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.

Pier De Cock

Pier De Cock

Social-artistic theatre maker at Het Hof Van Savooien (1959)

Can you describe what you do?

I am a professional theatre director, writer and actor. In 2013, I was asked by alderman Koen Anciaux to start up a social-artistic theatre group for the ‘Sociaal Huis’ initiative. Since 2014, my rehearsal space is situated in a big building of the ‘Sociaal Huis’. For the moment, the building has been shut down because of instability reasons so unfortunately we are homeless. We create theatre with people who live in poverty, or who live a normal life but are socially engaged. We write our texts and songs individually and in group.

I live in the neighbourhood of the ‘Groot-Begijnhof’, a well-known location in Mechelen. I do community work here, and every 3 months, I write an article about a local inhabitant for our local newspaper. Overall I am a very engaged person, and I will always stand up for the weakest in our society.

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?

Before I came here, I lived in Ghent for 29 years. In comparison, Mechelen is much smaller. It can be pretty bourgeois, and in general the vibe is a bit less creative and more conservative. But it seems the last few years, there has been a big change for the better. The city has also completely transformed in comparison to 20 years ago, and nowadays it is a much cleaner and safer place.

Of course, there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ inhabitant of Mechelen, but at times I do sense some negativity and even some racial prejudice which I find very unfortunate. Ghent is more progressive in that regard. I hope we can turn this around for the better.

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

Mechelen is rather small and that is one of its most positive characteristics. You can easily go anywhere on foot, which is an advantage for visitors. Also, two of the largest Belgian cities are nearby: Brussels and Antwerp. Mechelen is situated right in the middle of these two metropoles.

It is also a city with a lot of old monuments and an extensive history. Many buildings have been properly restored to their original state.

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 of Mechelen provided a new spur for my career. That is very important for a creator, who always needs a fresh perspective to evolve. It was most inspiring to experience so many differences between cities, people and regions. Moving here made me realise there is no such thing as “the best place.” Every new place has its positives and negatives. This is a very important insight to have in life.

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

The social policy in Mechelen could be taken much further. We have to do more to provide a good future for everybody, and not merely for the happy few. There should be much more social housing available, and there’s still a lot of work to be done in the field of diversity. Participation policy could also be much improved upon, in my opinion.

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

If you come to Mechelen for a weekend, don’t forget to bring your walking shoes and your bike! The region around Mechelen provides excellent opportunities for hiking and biking.

When in town, visit the old and new Dossin Kazerne site in combination with the Brewery ‘Het Anker’ where you can have a Triple Gouden Carolus beer. But don’t drink too much, so you can still go for a walk in the Mechels Broek the day after, or go for a bike ride on the banks of the Dyle and the Nete rivers.

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

Before I moved to Mechelen I was unfamiliar with the tradition of ‘Sinte Mette’. It is typical for this region, a local version of the Saint Nicholas celebration. We don’t know it in Ghent.

Christmas is also a very special time in the neighbourhood where we live. Each year, a Living Navity Scene is built, which provides a very unique, kindly and authentic atmosphere.

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