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See Summer in Brussels: The city is a hive of cultural activity over the holidays
Brussels’ cultural scene is alive and kicking over the summer. In fact some of the city’s biggest and best cultural activities take place in the holiday months, including Ommegang and the Summer of Photography. And if the weather isn’t on your side, you’ll find plenty of indoor options with a host of excellent museum exhibitions to enjoy. Here’s our culture pick for the season.
The highlight of the summer-long Carolus Festival, this colourful procession (above) around the Grand-Place (4 & 6 July) recreates Emperor Charles V's entry into Brussels in 1549. For close to 500 years, thousands of participants have paraded in period costume, surrounded by traditional folkloric giants.
The newest addition to Brussels’ vibrant cultural scene, Kanal-Centre Pompidou is something of a work-in-progress. The vast cultural hub has taken over the iconic former Citroën Yser garage on the canalside and over the coming years will be transformed into the city’s brand-new Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, an architectural centre and public spaces devoted to culture, education and leisure. For now, Kanal is in a prefigurative year, offering a year-long multidisciplinary programme to give visitors a taste of what’s to come.
Summer of Photography at Bozar is the jewel in Brussels’ cultural crown this summer (27 June-2 September). Every two years, the city’s leading arts centre, Bozar, stages a major reflection on photography in a sweeping multi-venue event through a whole series of exhibitions, workshops and talks. This season is no exception, with shows and events extending beyond the walls of Bozar to museums and galleries across the city. This latest edition takes the unrest of May 1968 as a starting point to zoom in on the turbulent 1960s in which Russian tanks put an abrupt end to the Prague Spring, Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution was raging, and wars of independence were sweeping across the African continent.
Children and adults alike will enjoy a journey through the fascinating world of monkeys at Brussels’ Museum of Natural Sciences (until 26 August). Explore the depths of the jungle, discover where they live, how they move, what they eat, how they communicate, what are they threatened by and how we can protect them in this touring exhibition from National Museums Scotland.
106 years after the official inauguration of the Wolfers Frères jewellery store in 1912, visitors will once again be able to admire the shop in its original form. To do this, the Cinquantenaire museum has created an exact copy of the shop - the same shape and size as that originally foreseen by master architect Victor Horta in the building in rue d’Arenberg in Brussels. On the basis of a thorough historical study, the showcases and the counters have been reinstalled as Horta designed them in his time. The interior layout of the shop has been restored to the highest standards. The Cuban mahogany furniture has been cleaned and the original layer of varnish refurbished, with velvet furnishing and bronze decorations.
Autoworld (above), Belgium’s national car museum, charts the history of the motorcar since 1896 in an impressive historic building in the middle of Cinquantenaire park. It’s popular all year round with 250 vehicles on permanent display, from the earliest models to the latest technological advances. All summer long, Autoworld will celebrate the 120th anniversary of one of the great French car brands - Renault. From 13 July to 2 September, more than 50 vehicles will tell the story of Renault, a history inseparable from that of 20th century France and industrialisation. It was in 1898 that Louis Renault built his first car in a workshop at the back of his parents' house – and orders soon came flooding in. On display on the mezzanine will be the most emblematic cars of the brand, including the very first Type A of 1899, the first closed car in history. Open daily 10.00-18.00.
With more than 100 events spread over 25 days, September is all about design in Brussels, with exhibitions, lectures, open houses, an arts and craft tour, design market and more. Design September (6-30 September) is jam-packed with exhibitions, conferences, visits to workshops but also art galleries: four weeks to indulge in ideas for contemporary living today. While the events take place all over the city, a focal point is MAD Brussels, the city’s newly reopened fashion and design complex.
A relatively new addition to Brussels’ museum landscape, Train World (above) is an engaging journey through almost two centuries of train travel, from the early steam engines to the sleek international models that now whisk us around the continent. It’s an action-packed outing for all ages.
Schaerbeek is a natural home for the museum – it’s the oldest station still in its original state and on the oldest stretch of track in the first country in mainland Europe to have a railway. The journey through time begins in the beautifully preserved ticket counter hall, before continuing in a giant hall, bursting with magnificent steam engines and a lovingly restored station worker’s cottage from the 1950s. Throughout, there are reminders that the story of the railways is also a story about people. There are recollections from people such as the little boy who used to catch “Tommy the train” to town with his grandmother, or the son of the railway worker rocked to sleep each night by the sound of passing trains. The hall opens out into an airy, split-level gallery, with vast windows overlooking the tracks where the trains of today whizz past.
Admire a luxury wagon-lit with its opulent dining car, or have a go at driving a train in one of the simulators. The visit ends with a cinematic vision of the railway of the future. Audio guides and information panels are in four languages, while children can follow an interactive comic strip as they play the role of a cartoon hero. The splendid scenography of the museum was designed by Belgian comic-strip artist François Schuiten. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10.00-17.00 (last admission 15.30).
The start of the new contemporary art season in September is celebrated in style in Brussels, with a busy weekend of activities when around 30 art galleries reopen at the same time (6-9 September). The city buzzes with contemporary art, with exhibitions, private viewings and receptions, confirming Brussels’ position as a dynamic, avant-garde art capital.
Top photo: Carolus Festival, Eric Danhier / Visitbrussels