By Johnell Woody
Awakening to a chilly, overcast morning, and a few starts and stops to check the map, we arrived at the HUB (Hogeschool University Brussels) right on time to meet with Stefaan Debrabandere. Stefaan suggested we walk and talk rather than sit and listen in a classroom. At our first stop was wall art and commentary. We were informed of the history of Belgium from independence and the Leopold 1, the first King of Belgium, his successor. The political movements and marriages to help stabalize and shape Belgium into the 5th industrialized nation at one time….which created the need for raw materials – colonization, beginning with the Congo – a history for another day. We moved on to the Grand Place and the early history of Brussels and all of Belgium, the dance of religion, peoples, and regions united by language and custom, only to be divided by religion. Our tour took us on to the Hall of Justice, Past the Executive offices, and Parliament. In between were examples of architectural elements reconstructed after being destroyed by the French, a blending of the old and new, along cobblestone streets, narrow side streets and hidden cafes and bars, chocolate shops, and waffles, frits, and beer.
In the Grand Place is the residence of Victor Hugo, his writing desk overlooking the market place, where he wrote Les Miserables. Across the way another author read from his book. That author later moved to England and complete with collaboration, the Communist Manifesto. Much of early socialist thought seems to have originated in Brussels.
Chocolate, candy boxes and trains have origins and histories in Belgium. Solvay, (forerunner of Solvay Pharamcudicals) a pharamacist, first made chocolate shells, filled these and sealed them with more chocolate….unfortunately he failed to patent the discovery. To sell other confections, his wife created the rectungular boxes that provided space for 2 layers without mashing any of the treats, also without a patent.
A great adventure, much learning, and a good bit of walking…..by the way, make certain you have chocolate made by the purveyor to the king…1 Euro per piece and worth every cent!