Glimpses of Antwerp, Nuclear News, Islamic jihadists here?, Architecture, MAS, and more…

‘More Leukemia in children in area near nuclear power plants.’ January 20, 2012 Headline in Dutch-language Belgian daily newspaper De Morgen, which I read on my way from Leuven to Antwerp.  Click to Access the study (pdf.) on which the article was based:

Thursday – My alarm went off at 8:30 am.  After a shower, etc., I walk to the train station at the end of the street.  Train’s delayed…  15 minutes.  I make use of the extra time (due to a missed connection) to pick up a newspaper (De Morgen) and head to Antwerpen-Centraal…

One article points to a recently published study in France, which revealed a statistical correlation between child leukemia and proximity to Nuclear Power Plants.  (See similar article in English, HERE)

Apparently, albeit not exactly surprising, even without accidents like Chornobyl or Fukushima, Nuclear Energy isn’t remotely as safe as proponents claim it is.  The study by the Institut National de la Sante et de la Recherche Medicale (French Institute of Health and Medical Research, or INSERM) found:  leukemia rate twice as high among children under the age of 15 living within a 3.1-mile radius of France’s 19 NNPs.

“‘Can Nuclear Technology Cure rather than Cause Cancer?’ … We’ll answer all your questions.” -> Since Fukushima, the Nuclear Industry has gone into propaganda overdrive to spin public doubts back to blind faith. Here a billboard in a busy Antwerp street. Similar ads can be found throughout most newspapers and magazines. If you speak French or Dutch, click image to ask the pro-nuke experts some questions.

While I touch on this topic, it’s noteworthy that, already over four years ago, a German study by the BFSBundesamt für Strahlenschutz (the German Federal Agency for Radiation Protection, see, concluded basically the same, namely „that the risk for children under five years of age to contract leukaemia increases the closer they live to a nuclear power plant”  [See the German Study (English Press Release) from December 2007]


‘Antwerpen Centraal’ train station; photo taken on another day after dark. © All photos Michaël Van Broekhoven, 2012.

I arrive in Antwerp at 10:27 am.  The multi-level fantastically confusing Antwerp-Central Train Station‘s awesome in and of itself.  The main hall is well-known for its Do-Re-Mi ‘Sound of Music’ flashmob on March 23, 2009.  The reconstruction of the rest was an impressive feat, about which you can read more HERE, if cool train stations are your thing.

It’s raining very lightly.  The clouds move fast.  The (nice-looking but sadly diseased) trees outside the train station were almost all cut down last year.  Barren.  Grey.  The street is being redesigned.  Most people aren’t smiling.  Dress code: black, grey or beige.  Nice splashes of purple and blue… too.  Black umbrellas.  I dig Europe’s fashionable chic… Amazing buildings, diamonds sparkling in glamourous window installations, brand names and high couture designers, …  I was heading over to family this time, but I took a couple random photos just before New Year’s Eve – here’s one:

One of many clothing store window installations on the fancy shopping street ‘De Meir’, Antwerp, Belgium. Based on the reflection this one was right across from ‘Urban Outfitters’. (Photo taken Dec 29, 2011).

Just before 11am, I arrive at the home of an uncle and aunt near the river Schelde.

Figuring out on lit-up aerial photos of Antwerp and its massive industrial port where we were at ‘Port of Antwerp’ by the MAS (Museum Aan de Stroom). The “C” shape on the right is the river Schelde.

We chat over coffee about places they have traveled to, some of whom I’ve been to as well a long while ago (Egypt, Peru), and some of which I want to visit some day (Bhutan, Tibet, China, Russia,…); how I experience differences between Belgium and the United States, reflections on why am returning to the States after all ;-), thoughts on adaptation and authenticity, and -of course- the challenges in trying to find where the balance lies between tolerance and where ‘the intolerable’ might begin in the complex immigration situation and the rise of dangerous forms of Islam throughout Europe.

