In spring 2024, Mechelen will be marking 2024’s Belgian Presidency of the Council of the European Union with a “Construct Europe” festival programme bursting at the seams with culture, cooperation and dialogue, designed to “bring the European Union closer to its citizens” as well as “put Flanders on the international map”.
What is the Presidency of the Council of the European Union?
All member countries of the bloc, no matter how big or small, take it in turns to lead the EU Council, rotating on a six-monthly basis, meaning everyone gets a go every 13.5 years. In addition, the countries work in “trios” alongside their peers, allowing for an 18-month-lead in period, meaning Belgium is currently working alongside Spain and Hungary as it lays the ground for its own leadership programme next year.
Commenting on the choice of Mechelen to partner the Presidency, long-term mayor Bart Somers expressed his pride in his city, saying it “symbolizes the European values of connection, diversity and progress.”
Grand opening in the Grote Markt
The fun begins in the New Year 2024 with what promises to be a spectacular and convivial opening in the Grote Markt marketplace on Saturday, 6 January.
Belgium’s metaphorical taking of the European Council Crown will be saluted with “a musical, visual and cultural city festival” in the historic heart of Mechelen – a great way to liven up your January, with a night out or a weekend, in one of Flanders’ most beautiful and buzzing cities.
Bringing together heritage and history, music, circus, art and dance, the launch evening heralds all the activities and more that will follow throughout the festival from 6 January to 22 September.
Free city walk: ‘Traces of Europe’
The Construct Europe festival knows that you want to get out and move your body after Christmas. Just as the edges of daylight start to creep into spring 2024 and green buds and snowdrops begin to appear, you can pick up a free “Traces of Europe” walking map from Visit Mechelen.
It’s a completely free, self-guided walk that takes in not only the beauty of Mechelen’s squares, waterways and skylines, but the city’s history of European affairs, going back to the Dukes of Burgundy and the Great Council and beyond. It’s also a fascinating take on Mechelen, once the capital of the Low Countries, and a place with deep affiliation to the concepts of international law and humanism.
‘Knights of the Golden Fleece: A Brilliant Myth Unravelled’
Bang in the centre of Mechelen sits the Museum Hof Van Busleyden, a “majestic Renaissance palace” that is a must-see for any visitor to the city. It has been closed for renovations, so the chance to get inside must be seized. And from 24 February until 2 June, here in magnificent surroundings, Construct Europe will let you “relive the gathering of the knights in 1491, one of the biggest and most significant festivities in the history of Mechelen.”
In addition, you’ll be able to get up close and personal with a unique set of 15th-century coats of arms, restored and on display at such close quarters for the first time since. Find out more on the museum’s website.
PlayZone Europe: toys tell their tales
Families and the young-at-heart will be pleased to hear even the Mechelen Toy Museum is getting in on the Construct Europe action. From 6 January to 31 May, well-known and unusual games and toys associated with different EU members states will be spotlighted in this exhibition tour of Europe, “from Denmark’s famous LEGO building bricks to the Rubick’s cube invented by Ernõ Rubik, a Hungarian architecture professor.”
Mechelen residents originating from somewhere else in Europe will also be presenting and demonstrating the games of their homelands.
The full programme
Mechelen has worked alongside its partners: the Hannah Arendt Institute, nona arts center, Mechelen Feest and the non-profit organization J@M to bring you a full calendar of European-inspired culture, talks, walks, and even cooking. Bookmark the full programme, ticketed events and more on the festival’s website.