It’s maybe still too early in the year for café terraces, but you can spend the month of March exploring the vibrant culture of Brussels, from indie films in a restored picture palace to Europe’s biggest design fair. How to be a Brussels local: The March List – Six things to do this month
DISCOVER DESIGN CLASSICS
The Brussels Design Market is an inspiring event to catch if you’re hunting for a vintage table, a 1950s lamp or a retro shirt. Launched 15 years ago, it started out as a rambling flea market affair focusing on objects from the 1950s to the 1980s. But it has grown into one of the biggest annual design events in Europe with more than 100 stands exhibiting some of the best of 20th-century design.
Now that it is much bigger, the event has moved to two giant industrial sheds out at Tour & Taxis. Yet the organisers have kept much of the original informal atmosphere. Here is where you might find the object of your dreams made decades ago in Denmark or Italy, along with food trucks selling coffee and Asian street food. Held on the weekend of 10-11 March.
CLEAR A DATE FOR KLARA
One of the biggest classical music festivals in Belgium, Klara isn’t afraid of taking risks. You can catch performances of familiar works like Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, if you want, but you can also discover unknown pieces. One of the highlights this year is a performance of Alexander Scriabin’s strange utopian work Mysterium in Bozar’s Henry Le Boeuf Hall. Originally intended to be performed in a Himalayan sanctuary over several days with smoke and scent effects, it remained unfinished at his death. But Bozar has brought it to Brussels along with a unique light show. And if that still seems a bit tame, you might consider a performance in Autoworld car museum of Steve Reich’s Music for Pieces of Wood. Or you could book a ticket for the Night of the Unexpected in Beursschouwburg featuring music by John Cage, Olivier Messiaen and the Belgian band Bl!ndman.
This year will also see the introduction of the smallest concert hall in the world, the “Klarafestival Box”. From 9 to 30 March, a glass box of barely 15 square metres will be installed on Place Flagey. It will only fit a pianist and three seats for listeners. Register on their website to reserve a free seat for what will surely make for an intensive and intimate experience.
SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL FILMHOUSE
It took much longer than expected, but Brussels oldest cinema has finally reopened. Formerly known as the Pathé Palace, this fabulous Art Deco picture palace on Boulevard Anspach screened its first film back in 1913. Designed by Brussels architect Paul Hamesse for the French film company Pathé, it incorporated a music hall, cinema and bar. After it closed in 1973, the building was neglected for many years. It was a car park for a while, and later a Bauknecht store. Now it has been carefully restored by a foundation led by Belgian film-maker Luc Dardenne. The aim is to show a mixed programme of arthouse films and documentaries in four cinemas, including an intimate room with just 60 seats. The interior has been carefully restored to recreate the original magic of film and maybe persuade a young generation to give up the Netflix habit for a night.
FIND A TOUR THAT OPENS DOORS
The cultural organisation Explore.Brussels is organising tours this month that take you inside some of the city’s most striking Art Nouveau houses. The tours form part of the Banad Festival dedicated to Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture. The programme this year includes a tour of Victor Horta’s Hôtel van Eetvelde in the EU Quarter and Octave van Rysselberghe’s relatively unknown Hôtel Otlet in Ixelles. Most tours are in French, but a few are organised in English or Dutch. It’s worth booking early to reserve a place.
VISIT THE UNDERGROUND ART GALLERY
Most commuters are busy checking their phones, so they miss the art that is all around them. Since it was created in the 1970s, the Brussels metro network has incorporated modern art into of the stations. The result is an enormous underground art collection, with some 80 works in every imaginable style, from photography to abstract sculpture. Take a trip one day to check out some of the more striking art, like Berlinde De Bruyckere’s carpets made from concrete tiles at Simonis station, Paul De Gobert’s Woluwé valley landscape at Vandervelde and Hergé’s Tintin murals at Stockel. But maybe the most extraordinary art is found at Albert station in St-Gilles, where French sculptor Jephan de Villiers has reconstructed the remains of an imaginary city based on objects found during ramblings in the Forêt de Soignes. A public transport day pass costs just €7,50.
LISTEN TO UNHEARD SOUNDS
The Salon des Instruments Insolites is one of those events in Brussels that only insiders know about. Now in its second year, the three-day gathering at Tour et Taxis brings together passionate musicians who play strange musical instruments. The participants include Max Vandervorst, who makes instruments using recycled objects, and Nicolas Bras, who produces eerie sounds using simple PVC pipes. The event features live concerts, workshops and kids’ activities.
By Derek Blyth