Things have changed in those 17 years during which I spent the majority of my time away from here… For instance, Brussels, with over 300,000 muslims is now the most Islamic city in Europe.  There are more and more mosques and minarets in Europe, more veiled women and more Muslim organizations.  Nothing wrong with any of that per se, but…  It turns into a whole different matter when a couple zealots wish to push their beliefs upon everyone else, claiming to be on “God’s side” or what not…  and anyone who holds different views suddenly is ‘an infidel’ (to be converted or worse…).

It took centuries to undo much of the damage done by the inquisition (an ongoing process), just as young Europeans are reaping the fruits of previous generations having fought to rid themselves of the harmful oppressive male-dominated culture, its widespread fear-based obedience to religious dogma, etc. and mainstream culture embraces a culture of liberty, honesty, dialogue, and respect for the intrinsic value of human beings, one in which I feel safe to think for myself, free to speak my mind, and live whatever life I envision for myself,… suddenly guys in medieval beards have shown up and literally want utter disgusting bullshit like introducing “Sharia for Belgium“, to give one example.  The challenge remains: the eradication of coercion through non-coercive means.  The means must reflect the ends.  The question is the same when faced with the militarization of formerly liberty-oriented societies (such as the United States nowadays), as it is when faced with extremist fundamentalist movements of any stripe.  I don’t know what kind of teeth democracy needs to subdue truly anti-democratic forces.  It’s the same challenge regardless of whether they are totalitarian bolsjevic-commie-style, or Islamic jihad-style wackos, or anti-immigration neo-nazi-style wackos, or the kind of slow-motion-corporate-fascist takeover that’s been taking place in the modern west over the past century.  Anyhow…

Next door from restaurant ‘Chez Fred’, in the Kloosterstraat, Antwerpen.

We have a bite at restaurant Chez Fred, next door from this home (left) with its neat wood work.

> Wall decoration, same area.

After lunch, we go visit the hugely popular MAS, the ‘Museum Aan de Stroom’ (Museum by the Stream).  It opened last year in May and already saw over a million visitors.  Standing right next to it I couldn’t fit it in the photo…


Couple panoramic photos from the MAS’s roof terras on this lovely overcast rainy day:

View over downtown Antwerp, a mixture of old and new.

A dock for private boats in the revived neighborhood. 15 years ago the area was in decay, now it is trendy and increasingly pricey.

Over 15,000 people per square mile.

In the distance can be seen the edge of Europe’s largest petrochemical industrial center in the Port of Antwerp. The Port as a whole is Europe’s second largest (between Rotterdam in Holland (1) and Hamburg, Germany (3))

As twilight lurks, I head back to Leuven by train.

The 15th century gothic masterpiece City Hall of Leuven (Louvain in English); on the far right a part of the (also gothic, contructed after 1425 CE) Saint Peter’s Church is visible as well

Once there, instead of jumping on a train or bus from Leuven to Herent (for a couple minutes), I decide to take the long way home: on foot through the center of Leuven, taking in the sights of fancy shopping windows, film and theatre halls,… passing by some of this town’s often lively 241 bars (‘cafés’) and 178 restaurants.  Tiny Belgium has about 1 bar per 650 inhabitants (just over 17,000 bars for some 11 million folks).  As is often the case when I walk home, I swing by the City Hall (construction began in 1439) in the center [see photo left, which I took several weeks ago], further along a remnant of medieval city walls (built 1156-1165), etc…  This walk only takes 45 minutes when I take my sweet time.

Screenshot of CANVAS TV (translation of subtitle: But this great country has many peoples with different religions)

My day ends writing this blog post, while off-and-on peeking over to the television, sorta watching “Russia for Beginners” (Rusland Voor Beginners, on CANVAS, an excellent Belgian Dutch-language TV station), which tonight explored spirituality and religious freedom and diversity in Russia, as well how things have changed as far as that goes since the collapse of the Sovjet era.  By the time the program’s over, my blog post’s almost done too.  And I’m about to fall over.  Nite!

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