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Up my street: The Bulletin's neighbourhood guide to Koekelberg

10:32 01/10/2018

Dominated by Elisabeth Park and the looming Art Deco basilica, Koekelberg is the city’s second smallest municipality after Saint-Josse. It’s an attractive commune, with broad pavements, lots of greenery and a different atmosphere to many other parts of town. We asked Bulletin readers to tell us what they like about living there, and what they’re not so keen on.

Rozina Spinnoy from Scotland has lived here for 10 years. “I like that I’m living in Brussels, yet still have that ‘village’ feeling,” she says. “It’s close to this dominating, symbolic feature of the stunning Art Deco basilica within the lovely Elisabeth Park, and I love the trees that attract all kinds of birds, including the parakeets.” 

While living in neighbouring Molenbeek, not far from the basilica, she says she noticed that “there seemed to be a lot of regeneration going on in general in the north side of Brussels with the canal zone and further up. We could see the potential of the area, and my Belgian in-laws knew this part of town. In Molenbeek we had a super spacious apartment, where we certainly got more for our money than on the south side. Of course, I was the only person in my office with that postcode. Everyone in the office who was an ‘expat’ seemed to live ‘just off Avenue Louise!’”

As her family grew, they wanted to move from their seventh-floor apartment to somewhere on the ground floor. “Our children went to the local Flemish crèche and schools, so we moved a couple of streets up to Koekelberg. We found a super street with friendly neighbours who had been living in the street for thirty or forty years. There was a lovely sense of community,” she says. “Over the years, I’ve seen more and more foreigners and English-speaking community move here. It’s a great commune for families. There are plenty of schools in the area, there’s the beautiful park, it’s near the metro and bus stops and not far from the city at all. It’s a real mix of young, old and families. I think there’s something for everyone here.”

What would she change about Koekelberg? “I’d like to see more collaborations between local businesses and citizens, a shared vision among public, private and civic organisations, more civic participation, more inclusivity within procedures and more open governance.”

On the whole, her neighbours agree. “It’s sleepy and very boring, with the city’s most kitschy attractions, but it’s a good place for families to live, especially in certain neighbourhoods, with attractive real estate prices,” says Philip Amaral from the US. “I like being totally disconnected from the eastern side of Brussels that’s overwhelmed with hipster Europeans and highly paid Eurocrats. Koekelberg feels very solidly middle-class with an entirely different set of people than those you’d find in other communes: older Belgians and Europeans who’ve been living there for decades, with Albanians, Bulgarians, Portuguese and Polish, among others.” On the downside, Koekelberg “lacks even one family-friendly brasserie or pub that isn’t kitschy or that doesn’t have gambling machines. And hardly any of the nice online services – like Uber Eats, Deliveroo, Zipcar – make it this far.” 

One Spanish expat describes Koekelberg as “a calm residential area close to the centre. It’s a nice place with lovely houses and a beautiful park. You have everything you need either within walking distance or just five minutes’ drive away,” they told us. “It’s a side of Brussels unknown to the non-locals, and I’d like to see more international people move here. Koekelberg is a very small commune; as it’s one of the smallest town halls, administration is very fast and the staff are very friendly.”

The basilica towering over Koekelberg is the largest Art Deco building in the world, and the fifth largest church in the world. It’s worth a visit for the panoramic view from the outdoor gallery just under the dome (accessible by lift). There are also two museums and a permanent exhibition about the construction of the church.

Property prices in Koekelberg are lower than in many parts of the city. According to real estate website Immoweb, one-bedroom flats in the municipality can easily be found for around €650 per month, with lots of larger apartments available for €800. Houses with three or four bedrooms are widely available to buy for less than €400,000.

Favourite spots

Sirre patisserie • Vintage Brussels restaurant and piano bar • The Art Deco Belgian Chocolate Village • Café Paradise at Simonis • Wok2Day Chinese restaurant • Bar Eliza in summer • Elisabeth Park • De Platoo community centre • Frederic Blondeel chocolaterie • Views from the top of the basilica

Positives

  • Quiet, small-town atmosphere
  • Friendly community feel
  • Attractive houses at reasonable prices
  • Good for families
  • Feels distant from EU institutions
  • Well-served by public transport

Negatives

  • Boring, not much nightlife and few attractive bars
  • Out of range of major food delivery services
  • Densely populated
Written by Sally Tipper