Brussels is the capital of the EU. On the airport, the first thing that caught my attention was a picture of the Atomium – the newly declared symbol of the city it seems. I couldn’t help smiling. Some years ago, Brussels symbol was Manneken Pis. Somehow it makes sense to me now, after spending few days in the city: Brussels wants to be the capital of Europe, therefore the symbol for the capital of Belgium doesn’t really work anymore. Fair enough. Even if I could have found a large number of reasons for which the little boy at the street corner could have continued to be the city’s symbol.
However, as I’ve walked the streets of Brussels this time, I didn’t find the small town I was used to – in fact, I found the very metaphor of the EU. The large construction sites all over the capital, the noisy streets filled with young people from all over the continent living and working here gave the air of development, modernism and…busy life.
Meeting with journalists coming from all over the continent covering EU matters here and discussing concerns about the EU economic troubles underlined the city’s continental dimension. Also, intercultural Brussels was present in every restaurant or street. The Brussels bureaucrats with their hopes for peace and justice in the framework of a rising Europe were all underlying the soul and essence of De Gaule’s dream.
And then I’ve realized that I’m still in Belgium… ironically enough, it was a Dutch journalist reminding me that. Brussels is, after all, the reason Belgium stays together: the married couple not divorcing for the kid’s sake. As my colleague and friend travelling with me put it – it may also be the debt holding together a country that is after all divided in all other senses.
At sunset, we walked by the royal castle – the old building still has its charms even if the new glassware European institutions are being continuously built in the city. The classic style remains at the heart of the capital that has a new symbol and wants to get a new role for some time now.
As we got to walk into the park opposite the castle, swinging was too much of a temptation to ignore it. And so, I realized some things will always stay with you, no matter what. Deep down, we’re still children – and we enjoy those “old times” pleasures with the same intensity that we did when we were at the youngest ages.
Deep down, Brussels is still the capital of a small country fighting to stay united. And still, it is also the capital of the EU – constantly discovering its core values and symbols.