Can you describe what you do?
I was born in Mechelen, but my roots are Moroccan. My father left Morocco and arrived here in 1964 as one of the first Moroccan people living in this city. I studied at the Ham Hogeschool (now known as Thomas More) and graduated in 1990. I worked as social worker for 7 years, and then became an Islamic teacher. I work at a primary school in Duffel (15 minutes from Mechelen) teaching kids between 6 and 12 years old. I live just outside the city centre of Mechelen, within walking distance from the Grote Markt. It is a quiet neighbourhood where different cultures and nationalities are represented. Everything is close by and available: a school, a playground, postal office, shops, a pharmacy…
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 my hometown, so every time I return here after being away for a while it feels like coming home. For a time, I lived in Brussels with my partner, but it didn’t feel quite like home so after a year I came back.
Mechelen has a beautiful history and an amazing cultural background. The current mayor put in a lot of effort to make this heritage more visible, renovating and exposing old sites like the Lamot brewery and the Vismarkt.
I have the feeling the people of Mechelen are not quite ready to embrace all the different cultures this city has to offer. Compared to places like Gent or Vilvoorde, I feel that Mechelen still has a long way to go in terms of bringing together people of different backgrounds. The city centre of Mechelen is buzzing during the day, but by 6pm all shops and tearooms are closed, leaving the city empty and a bit lifeless.
What would you say is Mechelen’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?
Although Mechelen is a relatively big city, the beautifully restored historic centre gives it a feel of a picturesque small town. The centre is free of traffic so you can spend hours walking around enjoying the scenery, the Dyle river, the flowers in the parks,… At the Grote Markt and the Fish Market (Vismarkt), you will find plenty of locations where you can sample all kinds of international food.
How has Mechelen contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?
The educational program in Mechelen is of a very high standard. This played a big role in defining my career as a teacher: I wanted to become part of such an amazing school system where I could be a positive influence on our youth.
On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?
There should be more cultural events both on a local and on an international scale: screenings of non-commercial films, stand-up comedy, Afghan, Indian or Moroccan food trucks, classical concerts featuring international artists… These events should take place inside the city centre to bring it back to life.
To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Mechelen?
My advice would be to visit the St. Rumbold’s Tower: standing on the glass platform at the top you get a truly breathtaking view. On a sunny day you can even see the Atomium in Brussels! However, I must note that this is not an option for people with a disability, because of the 500 steps you need to climb in order to get there. Another must-see is the Grote Markt, which will send you right back to the Middle Ages with its restored old houses.
Can you talk to us about a local legend, a neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth that, to you, encapsulates the spirit of the city?
One night a drunk guy was walking in the city and looked up at the sky above the St. Rumbold’s Tower. Seeing a red glow, he panicked and started to yell ‘the tower’s on fire!’. Everyone ran outside to help extinguish the fire with buckets filled with water. Soon they realised that there was no fire, and that it was simply the reflection of the moon behind the tower. Since then, the local people are called ‘Maneblussers’ or ‘Moon extinguishers’.