This is not a local custom but a local production as the city of Mechelen gave its name to the best known and most widespread Belgian Shepherd Dog the Mechelse Herder called Belgian Malinois around the world and used as working dog in Europe, North America, Australia.
The Malinois - Mechelse Herder is a medium-sized and square-proportioned dog in the sheepdog family. The males are about 61–66 cm at the withers and weigh 29–34 kg. The base color is fawn to mahogany with a black mask.
The Belgian Malinois is bred primarily as a working dog for personal protection, detection, police work, search and rescue, and sport work.
Some defense forces prefer them over the German Shepherd and Rottweiler because they have slighter build while still being able to attack their enemies (from recent press photos it seems that the dogs used by the Navy Seals are Belgian Malinois).
Of utmost importance is that they have to be well-raised and trained. Many have excessively high prey drive. These strong dogs require consistent obedience training. They enjoy being challenged with new tasks. They are highly intelligent, alert, and sensitive to everything going on around them and develop extremely strong relationship bonds. They are considered as "high energy" dogs. They need good owners; I would even say trained owners.
I would not recommend them as a family dog, certainly not with children, but some owners will contradict me.
Has my tip any possible interest for the tourist?
Yes, if he sees in Belgium a warning "beware of the dog" it might be a Malinois so that he better stays out!
There is a long tradition of tapestry weaving in Mechelen, dating back to medieval times. Tapestries created here are considered to rival those of Brussels. This one is displayed in the Town Hall – I spotted it when we attended a reception hosted for us by the city’s Mayor. The next day on our city tour I asked our guide for more information and he was happy to detour to give us a second look. He explained that Charles V commissioned a series of 12 tapestries (now on display in Madrid) to commemorate his victory at the Battle of Tunis. Forty years later, Mechelen’s first archbishop commissioned this “compilation” scene, assembled from several of the cartoons (i.e. designs) for that series. He did this because his own father had been advisor to Charles and present at the battle – you can see him in a boat with his king in the bottom left of the tapestry (see photo 2). In fact, because it is a compilation, Charles actually appears at least twice in the scene. Incidentally, I was surprised that I was allowed to take these photos, especially with flash, but I asked the guide and he said to go ahead.
My third photo shows a cartoon by De Wit (see below) which also hangs in the Town Hall. These cartoons were painted as mirror images of the intended tapestry design. The tapestry would be woven following the picture which was spread below the weaving frame. When the tapestry was finished and removed from the frame the weaver could look on what had been created for the first time as it was intended to be seen, from the front. That must have been an exciting and rewarding climax to all the hard work that had gone before!
The craft of tapestry weaving is still practised in the city by the De Wit Manufacturers. The factory restores historic tapestries from the world’s major palaces and museums, and houses its own prestigious collection of antique and modern tapestries. Unfortunately it is only open for visits on a Saturday morning or for pre-booked groups, so that’s a treat I’ll have to save for another visit.
Another great tradition in Mechelen is the art of bell-ringing – in fact there is even a bell-ringing school here, housed in a beautiful old house next to the Hof van Busleyden museum. We were amazed when our guide told us that people come here from all over the world to study this art and take six years to do so!
The bells you will hear regularly if you spend any time at all here are those of the cathedral. There are in fact two carillon sets housed in its tower. The first is an old set of 49 bells of very mixed ages (the oldest, Jehsus, dates from 1640, while the heaviest is Salvator at 8884 kg). The second set, also of 49 bells, is very new and is used for summer-evening recitals every Monday evening from 8.30 p.m. to 9.30 p.m.
The sound of these bells is one of my favourite memories of my short visit to Mechelen.
My motto (or one of them) is: “When in Belgium --- drink beer”, so I was pleased when ordering one on my first evening here to be recommended this local beer, Margriet. I was told by the friendly lady serving me that it is brewed in the town by women and is named in honour of Margaret, Queen of Austria, who was Regent here in the early years of the 16th century – you can read about her palace in my Things to Do tips.
