History of the Brussels press – exhibition

We haven’t got around to seeing it ourselves yet, but a new exhibition (to 18th March) in the centre of Brussels should be of interested to anyone interested in the history of the press, or indeed history more generally.

The review we saw (in Brussel Deze Week) says the exhibition is slightly amateur, with legends accompanying the exhibits that are not as informative as they might be. Nonetheless, the array of old newspapers, advertisements, technology, photographs, and miscellaneous stuff dating back to the late 18th century sounds like it is worth a look.

There are reproductions of the Brusselse Nieuws-Blad (1795) and the Journal de l’Empire (1809) – that would be Napoleon’s empire, which briefly swallowed up this part of the world – as well as a first edition of Het Nieuwsblad (1929), which, unlike the other two, is still going strong.

Back in 1982, as the exhibition shows, Le Soir and Het Laatste Nieuws both reported on the same day that oil had been discovered under the Fourons/Voeren district, then hotly disputed between Flemings and Walloons. The date was 1 April…

A more serious “joke” is also represented in the exhibition: the “false Soir” of 9 November 1943, one of the most daring and imaginative acts of Belgian resistance, when a complete “fake” version of the paper, then controlled by the Nazis via their collaborators, was produced and delivered to news kiosks around the city before the “official” version reached them. At first sight it looked like the usual stuff, but it took the piss mercilessly out of the Nazis and their local stooges and was a magnificent morale-booster to their opponents.

Once upon a time, Brussels had its own equivalent of Fleet Street, with most of the papers (in both languages) clustered in a wee street off Jacqmain, not far from the parliament, whose members often met up with journalists in local bars. These days, like elsewhere, many of the papers’ HQs are scattered to the suburbs and further afield – although the business dailies in both French and Dutch, strangely enough, are among those that have stayed in the city (in Thurn & Taxis/Tour & Taxis).

The exhibition (entitled “Toen de pers nog brusselde…/C’était au temps où la presse bruxellait”) is on until 18 March, Thursdays to Sundays only, 1 pm to 6 pm, at the Huis van de Folklore en Tradities/Maison du Folklore et des Traditions, 19 Eikstraat/rue du Chêne (beside the Brussels Parliament). Admission is free.

http://www.bruxelles.be/4290 (in Dutch and French – and English, of a sort).

Martin McGarry