural heritage management, and encouraging multiculturality between dozens of nationalities. Nowadays, we can be proud of our city, it is lively and vibrant.

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

Mechelen is a relatively small town but boasts the same qualities as a much bigger city: we have a beautiful historical centre and world class features like Kazerne Dossin, Planckendael and Technopolis. We are surrounded by a green environment with plenty of water, the quality of living is high and neighbouring with Antwerp and Brussels, we have a couple of metropolitan cities nearby.

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

I have lived here my whole life. I went to school in Mechelen, and even when I was younger, I was passionate about the potential of this town. I have always engaged myself as a volunteer in social and cultural projects, and the last ten years of my career, I was a CEO of Emmaus, a network of 25 care facilities. During this time, I contributed to the restauration of the building where our headquarters was located, an 18th century monastery. In general, you could say my life has been closely intertwined with this city.

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

The opening of a good concert hall would be nice, but that might be too expensive for Mechelen. We could also do with some more restaurants, haute cuisine as well as more brasseries. We definitely need to encourage having less cars and more bikes in the city centre, to avoid heavy traffic clogging up the inner city. Finally, we should improve the sidewalks for buggies and walkers, and provide more affordable housing for young families.

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

Start off with a guided tour of the historical inner city, then make your way to the local brewery Het Anker for lunch. Make a boat trip on the Dyle, have dinner on the Grote Markt, spend the night at Martin’s Patershof or B&B Dusk till Dawn. On Sunday, the brand new Hof van Busleyden museum is a must-see. Have lunch at de Vismarkt, and go for a walk in Vrijbroekpark. If you have kids, visit Planckendael and Technopolis.

Of course, every visitor has to climb the St. Rumbold’s Tower: you’ll have the whole town and its surroundings at your feet!

If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what/where would it be?

I know a beautiful spot that symbolises the new spirit of Mechelen: a quiet garden which you can access through a door at the Small Beguinage. Have a seat there, and enjoy the silence of the inner city.