Europe’s Capital

What Next For Melting Pot Brussels?

Brussels locals at the Place de la Bourse pay tribute to those killed and injured in March 22 attacks. (Source: dpa - Bildfunk)
At the Place de la Bourse, Brussels locals pay tribute to those killed and injured in March 22 attacks. (
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    • Terrorist attacks in Brussels in March this year, which killed 32 civilians and three bombers, have called into question the city’s identity. Mostly known as the center of European-Union bureaucracy, the city is now dealing with its new reputation as a terrorist nest.
  • Facts


    • Brussels has a long history of immigration and three out of four people who live there are either foreigners or have a migrant background. There is no longer a dominant ethnic group in Brussels.
    • The largest group of foreigners is French, with most recent figures suggesting around 60,000 live in the city. The number of French citizens living in Brussels has doubled over the past year.
    • In terms of geography, Brussels is not very big. It measures around 161 square kilometers compared to a city like Berlin that measures around 900. As a result all of the city’s different populations live in relatively close quarters.
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As the horror gradually subsided, people gathered to sing. At first it was only a few dozen joining together in singing the classic chansons of Jacques Brel on the steps of the old Brussels Stock Exchange. The great singer was originally from Schaerbeek, one of Brussels’ many colorful neighborhoods. Some of the perpetrators of the attack of March 22 also lived in Schaerbeek. As we know today, they prepared their bombs undisturbed in a small apartment not far from the train station.

Brussels makes many people think of the roaring twenties, back to the days when men wore top hats and women crinoline, omnibuses bobbed and swayed down the cobblestone streets and the next war wasn’t far off. “That was the time Brussels was brusseling” – the song ends with this line. The melody isn’t simple, but on that spring day more and more people stopped to listen or sing along. Two weeks after the attack, Brel’s homage to his hometown sounds like a defiant self-assertion. “That was the time Brussels was brusseling.” Thirty-five people are dead.

Brussels, the little-big metropolis, suffers greatly from its reputation. “Brussels” decided this and blocked that, no European city is mentioned more often in the news. But for most Europeans, Brussels exists only as a cipher, a code word, a non-place, an irritating buzzword – the unpopular capital of an impossible union.

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