Can you describe what you do?
I live just outside of Mechelen in an 18th-century farm that used to belong to my parents. Behind the house there is a huge field, and I wanted use all this space for something more than just growing my own vegetables. So I turned it into a community garden where people from the city can cultivate their own piece of land and connect with nature. The project has become immensely popular: young and old, locals and immigrants, everybody is welcome here. In the field, I’ve also installed an educational barefoot path, and groups of children can come here for school projects or birthday parties. I also organise workshops, courses and lectures here.
Apart from that, I do a lot of voluntary work. I am ambassador for the region they call the ‘Hombeeks Plateau’, where I often guide groups and organisations in the natural areas around Mechelen. I also do reading sessions for children at the city’s public library.
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 city with a very rich history. It is said that, as far back as around 500 B.C., there was already a primal village in this area. During the Middle Ages, Mechelen was famous for its trading activity, and it became a fortified walled settlement. After the marriage of Margaret III with Filip, the Bold Mechelen was annexed by the state of Burgundy. Under the lordship of Charles the Bold, it was the capital of the Low Countries until Mary of Hungary settled in Brussels. All of this history is reflected in the old buildings and monuments throughout town.
In 1559, Mechelen became the seat of the archbishopric, which explains the abundance of churches in the city. Together with our other restored patrimony, they play a big role in creating its specific charm and character.
Over just a couple of decades, Mechelen has evolved from a provincial town to a place where many cultures are present. Respectfully and harmonically living together is one of the main challenges for our community.
On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?
In a city like Mechelen, the work is never done. I think the council is doing a terrific job in the preservation of our patrimony, and it is great to see so much green spaces being preserved. I think we could do with a public transport and mobility system throughout the whole city, not just in the centre. Apart from that, a large performance space for big shows would be nice, and I hope we continue our efforts to help all residents learn and speak Dutch.
To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Mechelen?
A tourist in Mechelen has a whole range of activities to choose from. There are several museums and a number of historical churches that are open to the public. Of course they have to witness the skyline from the top of the St. Rumbold’s tower, and the market on Saturday is a great place to stroll around and discover local specialities. With regards to booking a place to stay, there are plenty of cosy B&B’s in addition to the regular hotels.
Can you talk to us about a local legend, a neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth that, to you, encapsulates the spirit of the city?
Everyone knows the story of the ‘Maneblussers’, but our patron saint that gave his name to the tower was a local legend as well. The story goes that he built a small church in Mechelen, and contrary to the practice of that time he paid a fair wage to his employees. Two of these men made the assumption that he had to be very rich, and plotted to kill him. They clubbed him to death, robbed him of the little money he had and threw the body into the water. A miraculous light shone down on the location of his corpse, and it was soon discovered and retrieved. He was buried in the church he had constructed himself, and word has it miracles started immediately occurring in the region.