Hidden Belgium: Bokrijk open-air museum

Hidden Belgium: Bokrijk open-air museum

When Bokrijk opened in 1958, it was Belgium’s first open-air folk museum. Located in a wild area of heath and bog, the museum preserves buildings from all over Flanders.

There’s a Romanesque church here that stood for 900 years in the village of Erpekom and a collection of ancient gravestones that have no reason to be in Bokrijk.

You also discover traditional vegetable gardens with dung heaps sprouting courgettes and a half-timbered school where farmers’ children once sat in a classroom furnished with a stove, a photograph of King Albert I and a stuffed duck.

Most people miss the section called De Oude Stad (The Old City). Here you find 17 historic buildings that stood in Antwerp until the 1960s. This reconstructed urban district was never particularly popular with visitors, so the museum recently came up with a plan to turn it into a ‘Golden Sixties’ experience. Now there is an Esso garage squeezed next to the old brick houses, along with an early supermarket, teenager’s bedroom, and 1960s bar.

Dotted around the site are old inns where you can drop in for a beer or some Flemish food. On summer days, people gather round to play traditional Flemish games while men in smocks talk about the good (or not so good) old days. Some of the men used to work in the Limburg mines, but they keep quiet about that, not wanting to spoil the illusion.

Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day.

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