The ugly city

Brussels Travel Blog

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"If you think that I hate Brussels I don't, it is because I love Brussels that I am so disappointed in it".

That is how our guide finished up our tour of Brussels today. It was a tour with a difference. Instead of taking us to all the beautiful parts of Brussels (of which there are many - I really love the city), he took us on a tour of the scars of Brussels. We wandered around the backstreets made ugly by parking garages and went out of our way to see horrible post-modernist buildings. In beautiful squares we talked about the one ugly building, or if there were none the missed opportunities for footpath cafes. We walked along Nieuwstraat, the Mayfair of the Belgian Monopoly board, and our guide told us how it had once been a flourishing mixed residential/retail street but the success brought in the franchises and pushed out both the small businesses and the residential area, now leaving it dead once the shops close.
Even in the most visually stunning areas around the Grand Place our guide pointed out beautiful buildings that were not actually original and were rebuilt too ornate or beautiful for their intended time-period, such as Musee de la Ville de Bruxelles. In the Raddison Hotel, which contains a fragment of the original medieval wall, he pointed out that they actually knocked it down and moved it three metres for the sake of the restaurant. For a view over the city we visited an ugly car-parking tower on the cover of L' Eveque / Bisschops and Vierge Noire / Zwarte Lievevrouw, with a spectacular view over the city (the guide complained that it was marred by the fence erected to prevent suicides). Our guide even grumped when pointing out an ugly building that was going to be demolished, saying that while it was a horrible eyesore that should never have been built, it was now part of Brussels heritage and they should learn to live with it.
The wonderful thing about the tour, in addition to getting an unvarnished look at the city, was the comradery it induces among the group as we all grinned at each other every time our guide uttered "it is bad here, but just wait until you see what they did around that corner..."

From the sound of it, great civic crimes were perpetrated in Brussels in the 60s, when the fad for ugly buildings left a visible scar, but the fad for segregated living (separating retail and working areas from residential areas) left a much deeper, but less visible, scar. Unlike cities like Brugge, which reached its peak in the 1400s, thus preserving its architecture, Brussels has been continuously growing.
This has left the many beautiful parts of the city somewhat isolated. If you know where to go, you see beautiful buildings, splendid parks, spectacular monuments and ancient statues. If you don't... well you see civic crimes where ugly buildings and bad design have driven out all the people. After today, I now understand how some people can visit Brussels and call it ugly, but I also know that with a little research it is a beautiful, charming and immensely interesting city.
Adrian_Liston says:
Re: Brusselization

I heard that! Boy, Brussels gets an unfairly bad rap...
Posted on: Apr 05, 2009
lamadude says:
The north-south train connection was especially destructive. The word "brusselization" even exists as a more general word for destroying a city by poor urban planning.
Brussels is definitely not a picture perfect touristic city like Bruges, but it definitely a city of contrast, which can make it interesting.
Posted on: Apr 05, 2009
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