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.

Tonny Van Bavel

Tonny Van Bavel

Entrepreneur at Supergoods eco shop (1974)

Can you describe what you do? Where you are based, the neighbourhood you live in, your daily routine, the people you work with, the scene you feel the closest to.

I run an eco and fair fashion shop together with my girlfriend. It is called Supergoods, and you can find it at the end of the first fair trade shopping street in Belgium, Onze-Lieve-Vrouwestraat. Here you’ll find a number of shops that either focus on ethically made products, or have several fair brands on offer. The shopkeepers try to work together as much as possible, and are known for being super friendly.

Our family lives in a small alley next to St. Rumbold’s Cathedral, almost exactly in the center of town. This is where you can really feel the heartbeat of the city: there’s a lively cultural centre next door, some little-known restaurants mostly frequented by locals, and of course the bars at the Vismarkt, which really comes to life during summertime.

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 find Mechelen to be incomparable to any city of similar size. It is small enough for people to go anywhere by foot, but at the same time it resembles a big town with something to offer for everybody. We have more Unesco-heritage buildings than Bruges (really, look it up!), a number of summer festivals, and a lot of theatres, museums and shopping. With only 86 000 inhabitants, you might say we are punching above our weight, but I feel that ambition is totally warranted.

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

Mechelen is the perfect pocket-sized alternative to any other city in Belgium. It has a lot to offer, and it centrally located right between Brussels and Antwerp. The city had a pretty bad reputation a few decades ago, but the people here have regained a sense of pride for their hometown. Tourism is still rather modest, but that means you’ll always find yourself surrounded by locals.

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

We moved here 10 years ago. At first, my girlfriend didn’t like the idea too much. But it is impossible to live here and not fall in love with Mechelen. The new generation of entrepreneurs are taking this vibrant city to a new level, and with the shop we opened almost six years ago, we try to play our little part in this.

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

The local nightlife could be better, or at least a bit more varied. A decent venue for rock concerts would sure be nice.

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

A walk on the “Dijlepad” which crosses the Dijle river, to enjoy the city’s architecture and have long brunches in one of many bars. Then, stroll through the massive rose garden in Vrijbroekpark. You can then have a drink at Vismarkt. Finally, stay the night at the converted church hotel Martin’s Patershof if you have the chance. If not, there are plenty of cool B&B’s as well.

In the summer there are a few open-air bars at unexpected places just outside of the centre, like T’ile Malines. That’s where you will find me for sure! This place is also very family friendly, as are most of the festivals that are taking place. In fact, Mechelen calls itself Kinderstad and rightfully so!

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

Not sure if it is still there, but a while ago there was a fox actually living in the Kruidtuin a small park next to the Dyle river. I think that’s pretty magical, as it is situated within the city centre! Just like that fox, Mechelen has adapted itself to every situation and reinvented itself.