Commemorating First world war in Brussels

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Brussels capital region will be commemorating the First World War starting this year and for next four years.

War Museum1While Brussels saw no major accomplishments during the First World War it was, as the capital of Belgium, the most fitting place to mark the First World War, on a local, national as well as international level. The first thing people think of in this regard is the Monument for the Unknown Soldier, yet there is much more besides; with no less than six hundred street names, commemorative plaques or monuments dedicated to remembrance. Street names and monuments should remind people for years to come of the honourable fallen, and heroes both national and local; they should keep alive the names of major battle fields, and express collective recognition.

The Brussels Capital Region set the task of identifying and listing these traces in a land registry. This land registry bears witness to Belgium’s war experiences in general and those of Brussels’ citizens in particular, and provides a picture of how the interpretation assigned to the Great War evolves throughout commemorations. The book, based on this land registry, investigates how this multiform commemoration in Brussels’ space came in being, analyses its symbolic extent and evolution, and examines what this special heritage might still mean in the present.

War MuseumTo mark the Commemoration of the First World War, the Brussels Capital Region is launching three new projects:

  • Through the Facebook page dedicated to Paul Max, you can follow day-by-day the events in Brussels during the First World War based on his diary. An authentic way to relive the occupation through the eyes of a citizen. Based on diary fragments and newspaper clippings, you can experience the events that played out in Brussels, both the major global moments and the everyday worries and uncertainties.
  • The book “Brussels, Memory and War (1914-2014)” shows how the memory of the First World War features prominently in the Brussels Capital Region. What is the extent of the 600 street names, commemorative plaques and monuments dedicated to remembrance, and what does this heritage still mean today?
  • Lastly, the mini-map “Commemoration 14-18” in turn brings daily life in occupied Brussels alive. All of the themes at play during the turbulent years of the occupation are touched on over a walking tour of the city: food shortages, refugees, the wounded, resistance, but also leisure and relaxation. This walk gives a view on how the occupation of Brussels manifested itself through, among other things, the requisition of buildings, goods and workforce, through shortages of food and clothing, through German interference in administration, etc. The local resistance is at the same time also followed: the organisation of provisions, caring for injured from the front, espionage activities and the clandestine press. By starting from the upper city where the war began, and moving down to the lower city that forms the backdrop of its symbolic end, we aim to provide a vivid picture of how the citizens of Brussels experienced the First World War.


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