Rise and fall of Antwerp and the Plantin-Moretusmuseum

The 16th century was Antwerp's golden age. With over 100.000 inhabitants, it was next to Paris the biggest city of the world, attracting traders, seamen, bankers and ordinary people trying to make their way. Its strategic position, close to the markets in England, Flanders, France, Germany and -while being under Spanish rule- with a direct access to the Spanish economy and its colonial treasures, led economy to a so far not known growth.

One of the most vivid areas was the printing sector. 66 print shops existed around 1560 in Antwerp and the Plantin-Moretus office became the most famous of it. On Saturday, I visited the equally called museum and could witness the spirit of the time. Cleverly balancing between the progressive renaissance thinkers and the conservative clerical power, the family printed licensed bibles as well as the first Dutch dictionary and Dutch encyclopedia. What a discovery the books must have offered to the citizens of its time! The bible could be directly read by those who could, the human body came alive, Europe´s flora and fauna, the Mercator maps described the new shape of the world and the Latin and Greec classics its history. Opening minds, the books gave air to thinking. Whenever you come around in Antwerp, make sure not to miss the museum and understand what happened in Europe in the 16th century.

Antwerp's golden age was a short period of glance. With the new ideas, a big part of Antwerp citizens turned to Calvinism and Lutheranism. Spanish and French rulers could not accept the secession from its territories and reacted strongly on riot (1866 – Iconoclasm) with strong repression and control (Spanish Fury in 1676). Till, in 1685, the city completely capitulated. More than 40.000 people left Antwerp, most of them of Calvinists and Lutherans. Rulers turned Antwerp into the fortress against upstanding Netherlands, while Dutchies blocked the access to the city's harbor. It meant the end for trading and what was left for the city was the kitsch of Rubens contra-reformatory Baroque. From 1586 till the mid 19th century, harbor and city fell into deep sleep. It did not prevent the Spanish rulers from decline and the church not from slowly loosing its power. A new boom town came to growth further north: Amsterdam, where a lot of Antwerp's merchants flew to.

16th century was surely a great time for the city. It is to hope that my contemporary co-Antwerpenaars remember that golden age. The time where the city was most vivid, was a time in search of freedom of thinking, expression and believe. Especially, if Belgium - despite all probability - has to return to the ballot box in the next month. Till know, it seems that the king (!) did not gave up negotiations.

1st pic: Antwerp's city map made in 1566 by Pauwels van Overbeke

2st pic: The famous Biblia Polyglotta edited by Cristoffel Plantijn in 1568


The tile of the year and other promising news for 2011

There she is! Kachelagent proudly presents: the tile of the year 2011!

(stadsschouwburg Antwerpen)

Other good news to come in the next year:

The EU forbids the selling of drinking cans. While elsewhere on the continent nationals are used to other forms of consumption, Belgium citizens have to completely change their drinking behavior and Belgium breweries start to bottle beer. Unexpectedly, the system change rises the export of Belgium beers enormously. Surrounding countries, no more irritated by the strange aluminium taste, start to discover the great taste of Belgium beers. It is especially the small size breweries of Wallonia which profit from the boom. The region experiences a sudden job and income growth and the contribution of Walloon tax payers to state income pass the Flemish percentage. The North reconsiders its demands. State crisis is solved within the year. Turkish and Moroccan immigrants move massively to the south, slogans by the nationalistic right seem to be all of a sudden hostile to progress. Vlaams Belang disappears.

The US dollar becomes downgraded by the world's famous rating agencies because of the enormous public debt. Time to take action. The American government, backed by China which fears the loss of the big amount of American debts in their hands, calls for new international rules. Within a year, stronger regulation, a more regulated exchange system and an international country bailout law gets introduced. Taxes on international transaction passes the UN general assembly in September. The UN gets stronger by successfully leading the negotiations and can finally implement their longly planned institutional reforms.

After the massive loss in 7 Landtagswahlen in 2011, the German FDP urgently needs to discover new voting blocs. After the party leader gets voted out of office in october, under Leutheuser-Schnarrenberger the party re-discovers its liberal roots. Foreigners seem to be a promising target group. Putting pressure on the governing coalition, the party reaches that approval rates of asylum seekers, lately been on the historical low, rises again, and a system of contingent refugees is introduced, first effecting Afghan and Iraqi refugees. German parliament will decide on the abolishment of Artikel 16a in 2012, the same year the new common EU immigration system gets discussed.

Scientists make an astonishing discovery in the Amazon rainforest. A till now undiscovered insect produces an enzyme which is able stop the growth of cancer cells. The global public is for 2 weeks paralyzed by the results of the South American scientist team, reports from the jungle reach every corner of the world. Dilma Rousseff, the new president of the Brazilian state, uses the big public to get known by the world. On a choreographed visit to the Amazon Basin, she unveils the new approach of her government. With an Amazons action plan “Viva Amazonas”, she suggests to protect all still existing rain forest in Brazil if the international community is willing to contribute to the protection. The Post Kyoto Process gets a new push, on a international conference taking place on skype, a wildly accepted deal is accorded, in which both, Northern and Southern countries contributes to a compromise.

The new peace process in the middle east fails on the question of Jerusalem, the Palestinian refugees and the final frontier of the two states. Tony Blair steps back as international envoy and Herman Van Rompuy suggests Sepp Blatter as his follower.