(by Christina Terle)
When my friends told me stories about you they always concluded with the same statement: “Well, you either like it or hate it”. Their stories left me unimpressed, as if to say: My mind is made up, do not confuse me with the facts. Indeed, my mind was made up. I wanted to visit you and if somehow possible stay with you for a little while.
I was attracted by your reputation: the heart of Europe. I pictured a community of like-minded people discussing important issues and learning from each other to create new realities and to shape our future. I was longing to inhale the European spirit.
Then, we met for the first time. I immediately felt comfortable in your presence and you rewarded me with chocolates and cherry beers. This was the beginning of a short summer romance.
Soon I discovered that there is much more to you than your heart – Place Schuman. Every quarter of yours has its characteristics, its charm and its stories.
Little by little I even learned about your troubled soul. You are the (unofficial) capital of a whole continent as well as of a really small country. You are a city, where three national regions fight for their identity and rights, while European countries aspire to create an even closer union among the peoples of Europe. Your streets and roads are full of dirt and traffic, yet your uncountable parks are an oasis of greenery and tranquillity. Your metros are chaotic and crowdy, yet the multilingual talks of their passengers play the sweetest melody. Mostly, you are a moody old man, rough and wearing shades of grey. But then again you also love to surprise. Out of the blue you decide to put on your brightest colours being warm and friendly.
All your contradictions reminded me of the familiar statement: “You either like it or hate it”. And I thought to myself: “Why not both? Why not hate it and like it? Why not start a love-hate relationship with you?”
But your contradictions were contagious. My life became as colourful as your quartiers. I was a trainee at your heart and a dog-sitter in your parks. I was a philosopher at Flagey and a student at the university.
When I left you after three months my heart was as heavy as my suitcase. And on the escalator at Gare Central a Belgian rock song came to my mind: “There is something and it makes me smile, I think I like you”. Yes, Brussels, I like you!
Today when I tell friends my stories about you, I always conclude with the same statement: “I like it. But go and see for yourself. Get confused by its contradictions, make foreign friends, have multilingual talks, have walks in its parks, admire its Art Nouveau buildings, have discussions about Europe, eat the finest chocolate and drink the most unusual beers. Go and see for yourself. I like it.”