Brussels, Belgium

Wall and spire

Decorated wall and spire of the Hôtel de Ville, rue des Pierres

Brussels, Belgium

I wanted to revisit Brussels and see how much it had changed since I lived there, many years ago. The answer was that in many ways it seems to have altered surprisingly little. Streets and shops were much as I remembered them, and the wave of destruction and reconstruction of the early 1990s seems to have left much of the city untouched. Businesses I remembered were still there. The Centre Monnaie shopping mall still somehow manages to look vibrant and shabby at the same time, the cocktail menu in the window of "Le Cercueil" is unchanged (except for the addition of a large dead fly), even the ramshackle friterie on the Ijzerplein where I used to buy fries is still exactly as I remember it.

There are changes. If a passing time-traveler had miraculously transported me from Brussels-when-I-lived-there to Brussels today, I might have wondered when the Gare Centrale had been transformed into the high tech palace of the Space People, why every second store had suddenly become a Leonidas chocolate outlet, and why my whole neighborhood was now a full-on prostitution stroll (it was always a red-light district, but in my street at least, most of the activity was off-street and hidden from view). And I might have wondered when the strangely pallid little trams that scuttled through the tunnels of the Pre-Metro had been replaced by gleaming silver monsters. Still, I could probably have walked around for a good half-hour before it dawned on me that anything had changed significantly.