The basilica of Koekelberg Brussels

The Belgian King Leopold II commissioned the construction of a monument on the hill of Koekelberg, right in the heart of today's Brussels. The building should celebrate the 75th anniversary of the independence of Belgium.

In 1905 King Leopold II laid the first stone of the church in Gothic style. However, the First World War threw a spanner in the works, and only the ground works were completed. After the war, the initial project was suspended due to the poor state of the Belgian Treasury. The building came to a stand still.

Later, architect Albert Van Huffel was hired to create a completely new design, as the Gothic style had become outdated and Brussels was in full expansion. The construction of the new building in art deco style was slowly getting started in 1926, but again the works were stopped in 1940 because of the second World War. It took until the 1950's  to start finishing the building. It would take until 1970 to complete the basilica.

With a total length of 164.5 metres, the Basilica of Koekelberg is the largest art deco building in the world It is the sixth longest church in the world. As the church is on a hill, the monumental character of the basilica is emphasized even further and on a clear day the building can be seen from kilometers away.

Because once an air balloon landed there

In the north of Antwerp there is a district with the name "Luchtbal" Flemisch for "Air Balloon". How is it possible that a whole area is called after an air balloon? It's a simple story and it all started with a balloon landing and of course the talk at a local café.

Similar picture of an air balloon landing (place unidentified)
At the end of the 19th century a military air balloon landed on a the field in the north of the Antwerp city centre. The fields were mostly agricultural lands with only a few houses and a café. At that time the area was called "Vossenschijn" after a small river passing through the land's.

When the air balloon landed it was the talk of the local cafe, nobody had ever seen a thing like that. After a while the people started talking about going to the place where the air balloon landed when they wanted to go to the café after a hard day's work. So the owner of the cafe decided to changed the name of his established into "De Luchtbal" Flemish for "The Air Balloon".

Later, when the first bus stop came to the aria,  the stop was also called "De Luchtbal" after the café and not after the balloon landing. And this is how the district got its name. After the first World War the district got an enormous building boost and was divided into two big areas.

The low part of "De Luchtbal"
The low "Luchtbal" and the high "Luchtbal" In the low area most of the houses where cottage like with a small garden, in the high area the first apartment buildings were build. The original café was demolished and later a new café was build a few hundred meters further under one of the apartment blocks. Today that café is still there.

The high part of "De Luchtbal"

A hamburger isn't just a hamburger in Belgium

Did you know that Belgium has the least Mcdonald's hamburger restaurants per inhabitant in the world? It's not that the Belgians don't like hamburgers American style, there is another reason why the hamburger giant can't get its dominant position (that it has almost allover the world) in Belgium.

In Belgium Mcdonald's has a big competitor, in a sense, because it's not another big international concern, but a relative small concern that also has its own hamburger restaurants. The restaurants go by the name of "Quick" and you can only find them in Belgium and some parts of France.

What is so special about Quick? Well, people say it's the quality of the hamburger. In fact, the hamburgers look almost exactly like the ones on the pictures of the display ads selling them. All ingredients are fresh and the meat used is high quality beef. I guess Mcdonald's can't beat that and through the years Quick became the haute cuisine of the hamburger restaurants. A very hard to beat competitor in Belgium.

But like they say beautiful songs don't last very long and the competition these days is very hard, also for the haute cuisine hamburger restaurants like Quick. The company was sold to yet another big American hamburger concern, the self proclaimed king of the hamburgers, the house of the Whopper, Burger King.

Burger King didn't had any restaurants in Belgium and buying Quick was the perfect way to make a kingsize entrance. Was, because things turned out different  for Burger King.

The original plan was to change the name of the Quick restaurants into Burger King and make it the home of the Whopper. But there was a problem. After marketing research Burger King found out that most of the customers of Quick didn't want to change their beloved  hamburger for a Whopper or any other kind of Burger King hamburger, also the research showed that the Quick hamburgers were good, really good. So Burger King decided to keep the Quick concept like it is, for now. New Burger King restaurants will be added separately.

So next time when you are in Belgium visit a Quick restaurant and taste for yourself. Quick? Burger King? Where is the Whopper?

Typically Belgian, the Kissdance

There are all kinds of dances in the world, going from classic to modern and from folklore to traditional. In the ages these dances were spread all over the world, but there is one dance you won't find anywhere except in belgium, the "Kissdance", or in Flemish the "Kuskesdans"

Where the dance comes from nobody really knows, except that it always starts with the song "La Bamba" from Ritchie Valens. There is no other way the start the dance. Dj's tried other songs, but with no success. It has to be "La Bamba" or there will be no "Kuskesdans".

The dance is quit simple. When people hear the first notes of the song, most of them gather around in a circle and start walking in one direction. Some other people get inside the circle and start looking at the people walking arround. When they see somebody they like, they pick them out of the circle and give them 3 kisses on the cheeks. Why 3? Well that's another story. in Belgium people give 3 kisses when they meet. Once the 3 kisses are given, the people who did the kissing change sides, the one goes in the circles and the other chooses somebody else to kiss.

