The Brussels Bike Hundred

100 portraits, stories and bicycles

We’re teaming up with Bike for Brussels to put together a 100-strong selection of local heroes shaping the city each in their own way. From designers and DJs to performers and publishers, these are the creatives riding Brussels forward.

Paul Steinbrück

Paul Steinbrück, 1980

cofounder of POOL IS COOL

Describe yourself, your background and what you do today.

I was born and raised in Germany, studied architecture there and in Finland, worked in Berlin and came to Brussels in 2008 without the intention of staying long. That was just under a decade ago. Today I’m both an architect for 51N4E as well as an urban activist with POOL IS COOL, which I founded together with a group of fellow outdoor swimming enthusiasts in 2015.

At 51N4E I work on architectural projects as well as spatial strategies, always with a focus on the improvement of collective living quality, whether it’s the inhabitants of a house or the citizens of a district, city or region. This goes beyond design questions; it involves research on social relations and financial models. How do you bring people together to join forces for a better city on all scales, based on a shared set of values? We tackle similar issues with POOL IS COOL, focussing on the re-introduction of public open-air swimming in Brussels. More than a physical activity, outdoor swimming is also a social happening bringing people of all kinds together around water. This commodity is very common in larger cities around the world but is still missing in Brussels. POOL IS COOL was created to bring back the outdoor swimming culture that Brussels used to enjoy in the past.

I came to realise what was possible in Brussels’ jungle of mixity and fragmentation.

How has Brussels shaped you as an individual as well as your professional activities?

When I came to Brussels, I would have described myself as a classical architect and consumer of the cultural programme of the city. After spending my first summer in Brussels, especially with Piknik Elektronik on Sundays, I changed my view in the sense that I came to realise what was possible in Brussels’ jungle of mixity and fragmentation. We started small with friends who were also new to Brussels, organising BBQs around the city – something that would have been impossible in Germany. That’s when I realised that I wanted to play an active role in the city’s urban cultural life. I co-organised parties, designed and built 4041, an open cultural space in Ravenstein Gallery – incidentally where POOL IS COOL was also initially based – and founded KYTKAT / O CANTO, enabling the public to watch the Euros and World Cups in the city’s public places with a generator and TV transported on a cargo-bike. I have the feeling that this was only possible in Brussels thanks to its slightly chaotic administrative context, which leaves the freedom to initiate action in the margins of fragmented responsibilities.

List three things you like the most about Brussels.

  • The freedom to use public space, even though it’s increasingly under threat.
  • The non-specificity of most of Brussels. With nice places everywhere and friends living all around the city, you hardly ever feel excluded, wronged or bored.
  • The many places with a view on the city, from my own apartment to obvious public places like the Palace of Justice and all the hidden spots that you need to discover.

List three deciding factors that converted you to bicycle use.

I’ve always been a bicycle user, even before coming to Brussels simply because:

  • you can move whenever and wherever you want.
  • it can easily be combined with other means of transport if necessary.
  • it basically costs nothing.

List three favourite bike routes in Brussels.

  • Along the canal, because the urban factories you pass and the atmosphere that come with them are incredibly diverse. If you head south, you’ll pass the segment of the canal where you can already swim (although it is forbidden).
  • Along the Woluwe valley: true nature and architectural gems.
  • All bike routes where you can pass by cars stuck in traffic jams.