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Happy Birthday, Brussels: How to celebrate the region's 30th anniversary in style

20:24 30/04/2019
In partnership with

The Iris Festival is the Brussel Region's annual birthday party and this year it's a round number - 30 - so it's going to be extra special.

Why Iris? Because the yellow-bearded iris is the symbol of the Brussels Region and the historical reasons for that are a mixture of botany and warfare.

Back in the 11th century, as Brussels established itself at what is now Saint-Géry, it was surrounded by marshes. And the locals knew that where the iris grew the marshes were very shallow and would support a horse and rider whereas where the flowers were not, the marshes would not. So, when attacked, the Brussels defenders could navigate the marshes and successfully defeat the clueless invaders by drawing them into deeper swamps.

This year, the Iris Festival lasts five days - a long weekend of celebration for Brussels' 1.2 million inhabitants and 184 nationalities. The celebrations will take many forms. On Wednesday the festival begins with tributes to the trams of Brussels.

On Thursday, there will be the premiere screening of Luc Jahon's documentary Bruxelles-Brussel in the Henry LeBoeuf Hall in Bozar with the director in attendance. The film takes you through specific streets of the city with informed narrators who uncover the origins and unique histories of the streets, boulevards, squares, lanes and urban spaces.

On Friday, Electro Night will be back, with top Belgian and International DJs making musical magic on the Place des Palais.

On Saturday, the festival invites everyone to discover Brussels off the beaten track with exceptional visits to a large number of secret places that are normally closed to the public.

There will be a special emphasis this year on the boroughs of Brussels-City, Ganshoren, Berchem-Sainte-Agathe and Koekelberg. Simultaneously, it will be Europe Day with the European institutions open to the public with guided tours, talks, exhibitions and concerts. That evening a stellar line up of musicians will give a concert on the Place des Palais, followed this year by a spectacular fireworks display.

Finally, on Sunday, street art (circus arts, street theatre, interactive games) will be showcased along with all kinds of workshops, dance demonstrations, kids' activities and much more, with the Royal Park becoming a living theatre for the day. There will be sporting activities as well, and themed villages such as Discover the City Village, Mixity Village, Science Village, and Arts, Cultural Heritage and Museums Village, to name just a few.

Flagey and Cinematek will be offering "Brussels on Screen" - a retrospective starting at the very beginning of silent cinema to amateur short films to fiction and documentary, with Brussels as a film backdrop. Included will be Marie-Jo Lafontaine’s Brussels Swings which highlights many of the musical accents of the city such as the cello, Congolese rumba, punk, electro-acoustic, opera, accordion and rap. is celebrating its 10th anniversary by inviting everyone to become part of its time capsule. And the Museum of Natural Sciences, one of the most popular in Brussels with the largest dinosaur hall in Europe, is planning to unveil a big surprise during the festival to celebrate the 30-year anniversary. Clues will be revealed up until the 7 May opening.

The sleek modernist spaces of the Vandenborght building are the perfect place for Intimate Audrey, an exhibition on the life of Audrey Hepburn created by her son, Sean Hepburn Ferrer, to celebrate her 90th birthday in the town of her birth, Brussels. It focuses entirely on the woman and not on the icon.

Included are several hundred original and reprinted photographs, a limited number of souvenirs, dresses and accessories, as well as her unpublished works, fashion drawings and humanitarian writings. A series of personal videos will give us an insider’s view of the many chapters in her life. All profits will go to EURORDIS-Rare Diseases Europe and to Brugmann and Bordet hospitals in Brussels.

During the five days, more than 40 food trucks located both on Place des Palais and Coudenberg Street will be offering cocktails, falafels, bagels, vegan burgers, Thai, African, Italian, Greek, Moroccan, Lebanese, Belgian and many more specialties.

Written by The Bulletin with