Brussels–Molenbeek Saturday Morning in Molenbeek

It’s Saturday morning in Molenbeek. The weekly market is a meeting place for residents, new arrivals and visitors alike. Our photographer approached them as they did their shopping, struck up a conversation and took their picture, affording us an unfiltered glimpse into people’s everyday lives. 

  • Rachid & his family: “We are on holidays here, visiting the Molenbeek market today. We’re from Morocco and live near the Algerian border. We’ll be in Belgium for ten days and are staying with relatives. We quite like it here, and there are many other Moroccans as well. Apparently there’s a lot of prejudice against this suburb but our impression is actually quite positive. The suburb is vibrant and the people are friendly. So we’re sure we’ll enjoy our stay.” Photo: © Raisa Vandamme
    Rachid & his family

    “We are on holidays here, visiting the Molenbeek market today. We’re from Morocco and live near the Algerian border. We’ll be in Belgium for ten days and are staying with relatives. We quite like it here, and there are many other Moroccans as well. Apparently there’s a lot of prejudice against this suburb but our impression is actually quite positive. The suburb is vibrant and the people are friendly. So we’re sure we’ll enjoy our stay.”
  • “I moved to Brussels two years ago because of an inheritance. My children are independent now, but they will stay in Brussels, too. The advantage of living here is that there is a lot to do and many shops are close by. The atmosphere is vibrant. But I’m still not entirely sure I want to stay here.” Photo: © Raisa Vandamme
    “I moved to Brussels two years ago because of an inheritance. My children are independent now, but they will stay in Brussels, too. The advantage of living here is that there is a lot to do and many shops are close by. The atmosphere is vibrant. But I’m still not entirely sure I want to stay here.”
  • Omar & Otman: “We were all afraid when the attacks happened in Brussels. We don’t know where people get these ideas from either. Back then, our relatives in Morocco were quite worried and called to see if we were ok. There was a general feeling of fear here in the suburb. What’s frustrating is that the reality is very different from what you see on TV. Many people have the wrong idea about Molenbeek or about Brussels in general. But those people don’t know the suburb or the city and live a bit secluded in their own little world. Luckily, we rarely encounter this sort of small-mindedness in our capital city, and we personally have never experienced racism. People from all over the world come here and live together.” Photo: © Raisa Vandamme
    Omar & Otman: “We were all afraid when the attacks happened in Brussels. We don’t know where people get these ideas from either. Back then, our relatives in Morocco were quite worried and called to see if we were ok. There was a general feeling of fear here in the suburb. What’s frustrating is that the reality is very different from what you see on TV. Many people have the wrong idea about Molenbeek or about Brussels in general. But those people don’t know the suburb or the city and live a bit secluded in their own little world. Luckily, we rarely encounter this sort of small-mindedness in our capital city, and we personally have never experienced racism. People from all over the world come here and live together.”
  • “I always shop at the Molenbeek market. These days, Molenbeek is no longer what it used to be. I grew up here and saw how the suburb changed, but not always for the better. The people who lived here back in my day have all moved away. Instead, many foreigners have settled here. I think that politics and the police haven’t done enough in recent years. They let the suburb go to the dogs for years and are doing nothing about crime either. In a lot of ways, they haven’t intervened for far too long. I hope things will slowly improve now.” Photo: © Raisa Vandamme
    “I always shop at the Molenbeek market. These days, Molenbeek is no longer what it used to be. I grew up here and saw how the suburb changed, but not always for the better. The people who lived here back in my day have all moved away. Instead, many foreigners have settled here. I think that politics and the police haven’t done enough in recent years. They let the suburb go to the dogs for years and are doing nothing about crime either. In a lot of ways, they haven’t intervened for far too long. I hope things will slowly improve now.”
  • “I’m shopping here in Molenbeek. I have lived here for many years and have seen how the suburb has changed for the better. I moved here after I lost my husband, but I’m quite happy here by myself. I used to live in Saint-Gilles. It’s clean and trendy, but it doesn’t have the same atmosphere as Molenbeek. I know many people who are afraid to come here, some of my friends included. When they do come, they walk around suspiciously, their handbags tightly tucked under their arms. I have never had any problems like that. Not too long ago, I forgot my wallet here at the market. Someone immediately called after me and gave me my money. I prefer being outside to being inside here, it’s my home.” Photo: © Raisa Vandamme
    “I’m shopping here in Molenbeek. I have lived here for many years and have seen how the suburb has changed for the better. I moved here after I lost my husband, but I’m quite happy here by myself. I used to live in Saint-Gilles. It’s clean and trendy, but it doesn’t have the same atmosphere as Molenbeek. I know many people who are afraid to come here, some of my friends included. When they do come, they walk around suspiciously, their handbags tightly tucked under their arms. I have never had any problems like that. Not too long ago, I forgot my wallet here at the market. Someone immediately called after me and gave me my money. I prefer being outside to being inside here, it’s my home.”
  • Ximena & her son: “We’re originally from Chile. I currently live in Barcelona, but my son and his father live in Berlin. We’ve been in Brussels for two days. We have seen the city centre and the beautiful historic sights. But we wanted to stay in an Airbnb in Molenbeek. We lived with a Muslim family and had very interesting conversations about religion and other things. It was interesting to stay here. We read many bad things about Molenbeek in the newspapers, but we feel at ease here. You get to see a different, less typical side of the city.” Photo: © Raisa Vandamme
    Ximena & her son: “We’re originally from Chile. I currently live in Barcelona, but my son and his father live in Berlin. We’ve been in Brussels for two days. We have seen the city centre and the beautiful historic sights. But we wanted to stay in an Airbnb in Molenbeek. We lived with a Muslim family and had very interesting conversations about religion and other things. It was interesting to stay here. We read many bad things about Molenbeek in the newspapers, but we feel at ease here. You get to see a different, less typical side of the city.”
  • Tinne: “I live on the boundary of Molenbeek and the city centre, not far from Klein Kasteeltje. The suburb is interesting and I like the different cultures and the sense of openness, even if it’s not always easy to meet people. I’ve noticed that certain groups always hang out together in this suburb, such as the Flemings in the artists’ cafés. Yet they keep buying their olives at Moroccan stalls. There’s a group of Africans hanging out underneath my apartment window every day. I know them quite well by know. I like that there are many different people here, and they do intermingle, even if there’s still room to improve. After the attacks, I joined the ‘Molenbeek gives light’ rally. It was noticeably quiet here after the attacks. No traffic and no noise – it was deserted. I also thought that people treated each other more kindly. But that might just have been a feeling. Many social organisations are suddenly focusing on Molenbeek. That’s a good thing, but it’s also a bit of a double-edged sword. I hope the support will be there for the long term.” Photo: © Raisa Vandamme
    Tinne: “I live on the boundary of Molenbeek and the city centre, not far from Klein Kasteeltje. The suburb is interesting and I like the different cultures and the sense of openness, even if it’s not always easy to meet people. I’ve noticed that certain groups always hang out together in this suburb, such as the Flemings in the artists’ cafés. Yet they keep buying their olives at Moroccan stalls. There’s a group of Africans hanging out underneath my apartment window every day. I know them quite well by know. I like that there are many different people here, and they do intermingle, even if there’s still room to improve. After the attacks, I joined the ‘Molenbeek gives light’ rally. It was noticeably quiet here after the attacks. No traffic and no noise – it was deserted. I also thought that people treated each other more kindly. But that might just have been a feeling. Many social organisations are suddenly focusing on Molenbeek. That’s a good thing, but it’s also a bit of a double-edged sword. I hope the support will be there for the long term.”