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While my family and I lived in Belgium, we, as a family, drove to Brussels many weekends to do some shopping. For my brother and I, we usually hit a record store, hoping to find any sort of recently released punk rock from New York City. If that didn’t happen, we used ended up combing through the metal records. Eventually, we’d meet up with our parents for a gyro and frites, but before that happened we walked around a bit, looking to kill time, hoping that, around every new street corner, we’d find a newer, better record store than the one we always went to. If I wasn’t with my brother, then most times I just wandered up and down the streets, content to just explore.

You can only imagine the sort of shock and bemusement I felt when I first happened upon Mannekin Pis in the central part of the city. It’s a bronze statue and fountain of a naked little boy, and guess where the water comes trickling out of? Guess. Hint: what does the second word in the name resemble? The silliest thing, of all this, is that this is not some obscure, naughty little bit of artwork tucked away in a secret location. It’s out in the middle of broad daylight, for the world to see. And the Belgians don’t seem to really care. It’s not scandalous to them by any means, and in fact, a lot of the tourist shops in the city sell replicas in the form of wine corkscrews. Even stranger, Brussels is not the only Belgian city that has a statue like this. As for the reason why the statue is there, nobody really knows. It’s been around for a couple of hundred years. And, nobody seems to be able to agree on the originating legends, as there are many:

There are several legends behind this statue, but the most famous is the one about Duke Godfrey II of Leuven. In 1142, the troops of this two-year-old lord were battling against the troops of the Berthouts, the lords of Grimbergen, in Ransbeke (now Neder-over-Heembeek). The troops put the infant lord in a basket and hung it in a tree, to encourage them. From there, he urinated on the troops of the Berthouts, who eventually lost the battle.

Another legend goes like this: In the 14th century, Brussels was under siege by a foreign power. The city had held their ground for quite some time. The attackers had thought of a plan to place explosive charges at the city walls. A little boy named Juliaanske from Brussels happened to be spying on them as they were preparing. He urinated on the burning fuse and thus saved the city.

If you want to see a picture of it, you’ll have to click here. It’s probably not work-safe, by American standards.

UPDATE: If you want to see the corkscrew souvenir sold throughout Brussels, click here.

UPDATE: Manneken’s sister, Jeanneke.

 

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