MIXITY Walk: Schaerbeek

The centre of Schaerbeek stands out thanks to the grandeur of its urban landscapes, its splendid Neo and Art Nouveau-style buildings and the wonderful Josaphat Park.
 

MASTERS OF PERSPECTIVE

The 19th-century urban developers of Brussels knew something about perspective. You can see this on the axis that goes from place Royale in the city of Brussels, along rue Royale in Saint-Josse-ten-Noode/Sint-Joost-ten-Node to Schaerbeek train station. Along this trajectory, several important buildings also loom on the horizon and catch your eye. From porte de Schaerbeek/Schaarbeeksepoort, the perspective leads you to the Église Royale Sainte Marie/Koninklijke Sint-Mariakerk. The stately Town Hall located on place Colignon dominates the very end of this axis, and leads you further along the way to the opulent railway station. So, our walking route is between Église Royale Sainte Marie and City Hall, but also takes us in the green parc Josaphatpark, along another ambitious 19th-century axis: avenue Louis Bertrand.

GRANDEUR, KEBABS AND ORGANIC FOOD

Did this have anything to do with a young Belgium? Or with a proud city council keen to show its interests? Or with wealthy private investors? The fact is that the most important streets in the centre of Schaerbeek, which were constructed during the 19th century and in the early 20th century, exude grandeur. They are surrounded by poorer, narrower streets, which also have some striking historic architectural buildings. Many migrants have come to live and work in these neighbourhoods over previous decades: Turks, Moroccans and eastern Europeans, who have taken over neighbourhood shops and cafés and enjoy relaxing in parc Josaphatpark. Schaerbeek centre is also very popular among young urbanites. Small eateries and health food shops open the doors.

MUNICIPALITY OF DONKEYS AND CHERRY BEER

Like other municipalities in Brussels, 130 years ago Schaerbeek was still a rural village. Farmers worked their fields and grew vegetables that they took into the city by donkey and cart to sell. And were there ever donkeys in Schaerbeek: in 1786, the archives tell us, there were three times as many donkeys as people. And when people from Schaerbeek brought their goods to the city to sell, the city dwellers would call out: “Hei! Doë zên die êzels van Schoerebeik!” (Hey, there are the donkeys from Schaerbeek!). Cherries and cherry beer were Schaerbeek specialties. City dwellers would come out walking in the idyllic Josaphat valley on Sundays and drink cherry beer in one of the pubs, or the cherries would be brought by donkey to be sold in the city to brewers of cherry lambic beer. The donkeys Gribouille and Camille normally graze in the donkey paddock in parc Josaphatpark, but today they uphold the honour of Schaerbeek as the donkey municipality. And today, locals are encouraged to plant cherry trees again, in order to be able to brew beer from genuine Schaerbeek cherries.

SCHARNAVAL AND POGGE

Every year Gribouille and Camille open the Scharnaval event, which has been taken place again since 1998. Pogge also joins the parade. He is the man who, with his battle cry ‘Alles es just’ (All is fair) in café Aux Trois Rois, located close to the town hall, settled many neighbourhood and café arguments during the 19th century. Pogge, whose name was actually Pierre De Cruyer and who is said to have been a very small man in person, became a symbol of justice among the locals during his own lifetime. ‘De Vrienden van Pogge’ (The Friends of Pogge) was set up in 1875. After his death, a statue was made of the figure of Pogge, which today is carried in the carnival parade the ‘Scharnaval’.

ART NOUVEAU SCHOOLS BY HENRI JACOBS

Schaerbeek has a unique historical legacy in the Art Nouveau movement. Victor Horta built his first house here, the Autrique House. There are buildings designed by Gustave Strauven and François Hemelsoet on avenue Louis Bertrandlaan. But it is the schools designed by Henri Jacobs which are the really special examples of the Schaerbeek Art Nouveau legacy. In 1907, Jacobs built a huge complex of schools on the steep incline between rue de la Ruche/Biekorfstraat and rue Josaphatstraat. He collaborated with artist Privat-Livemont, also from Schaerbeek, who was responsible for the exterior and interior decoration of the school where he himself taught.

STARTING POINT: TRAM STOP ROBIANO - CROSSING BETWEEN CHAUSSEE DE HAECHT AND AVENUE ROGIER BAILLI (TRAM LINES 25, 92)