Susanne Wander │ email@example.com
New Town? I have to confess that before coming to Brussels for an internship for the second time in my life, I did not have much of an idea what a ‘New Town’ was and how many of them could be found around Europe. Neither could I have imagined how much a small organisation, as the one I am currently doing my internship with, can change and make an impact on these New Towns.
The European New Towns Platform (ENTP) is a Brussels-based organisation, founded in 2001, which represents New Towns and fast growing urban centres in Europe. The network currently gathers 26 local governments from different European regions, in cooperation with various partners such as research centres, NGOs, other networks, as well as two New Towns in India and China. New Towns were mainly built as a state-sponsored initiative close to European capitals in order to accommodate post-war growth and serve as commuting towns to the respective capitals. The main task of ENTP is to support these New Towns as well as fast growing urban centres, to ensure communication between them and to help them gain access to EU funds in order to work on common projects.
This is the general description we usually give about our network but, that being said, one might wonder what the concrete outputs of ENTP’s work are and what the real changes of ENTP activities are on its members. To me, as a MA Euroculture student, what is most important about the outputs of ENTP’s work is the fact that we do not only function as a European platform but that we also help to promote good European practices outside Europe. By means of our projects, we help European New Towns in sharing and exchanging their experiences with other New Towns on an international level and, thus, in a way promote the idea of Europe. A very good example of this is ENTP’s AWARD project, which aims at promoting cultural development outside Europe and making local and regional authorities aware of their key role in promoting culture in development programmes and international cooperation, especially in times of budget cuts due to the economic crisis.
What about living in Brussels? Before coming back to Brussels for the second time in my life, I knew for sure that I wanted to live in the city again. There are, of course, many stereotypical images of Brussels, which portray it mainly as the buzzling ‘EU organisational hub’ where EU officials and lobbyists mingle to work on something most European citizens have no idea about. It is supposed to be the capital of this ‘organisational chaos’, and often seems to be a place that was chosen not for any particular historical reason but rather for its central location in Western Europe. However, living in Brussels for the second time around, I can say that there is a lot more to this city than just an ‘EU hub’. To me, Brussels is a city of contrasts, a city which never gets boring, a city you can discover anew all the time. If you come to Brussels, you can experience something different around every corner.
Firstly, there is an amazing, and sometimes confusing, mix of food odours. While you can smell Belgian waffles for miles in nearly every part of the city, there is also a persistent pleasant smell of chocolate coming from the different chocolatier chains which have their shops scattered all over the city. Turning the street corner, however, this smell can easily change into the – not less pleasant – smell of Belgian fries which can also be found everywhere in Brussels, typically sold at little stalls where you can choose from a huge variety of sauces (ranging from the standard ketchup to exotic tastes like Andalouse, Pickels or even Chinoise).
Secondly, the architecture in Brussels is also a strange mixture. Having stood in a rather Art Noveau-inspired street with little and carefully decorated iron balconies on each house, you might end up in a totally different-looking street around the next corner, with the huge EU institutional buildings towering over modern apartment buildings.
Thirdly, there is the international atmosphere in Brussels which makes it look and sound different around every corner. Wandering the streets of Brussels, or taking even a short trip on the metro, you can hear nearly all of the official languages of the EU, mixed here and there with some Arabian, African or in fact every other world language possibly imaginable. The city is not only home to many European citizens but also to a huge variety of citizens from non-European countries, of which the African district of the city – the so-called Matongé – and the many Arabian grocery shops all over the city are only a small part. In fact, it can sometimes prove difficult in Brussels to find a ‘real Belgian’.
What makes living in Brussels worthwhile for me is exactly this international feel, as well as its mixture of cultures and activities. Someone once told me that since you can hardly spot a ‘true Belgian’ here, everyone is a kind of foreigner in the city and so you never really have to feel like a foreigner yourself when living here. I think that this is exactly what makes me smile when I hear all the different languages on the streets and exactly what makes me think that I would really like to live here for good – or at least for a few years.
Susanne Wander, Brussels Correspondent
Susanne is from Germany, where she completed a BA in European Studies at the University of Passau with majors in Political Science and English Studies, a semester abroad in Wales and an internship with the European Parliament in Brussels. She is studying MA Euroculture at the University of Groningen (the Netherlands) and the University of Göttingen (Germany) and is currently doing an internship with the NGO ENTP Brussels. Her interests include European identity and politics, especially in the context of transatlantic relations. She loves travelling and living abroad but is also deeply rooted in her German home region of Franconia. This is also why she is convinced that it is possible to combine regional and national identities under a shared European identity.