Leuven Travel Blog› entry 5 of 17 › view all entries
April 30th, 2009 – by: lamadude
It is a small town that is known for two main things: the university and beer. It is not entirely sure which of those two things attracts all the students to this town, probably a little of both.
University + a little history
The Catholic University of Leuven was founded in 1425, making it the oldest university in the Benelux, and the oldest and biggest catholic university anywhere in the world. It might seem strange to have such a prestegious university in such a small town as Leuven. However back in those days Leuven was the capital city of the duchy of Brabant, which is a region in present day Belgium and The Netherlands, including cities such as Brussels, Antwerp and Eindhoven.
In its first centuries the university was an important center of knowledge in Northern Europe, alumni of this period include humanist such as Justus Lipsius, Andreas Vesalius (anatomy), Gerardus Mercator (geography), Desiderius Erasmus, etc it also atrracted international scholars, for example Thomas More wrote his "Utopia" in Leuven. In university brochures they usually focus on this period and the modern period, and for good reason, because in the period in between the scientific quality of the university went down greatly, Leuven became a center of counter-reformation and catholiciscm, which obviously doesn't really go hand in hand with advanced scientific research.
In the 1970's the university was split up between a Dutch speaking university (KUL) which remained at Leuven and a french speaking one (UCL) which moved to the newly created town of Louvain-la-Neuve (new Leuven) about 30km to the south, in French speaking Belgium. I'm not going to go into details about that since I need 100 pages to explain the language situation over here.
Of course pretty much every town in Belgium has its own beer, but the Leuven ones have been particularly succesful. It is pretty challenging to stand in a Leuven street and not see one name on one of the many pubs: Stella Artois. Even though it is sold as a sort of a premium beer internationally it really is Leuven tap water, you can get it absolutely everywhere and it is always the cheapest beer. A common joke amongst students is to invite people from the brewery to come give "beer pouring classes" in a bar, the brewery plays along and they come with a truck full of beer to a bar to teach people how to pour it correctly. of course nobody cares about the correct pouring and everybody only cares about the free beer.
A little known fact, the Stella Artois brewery in Leuven not only makes stella, but also the Leffe beers, which are not produced in Leffe at all.
Over the past 30 or so years the Artois brewery (as it was known at the time) became larger and larger, and now the company is known as AB-Inbev and makes a truly gigantic number of beers including: Stella Artois, Beck's, Bass, Leffe, Hoegaarden, Budweiser, Bud light, Brahma, Corona... the list goes on. Of course those beers aren't all made in Leuven, but the global HQ is still located here, which makes it by far the biggest company in town of course.
Today the Leuven university is home to about 30,000 students, there are also around 30,000 students in various other institutions of higher eductation in the town. So that makes about 60,000 students in a town of 90,000 people, needless to say, there are young people on the streets of Leuven every day.
Since Flanders is a small place, Leuven attracts students from all over Flanders, most students take the train to the city and bike to their houses (a student room is known as a "kot") There are very few big student housing projects, most students opting to rent a room or studio in privately-owned houses.
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