‘Brussels’ Brandenburg.’ The dramatic arch and arcade of Parc du Cinquantenaire (Jubelpark) welcomes visitors to the site of the 14-18 exhibition after a thirty minute walk or ten minute metro ride (Schuman or Mérode stations) from Brussels Central. The edifice’s regal splendor was the work of King Leopold II to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Belgian independence in 1880.
The structure, still unfinished, staged the 1897 World’s Fair. It is the 1910 version of the event, also held in Brussels, where the 14-18: It’s Our History exhibition begins. For World, read Europe — Eurocentrism was rife in the decades before WWI. Europe had colonized over half of the globe — a little under half of its population and 90% of Africa. The World’s Fair was the icon for the glorification of this supremacist system, a capitalistic extravagance designed to project the power of the host nation unto its first world partners. With an estimated 13,000,000 visitors to the fair, Brussels was the serene host to more than Belgium’s modern population (11.2mil in 2013).The exhibition successfully evokes this overlooked context of opulent luxury and silent peace. The summer of 1914 was just another summer. The curators take time to transport us back to its tranquil normality. The King was taking his annual holiday (rather bizarrely, his bed features within this ‘all inclusive’ exhibition), and the twelfth Tour de France started on June 28. That same day, the nineteen-year-old Gavrilo Princip walked towards a black automobile in Sarajevo. Two shots were fired. Princip had killed Austria-Hungary’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Belgian Phillipe Thys won his second Tour de France on July 26. A little over a week later, Germany invaded Belgium.This chronology of normality and historical extremity is the early lesson of the 14-18 Expo. Summer 1914 is the collision between these two worlds. Now, the lessons of hindsight and retrospect make war inevitable, but to those at the time, this was not the case. As two gunshots ring out, the faint sound of jazzy music can still be heard rippling in the speakers of the peacetime rooms before.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
The sonic texturing of the exhibition is a real achievement. The words of T.E. Lawrence open the room dedicated to the early phase of the war as the German advance meets opposition and, ultimately, complete stalemate. A floor map underlines the undying futility of the mechanized slaughter as the front moves negligibly between August 23, 1914 and November 11, 1918. In ‘Flanders’ Fields,’ the immortal poem echoes around the rooms narrating the experience of soldiers on the front. The soundtrack binds the exhibition experience to unify the catalogue of archive images, video clips and installation replicas of the era.These replicas range from the rather kitsch, an American shop selling US aid packages, to the effective realization of a trench complete with periscopes revealing slides of No Man’s Land scenes. The gruesome smell of sludge and grime is absent, but the primary focus of the exhibition is the state of limbo for Belgians under the occupation. This explains the shop, but other examples include a café, prison cells and a moving tribute to the resistance fighters who lost their lives risking them for liberation.
Small portraits of the faces of individuals involved form a guard of honor leading to a cross within a tiny chapel. Included amongst them is a photograph of British nurse Edith Cavell. Cavell helped more than two hundred allied troops escape from Belgium to neutral territory. When her network was betrayed, she was found guilty of treason and shot by a firing squad while still in her nurse’s uniform. A heroine, she became a Christian martyr for the allied effort, a beacon of courage in the face of the impossible. Cavell’s was an example of an English civilian crossing the channel to Belgium. The overriding current was in the opposite direction.Remember Belgium — so went the propaganda posters of the early war recruitment effort in Britain. Casting ‘Brave Little Belgium’ as victims of ‘Rape,’ both of its neutrality and identity, there was outcry over the atrocities in Leuven and Dinant. Dinant was the site of a 674-person massacre, including a three-week-old baby, mass deportations and the wounding of Charles de Gaulle in the heavy fighting. The same week saw Leuven’s St Peter’s church and university burned in acts of systematic brutality. Afterwards, Belgium came to Britain in a big way. More than one and a half million Belgian citizens sought refuge in the Netherlands, France and Britain, of which an estimated 250,000 found four years of shelter in Britain. 16,000 in a single day. To contextualize this, Britain’s Home Office has granted asylum to almost 5,000 of the four million Syrian refugees since civil war broke out in 2011. Such was the size of the Belgian exodus, it even included Albert’s son (the future Leopold III) enrolling at Eton in 1915.
It is a story portrayed in the photographic exhibition at Antwerp’s MAS in the elegant exhibition, Exodus. Elegant because the photos adorn the normally dead spaces along the escalator walls. Over nine floors, the tale of these citizens in exile is explored from the early panic to safety and unsettling return to a homeland destroyed. Walking back down the Rue de la Loi (Wet Straat) back into the heart of Brussels, the glittering grey cells of the European Commission shine out from the glass monolith, Le Berlaymont. Though an office building, it is symbolic of the development of Brussels into the capital of Europe — the bureaucratic brain of European unity. The final room of the exhibition showcases the legacy of WWI as the dawn of the modern. WWII gets a two minute overview, before the Cold War and the inauguration of the modern international institutions, chiefly, the European Union. Designed as a paragon of solidarity and cooperation, the EU has avoided the calamities that defined the twentieth century. Long may this continue. By Rory McInnes-Gibbons
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.