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.

Steven Op de Beeck

Steven Op de Beeck

Proud father and organiser of Contour biennial (1975)

Can you describe what you do?

I grew up in a small village close to Mechelen, and returned to the city in 2004 after having lived in Spain for a few years. In the last decade, I have organised Contour, a biennial of moving image. Every two years, we present contemporary film, video, installation art and performances by over twenty international artists, spread across several venues in the City of Mechelen. The biennial is a platform for curators and artists, but it also stimulates a dialogue between contemporary art and architecture in the city. In December, I started my job as the managing director at arts centre Netwerk in Aalst.

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?

Considering its modest size, Mechelen has an impressive amount of high-quality art spaces, theatres and music venues: Nona, Arsenaal-Lazarus, Abattoir Fermé, de Garage, De Maan, Filmhuis, Festival van Vlaanderen, Zefiro Torna and last but not least, the living room gallery Transit.

The city hosts 138 different nationalities, a diversity I see reflected in my children’s classrooms. I’m actually envious of the rich multi-cultural environment  in which they grow up!

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

In my opinion, the 16th century patrimony is still Mechelen’s main pride. Since I work in Aalst, I’ve become even more aware of the unique historical setting that surrounds us every day.

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

Mechelen played an important role in my youth. I went to the Academy of Fine Arts when I was just six years old. I’ve experienced the heydays of our football club KV Mechelen. I climbed to the top of the Nekkerhal to enjoy the view. i saw my first movie at cinéma Calypso. I gave my first kiss on the roof of the former Europarking tower. I met the love of my life during a long walk along the river Dyle. 14 years on and we still live in Mechelen with our three kids, next to the Vrijbroekpark.

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

I would recommend to make public transport available late at night. After attending a theatre play or concert in Mechelen, there is no way to get back to Antwerp or Brussels by train.

Mechelen is also sorely lacking a nightlife with some good clubs. We could do with some more restaurants serving food from international kitchens. But what I miss the most is the artwork ‘Pavilion for a Catholic City’ by Dan Graham, which was co-produced by Contour and the city in 2011. It was temporarily moved to a storage, but I can’t wait until it is once again publicly showcased.


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

I support all new and hip initiatives in the city, but personally I prefer the old-fashioned traditional cafés and bars. Whenever I’m hosting artists in Mechelen, I drag them to Cafe Sels and Antverpia for the perfect pint or d’Hanekeef for other beers. Another personal highlight for me is Brasserie De Met at the ‘Grote Markt’. Just thinking about their shrimp and cheese croquettes served with thick, crispy fries makes my mouth water. You should also try the fish’n’chips at O’Fiach and the ‘astakomakaronada’ (Greek lobster spaghetti) on the sunny terrace of Origano. Of course, all this after having climbed the St. Rumbold’s Tower.

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

While doing research for Contour, we found out that Dee Dee Ramone – the co-founder and bass player of The Ramones – used to live in Mechelen during the 90s, with his wife Barbara and two dogs Kessie and Babita. He has dedicated a small paragraph in his biography to his time in Mechelen, where he states that it felt like arriving in the Middle Ages. There is a hilarious story about two football fans of KRC Mechelen joking about Dee Dee Ramone attending the matches, convinced that it was a look-a-like. Only recently did they find out that the real Dee Dee was a true KRC fan!