The beer was certainly a good recommendation, with a good hoppy flavour and very lively head. It’s a pale ale and 6.5% proof, which is quite low for a Belgian beer, so of course I had a second ;)
I’m no expert, but on doing my research back at home I found some fascinating tasting notes on this website from people who clearly are: Beeradvocate. I also discovered that it was first brewed just two years ago, created to mark a cultural celebration in the city called “City in Female Hands”, a reference to the two historical Margarets of history who lived here and are closely associated with the town, Margaret of York and Margaret of Austria.
Every year since 1995, the city of Mechelen offers to its citizens and to the visitors of the city a free concert.
For 2005, this will be the 20st and 21st of August on the main square (Grote Markt). Extra stages are on the IJzerenleen and the Botermarkt. On the Vismarkt (Fish Market) there is at the same time a small festival.
The name of the festival refers to the maneblussers. My main Mechelen page explains the history of this name.
Gouden Carolus beer is brewed in the Anker Brewery in Mechelen. Gouden Carolus is called after the golden coins of emperor Charles V.
There are different types of Gouden Carolus:
- classic, a dark beer with 8.5% alcohol, sweet
- triple, light with 9 % alcohol
- ambrio, light amber colored 8% alcohol
and they also brew special editions for christmas and eastern, with more than 10% alcohol.
The people of Mechelen are called "maneblussers" (moon extinguishers).
What's the story behind the name?
During the night of 27 January 1687 a drunken man was walking home when he saw the St. Rumbold's tower on fire.
He shouted that the tower was on fire and everyone came outside and saw it too.
The alarm-bell was sounded everywhere and all extinguishers were brought to the fire and rescue-works were organised.
When the extinguishers reached the top of the tower they found out that there wasn't a fire at all. What happened?
The moon projected a reddish glow on St. Rumbold's Tower, which was wrapped in a fog and gave the impression that the tower was on fire. Everyone was fooled by a dronken man.
The story became known in the whole country and since then the people of Mechelen are known by the name of "Maneblussers" (Moon Extinguishers).
The art of tapestry has always been very important in Flanders. Flemish weavers were known and asked all over Europe for their artistic skills to weave with wool and silk. In the older days, tapestry was used to cover the walls, the way we use wallpaper now. Most tapestry are still found in historical big buildings like castles, town halls, and museums. Since 15 years, the weaving of new tapestry has almost vanished. There are no more orders.
Ill tell the legend of 'our lady of Hanswijk' somewhere else.
Fact is that she has been devoted for a millenium now
and every year a big procession takes place
to honor her and to thank her for protecting the people and the city.
She is carried in the procession. Also the remains of 'sint-rombouts' are carried along...
Another person walking among the 2000 people attending , the sheep , the horses and the wagons is 'Kardinaal Danneels'.
The procession contains two parts. First part is an historical evocation of the history of Mechelen. Second is the history of Christianity. Well we enjoyed our afternoon.
I'm still amazed that so manny people go along. Quit an organisation.
On the other hand - I know how they get people to walk along. If you go to school in Mechelen often Catholic schools send their students to attend. Therefor they pay for the next school trip. Here is the catch , when one student doesn't attend , all the others aren't rewarded either.
(I know , I went to school in Mechelen for ages...)
Mechelen has done a great job in camouflaging new buildings within the old citycentre. Though it was not everywhere successful it still worth a recommendation from my side. In various places the city administration with help of the contracters and construction companies have managed to hide away new buildings (like appartment complexes) in such a way that they do not harm the complete look of Mechelen's magnificent historical inner town.
In many Lowlands towns one can witness a typical medieval thing. Ground was sold to the highest bidder within the centre of towns. Then a contracter started to built a house and sometimes this was constructed in such a way that the 80 square meters eventually came out to be a 100. By adding on front and backside of the building a few decameters each level, the house could become longer each level and thus giving more space. Rules for this were not made and in various places (in Mechelen as well as many other towns) we can witness a clever contracter making the most of it.
