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.

Pieter Vaes

Pieter Vaes

Chocolatier at The Cacao Project (1986)

Can you describe what you do?

I work as a chocolatier in my own store ‘The Cacao Project’, located in the main street of Mechelen, “de Bruul”. You can find it at no. 89 near the water and the beautiful city park “De Kruidtuin”.

At the shop we produce and sell all our own chocolate creations, ranging from the classic edibles to creations with our own twist: special blends, custom candy bars and much more. We don’t put a limit on creativity and inspiration, and that gives our work a very personal touch. All of this chocolate goodness is produced by my girlfriend and myself in the workspace behind the shop, which you can observe through a window.

My daily routine depends a lot on the season. In spring and summer when the weather is generally hotter, we don’t have too much work and we live a rather normal and regular life, working from 9h in the morning until 19h in the evening. But during our main seasons autumn and winter, our life changes dramatically and weeks of more than 20h a day for six or seven days a week are standard.

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?

For me, Mechelen was an obvious choice to start my first shop. It is a young and vibrant city that is actively working on its future and public image. In my view, Mechelen is a functioning multicultural city that is rapidly expanding. I really believe that if we keep it up, the city will leave behind other similar-sized cities and become one of a kind.

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

Like I said, Mechelen is young and it’s growing. There’s lots of newly reconstructed streets and squares, a large amount of festivities, but also small streets to wander around and discover. The walkway on the water is a particular highlight.

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

A few years ago, I visited the city with my sister (who has lived here for about 10 years), I really got the urge to start a shop here. Mechelen is open to innovative and creative people. If you look at the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwestraat with its abundance of little creative shops, you really get the feeling young people get the chance to pursue their dreams here.

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

It would be nice to see more tourists finding their way to Mechelen.

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

It is difficult to pick just one place that symbolises the entire city. But I would advise the out-of-towners to go on a tour with a city guide. These people know a lot about the city, its inhabitants, the interesting places and its history. You can also book a chocolate tour through the city with a local guide. My personal favourite spots are the parks: I really recommend a walk or picnic in Kruidtuin, Tivoli or Vrijbroekpark. Planckendael is also most definitely a place I always love to go to, and it’s easy to travel to by bike or public transportation.