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.

Walter Smits

Walter Smits

Organises boat trips on the Dyle (1947)

Can you describe what you do?

I organise themed boat trips through the inner city of Mechelen on the Dyle river. These are available all throughout the touristic season, from April until October. We have two boats and five captains, who love to show off our city to tourists as well as local residents.

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 have been living here all my life, and I still love this city. It is too small to have the problems of a large city. But it is big enough to find everything here that you need: accommodation, culture, restaurants, sports, you name it. On top of that, it has a very long and eventful history, something all the residents take great pride in.

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

It has to be the size: everything you want to see or visit is within a walking distance of less than 15 minutes.

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

When I started my career 50 years ago, there was an abundance of jobs available. I did not need to leave my city, I didn’t have to waste hours in commuting traffic every day. Now that I am retired, I keep myself occupied by organising these boat trips. The city has become such an attraction for tourists, I have noticed in recent years that they are increasingly coming here in big numbers.

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

I see that the city council is following all the latest trends in city planning: making it less easy or impossible for cars to access the centre and making more room for bikes and pedestrians, there are also a lot more green spaces in the centre… I have no complaints. This is probably why our mayor was elected as ‘the Best Mayor in the World’.

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

Of course I would have to recommend our boat trips first and foremost. Every trip lasts about 40 minutes and you will pass a variety of old and modern facades, unique sights, and historical landmarks. After that, if your condition is up for it, you should try to climb the St. Rumbold’s tower, learn about its history from a guide and enjoy the view that reaches as far as Brussels and Antwerp. It will really make you feel as if you’re the ‘centre of the world’! After that you can relax with a stroll through the Beguinage, with its tranquil and picturesque streets and its many cosy corners.

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

There is one very important and well-known local legend about how we got our nickname ‘Maneblussers’ (translated as ‘moon-extinguishers’ ). One night long ago, the residents of Mechelen thought there was a fire on the top of the tower. They all ran up the stairs with buckets full of water, only to find out that it was actually the red glow of the moon shining through the clouds.