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postcards - mieke verbijlen's antwerp

by sophie kalagas

Antwerp may be known for being a high-end fashion hub, home to the world's largest diamond-cutting industry and the centre for an always-humming club culture, but long-time resident Mieke Verbijlen is more interested in the less gaudy, day-to-day details.

We asked the photographer to show us around Belgium's second largest city from her eye view. If you're keen to see more of the loveliness Mieke encounters, pop by her blog, too.


Firstly, could you please tell me a bit about the neighbourhood that you live in.
I live in quite a long street with trees, which is really nice. I live on the second floor in an old house. The area is nice because there are many galleries, nice places for coffee and it's close to most places I want to go to in Antwerp. It's very central, but not too much at the same time. It's quiet and nice.

Tell us a little about the house you live in - how have you decorated it? Is your studio space also there?
I've lived in Antwerp for 11 years now, and in this house since 2006 when I graduated from university. All the furniture that I own is secondhand, bought for little money and collected over the years. I never think about it too much - if I like it and I can use it, I buy it. The most recent piece of furniture I bought is my bed, which was made by a friend in return for a big chocolate pie two and a half years ago. I don't have a separate studio because I mostly photograph other people's places. At home I work on ideas, edit my photos, make blogposts...


What kind of stereotype has Antwerp earned and how is it different to what people expect?
Antwerp is known for its fashion designers. I think that's a big reason that tourists visit the city. If you walk around the streets you can see a lot of different styles, but you always recognise the fashion students from the academy. Another thing that is told about the people here is that they are very proud of their city. But that's nice, I think. I'm not sure what people expect from Antwerp. When I moved here when I was 18 I expected it to be bigger, I guess. I remember hearing of places and thinking it must be too far to go there, but actually everything is so close together! If you ever visit, I definitely recommend renting a bike.

If you had a day to take an Australian around your town on a Sunday afternoon, what would you do?
Sundays are very slow days here. Friends of mine organise a breakfast every Sunday in "de Roscam", on the Vrijdagmarkt. It's open until 2pm or 3pm, so that would be a nice start. After that we could walk around in Kloosterstraat where all the shops are open. There are lots of antique furniture stores that are expensive but nice to look at. A museum would also be a possibility if the weather wasn't good enough to stroll around outside.


Tell us about the spaces and places in your photos.

The Botanical Garden is very much in the centre of the city, and is a very nice place to sit on a sunny day. The greenhouse is only open to the public a few hours each weekend, but it's definitely worth checking out! There's also a heart in the middle of the Hendrik Concienceplein, a small square in the old city centre. It's a very touristy spot, but the heart always brings a smile to my face. Atelier Solarshop is a shop near the central station. They sell a very nice selection of vintage stuff and new items from young designers. They recently opened a webshop too! Vitrin is a bar that I like because it has a very pretty interior and it's around the corner from me. It can be nice in the afternoon, when it's not too busy. The evenings can get very crowded though...

I go to Otark for a breakfast club on Sundays. Every week there's a fantastic flyer and new specials to eat, plus lovely people! La Chascona is my favourite coffee bar with the most beautiful logo in town. Verlaine is a beautiful shop in kloosterstraat with a nice selection of vintage clothing from designers. It's not very cheap but is oh so pretty. The furniture is also amazing! Bike riding is one of the things that I like most about Antwerp - it's small enough to get everywhere by bike! And Middelheim Park is a sculpture park a little outside of the centre. I really like to go there for a walk. This big pink sculpture by Franz West is my favourite.


What are some of your favourite places to photograph in Antwerp, and why?
My friends' places. I am not the the type who photographs what's on my plate and I also don't feel comfortable photographing in public spaces, but the places of my friends are where I always see things that inspire me so much that I want to keep them in a photograph.

What album do you think would be the best soundtrack for walking around?
I love riding a bicycle with music in my ears. I have no idea what the best soundtrack could be. At the moment there is a lot of Christopher Owens and the new Devendra Banhart on my iPod.


Is there a place that is a bit uncool that you secretly really like?
I don't really think of cool and uncool, but places that are too cool I feel uncomfortable in. Maybe it's a bit uncool that I like to sit on the swing in the park when there are no kids around? Or eat an icecream in a very old-fashioned place?

What is the best place to have a picnic?
One of the parks near Middelheim, next to the river, de Schelde, or in the Botanical Garden.


Where is the best place to see a gig?
Unfortunately Antwerp doesn't have many good places for gigs any more. We have Trix - I go there sometimes but it's not a very nice place, I think. Most good concerts are in Brussels. We do have a very nice cinema that shows a great selection of old and more recent movies.

Where is the best place to get a drink?
Antwerp has many coffee bars. My favourite is La Chascona. For evening drinks I like Witzli Poetzli or De Kat.


Where is the best place to buy some records?
There is a street in the old city centre where there are a few shops close to each other, that's Lange Koepoortstraat. Another place close to where I live is Coffee & Vinyl. You can drink one of the best capuccinos in town there as well!

Where is the best place to nab a vintage dress?
We have a chain here, T2, which is quite good and cheap, but my favourite place is Verlaine, which features in one of the photos.


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