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Brussels in art

Songs, films, plays, books and popular yarns all help get to the heart of Brussels’ soul.
Brussels’ charms as a laid-back city are vaunted in numerous songs. Life in the capital is also the subject of many books, works of art and plays. It serves as the backdrop for lots of films, comic strips and paintings, too.

Discover the soul of Brussels in the following works:

Brussels Literature and theatre

The novelist Léopold Courouble, who wrote in French, is felt to be the father of the Brussels novel. In the early 1900s, he described typical scenes of the petite bourgeoisie in Brussels in "La famille Kaekebroeck".

If you want to hear what the typical Brussels accent sounds like, you can choose between two great classics of the theatre:

  • "Bossemans et Coppenolle" by Paul van Stalle and Joris d'Hanswijck and
  • "Le mariage de Mademoiselle Beulemans" by Jean-François Fonson and Fernand Wicheler.

Another Brussels classic is "Les fables de Pitje Schramouille" by Roger Kervyn de Marcke ten Driessche, a book teeming with popular funny stories in the Marolles dialect.

More recent recommended publications set in Brussels are "Terre d'asile" by Pierre Mertens, in which he tells the story of a Chilean refugee in Brussels, and "Dix jours en mars à Bruxelles" by Françoise Laborde.

Brussels on the big screen

Lots of films (Belgian and otherwise) are set in Brussels. The following ones show certain facets of Brussels past and present.

  • Man Bites Dog (Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel, Benoît Poelvoorde, Belgium, 1992): Brussels is the location for the worst excesses in the movie.
  • The Sexual Life of Belgians (Jan Bucquoy, Belgium, 1994): the leading man discovers counterculture in the cafés on Grand-Place.
  • Brussels by Night (Marc Didden, Belgium, 1983): Strangers in the night… the title speaks for itself.
  • Manneken Pis (Frank van Passel, Belgium, 1995): the main character succumbs to the charms of a female tram driver in Brussels.
  • Meisje (Dorothée van den Berghe, Belgium, 2002): portrait of three generations of women from Brussels.
  • Far-West (Jacques Brel, Belgium, 1973): a group of friends leave to explore the Far West: not a real place but an imaginary destination. The first sequence of the film starts in Square Marlow in Uccle.
  • Home sweet home (Benoît Lamy, Belgium, 1973): an uprising of pensioners in a home somewhere in Brussels.
  • Toute une Nuit (Chantal Akerman, Belgium, 1982): this famous director sets almost all of her films in Brussels.
  • Toto le héros (Jaco van Dormael, Belgium, 1991): a lot of scenes in this film were shot in the Logis garden suburb in Watermael-Boitsfort.
  • Les Barons (Nabil Ben Yadir, Belgium, 2010): a film about young Moroccan Belgians in the streets of Molenbeek.

Songs about Brussels

Jacques Brel brought the city international attention with his famous "Bruxelles", which has been translated and covered multiple times. Other singers and groups also pay homage to the city:

  • Maurice Chevalier wrote a worldwide hit about Brussels’ most famous celebrity Manneken Pis.
  • Dutch artist Dick Annegarn sings "Bruxelles, ma belle".
  • Johan Verminnen had smash hits with "Brussel" and "In de Rue des Bouchers".
  • In the 1960 the Wallace Collection recorded an ode to Brussels in two parts.
  • Claude Semal sang "Bruxelles est un village".
  • Edouardo recorded "Les frites de Bruxelles" in 2001.
  • Elton John evokes Grand-Place in his "Just like Belgium".
  • The famous jazz musician Benny Goodman composed 'Brussels blues'.
  • Bai Kamara Jr sang "Downtown Saint-Josse" on his "Living Room" album.
  • Brussels hip hop artists also like to rap about their hometown in realistic, critical terms, like Pitcho’s "District 1030" about Schaerbeek.

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