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.

Naomi Timmerman

Naomi Timmerman

Serves vegan breakfast & lunch at Bar Botanica (1989)

Can you describe what you do?

I’m the co-owner of a plant-based takeaway business called Bar Botanica, near the Grote Markt. Every day, I ride my bike to work through our cosy city centre. There’s nothing more relaxing than starting my work day with a breath of fresh air. Maxime and I run the entire business, from preparing fresh dishes to serving our customers to doing the dreaded paperwork. It can be hard labour, but I love being a part of the daily buzzing vibe in the city.

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?

Although Mechelen somewhat resembles a big city, everything here feels very familiar and small-scale. There’s also a lot of support among business owners, we all want to contribute to the vibrant society that’s building here. For the last couple of years Mechelen has been restoring and renovating a lot of areas and buildings. Our own bar is located in one of these newly finished projects, Huis van Lorreinen.

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

Mechelen is very compact and easily accessible as a result. Everything is close together, but there’s still a lot of diversity in the neighbourhoods. There’s also a fresh and young entrepreneurial spirit going on, as you can tell from the multitude of events that are being organised every year.

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

I’ve lived here for almost my entire life, as a kid I would wander around town and play in the shopping streets. I’ve watched Mechelen slowly transform into an attractive city, to the point where I absolutely didn’t mind staying as an adult and even ended up opening a permanent business. Some of the bigger cities feel very saturated, but in Mechelen this isn’t the case. I still sense a lot of opportunities and potential for the city to grow, which in fact inspired me to realise my own idea.

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

Although Mechelen has a couple of dedicated bike streets, the rest of the city could use a bike-friendly upgrade. Going through the city by bike can be quite the bumpy ride. I would also love to see a bike lane on the Bruul for a swift passage.

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

Without a doubt I would visit our city’s pride, St. Rumbold’s Cathedral. On a sunny day the view from the top is amazing, and the climb is a good workout as well! But there’s plenty of other things to do in and around Mechelen: a stroll through the Beguinage, a visit to Kazerne Dossin, a boat ride on the Dyle… you’ll have no trouble passing the time, that’s for sure.

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

Throughout the city you can spot images of ‘Opsinjoorke’. It is said there used to be a tradition to place a rag doll with a wooden head in front of the house whenever someone had drunk a little too much. Public shaming way before the onset of social media – you can’t help butlove Mechelen’s pioneering sense of humour! Maybe this myth inspired the Flemish term ‘a wooden head’ to describe a hangover?