Visiting Schaerbeek / Schaarbeek railroad station, Brussels, Belgium: Flemish, neo-Renaissance splendour

Flag of Belgium
Flag of Belgium | Source
Schaerbeek / Schaarbeek railroad station, Brussels
Schaerbeek / Schaarbeek railroad station, Brussels | Source
Schaerbeek / Schaarbeek station forecourt seen in the 1920s
Schaerbeek / Schaarbeek station forecourt seen in the 1920s | Source
Map location of Schaerbeek / Schaarbeek station, Brussels
Map location of Schaerbeek / Schaarbeek station, Brussels | Source

Gracious architecture, with scrupulously bilingual labelling

To the first, anticipated question: why the two spellings of this place-name? referring to a suburb of Brussels, Belgium: the answer is that because Brussels is officially bilingual in French and Dutch, neither the French (Schaerbeek ) or Dutch (Schaarbeek ) spellings of the name of the suburb is supposed to predominate. Added to this is the fact that for this suburb no separate English form of the word has emerged (as in 'Brussels', for French: Bruxelles , and Dutch: Brussel ).

Belgium is well-known for its rigorous language policies; some areas of the country are wholly French-speaking, others wholly Dutch-speaking, and some are officially acknowledged as bilingual. While some localities in Belgium are acknowledged as bilingual with one of the two languages as officially predominating, yet in the case of Schaerbeek / Schaarbeek, being in the Brussels region, its bilingualism is administratively enforced on a strictly equal basis for both French and Dutch. While visitors to the country might sometimes find these issues somewhat obscure to grasp, they form an essential part of the contemporary Belgian institutional scene.

At the station itself, in fact, the two French and Dutch forms, Schaerbeek and Schaarbeek respectively, are scrupulously given equal prominence on the platform signs, all aligned neatly in several rows.

The style of the building is described as Flemish neo-Reinaissance. The architect was Franz Seulen. Built in 1887, an extension was added in 1913. The overall effect of the design of the building combines a typical execution in red brick — very popular in Belgium — with 19th century grace. Thus in various ways, this quite impressive building may be described as typically Belgian: a public building with an ornate, pre-World War One aura in the all-familiar red brick.

Several roads converge at this station square, making the striking building a conspicuous landmark in the locality.

A Train Museum is planned by the Belgian railroad company SNCB / NMBS for the station building. Themes in view for the museum include the development of the railroad in Belgium. In 2010, the 175th anniversary of the Belgian railroad system was commemorated.

Also worth seeing

In Brussels itself, noteworthy visitor attractions include the Grand'Place, the Royal Palace and BELvue museum, the Palace of Justice.

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How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), from where car rental is available. However, the Metro is a very convenient way of getting around Brussels. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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