The whole dance takes about 15 to 20 minutes, After La Bamba other songs are added. When you have the luck to be picked more than once by the same boy or girl, you might get lucky afterwards. Because after the "Kuskesdans" it's time for some romantic slow songs. And if your favorite kisser picks you out again, can have a close and romantic dance. You have no idea how many Belgian couples met each other this way.

The dance is never done in big dance clubs and disco's, always in private, student or wedding parties. So next time you are at a Belgian party and you hear "La Bamba" setting in, be aware, you might find the partner of your life with a single kiss.

Victor Simon the inventor of the first kitchen robot

Asking about Belgian inventors, you will probably first think of people like Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone, Or Zenobe Gramme, who improved the alternator. Or maybe Leo Baekeland, the creator of the first synthetic plastic Bakeliet. However, Belgium was at the birthplace of a whole series of other inventions, even in your kitchen. What about the first kitchen robot?

Still in millions of kitchens today and spread over 5 continents you can find the "Passe-vite", French for "Passing true fast". But probably you know it as the "Food Mill". The Food Mill is a simple but nevertheless extremely handy device, which allows small amounts of soft foods such as cooked tomatoes, apples or potatoes to be crushed. The device is in a sense a bridge between the ordinary kitchen tools and the later invented electric mixers or kitchen robots.

Victor Simon was born in 1888 in the village of Hainaut Carnières, a place in the Belgian Ardennes, the French speaking part of Belgium. One day, after hearing his wife Lucienne complain about the hard work it was to make mash potatoes or soup, he had an idea. Because in these days people used a wooden pestle to crush vegetables and then pushed them through a kitchen sieve to make them soft. This could be done better Victor must have thought and a few months later, at the end of 1927 he invented his first food mill.

The production of the first metal Passe-vite was done by Richard Denis, a local blacksmith. Together they started the company Simon & Denis. The Passe-vite was first introduced and offered for sale in 1928 at a Brussels food fair . The stand of the newly started business was very simple and barely a dozen Passe-vite were handmade and ready to sell. But it was a great success and all of them were easily sold. Once past the start-up phase, the Passe-vite were made by machines.The company flourished and manufactured more than 5 million "Passe-vite".

Aldo Victor had a patent on the Passe-vite he could not stop other companies to start making their own version of the at that time popular kitchen device.  One company even sold more than 15 million of a slightly altered Passe-vite.

The company tried adding more possibilities to the original Passe-vite design by adding a replaceable grater and cutter to the device. But the competition was getting to hard and in 1978 the company went bankrupt. Victor Simon died a few years earlier, in 1972. At the end of his life he did not know his invention and his company would end in a bankruptcy. Still today you can find some real Passe-vite devices.

Cleydael Castle Aartselaar

In the Antwerp District of Aartselaar you can find the remarkable Cleydael Castle. The castle was originally a feudal medieval moated castle, situated on an island formed by two branches of the "Struisbeek". It has a square plan with four wings around a courtyard. At each corner, it has a tower, each one different in shape, whereby both of the eastern towers have been build bigger and heavier. Each tower has its own name.

The western towers are called the Tower of Owls and the Cats Tower, the northeast tower is called the Fox Tower, while the southeast tower is called the Chapel Tower. The Fox Tower is square in shape and is provided with an onion-shaped striker. This tower has walls that are more than a meter thick. The Chapel Tower is so named because it contains a chapel with a stellar vault. The foundation of the castle dates back to 1350, the remaining parts date from the 16th and 17th centuries and are made of brick, probably originating from the immediate vicinity of the castle.

The "Nederhof" belonging to the castle is a trapezoidal building and was originally entirely surrounded by canals. The east side of the property is only accessible by a drawbridge to the entrance gate. The building next to the entrance was the home of the bailiff, later this was the home of the gamekeeper. On the west side of the "Nederhof" is a square tower flanked barns, stables and a brewery. The whole forms a picturesque building complex in Brabant brick and sandstone architecture. The castle is private property and not open to the public. It is however for rent for special occasions.

The new Port House of Antwerp

The leading British architect Zaha Hadid designed a remarkable building. The Port House combines a new beam-shaped structure and a former fire brigade building into a new headquarter building for the Antwerp Port Authority. The project is strategically located between the city and the harbour, with magnificent views over both the centre and the port from behind the articulate glass walls – some transparent, others reflective – in reference to the Antwerp diamond trade.

The construction work was started on 1 October 2012, it took 33 months to complete the building.

The building houses approximately 500 staff; the refurbished, existing building houses public counters, offices and meeting rooms, while the five-storey extension has an auditorium and restaurant, as well as additional offices and meeting rooms.

In total the new Port House design is 12,800m2 (gross): 6,600m2 in the refurbished Fire Station, and 6,200m2 in the extension. The maximum dimensions of the new building extension are 111m length, 24m width and 46m height (5 additional floors).

The new volume is oriented North-South parallel to the Kattendijk dock. The head of the building on the South side is a frame that looks towards the city and clearly marks the start of the port area.

Remarkable fact: Architect Zaha Hadid has never seen the finished building. She died of a heart attack 6 months before the building was completed.