As part of my studies in Public Management, I have the opportunity to complete an internship abroad. I decided to do so and I knew straight away which country I wanted to go to: Belgium, or more precisely, Brussels, the heart of the EU. Since I started my 3 month-stay here in mid February, I would now like to share some specialties and impressions of the Belgian capital with you.
By Julia Mayer / 16.03.2020
The first days were a big change for me, because besides the new culture, I had to get used to both the English and the French language again. Fortunately, this happened relatively quickly, so after just one week I was already able to get along well in everyday life, such as using the subway, tram, and the supermarkets.
On my first day in Brussels I knew immediately what I wanted to do. I wanted to look at the institutions of the EU – at least from the outside. This was easy to achieve, given that if you get off at the Schuman metro station, all the institutions are actually just a stone’s throw away. The first thing you notice is the Commission’s main building. Additionally, there are other Commission external offices specialising in specific subjects throughout Brussels, particularly in the European Quarter. In any case, these tall, modern buildings are splendid and beautiful to look at. They are very impressive and at the same time symbolise how many people from different nations work every day at the heart of the EU to create a Europe worth living in.
Very close to Place Schuman is the European Parliament where MEPs, elected by EU citizens, work. This building is even larger than the previous institutions and much more glazed, which conveys the transparency that is present in these institutions.
There is not a lack of nature in Brussels either. There are many parks right in the city centre that encourage you to go for a walk. However, the parks are probably used most often by the staff of the Brussels authorities, who often go jogging through the green surroundings during their lunch break.
The Belgian capital also has a lot to offer in terms of cuisine. I will shed further light on the many specialities in a separate article. But this much can be said: very close to the European Parliament, on the Place de Luxembourg, you can eat one of the best French fries in the world, (or rather just in Brussels). Ms. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has already spent at least one of her lunch breaks at “Maison Antoine”, as the snack bar is called.
But are there many more sights in Brussels? Of course!. For example, probably the most famous man in the city, the Manneken Pis, the big (in reality it is actually rather small) landmark of the city. In any case, he instils a good mood in visitors from all over the world. And anyone who thinks the little man is always undressed is wrong. About 1.000 costumes are available for Manneken Pis to be able to present himself appropriately on special occasions. But what’s the big deal with this landmark anyway? As with almost every landmark, there are many legends surrounding the Manneken Pis, which explain his existence. Probably the loveliest one is that with the help of the water jet of the Manneken Pis it was possible to extinguish a burning fuse of a bomb which was supposed to destroy the Grand Place.
Although the fountain was built under royal rule to supply the area with drinking water, the previous history is the one most often told here; it is also more likely to be remembered by visitors and for us provides an appropriate transition to the next attraction: the Grand Place.
The Grand Place represents the heart of the city centre. It is not without reason that the town hall can be found here, which, like all the surrounding buildings, impresses with its detailed architecture and elaborate decorations. This square is not only a meeting place for tourists, but also for Belgians who meet in the surrounding cafés to enjoy the great view of the beautiful houses over a cup of coffee and a Belgian waffle or Belgian chocolates.
Adjacent to this plaza there are many winding alleyways that invite you to stay and shop. All these alleys are pervaded by a light sweetish scent of chocolate and waffles. These smells are ones you simply have to experience yourself. Adding to this ambience are the buildings, which are often very narrow and detailed, not only on the Grand Place but in a large area around it. This is also shown by a beautiful plaza very close by, at which one inevitably passes on the way from the Gare Central to the Grand Place. Souvenir shops are aplenty here also, so you can choose your personal souvenir of Brussels.
I have only been here for about two weeks and have already experienced a lot, not least through my internship at the European Office of the German Association of Towns and Municipalities. Thanks to this work experience I have been able to get to know the Parliament and the Commission from the inside and have come into contact with decision-makers and, at various events, also with stakeholders. I am looking forward to my future here and for many more enriching experiences!