The Brussels Stock Exchange Palace, closed and under construction for years, will no longer house the stock market floor. This month, the eclectic building, built to house one of the world’s first stock exchanges, has reopened after a thorough facelift. And it has done so to house an area for temporary exhibitions, concerts and events, a coworking space, a restaurant and a large museum of Belgian beer, its star project. The place, which expects to receive about 300,000 visitors in 2024 and double that per year in three or four years, claims Brussels as the capital of beer.
The renovation of the Stock Exchange Palace and the beer museum has cost 90 million euros – including part of European funds – which represents an extra cost of double what was expected, like almost everything in Brussels. And it has taken longer than expected, like almost everything in the community capital. “It has been long and complex,” acknowledged the mayor of Brussels, Philippe Close. The city’s coffers—the regional and federal governments and the brewers have also put money in—hope to soon recover funds thanks to tickets to the museum, at 17 euros. With the payment for the visit to that space (access to the building is free), which lasts an hour and a half between more academic and historical parts and other more immersive ones, includes the tasting of a beer from a selection of 48 varieties on tap and 98 bottle.
Belgium, where the first Stock Exchange was also created in Bruges in 1409, has one of the largest beer collections in the world. And although its export outside the EU has decreased since the pandemic, within the Union it has increased by 3%, according to recent data from the Belgian brewers association. Beer, from Stella Artois or Jupiler to Trappists, is a tourist asset. And so it has been placed in the center of Brussels, in the converted emblematic Stock Exchange building, which began to be built in 1868 on the site of what was the butter market. Another symbol of the change of times, of the digitalization of markets, of the attempt to recover spaces for citizens, but also of the touristification of the center of Brussels, against which a citizen platform repeatedly protests.
Drunkenness and sculptures
A few days ago, when they had almost discovered the façade of the palace, covered with sculptures by great artists, including Auguste Rodin, it suffered its first mishap: a drunk tourist climbed up on one of the sculptures next to the doors and broke a large piece . The repair will cost almost 20,000 euros, which the city hopes to charge the tourist, who was arrested shortly after, at a nearby fast food chain. The man, an Irishman, claimed that he had not noticed the damage. The stairs of the Stock Exchange have been a meeting point and appointment in the center of the city that houses community institutions. They witness the celebration of sporting victories and demands. After the Brussels attacks in 2016, they were also an improvised memorial – strewn with photographs, gifts and flowers – in tribute to the victims.
The new opening of the palace, which also serves as a walkway to the Grand Place and the shopping galleries, is part of the pedestrianization plan for almost the entire area – including Anspach Boulevard, the backbone of the city. The neighborhood has experienced an oceanic change since 10 years ago a group of people, spurred among others by the philosopher Philippe Van Parijs, began to take to the streets on Sundays to have picnics, sitting in the middle of the street, to reclaim that space, as had been done to pedestrianize the Grand Place in 1991.
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