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.

Paul Contryn

Paul Contryn

Can you describe what you do?

I work at De Maan, a company that produces grown-up theatre for a young audience. All my life, I have been associated with puppet theatre, and although we have roots in puppetry,more broadly our productions can be defined as ‘visual performances’. My job at De Maan is extremely varied: I create performances both as an actor and as a puppeteer, but I also make puppets, objects, masks, costumes and set decoration, which I design as well as construct. I also teach puppetry techniques.

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 beautiful city on a well-sized scale. It is brimming with history, and we have learned how to incorporate this historical value into our present. We’ve stopped complaining and started focusing on quality of life and comfort. I hope we’ll keep investing in our heritage and patrimony.

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

Mechelen is a city at a crossroads: the past has turned into a positive story. Our tower construction is still not finished, but maybe that is just as well, because it adds a special touch to the city.

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

My grandfather Jef Contryn was a true Mechlinian, so it stands to reason that he wanted to produce theatre here. He convinced the city council at the time to construct a local theatre building. The ‘Mechels Stadspoppentheater’ (the city’s puppet theatre) became a household name.

My father Louis Contryn used to write, direct and play a lot of performances, and taught a lot of young aspiring artists the trade. By now, I myself have also had a long and varied career.

Our company changed its name to De Maan because our previous director Willem Verheyden was looking for a more contemporary approach of our art. The current director Stef De Paepe has now completed the transition. He devised the term “image workshop”, finding a new visual language to work with, which really put De Maan on the map as a theatre company.

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

I wish our city would work more on thinking long-term and finding durable solutions. Right now, there’s too much volatile and shallow politics going on.

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

Fortunately, tourists no longer see Mechelen as merely a place for passing-by, now they actually stay the night.

Starting from the Grote Markt at the base of the tower, I would take people on a walk or for a bike ride in just about any direction to discover the city’s many gems

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

Where to start? The ‘Maneblussers’? The ‘Nekkers’, water spirits who will pull you down in the swamp by your legs? Opsinjoorke, the giant children Janneke, Mieke and Klaasje? The Dragon and the whale… Or maybe I should tell you about Margaret of Austria, Charles the Bold, carillon legend Jef Denyn and fauvist artist Rik Wouters…

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