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Culture beat: 8 May

18:37 08/05/2015
Annual spring arts fixtures plus free tickets to Waterloo bicentenary

The capital is in party mode this weekend as the annual Iris Festival takes over city centre streets. Tune in to free concerts by Belgian artists (Place des Palais), enjoy urban street theatre and tuck in to some tasty snacks at the Brussels Food Truck Festival at Mont des Arts. The event coincides with and incorporates Europe Day celebrations on Saturday in the European quarter. It’s open doors in many of the EU institutions with the public invited to explore the usually off-limit corridors of power. Among the numerous activities: the Fête du Pain at the Schuman roundabout with non-profit A Discovering Network(ADN) organising the Greek stand. Visitors will have the chance to meet  Greek traders and taste their products. This year’s event marks the 65th anniversary of Robert Schuman’s declaration and celebrating the European year of development.

Another institution opening its doors this weekend is the venerable opera house La Monnaie/De Munt on Sunday 10 May. European Opera Days sees numerous opera houses from across the continent celebrating four centuries of operatic performances. Free activities include creative workshops, guided tours, talks, open rehearsals and special performances. This year’s theme is new technology. The Opéra Royal de Wallonie in Liège is also participating.

Pick up some inspiration for your lawn, borders and terraces at the Brussels Garden Festival, until Sunday evening at Cinquantenaire Park. Formerly known as Je suis au jardin, the annual spring event has decamped to the capital from its usual sport at Château de la Hulpe. Otherwise it’s business as usual with more than 180 stands displaying plants, flowers, garden décor, a craft village and a kitchen garden and delicatessen space. A kids village will keep the little ones entertained. Free entrance.

The Kunstenfestivaldesarts (KFDA) from 8 to 30 May is a highlight of the capital’s arts calendar. It brings together contemporary artists from around the world as well as performers from both of Belgium’s language communities, hence the title. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the culture extravaganza takes time to reflect on the arts scene and consider a fresh perspective with as starting point the book about the festival’s many themes The Time We Share. Among the 32 projects in multiple venues, don’t miss Belgium’s foremost choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s outstanding exhibition piece Work/Travail/Arbeid until 17 May at Wiels as well as her latest work My Breathing is My Dancing, from 8 to 14 May. Festival director Maria Tarantino screens her 2014 documentary Our City about Brussels’ changing identity.

Another spring rendezvous is the prestigious Queen Elisabeth Competition which this year draws young virtuoso violin players from across the globe. The first rounds started at Flagey this week and the marathon competition will finale at Bozar on 10 June. The 24 semi-finalists will be announced on Saturday. Among the 62 contestants are 26-year-old Fien Van den Fonteyne from Ghent and Armenian-born Hrachya Avanesyan who was a semi-finalist in 2009. The contest, founded in 1937, rotates between piano, violin, voice and composition and from 2017, the cello. You can also follow the competition on Belgian radio and television.


The bicentenary of the Battle of the Waterloo is fast approaching and tickets are still selling for all the various events. Win a pair of tickets to The Battle of Waterloo: Re-enactment of The Allied Counterattack on 20 June! These VIP tickets include an excellent view of the battle, parking space, access to Village 1815 and a dinner with drinks – a €370 value! To enter, send an email to by noon on 20 May. Winners will be notified the same day.

The bicentenary is an opportunity to relive one of the most famous battles in history

From sleepy suburbia to the battle cries of a doomed empire: Waterloo is set to be transformed as it welcomes thousands of re-enactors and tourists for the conflict’s 200th anniversary this summer. The long-awaited event is being marked by a massive commemoration programme. Each year there are small-scale re-enactments, with a larger event every five years; for the anniversary, 5,000 enthusiasts from all over the world will descend on the Walloon Brabant commune for the biggest such re-enactment in Europe. On 19 and 20 June, they will bring to life the battle scenes of the French army’s advance and the subsequent counterattack by the allies.

Through sulphurous clouds of smoke from 100 cannons, and to the beat of pipes and drums, re-enactors in military uniform and period costume are set to clash in the green fields that witnessed one of the most significant battles in European history. Among the re-enactors will be galloping cavalrymen on 300 horses, including for the first time the Royal Scots Greys. Another first is the presence of the key protagonists, Wellington, Napoleon and the Prince of Orange. The reconstitution is also an opportunity to experience military life during the Napoleonic period, with army bivouacs open to the public.

The opening ceremony is being staged on the battleground as night falls on 18 June. Inferno is an imaginative interpretation of the military event by Belgian director and filmmaker Luc Petit. Based on Victor Hugo’s epic poem The Expiation, it portrays Napoleon’s 1812 retreat from Moscow. The dramatic sound and light show with giant screens and fireworks will entertain an audience of 12,000. For Petit, the key challenge is recreating the atmosphere of the event. “This is about creating emotion, the theatre of going to war as well as the pomp and ceremony,” he says.

Major renovation of the battlefield area has resulted in a raft of refurbished attractions. A new memorial museum, due to open at the end of May, is a 6,000m2 space with colourful interactive displays. It’s set underground to recreate a panorama closer to the original scene of the 1815 battle. The imposing Lion’s Mound, built between 1823 and 1826 with soil from the battlefield, permanently altered the immediate area. Erected by King William 1 on the spot where his son the Prince of Orange was wounded, it commemorates the victory over Napoleon and downfall of the French Empire. The lion symbolised the Netherlands and Britain.

Three other sites are being overhauled for the bicentenary. They include the Wellington Museum, where the duke slept before and after the battle, and La Belle Alliance, Napoleon’s headquarters. A €5 million refurbishment project is also under way at the nearby Hougoumont farm, a British strongpoint and the scene of fierce fighting. The farm, valiantly held by the Coldstream Guards, is being excavated by a team of British archaeologists, with financial backing that includes €1.2 million from the British government. Britain’s ambassador to Belgium, Alison Rose, says “We are very proud that the UK, through its grant to Project Hougoumont, is closely involved in the refurbishment of the Hougoumont Farm which was a pivotal part of our shared European history. Hougoumont’s restoration, the installation of scenography to tell the story and the impending archaeological excavations are a testament to Belgo-British cooperation. We have no doubt that they will deepen our understanding of this historical site and strengthen our collaboration on cultural heritage projects.”.

While the bicentenary programme is expected to attract an audience of 120,000, subsequent visitor numbers are set to significantly rise. The Walloon region’s €40 million investment in the various projects is aimed at making Waterloo one of Belgium’s top tourist destinations.

For Brussels-based military tour guide Willie Mohan, the renovations are “fantastic and long overdue”. He underlines the importance of the encounter: “For a battlefield that was only 5km long and 1.5km deep and a typical 19th-century skirmish, it was the most bloody of battles. I don’t think any other battle changed history as significantly as Waterloo did. It heralded the start of the British Empire, as Britain was able to expand its influence around the world and not get involved in another European conflict for almost another 100 years.” SC

This article first appeared in the Newcomer Spring 2015 magazine


Written by Sarah Crew