This striped car was installed outside Gare Centrale as part of an exhibition connected with the Zinneke parade in May 2014. Some 20 artists were commissioned to create a work near Central Station based on the theme "temptation". The car has gone now, but I have kept this picture as an example of how Brussels can sometimes turn into a strange and surprising city.
Bonom is the Banksy of Brussels. Since 2006, he has been spraying animals and dinosaur skeletons in some of the city's most inaccessible places. A giant Tyrannosaurus skeleton appeared on a wall opposite Bozar at the end of 2008. An elephant popped up overnight on a wall of the National Library in February 2009.
Like many people, I have sometimes speculated about the identity of Bonom. I imagined him as a Belgian. He is brave, like Tintin, but also melancholy, like Magritte or Brel. He knows the city will never respect his art, but he carries on regardless.
Now we know his identity. He revealed it recently in an interview with the city paper Brussel deze Week. It turns out that I was wrong. He is a French artist called Vincent Glowinski. He told the paper that he had stopped spraying drawings because the police knew his identity.
But a few days ago, a new work appeared on a high wall above Avenue Louise. It showed a naked woman masturbating. Many people thought it was Bonom's work. He said nothing.
Now a new work has appeared on the side of a block of flats near the Porte de Hal. It represents a skeletal old man who also appears to be masturbating. Bonom remains silent.
His delicate drawings sometimes last less than an hour before someone comes along with a bucket of caustic chemicals to wash it away. Yet Bonom is slowly conquering Brussels with his strange bestiary, creating an alternative history for this slate grey city filled with dull modern buildings.
When The Guardian asked me to write an article about Mons, I was off like a shot. Mons is one of my favourite little towns in Belgium. It’s quite a sleepy place mind you. Not many tourists visit it compared with Ghent or Bruges. But it has an old-fashioned charm that feels quite French.
Mons is in the news this year as one of the two European Capitals of Culture in 2015. It has a fantastic programme of events beginning with a launch party on 24 January which looks really fantastic. Here is what I told The Guardian.
And here is a more personal list of my 10 hidden secrets of Mons
This used to be a gloomy commuter corridor, but the architects MA2 have transformed the long tunnel leading from Central Station’s booking hall to the metro. The lighting has been improved and the walls covered with metal sheets printed with moody black-and-white Belgian scenes by photographer Daniel Deltour. Even the street musicians sound better in the bright new space.
mysecretbrussels the best of food, music, culture and life
A message of hope from Brussels :: we are a multicultural city (and we are mad about cats)
Blackboard outside Le Pain Quotidien on Avenue Louise
Brussels can sometimes be a difficult place to love. The weather can be grim. The traffic is often maddening. The streets have more loose cobblestones than anywhere else in the world.
But it can also be an inspiring city. That's what I try to cover in this blog. I write about the friendly cafés, the charming little shops, the odd corners of the city that have some peculiar quality.
Sometimes, at least to me, Brussels can seem like the perfect city. Take the main square, Grand Place. This is one of the most beautiful squares in Europe. People gather here from all over the world. You hear dozens of languages being spoken. Everyone is welcome. You can sit down on the cobblestones and eat a picnic. No one will move you on.
This is something special, I tell visitors from other countries. This is what Brussels is all about. It is about everyone living together in some sort of harmony. No matter what their politics, or their religion, or their fashion style.
But now all that has changed. There are armed troops on Grand Place. There are military vehicles parked in front of the town hall. This is something new. It feels like a war zone.
People have been asking me: Is it safe to visit Brussels at this time? I would like to say that it is no more dangerous than any other city. But I am not sure. So I say that it is probably best to stay away. Just for now.
I wish I could tell people to come because the city is suffering. The little bars and restaurants are losing income. The hotels and B&Bs are half empty. The concert halls have closed down. We can't survive for very long like this.
It feels as if we have lost something precious. It might soon not be possible to sit out on a café terrace or go to a concert hall to hear our favourite indie band. Little things. Important things.
It's easy to give in to fear. But then something comes along that changes everything. For me it was a video. It was made by a class of multicultural school students in Anderlecht district. It is a message of hope.
It is in Dutch, one of the city's two languages. Here, if you don't speak Dutch, is their message to the world
And here is the video
My secret passage :: Gare Centrale
The Hidden Secrets of Brussels
an online urban guide for the curious
This is a site about Brussels, a city that sometimes to be nothing more than a chaotic intersection of roads and railways and tramlines, a place where everyone is passing through on the way to somewhere else.
But it turns to be a city of many secret places that most people know nothing about.
The aim of this website is to steer you away from the more obvious tourist sights so that you can discover the hidden places that reveal the soul of the city.
Hidden Secrets :: my books on secret Belgium >
New Stories ::
BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO :: I love you Brussels. I hate you Brussels.
DO YOU WANT TO KNOW A SECRET :: my hidden restaurants revealed
A SMALL TOWN IN BELGIUM :: Aarschot - where nothing ever happens
ROMANTIC RENDEZ-VOUS :: the secret love hotel
BRUSSELS DOWNTOWN WALK :: where to go now the cars have gone
LOVE BITES :: the 10 most romantic things to do in Brussels
STREET ART UNCOVERED :: the secret art that no one sees
Brussels commuter by graphic artist Nena Peeters at Gare du Nord
Street art at Gare de la Chapelle by Leuven artist DinDin
Mad about Mons
24 January to 31 December 2015
My secret view :: Parking 58
When they built Parking 58, it was a symbol of a new Brussels built for cars. Launched for the 1958 Brussels Expo, it showed Belgians the shape of things to come. No more tramping around on foot or piling into crowded trams. The car was the future.
It now looks a bit tatty. The concrete is crumbling away and the lifts are not as shiny as they once were. They now talk about tearing the whole thing down. But some people argue that it should be preserved, not least because of the unexpected view from the top deck, which is totally stunning.
The most visionary proposal is to create an urban park on the top floor where downtown residents can go to enjoy the sun. It's a brilliant suggestion that would give Brussels something similar to New York's High Line. It may never happen, so enjoy the view while it lasts.
No. 248 in The 500 Hidden Secrets of Brussels
My secret street artist :: Bonom
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now :: 10 new secrets revealed including 5 best food trucks
Now in French ::
500 coups de coeur
Second revised French edition now in bookshops
Walking tours in
the secret city ::
10 walking tours in Brussels based on the bestselling guide
"I was touched by the city that you showed us. I have lived here for a year and I have always felt that there is more to Brussels than I could describe, show or touch. Even though I have read hundreds of books about Brussels. I loved the gorgeous photo exhibition, and the abandoned old fountain lined with rubbish made me cry. Brussels is a magnificent old city, but it's a pity it's not visible on a daily basis. Like the narrow street near the Rue de Flandres that isn't even on Google maps. Every citizen should be obliged to try to see Brussels through your eyes."
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