Destination Brussels, a taste of things to come

The post-war German philosopher, Theodor W. Adorno, once said that Berlin was, “too much and not enough”. As we prepare to leave the city almost three years to the day after we arrived, it’s a phrase that resonates. At times it felt like Berlin was the embodiment of Isaac Newton’s third law, “to every action, there is always an equal and opposite reaction”.

Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Brussels, Belgium
Brussels, Belgium
European Commission, Brussels, Belgium

All the many great things about living here often felt cancelled out by all the less great things. We had left the Netherlands reluctantly, to arrive in Berlin during a crushingly hot heatwave. It felt like an omen, and it would be true to say that at times we’ve found it difficult to feel completely at home. Now that we’re leaving, there’s sadness at what we’re leaving behind.

It’s too easy to experience Berlin as cliche, especially as tourism continues to feed it. I brought some of those misconceptions with me, but living here has been eye-opening. This is a city that fully embodies the cliche while simultaneously liberating itself from it. It has been both more challenging and more rewarding than I’d imagined back in July 2018.

Street art, Brussels, Belgium
Street art, Brussels, Belgium
Dog statue, Brussels, Belgium
Brussels, Belgium
Street art, Brussels, Belgium

Half our time here has been subject to the vagaries of a global pandemic, which held us virtual hostages in the city for months on end. It has been a strange experience to live in one of Europe’s great cities while being unable to enjoy its many glories. Leaving feels like unfinished business, but leave we must. Brussels is the next stop, back down the road we travelled to get here.

I’ve visited Brussels for work but never spent much time there – a natural aversion to a place people refer to as a “Bubble” perhaps? I spent a few days there recently, apartment hunting, meeting new colleagues, and getting a sense of what our new home has to offer. It felt vibrant, diverse and human-sized. The food was excellent, and they have beer in Belgium. Good beer, made sacred by monks.

Grand Place, Brussels, Belgium
Leopold II statue, Brussels, Belgium
Brussels, Belgium
WWI pigeon monument, Brussels, Belgium
Royal Palace, Brussels, Belgium

There are still a few adventures left to be had in Germany, and some reflecting to be done on our time here, but our Berlin days are now numbered in single figures. So it’s “goodbye” to the city “condemned always to become, never to be”, as Karl Scheffler referred to Berlin; and “hello” to the home of the “Chicken Eaters”.

It’s a long story, one I suppose I’ll be compelled to tell.

16 thoughts on “Destination Brussels, a taste of things to come

  1. Welcome to Brussels. I thought I might hop over but health restrictions in France make it near impossible. Next time maybe. Enjoy Belgium. Thye’re nice people.

    1. Thanks Brian. It’s been a bit crazy moving in and unpacking and trying to maintain a working schedule as well, but things have calmed down a bit now – and you’re absolutely right, people are really friendly. A shame you couldn’t travel, but next time, if you have the time, the (trappist) beers are on me.

      1. Done deal. Enjoy Brussels. (You need to delve into Belgian-French comics.)

        1. I’d vote for ‘delve’, a much underappreciated word.

        2. Indeed. (You are getting old my friend!) 😉

        3. This is undeniably true, Brian! Still, age has much to recommend it, whatever the young might believe.

        4. I couldn’t agree more. (I finished high school in 70. You were still in diapers… 😉) Take care my friend.

  2. I enjoyed my time living in Brussels – though it wreaked havoc on my waistline. I hope you enjoy it and I look forward to seeing it through your eyes.

    1. I was chatting to two vegan friends about Brussels, they were bewildered that they cooked chips in ‘lard’, denying them even that comfort food. I know so little about Brussels (and Belgium), but can’t wait to discover more.

      1. Do you have any idea where you’ll live yet?

        Oh, and don’t drive round the places unless you really have no choice. It’s a nightmare until you get the hang of the various tunnels/overpasses, etc. I went to live there first in 2001 and on my first morning I set off from my temporary accommodation to get to the office. 40 minutes later I was exactly back where I started on the Avenue Louise with no idea whatsoever as to how that had happened! I’m fine now because I eventually got it all figured out, but I still advise people not to drive – and anyway public transport is pretty good.

        By the way, the tram museum is great fun!

  3. I can imagine your frustration of not being able to experience Berlin at its fullest because of the pandemic. Like many people, I’ve heard mostly great things about the German capital and I wish to be able to go there one day to explore its museums (among other things). Brussels, on the other hand, is a city that I’ve been to but I’d love to return one day. Despite what many think of the Belgian capital, I found it an interesting place with good food and great monuments.

    1. I’m looking forward to getting to know Brussels, especially after Berlin. The two cities seem worlds apart when it come to just about everything! I will miss Berlin though, it has been a fascinating place to live.

  4. I was back in Brussels a few weeks ago after many years. I found the city centre very pleasantly changed. With a tendency to make life easier for pedestrians and to enjoy the outdoors. The tourist status of many of the monuments is clearly assumed, making it a very pleasant city to visit. Living here may be different, but the big advantage is being in the heart of Europe, with Paris or Amsterdam only an hour away by train.

    1. I get a general sense that a lot of people think Brussels is ‘boring’, but I have to say, I got a very good impression during the few days I have been there recently. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and I’m looking forward to exploring more.

      1. I wouldn’t say boring, but certainly limited, especially compared to big cities like Berlin. But the good thing is that the distances between cities are short in this part of Europe and that’s perfect for weekend trips.

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