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.

Tijmen Govaerts

Tijmen Govaerts

Actor and theatre maker (1994)

 Can you describe what you do?

I’m an actor for film and theatre. At the age of 18 I left Mechelen and went to the Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp where I studied Woordkunst. I spend my days reading, having meetings (read: drink coffee and talk about the world and the cultural landscape), making plans for the future, rehearsing, doing sports, and going to the theatre or the movies.

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?

I live in Antwerp because it’s the city where I did my studies. That being said, I will always come back to Mechelen since I grew up there and the city gave me a lot of opportunities. Even from a distance, I can see the city changed at a very fast pace and in a good way. For a long time, young inhabitants got ignored and didn’t get many opportunities to show their talent. Luckily this has totally changed now.  I like to describe Mechelen as ‘the smaller Ghent’. It has the same old centre, a river flowing through it, a lot of young people and a good social vibe.

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

The ArteNova project is really unique. It is hard to explain when you haven’t been there. The vibe is similar to that of venues in Berlin, but you wouldn’t expect it in Mechelen. It’s based in an old furniture store near the station, five floors high and full of artists and producers.

Another cool project is ‘Ansjovis’, a curator group who program theatre, music and film for youngsters. These are the kind of projects that make Mechelen different from other cities. I really have the feeling that politicians listen to young people from Mechelen, although you have to raise your voice a bit at first.

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

Apart from my lovely parents, brother and sister, I have another family in Mechelen: scouts Sint-Gummarus. Starting from the age of 6 until I was 20, I spent every Sunday there, it was like a second home. We grew up together and I know those guys better than anyone. The conservatory of Mechelen was also very important for me to find out what I wanted to do with my life. Koen Kwanten of ArteNova is a guy without whom my life would be totally different.

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

Mechelen does have a small underground scene with nice concerts, but it could use more places where young people can go out and have a good time. Where they can play their music loud, have a drink and forget that there are neighbours to care about. Mechelen is a bit too ‘clean’, I think it could use a bit more grit.

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

I would take them to the ‘ghost-hotel’ in Vrijbroekpark, a really cool skeleton of a building that has never been finished and is home to graffiti artists and youngsters. It’s easy to find but you have to know where to look. I already mentioned ArteNova, a community of creative outcasts of all different ages and groups. The art centre NONA is another place to check out, for more edgy theatre and (mostly experimental) jazz.

For a drink I would recommend ZAPOI. They always have a good vinyl record playing in the background, and concerts from upcoming bands in the basement.
Finally, I always buy my books in Mechelen, either at Salvator or De Zondvloed.

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

When you drive from the centre of Mechelen towards the Nekker recreational park, you have to cross a bridge. Here you find two lines written in chalk: ‘Eekhoorn mist mier’ (‘Squirrel misses ant’) and on the other side ‘Eekhoorn zoekt mier’ (‘Squirrel is looking for ant’).

It is assumed that they have a special emotional value to someone, probably a love story, but no one knows any details. ‘Eekhoorn’ and ‘Mier’ are two characters from the beautiful stories by the Dutch writer Toon Tellegen. Every time I cross the bridge I check if the text is still there, and every time I’m very happy and moved to find it still is.