Can you describe what you do?
Almost thirty years ago, the age-old tradition of the “Belleman” (the town crier) was revived in Mechelen. For many years, the position was filled by a local actor who was a member of my theatre group, and when he retired, he convinced me to apply for the job. I got selected and now I am the city’s first “Bellemadam”! I wear a uniform and I have a large bell which I ring to attract attention. In the old days, the town crier was the main news source for the local population, but nowadays, I am more of a symbol of local culture for visitors of our town. I have my own personal (and somewhat playful) manner of informing them about the things that are going on in this city.
I was born and raised in Mechelen, and for many years, my husband and I have lived in our home near the Leuvense Vaart. Our neighbourhood is most sociable, friendly and warm. More often than not, our front terrace is filled with neighbours, people from all walks of life, just enjoying a drink and good company!
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?
The history of our city really shines through in the many historical buildings and monuments, and this is still very much a part of what Mechelen has to offer. If I can say one thing: the people here can be a bit too judgmental. I have a right to say so, because my family has been here for four generations! But there’s also a very positive side to this local mentality: once a Mechlinian gets to know you properly, you’ll be in their heart forever and they will support you through thick and thin. And last but not least: we don’t take ourselves too seriously,and are very good at putting things in perspective.
What would you say is Mechelen’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?
It has to be the rich diversity of people that live together in harmony. There are almost 140 nationalities living here together in this place, and I think it is up to us to make sure we all get along. I love speaking with everyone, Belgians, Turks, Afghans… I approach everyone with a smile and a positive attitude. And I encourage them to take part in everyday city life, to come to the market on Saturday or join the party during local events like Maanrock.
How has Mechelen contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?
The city is full of memories for me. I worked here as a nurse and at the local social service OCMW, and this is how I got to know the many stories and the people that live here. I have learned that if you approach people in a positive way, they will kindly respond to you. Friendliness is a two-way street, and here in Mechelen, I meet nothing but friendly people.
On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?
I feel very strongly about the public toilets in the centre. They are closed at 4pm which is very impractical! In my opinion, they should be open more often and for a longer time. Also, although the cobblestone streets are be pretty to look at, they regularly cause accidents for the disabled and elderly. Remember, old people are the keepers of wisdom in our society so we must take good care of them!
To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Mechelen?
The place where I feel most in my element is the ‘Grote Markt’, the central square in the historic centre. But there are so many places one has to experience: the Schoenmarkt with a view on the statue of Margaret of Austria, “our Margriet” as I like to call her. You must also visit the town hall with its many beautiful rooms.
Can you talk to us about a local legend, a neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth that, to you, encapsulates the spirit of the city?
At the Veemarkt, you will find a statue that was originally meant to portray Neptune sitting on a stack of seashells. But the locals soon started to call it the ‘Vadderik’, which is local dialect for a “wretch”, a “good-for-nothing”. The shells were taken for a stack of bread loafs, and the story went that here was a man who was so lazy, that he’d rather starve than make the effort to reach down and take a piece of bread!