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Hello Belgium…What is it?…Where is it?

Everyone knows Belgium but no one knows where it is except of course the Belgians themselves. And yet in 57 BC, the great Julius Caesar wrote about this Gallic tribe, “Horum omnium, fortissimi sunt Belgae…*.

That’s a good start, isn’t it? For the last two millennia, this small country of 35,000 km², with 10,000 000 inhabitants, at the heart of Europe, has witnessed the passage of foreign troops– Spanish, Bourguigonne, Austrian, French, Dutch, etc.

The Belgian people politely said hello and watched the marching armies pass by.

One day, however, they had had enough of their country being considered as a perpetual battle ground where kings and emperors came to try out their warring skills. They saw red. Trop is te veel! [Too many is too much […] as former Prime Minister Paul Vanden Boeynants, would have said!]

So the Belgian people decided to go for independence and won. This was in 1830.

Everyone out! Allow us to squabble among ourselves, we are grown up enough!

The country experienced economic, scientific and social development at dizzying speed. There were the business leaders such as Empain, Nagelmackers, Franki, Ernest Solvay, Adolphe Sax, Zénobe Gramme…all headed by Léopold II, King of the Belgians and of the Congo. At the end of the 19th century, Belgium was among the five largest economic powers on earth.

Since the Middle Ages, this country full of dynamic individuals, had been known for its skills in luxury craftsmanship, trade and construction. In addition to their joie de vivre, Belgians have a rich tradition of pictorial art. Just think of the brothers Van Eyck, the Breughel family, Pierre-Paul Rubens, etc.

The works of all these great Flemish painters can be found in the best museums in the world. During two world wars, Belgium and its people were always held up as an example – courage, tenacity, subtlety and the ability just to get on with it. But even in the most difficult of times, Belgians never lost their sense of humour, their cheekiness and friendly nature.

Belgian cuisine offers a multitude of specialities which you will find by exploring this website. The Belgian people have barley and hops in their very soul

The cultivation and fermentation of these crops hold no secrets to us Belgians. There are more than 800 different beers in Belgium! Plenty to drown out our internal disputes from Liège to Ostend and from Arlon to Antwerp. Brussels, capital of the country, has also become the capital of the European Union. And what could be more natural – after centuries of having hoards from the four corners of the continent passing through. It is true that this varied land has had to face many political and linguistic complications, but it has done well out of them. All these differences vanish around a dish of mussels and chips at Chez Léon.

Belgium has always had a fondness for the arts. The low country of Jacques Brel is made up of many small explosive and creative dynamos. There are examples from literature with writers such as Verhaeren, Maeterlinck, Simenon and his famous Inspector Maigret, Hugo Claus, Johan Daisne, Françoise Mallet-Joris, Stanislas-André Steeman, Guido Gezelle, Hendrick Conscience, Michel de Ghelderode, Charles Plisnier, Ernest Claes and in the modern age, Amélie Nothomb and Didier Van Cauwelaert. However, there are too many to mention so if you’re interested, look them up in a literary reference work. Belgium, no offence to André Breton, was the centre of the Surrealist movement with Magritte and Paul Delvaux, and we must not forget James Ensor. Nowadays we have Folon, Alechinsky, Paul Bury, Reinhout and Somville. These are examples of modern art which have managed to attract international attention.

The Belgians are world champions when it comes to comic books. The Comic Book is also part and parcel of Belgomania. Hergé, Franquin, Jijé, Tibet, Peyo, Vandersteen, Morris, Will, Roba, Sleen, Walthéry….who help us imagine the adventures of Spirou, the clever groom, Tintin the boy reporter, Gaston the most adorable idiot, Natacha the sexiest air hostess, the all-blue Smurfs, Lucky Luke surrounded by the wily Dalton brothers and the fabulous Marsupilami…

This little kingdom is also the centre of song and music

Brel, the magician of words and tenderness, Annie Cordy, Maurane, Adamo, Pierre Rapsat, Will Tura, Philippe Lafontaine, Arno, Plastic Bertrand, Helmut Loti, Lara Fabian…

Without forgetting the most famous harmonica player, Toots Thielemans, who travelled the world with his good humour and his harmonica and played at the best jazz venues. Once again, it is impossible to list all the talented celebrities. For the ones we have forgotten, we have left a little space where anyone can fill in your favourite: “……………………………………………………”.

As far as film and TV are concerned, we have Olivier Minne, Christine Ockrent, Marie Gillain, Benoît Poelvoorde, the Dardenne brothers (who won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival twice), Olivier Gourmet, Natacha Regnier, Cécile de France….

In the world of sport, we think of Paul Frère, the gentleman driver, Jacky Ickx “Mr. 24 hours of Le Mans”, and Eric Vandepoele, Sylvain Geboers, Joël Robert and Stefan Everts who have won so many and therefore countless cross-country motorbike competitions. In tennis we have Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin at the pinnacle of the women’s tennis. The Saive brothers, who are still playing, have won all the major table tennis trophies. We would also like to salute Tom Boonen who with his rainbow jersey, became world cycling champion in 2005.

Yes sir, all these people are Belgians!

And we must not forget to mention King Eddy Merckx the Great who at the end of his cycling career, had 525 victories under his belt.

On 21 July 1969, man walked on the moon and Eddy Merckx won his first Tour de France. Forget about the moon, this is yet another example of a Belgian victory.
Paul Ide
* “among them all (Caesar was referring to the people of Gaul), the most courageous are the Belgians”.

Wasn’t he just a little bit right?

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