The route that goes from the Ixelles ponds to rue Malibran via place Flagey takes walkers through what look like whole other worlds. It’s not far, but there are notable differences between each neighbourhood.
FROM ONE WORLD INTO THE OTHER
A walk from the ponds of Ixelles/Elsene along place Flageyplein up to rue Malibranstraat, takes you from one world into the other. The distance is not huge, however, the differences between the districts are. Whereas the district around the ponds of Ixelles/Elsene is green and residential, the Malibran district is very urban and a lot less well-off. It is densely populated by people of various origin and there are a lot of affordable shops. Around place Eugène Flageyplein, both worlds come together. In a subtle manner: at Flagey, there are families who come here to find the wide open space they lack in their own neighbourhood. At the nearby place Sainte-Croix/Heilig-Kruisplein, the terraces are populated by Bobos (i.e. Bourgeois Bohemians), students and European expats. Or are we oversimplifying it? After all, the European district around place Jourdanplein is moving towards Malibran, with its mix of residents and clubbers place Flageyplein has developed its own appearance and around the ponds, migrant families also look for a spot in the sun on hot summer days.
PORTUGUESE AND FRENCH
The final of the European soccer championship in the summer of 2016 between Portugal and France was followed with great interest in the Flagey area. After all, the Portuguese and the French are the main foreign nationalities there. The Portuguese migration dates from as early as mid-previous century, when poor Portuguese people left their country to find a job in the industry in Belgium. Their presence is noticeable here: around rue de la Brasserie/Brouwerijstraat there are a lot of Portuguese restaurants and bars that make no effort to hide that fanatic supporters of the Portuguese national team are part of their loyal customer base. You won’t find any French flags here – around the ponds you’ll mostly find well-off French people looking for anonymity and who are back in Paris in no-time with the TGV. Or are we oversimplifying again? Among the Portuguese in this district, there also are employees of the European Union or young people with a university degree who have fled the recent economic crisis in their country. And of course, not all the French are millionaires. Not to mention all other nationalities living here.
FISHING IN FOUR PONDS
In days long gone, this neighbourhood was a swampy area with a stream running through it, the Maelbeek/Maalbeek. After the la Cambre/ Ter Kameren abbey was established, four fishing ponds were created, one of which on the current location of place Flageyplein. A small village emerged, Ixelles/Elsene, which derived its name from the many alders (‘elzen’ in Dutch) that grew in the area. The inhabitants worked for the abbey mill, collected wood in the Forêt de Soignes/Zoniënwoud and transported it to the city via chaussée d’Ixelles/Elsensesteenweg, which – back then – followed the route of rue de Vergniesstraat. Of the four ponds, only two still exist today. The Maelbeek was channelled and put underground. But here in the valley, it can still be extremely soggy: there is a good reason why underneath the parking of Flagey, you will find a storm basin. In case of heavy rainfall, all cars are towed from the parking as a precaution. The village ambiance has not disappeared entirely either. To experience it, you have to stroll across the winding short rue Malibranstraat.
BEER AND ENTERTAINMENT
Because of the presence of water, the district formed an appealing area for breweries. That there were a lot of those back in the days, is evidenced by street names such as rue de la Brasserie/Brouwerijstraat, rue de la Cuve/Kuipstraat, rue du Germoir/Moutstraat and rue de la Levure/Giststraat. At the ponds, at the current square de Biarritzsquare, the Grandes Brasseries d’Ixelles were active, known as Lannoy. The breweries, but the green environment as well, in turn, resulted in taverns which benefited from the fact that the city tax on beer only applied up to the left shore of the Maelbeek/Maalbeek. The breweries are all gone now, but bars with a broad selection of beers are still abundant, as customary in Belgium. And in the store Malting Pot at the corner of rue Scarronstraat and rue Malibranstraat, you can choose between 150 and 200 types of Belgian and foreign beers.
FLAGEY, MAYOR AND CULTURE TEMPLE
The name Flagey refers to the mayor of Ixelles/Elsene, who had the square modernized in the 1930s. There are few people who are aware of this. Today, the main attraction is the Flagey building, the ultimate architectural show piece of the district, designed by Joseph Diongre in Art Deco style. Also referred to as an ocean liner, docked at the ponds. The other buildings in the square – although much simpler in style – are beautifully in harmony with the design of Diongre. In addition to its architecture, the Flagey building is known for its history as broadcast building and its current function as culture house. Flagey also attracts other cultural players. But bars and restaurants are also happy to choose domicile in the shadows of the architectural gem.
STARTING POINT: TRAM STOPS VLEURGAT OR ABBAYE (TRAM LINES 93, 94)