Legends and urban stories, Antwerp
This Art Deco building, owned by the KBC bank, is reckoned to be Europe's oldest skyscraper and was conceived after a visit by the then Mayor to New York. It was modelled on the Empire State Building but because of local restrictions, that no building could overshadow the Cathedral, was built considerably shorter.
It's known as the "Farmers Tower" because at the time of construction (between 1929 and 1932) the KBC bank's main shareholder was the local farmers co-operative.
According to the local tourist guide the walls of the building are about six times thicker than they needed to be because the city's senior architect didn't trust the American-influenced plans.
There is some Antwerp legend (I'm afraid I don't remember the details but it's not important) about a giant and a man who fight, the man wins and cuts of the giant's hand (natives - feel free to correct me). So there is a statue to commemorate this, and the chocolate shops sell little chocolate hands.
What many people (including Belgians) may not know is the double meaning this has due to the havoc Belgium/King Leopold wreaked in the Congo during the colonial era: Belgian soldiers in the Congo were rewarded for bringing back the severed hands of the African people they forced into slavery, harvesting rubber for Belgium's economy.
'stinkend rijk' is a saying often used in
Belgium. It is translated to 'stinking rich? .
This saying finds its origin in ancient times.
When rich people where buried in the church
under a large gravestone. These rich people
often also paid for the church.
The 'stinker' in the picture here is Pieter
Paul Rubens , he is burried in the Sint
The name 'Poesje' or 'poesjenelle' found it's
origine in the name of 'polichinelle' and that
word was taken from 'paolo Ciniello'. Paola
was a boy from a puppetplay who was really
lazy and funny.
The poesje are typically ' Antwerp'
In the 19th centurie this puppetplay was a
succes in the popular neighboorhoods 'Sint-
Andries' and 'Schipperskwartier'
The poesjenelle where rough handmade
You can see the 'poesje' in the museum for
folklore behind the city hall or in the
repenstraat , where since 1862 a puppet
theater was located.
The natives or better to say "real" natives of Antwerp call themselves Sinjoors. But to be allowed to use this word your both father and grandfather must be born in the old town of Antwerp. I was told that Sinjoors are not too modest, hmm... I didn't notice that - more time needed or it's untrue?
I noticed that many countries have at least one city which was very rich and famous in the past (and often still is) and whose proud citizens try to differentiate newcomers from "real" natives. Is a citizen of say Brooklyn allowed to call himself/herself a New Yorker?
I found amazing fountain in the middle of the Main Square (Grote Markt) in front of the Town Hall (Stadhuis). It was called the Brabo fountain. The statue was made by sculptor Jef Lambeaux in 1887.
According to a legend, a terrible giant, called Druoon Antigoon, lived on the banks of the river Scheldt in ancient times. Whenever sailors on the Scheldt river refused to pay toll to the giant, he punished them by cutting off their hand. A Roman soldier, Silvius Brabo, managed to kill the giant. Brabo cut off the hand of the giant and threw the hand away in the river.
Hence, according to the legend, the name of the city : hand ( Engl.: hand) -werpen (Engl.: to throw). A nice legend, although as I know untrue. Nevertheless, the "hand" is the symbol of Antwerp. There are hands in the town flag. Also I noticed several sweets in the form of a hand (cookies, chocolates).
Who is watching carefully around in Antwerpen can still find the hand of the giant Antigoon, that was cut of and thrown into the river Schelde by the hero Brabo. Obviously someone got it out of the river as ... here it is ...
Though not so popular in Belgian itself, the story of the dog of Flanders, has gripped many people on earth (especially the Japanese). And the story is dramatic, yet beautiful. Nello, a orphan boy that helps his uncle in gathering the milk for his dairyshop saves Patrasche (a dog) from being beaten to death by a aggresive boss. They become friends forever and though from that moment everything in Nello's life goes wrong, Patrasche is absolutely loyal to his master and friend. The uncle dies and Nello ends up on the street. The village windmill burns down and as he is seen at that place before it happened, he is held responsible for this disasters. Nello always has dreamed of seeing once the paintings of Peter Paul Rubens in Antwerpen and so without a penny he leaves for the big town. Winter closes in on him and the dog and the barely make it to the cathedral. There he knows to enter the church, being almost dragged by Patrasche. They both die in embrace underneath the large "crusifiction"-painting of Peter Paul Rubens ... on Chrismas-eve.
When the Catholic church spread the rumour that people could defend themselves against ghosts like "Lange Wapper" by having a little statue of Saint Mary / the holy Madonna at home, the citizens of Antwerpen started to erect our dear lady everywhere in town. On corners, above doors and yes, there's even one standing high in the cityhalls front facade. Antwerpen got it's name as being the city of Madonna by this and ... loomaround ... it still quiet is.
In medieval times, people often took to legends and stories to explain the unknown. Plagues, accidents and disasters - they always were the work of some evil spirit and in Antwerpen, the worst one of them all was: Lange Wapper (Long "Wapper"). This ghostly figure lived in the canals (Reien) and came out when the sun went down. Then young girls and old ladies had to watch out and also men were not safe for his pranks and jokes. He tried to lure youngsters into sin - for example gambling and drinking - but was also used by drunken husbands as an excuse towards their wifes when coming home. The "Lange Wapper" had paid them a visit when returning home from work and the only safe place was ... of course ... the bar.
Antigoon and Brabo
Antigoon was a giant, who cashed toll from the sailors crossing the river Schelde. The sailors where fat up with the guy and their hero Brabo cut off the hand of the giant Brabo and threw it in the river. In dutch or flemish "Hand werpen" is Hand throwing, which became Antwerpen in time.
On a nice evening in spring, the children were still playing on "Steenplein", when a so to see rich gentleman came walking. He had a big bag with candy, all the sweets, you can imagine. He gave all away to the children, but at the same time he left the square towards "Het Kiel". He began to walk faster and faster. The strange thing was that at the same time he gave more and more sweets. The children kept following him. In the end without actually noticing they already reached "Boomsesteenweg" and suddenly the generous man was gone, vanished in the air. The only thing they could here was a loud mean laugh and then they knew they followed Lange Wapper.
The numerous crossroads in Antwerp's old town are adorned with Madonna figures. It was told that during the Spanish occupation, people had to pay a huge amount of taxes to the Spanish crown. Houses with a Madonna statue, didn't need to pay these taxes as Spaniards were very religious. So many rich people put a madonna statue on their facade. Unfortunately, many were destroyed during different fires.
The legend tells that ANTWERPEN comes from the Dutch 'handwerpen', which means 'to throw a hand'. The hero Brabo defeated the giant Antigoon, chopped off the giant's hand and throw it into the river Scheldt.
Antwerp has a famous legend: the giant Antigoon lived in a castle in the time of Julius Ceasar. He asked every skipper a fee to pass the river Schelde. If the skipper couldn't pay, the giant would cut off his hand. One day a man called Brabo said it was enough and he cut off the hand of the giant Antigoon and threw it in the river. Antwerpen got his name by this legend it is said: Antwerp = Hand + werpen (throwing). The real story according to VT-friend Rieke (Ria): the ships would come aside to board (aanwerpen in flemmish) and that is how Antwerpen got its name (aanwerpen = Antwerpen).