Hasselt, Copenhagen of Belgium?

 Hasselt, Copenhagen of Belgium?

I have one ride left on my ten ride train card. It's only valid for a few days so I have to go now. The first plan is to track to Ghent. I've been thinking about exploring the canal zone for some time now. But taking a train to the coast during the Easter holidays doesn't seem like a good plan to me. So I have to look for an alternative, away from the coast. 

A search on the worldwide web brings me to Hasselt. On Klara's (a Belgian radio station) website I discover an art route through the city center of Hasselt. There appears to be a fairly wide range of street art. I don't know Hasselt, I went there once to go to a Mac Arnold concert. 

When you enter the station, you are confronted with the first striking landmark: the Hasselt courthouse. As usual in Belgium, the new building has a somewhat special and striking architecture. Later I will photograph it from all sides. It does have something and creates expectations that will be fulfilled later. I come across more striking architecture on this art route.

Along the way it surprises me that a lot is being built here as well. Who will buy all those new apartments? Where do all those people come from and where do all those pennies come from? Because they don't look cheap. 

The first acquaintance with Hasselt is not really positive. I go to the public toilet in the station. There is no supervision, it is only accessible after paying 50 cents in a slot on the door handle. When I pay for a toilet visit, I expect clean accommodation.

Not in the station of Hasselt... The first toilet confronts me with too many 'brake tracks'.

In the other someone has come to drink three large cans of beer. I can think of more pleasant places to enjoy a beer. 

Anyway, I'm not here to do a satisfaction survey of the sanitary facilities offered by the Belgian railroad company. I pretend not to see it, do my thing, wash and sanitize my hands and hit the road.

The day before my departure I mapped out the route in a hiking app. I only have to check my smartphone every now and then to see where I need to be. A wonderful invention, done with reading maps and getting lost. 

The first impression: provincially cosy, lots of catering and, above all, clean and tidy.

The first part of the walk I come across many hip coffee bars. Such as a combination of coffee and vinyl, coffee and trendy bicycles, or simply with a cozy intimate interior.

Like mostely the local catering industry will not earn anything from me. I will stop later during my journey to eat lunch and empty my thermos of coffee. 

The art route sometimes brings me to small parts of pedestrian shopping streets. Here's a first tip for shoppers: ignore Antwerp, Ghent or Brussels, come to Hasselt. As in every city you will find the well-known retail chains, but without huge crowds. I would even like to go here to find myself a new outfit. It seems quieter and more relaxed to me, not as massively over the heads as in the aforementioned cities. Or am I just lucky today, maybe it will be different on a Saturday?

I am anything but a shopper. I can see the fun of it, but it's not my favorite leisure activity. Also ecologically not really responsible. Our climate would benefit if we didn't all spend our hard-earned money every weekend on things that we don't really need. No, I don't want to lift the finger here, if you enjoy shopping then let yourself go, do it in Hasselt. It’s up to our policymakers to outline a decent climate policy. We are not going to look at each other, who is doing their best and who is not. 

Street art is the main reason why I went to Hasselt. I will discover a part of it through the art route. But certainly not everything. Hasselt has an enormous offer throughout its territory. I don't think it's possible to discover it all in one day.

Hasselt is certainly not inferior to Ostend's “The Crystal Ship”. ( a big international street art festival) It seems that Hasselt has invested more in local talent, which is certainly a good thing. Belgium has enormously talented street art artists. More than enough to fill an entire city. 

You can scan a QR code at the artworks and get more information about the artist and the artwork. That's for a next visit. Another reason to definitely come back.

The city of Hasselt has also discovered water as a perfect place to live. On the quay you will find fancy apartment blocks, a few pleasure boats and a pleasant promenade with terraces. Despite a Thursday afternoon, it is already quite full. I hear a lot of buzz from the conversations going on. It makes it even more clear to me that humans are indeed social beings. When I see these full terraces, I can suddenly empathize with the effect of the lockdowns. Moments when we couldn't get together to chat. I'm not much of a talker, but here in Hasselt I see the importance of it and I can really imagine that it was a loss for many people. 

I only see happy faces. There is an enormous calmness and joie de vivre. Yes, in Hasselt it really does seem like good living. When I survey this relaxed scene, I wonder why so many people in Flanders vote for conservative, negative and narrow-minded politicians and their parties. That really doesn't match the picture I'm getting here.

I only see happy faces. There is an enormous calmness and joie de vivre. Yes, in Hasselt it really does seem like good living. When I survey this relaxed scene, I wonder why so many people in Flanders vote for conservative, negative and narrow-minded politicians and their parties. That really doesn't match the picture I'm getting here. 

The sight of this pedestrian boulevard, the water with boats and the modern apartment blocks and here and there still authentic elements, suddenly gives me a Copenhagen feeling. 

And then a sigh of recognition when I see a dog turd lying on the quay. Phew, Hasselt's honour has been saved. It has something of a big city after all :) 

The juicy Limburg dialect gives me a holiday feeling, it makes it clear that I am not in my familiar habitat. Although the ice cream man with his typical Italian ice cream cart now suddenly gives me Italy vibes. Not so strange in itself. Due to mining, many Italians came to Limburg. (a Belgian province)

Suddenly the question overwhelms me whether I would also come to Hasselt without the street art. My first answer is a definite no. I can't imagine why I would bother to come here. When I later board the train to travel back to the city, I have a completely different idea about it. 

In the train I see a landscape between Hasselt and Leuven that appeals to me, and motivates me to come back to cycle and walk there. During the art route I also saw other places that I definitely want to explore later. As mentioned before, there are also many street art works that I have not yet seen.

Unknown is unloved certainly applies here. 

When I see a large work of art, I realize that street art is the most democratic art form. It is free, accessible to everyone day and night. I also continue to be amazed at how it is possible to conjure up such beautiful works of art on a wall with a spray can. How they manage to get something correctly and beautifully finished on a wall when they are so close to it. When you look from afar, it all turns out to be correct and in the right proportion.

During my few hours of walking through Hasselt, I am never hindered by anyone on an electric scooter. There are also no haphazardly parked in the middle of the sidewalk, only in the designated zones. So it's really possible… it shows the atmosphere of Hasselt very well. All clean and neat, as it should be, not too much outside the lines. 

I don't know whether I have succeeded in adequately depicting an image of the city of Hasselt. A few hours in itself are not enough. So I will come back. Preferably with my wife and children, because I would like to introduce them to this wonderful city.

Yes, we at “the” city can also learn a thing or two from it. The “little ones” sometimes set a good example and show that living in a city without poop, waste, chaos and acidification with a wide diversity is really possible. 

So to be continued…


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