Chocolate and Politics in Brussels

Chocolate and Politics in Brussels

This was my first time in Belgium. It was a short three day work trip to the EU Parliament. Our hotel, the Radisson RED (highly recommended), was next door to the Parliament complex, which was convenient given the gray and rainy weather. There was a lot going on in Brussels the week I was there. Police ordered the closure of a right-wing conference attended by Nigel Farage and the Brussels Forum, which is a conference that brings together leaders and decision-makers from both sides of the Atlantic, was taking place. Agenda items of the forum included American and European perspectives on "Democracy on the line", specifically, issues involving China, Russia and Ukraine, and Hamas and Israel. Security was definitely heightened, so we made sure to leave for the airport early.

Me at the EU Parliament

Given the short visit, we only had time to go to the parliament, meet with a MEP, and visit the European History Museum before dispersing to do late afternoon sightseeing. The museum was good, but had a major flaw. It had entire sections about Communism and the Nazis (as it should), but disingenuously glossed over colonialism and slavery. Both slavery and colonialism gave major boosts to the European economy and were huge parts of European history. These institutions were a mere subsection of a tiny exhibit. It is easy to point fingers at other countries (Russia and Germany), while ignoring the reason why there are so many beautiful stately buildings and wealth in Belgium. Also, King Leopold II of Belgium was responsible for 15 million deaths in the Congo as a result of the colonial exploitation, but that "tidbit" was nowhere to be found in the museum. There is an infamous photo taken in 1904 of a man looking at the severed hand and foot of his five-year-old daughter who was killed, cooked, and cannibalized by members of the Force Publique, because he hadn’t made his rubber quota for the day. Countless atrocities happened in the Belgium Congo and then later during independence with the assassination of the first Prime Minister of an independent Congo, Patrice Lumumba. In 2022, the Belgian government returned Lumumba's gold tooth to his family. It was stolen from his corpse, which was dismembered and dissolved in acid by a Belgian police commissioner, and kept as a macabre souvenir for several decades. Given the prominence of the institutions of slavery and colonialism in European history, it is disappointing that the museum swept them under the rug.

Overall, Brussels was okay. There's not much to do. There are some nice art museums, which I didn't have time to visit. The city's claim to fame is a small statue of a boy peeing into a fountain called Manneken Pis. Like most tourist traps, the area around the Manneken Pis and Grand-Place Plaza had lackluster restaurants and people begging for money. However, I did enjoy the art nouveau architecture of the city. 

Manneken Pis

Building in the Grand-Place

I had to get some famous Belgium chocolates before I returned home. I knew that I wouldn't be allowed into the building where I work if I didn't bring some chocolates back to the staff room. Belgium chocolates are legendary. Famous brands include Mary, Leonidas, Neuhaus, Côte d'Or, and Godiva. Neuhaus and I have a special relationship, because I used to splurge at their stores in NYC and Doha. I also stumbled upon this amazing chocolate shop, Planète Chocolat. They have the best vegan chocolates I've ever tasted and I bought a dark chocolate bar that was made that morning. I generally don't like dark chocolate (it's usually too bitter for me), but their dark chocolate was amazing and not bitter.

Would I go back to Brussels? No, unless someone else is paying for it or it's a long layover and I can tour some of the art nouveau buildings between flights or trains. However, it seems like a lovely place to live, but in terms of going there on vacation, 2-3 days is enough to see everything.

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