When walking through Mechelen (and many other Lowlands town, maybe even world town or city) one must know quite a lot to destinguise one architural style from the other. Going from plane Romanic buildings along Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque to Neo-classical, Jugendstile and Art-Nouveau. It is dazzling how many styles there are and not even thinking about the mix styles that are represented even more often then the pure. Anyway, in Mechelen as well, there is a lot to see and a lot to learn about this. Often styles go hand in hand, but sometimes ... it can hurt the eyes.
As sober most protestant Dutch churches are, as rich in decorations are the Belgian Catholic churches. The difference is from historical significance and has everything to do with the independance war in the 16th and 17th century, that lasted 80 years. This war started with the "Beeldenstorm" (Statue storm) after tension was rissen high between the strict rules of the Spanish rulers according to religion (Spanish inquisition) and the more and more reformed ideas of the ordinary people and parts of the nobility. In August 1566 deep in the South of Flanders (what is now the "occupied" French Flanders). The anger of the people that were restricted in choice of religion and hated the incredable wealth that the average catholic church showed, was focussed on the same churches and angry mobs started vandalising the statues, paintings and other rich decorations. This rebelion swept over the whole of The Lowlands, especially in Gent and Antwerpen the damage was immens. Still, it was also here that after this revolution the majority of the people choose Catholism in the independance war. The protestant left one by one for the fighting Northern provinces and therefor Belgium eventually became again under Habsburgian rule, now by the Austrian branch of this powerful family. Churches here were restored in their old wealth and decorated with rich ornaments, paintings and statues. Today one still can see this in the Belgian churches, Mechelen including.
"Maneblussers" or translated, "moon extinguishers" has been the nickname for the Mechelen people for many centuries. It all started according to history in the night of the 27th of January 1687, when the moon threw a red glow on Saint Rumbold's Tower. It was foggy too while a drunk guy was going home and saw the extraordinary view.
"Fire ... help, the tower is on fire" he called out in fear, waking up the neighbours, that watched outside and saw the same scene. Quickly almost the whole population was out in the streets and the alarm-bell was ringing everywhere. Firebrigade and many volunteers started to form lines to bring water by buckets from the pump. The mayor and "schepenen" (town officials) speeded to the catastrophe and organized necessary rescue-work. Buckets of water were passed from hand to hand going up on the stairs of the tower, higher and higher, but no fire was found. At the to one only saw the moon coming through the myst and the Mechelaren realised that they were fooled by a drunk fellow citizen.
Although the Mechelen people tried to hide this story, it soon became known throughout the country and even was told abroad. One should remember that cities and towns in those times only had very competative relations. Many jokes were told about it and even articles were published in papers, thus keeping the story alive. Since then the Mechelaren are known by the name: "Maneblussers" (Moon Extinguishers).
"Op-signoorke" is an ancient puppet which is carried along in special feasts in Mechelen, being is tossed in the air. In front of the city hall you see a statue simulating this tradition.
But why "signoor" (descending from Spanish "senor") as this is actually a nickname for the inhabitants of Antwerpen. Well, there is a connection between one of the many happenings in which the festivities around the tossing of the puppet, went into a fight. In 1775 people were standing along the streets all over Mechelen and the puppet was thrown up high in the air, thus going from street to street. Then the puppet fell on the floor (it is said to have happened in the Saint Katelijne straat) and Jacobus de Leeuw from Antwerp wanted pick up the doll. Immediately many people started shouting that he wanted to steal the puppet (a city mascotte as well). He got mugged by the masses and thrown in jail, though not meaning any harm. He escaped however and fled back to Antwerpen, where he wrote a letter of complaint to the Mechelen city administration. Since then the puppet has been nicknamed after the Antwerpener, thus becoming "Op-signoorke".
The original doll is kept in the Communal Museum (Busleyden-house in the Fred. de Merodestraat) where one can have a look at it. In 1949 the puppet got stolen by - guess ... yes, Antwerpen students acting as American tourists. In 1950 it was returned to Mechelen.