Leuven

Leuven Travel Blog

 › entry 5 of 17 › view all entries
The Leuvenaars of the future
Leuven is sort of my second home town, having studied here for the past six years (wow six years? really? that can't be right... but it is)
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.
Oude Markt
Due to a dispute between the city of Leuven and the Duke, he moved the capital city to Brussels, about 30km to the west. Brussels became the center of Burgundian court, and much later the capital of Belgium and the center of the EU, Leuven grew less important and is now a small (but cosy) town. Only a couple of buildings, such as the richly detailed city hall show hints of its previous status as center of Brabant.
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.
fall colors in Leuven
In the early 1800's the university was even closed down for a couple of years by french revolutionaires, but it was re-opened when Belgium was created in the 1830's. The city of Leuven was particularly badly hit during the first world war when the whole town was burned down by the Germans as a punishment for sniper fire from Leuven houses after the German occupation. The university library burnt down during both world wars.
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.
Bondgenotenlaan (avenue of the allies)



Beer
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.
City Hall, the classic post-card picture of Leuven

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.

Student Life
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.
University main library
The town lives the rhythm of student life, very vibrant at the start of semesters and getting more quiet when exams draw nearer. Pretty much every street will have at least: a bar, a kebab place and a night shop. There are 2 main places where students go out: the first is the old market (oude markt), a big square, sometimes jokingly referred to as "the longest bar in Europe) where every single house is a bar. The other main places are the various "fakbars" (from "faculty bar" I get strange looks from foreigners sometimes saying "let's go to a fakbar" ;-) which are bars operated by students, this keeps prices down, so you can still get your Stella Artois for under 1 euro. Every faculty has its own bar, some of the main ones are in or around Tiensestraat. However anybody can go in there, you don't need to belong to that faculty or even be a student.
Stella!
The bars of Psychology ("Pavlov"), Law ("House of Law") and Political Science ("Politika Kaffee") are right next to each other and a popular destination. My personal favourite is the Modern Languages bar (Fakbar Letteren, near the central uni library). During the day Fakbars tend to be quiet places where (if you belong to the faculty) you can walk in knowing that you'll probably know a couple of people hanging out there. During the night fakbars get VERY crowded, loud and wild, great places if you want to party all night on a budget, but not so much if you want to talk to friends, but then again, there are other bars for that.

Transport
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.
Old School apple store in the Brewery/harbour district
This explains why there are huge bike stands at the train stations, and bikes everywhere in town. Buses are a pretty popular way of transportation as well, especially when the weather is bad (occasionally known to happen in Belgium ;-) since all students get free bus passes for the entire year. It is pretty much impossible to drive through leuven, which is a maze of one way streets, so cars are pretty rare compared to the number of bikes and buses. Public transport is by far the cheapest and fastest way of getting around. Another thing about living in Leuven is the fact that it's incredibly close to Brussels Airport (about 15 minutes by train) which makes it possible to easily visit other cities in Europe for just a day or two.
moshers_moll says:
The home of my beloved Stella Artois! The greatest lager in the world! I just have to visit this place, hopefully this summer :-) Great blog by the way
Posted on: May 14, 2009
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
The Leuvenaars of the future
The Leuvenaars of the future
Oude Markt
Oude Markt
fall colors in Leuven
fall colors in Leuven
Bondgenotenlaan (avenue of the all…
Bondgenotenlaan (avenue of the al…
City Hall, the classic post-card p…
City Hall, the classic post-card …
University main library
University main library
Stella!
Stella!
Old School apple store in the Brew…
Old School apple store in the Bre…
Orthodox church in leuven
Orthodox church in leuven
Dieststestraat
Dieststestraat
pigeon near the train station
pigeon near the train station
run down brewery buildings, recogn…
run down brewery buildings, recog…
train station
train station
slightly out of place
slightly out of place
Promotional picture used by the un…
Promotional picture used by the u…
newer parts of the brewery
newer parts of the brewery
Marelarenplein (Martyrs square)
Marelarenplein (Martyr's square)
fall colors
fall colors
fall colors
fall colors
Leuven sillouette
Leuven sillouette
Shopping area
Shopping area
Dieststestraat
Dieststestraat
Oude Markt
Oude Markt
city hall Leuven
city hall Leuven
party @ 7oaks
party @ 7oaks
Catholicism is never far away in t…
Catholicism is never far away in …
Small Beguinage
Small Beguinage
Foch Square
Foch Square
bikes & cobblestones
bikes & cobblestones
Mechelsestraat
Mechelsestraat
Erasmus, ex-inhabitant of Leuven
Erasmus, ex-inhabitant of Leuven
Central Square with city hall
Central Square with city hall
Church bell ringer
Church bell ringer
Oude Markt
Oude Markt
Girls hugging Stella, a common sig…
Girls hugging Stella, a common si…
Arenberg castle, part of the unive…
Arenberg castle, part of the univ…
christmas in leuven
christmas in leuven
Wheres my bike?? ;-)
Where's my bike?? ;-)
New Years at Leuven Oude Markt
New Year's at Leuven Oude Markt
Leuven
photo by: Chokk