Wednesday 24 November 2010

Houses built on beer

Hôtel Wielemans
Brussels sometimes seems an oyster of a city, revealing its pearls slowly. There are amazing bits of beauty on almost every street, but many you only discover with time.

And as my years here have passed by, I've come to realise that, once you actually know what you're looking at, you can hardly flick a beer mat in any direction in this town without hitting some piece of brewing history.

My latest discovery was the Hôtel Wielemans, a beautiful house with an eclectic mix of Art Deco and Andalucian influences located literally next door to my office tower. OK, "discovery" is not really the right word. I've known about the building, now used for events, for a while now, and I've attended a function or two there. "Next door" is a bit misleading as well. The place is, in fact, attached to mine via a secret passage.

Anyway, while the outside may not impress you at first, once you've taken the virtual tour of the inside, you'll see what I mean about its exceptional design.

The "Blomme"
But while I knew about the existence of Hôtel Wielemans before (and about the really-not-so-secret passage), I didn't know about its connection to beer. The house (1932) was originally built for Léon Wielemans, head of the Wielemans-Ceuppens brewery in Brussels, as a gift for his wife, Yvonne. For the job of creating something truly unique, he hired architect Adrien Blomme, who also designed the amazing 1930 industrial modernist building at the brewery itself, at the bottom of Avenue Wielemans-Ceuppens. Known as the "Blomme", it held what was apparently the largest brewing hall in Europe at the time.

These days, however, you won't find any Wielemans-Ceuppens beers in this town or any other. The brewery rose to prominence on the wave of changing public preference in favour of bottom-fermented Pilsners and "Munich-style" beers seen in Belgium and elsewhere in the late 19th century and then enjoyed several periods of expansion in the 20th before running into troubles. It was taken over by Artois in 1980 and stopped brewing in 1988. The "Blomme" building itself has been converted into the art centre, "Wiels".

Rue Américaine 205
And just to reveal one more of those Brussels pearls of discovery: Adrien Blomme also designed the beautiful house at Rue Américaine 205, which is not too many streets from where we live.

Connections to beer are everywhere in this town if you keep your eyes open...

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