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A hybrid Iris Festival celebrates all things Brussels

15:02 30/04/2021

Last year was the first time in 30 years that the Iris Festival had to be cancelled. While formal speeches were made on this official Brussels community holiday, there was no big public party the likes of which Brussels residents have come to know and love over the decades.

That will not happen this year. While it will look and feel very different, there will be an Iris Festival next weekend – and beyond.

“The Iris Festival is an official community holiday in the Brussels region,” says Jeroen Roppe of tourist agency Visit Brussels. “It’s on 8 May, which is Victory in Europe Day, marking the end of the Second World War. It was adopted as Brussels’ ‘feast day’ in 2003.”

But the Iris Festival actually came first. Now in its 32nd year, “it’s just getting bigger and bigger,” says Roppe.

Except this year, with a hybrid event that will be held half online and half in the real world. A normal Iris Festivals sees more than 100,000 people taking to the streets for concerts, exhibitions, family activities, guided tours and the many stands held by regional and municipal institutions, as well as cultural organisations and non-profits. It’s a day for fun but also to get to know the institutions that run Brussels.

 The COOP building in Anderlecht
Check out the view from the top of the COOP building, a lesser-known architectural gem in Anderlecht

This year visitors will still get a chance to meet some of those people but also take part in the rest – albeit with a reservation and with far fewer people. The number of visitors at each event will be limited to ensure social distancing.

“It’s difficult in these circumstances to organise an event like this, but it is possible,” says Roppe. “We wanted to show other organisers that. We did it last year with the Comic Strip Festival, and we wanted to again prove that it is possible to organise an event in a different way – respecting all the measures taken in this period of crisis.”

In-person events include concerts, tours of neighbourhoods and buildings and ULB’s village at See-U. This should prove to be a festival hot-spot as ULB scientists show off their latest research projects, visitors are introduced to ULB’s museum network, and the whole family can take part in sport and other activities.

The concerts will also be recorded and streamed online afterwards. Also on the Iris Festival website are amusing clips of life in Brussels made by local comedians. “We call it zwans, this typical Brussels humour,” says Roppe. “They have made some hilarious videos.”

The festival takes place on 8 and 9 May, but events will pop up around the capital for a couple of weeks after that, says Roppe. But he encourages people to sign up for an event if they can. “Usually the weather is excellent,” he notes, “so let’s hope that will be the case this year as well.”

Photos, from top: ©E Danhier/Visit Brussels, courtesy COOP


Written by Lisa Bradshaw