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Brussels  | © Stephane Mignon/Flickr
Brussels | © Stephane Mignon/Flickr
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The Most Curious Details Of Brussels, Belgium

Picture of Teresa Lopes Vieira
Updated: 27 October 2017
Uncommon words, peeing statues, cartoons — if there are two things that Belgians excel at, it is originality and humor. The Culture Trip invites you to take a look at some of the unique details that make Brussels so special and immerse yourself in this world of Belgian fun.
Pieter Brueghel the Younger, The Wedding Dance, 1625
Pieter Brueghel the Younger, The Wedding Dance, 1625 | © Pieter Brueghel the Younger/WikiCommons

It Has Its Own Unique Dialect

It is widely known that Belgium is but a puzzle of dialects that reflect the cultural disparity and variety within this tiny country. It has three different languages (French, Flemish – a form of Dutch – and German), which also vary in pronunciation and vocabulary, according to the district within the region. Therefore, a Flemish speaker from West Flanders is likely to be misunderstood by others living in the outskirts of Brussels.

The complicated capital is located at the junction between Flanders and Wallonia. Therefore, the Brusseleer is a patois originated from the Brabançon (Dutch dialect) but seasoned with French words, or even Dutch adaptations of French vocabulary. For example, dikkenek is composed of the Dutch word dikke (fat) and the French nec (neck in English), and it is used to designate a person who is pretentious and full of himself/herself. Hergé, author of The Adventures of Tintin, used the dialect sometimes to provide fictional names to characters and places in his comic books.

It Has A Cartoon Mural That Became A Symbol For Gay Love

Speaking of comic books, Brussels’ comic strip trail is a must-see as it guides tourists along the city’s most colorful walls that are inspired by some of Belgium’s most famed artists. Indeed, this country is the world’s host to some of the most prolific comic strip art, as it’s home to over 700 comic strip authors. Some of the the city’s most world-renowned comic heroes include Tintin, Spirou, The Smurfs, Lucky Luke and Marsupilami.

The mural of Brousaille, a character created by the artist Frank Pé, is located in the heart of the historical center at the intersection between the Rue Marché au Charbon and Rue des Teinturiers. But this location (whether or not by coincidence) is also famous for being part of the so-called ‘Gay Village’, which is filled with gay bars and clubs that give this particular neighborhood a unique appeal.

The picture itself shows the character (an animal detective) walking with his arm around his girlfriend Catherine, who looks quite androgynous and could easily pass as a man. Since the year it has been painted, 1991, it has become a symbol for gay love in Brussels.

The Brousaille Mural
The Brousaille Mural | © www.GlynLowe.com/Flickr

It Contains A National Monument That Is Certainly Weirder Than The Eiffel Tower

This giant sculpture of 102 meters represents an elementary iron crystal enlarged 165 billion times its original size. At first glance, it might not seem very appealing to visit, especially considering that its location is not close to the city center. However, your opinion may change once you get a closer look at the history behind it.

Engineer André Waterkeyn, who chose this unique symbol based on the need to use atomic energy for peaceful purposes, built it for the 1958 World Fair of Brussels. The Atomium, therefore, aims to symbolize the use of scientific resources and technology to maintain worldwide peace and the betterment of mankind.

There is a permanent exhibition on levels one, two and seven; in the latter, there is also a panoramic view of the city. The permanent exhibition tells the history of the pavilion, the optimistic atmosphere surrounding the monument and how it came to be a national symbol.

The City’s Most Iconic Statue Is A Peeing Boy

There are several theories explaining why Manneken Pis is the most famous statue in town. The most hilarious story details that there was once a boy who saved the city from invaders by peeing on them. But perhaps the most plausible story reveals that at the current statue’s location, (the junction of the Rue de l’Étuve and the Rue du Chêne, in the old city center), there used to be a market back in Medieval times where urine was sold in order to tan leather. Children were the main providers of the product, for it was an easy way to make some quick money.

The statue, visited daily by hundreds of tourists, is frequently naked. However, it has the habit to dress up according to a most varied criteria — drawing inspiration from a certain event or dressing up for a timely occasion. However, Mannekin Pis’ outfits can also be based on pure style, such as the time when the statue was dressed by Jean-Paul Gaultier.

On the contrary, Jeanneke-piss, the female counterpart to Mannekin Pis, cannot be dressed because she is sitting. And not to be forgotten, in the lovely neighborhood of Saint Gery, there is a statue of a dog appropriately named Zinneke-pis!

Manneken-piss wears football kit
Manneken-piss wears football kit | © James Cridland/Flickr

There Is A Statue Of Jean-Claude Van Damme

The Belgian actor, indeed, started his career in his home country. Born in Brussels, he studied martial arts since he was 10 years old and ended up becoming a nationally famous bodybuilder and martial artist, winning the title of ‘Mr. Belgium’ for his endeavors. He then moved to the U.S. in order to pursue his dream of becoming an actor. Today, he is known to the international public thanks to major successes like Kickboxer (1989) and Double Impact (1991). The statue is located outside the Westland shopping center, in Anderlecht, and was inaugurated in the presence of the actor in 2012.

It Hosts A World Record Beer Bar

The Delirium Café entered the Guinness Book of Records in January 2004 for possessing the biggest variety of beer commercially available. This means there are currently 2,004 beers that you can consume in this bar. Delirium even has its own brand — Delirium Tremens — that has become quite popular and can be purchased in almost any local supermarket. The design of the bottle is beautiful and features a somewhat disconcerting pink elephant.

The products are international (consisting of beers from over 60 countries), but it serves national beers as well. Among the range of Belgium beers, there are ones that are more iconic and worth giving a try. Take the Westvleteren, for example, considered by many to be the best national beer. It was awarded Best Beer of the World twice and is otherwise relatively hard to find. In fact, it is still produced by monks of the Saint-Sixte Abbey. It is more expensive than the others but definitely worth it. Another popular one is the Kriek — a light beer with cherry flavor, delicious.

The best time to visit the Delirium would be in the afternoon because you can find a nice place to sit and enjoy the decoration while slowly going through the menu. At night, the place can become crowded and noisy, as its reputation tends to make it a center of attraction for young tourists who travel in packs.

Delirium Tremens Bier
Delirium Tremens Bier | © Arnaud/WikiCommons

The City Hall Is One Of The Most Luxurious In The Country

It’s no secret to the traveler that the Grande Place (Central Square) is one of the richest and most amazing attractions in the city. It is formed by Gothic and Baroque buildings, with profuse gold decorations that make it look extremely intense. The effect is increased by the fact that one has to come to it by the narrow streets around it, which don’t allow the visitor to predict the immensity of what they are about to see.

One of the most iconic buildings is the City Hall, which is considered to be a masterpiece of the Gothic 15th century. It is famous for its two uneven halves, divided by a tower. Some joke that the architect who built it killed himself by jumping off the tower, after finding the two halves were uneven. What happened, in fact, was that they were just built in two different periods, which is evident by the shapes of the windows’ formats.

Brussels’ City Hall
Brussels’ City Hall | © Ben2/WikiCommons