Brussels – not always boring!

March 25, 2009

easily excited

I’m working, at the moment, at the arse-end of Evere, on the north-eastern fringe of Brussels, just shy of NATO headquarters, and halfway between the city and the airport.
At least the locals, Flemish, Walloon, Moroccan, Turkish, whatever, seem friendly enough. I visited a small pub with a cow orker, and it’s the only place I’ve ever been where everyone in the place bought a round for everyone else. There were only about 6 of us, but still…

And then there was the ‘manifestation.’ No, Belgium is not noticeably haunted – it’s apparently the word they use when Something Important is happening at NATO, just around the corner from where I’ve been working.

I noticed a lot of police activity in the morning, convoys of (mostly empty) police buses, but that happens. I thought nothing of it, until I tried to go to work. I unlocked the gate to the driveway – the building I work in is set in a largeish yard with lawn (kept tidy by bunnies) and trees and a car-park – and locked it behind me. Suddenly a small car with four un-uniformed but very efficient looking men pulled into the drive. They got out, and the driver came forward. “How did you get in there?” he asked. “I have a key,” I replied. I could see lots of heavy-duty equipment bristling under his jacket. This is where I learnt about the ‘manifestation.’ “Manifestation?” I asked, wondering if Belgium really took its ghostbusting that seriously. He explained briefly that it was a term that was used in the context of NATO ‘security,’ then asked me to prove that I actually let myself in with the key I had brandished. So I opened the gate, not having seen any form of ID from these fairly threatening-looking dudes, and a little voice in the back of my head said “this a the part where they rush the gate, kick the crap out of you and cut off your thumb for the biometric front door lock.” Luckily that little voice had been watching too many Hollywood movies. The men thanked me and went about their other business.
But this is the kind of security that, a couple of hours later, had 5 mounted (heavily armed) police come into the company’s premises because my colleague, who is a lightly-built blonde Kiwi girl (that day wearing a miniskirt, presumably that’s interpreted as terrorist chic here), wanted to go home. 100 metres around the corner. They came onto the company’s privaat eigendom (what they call private property in Belgium) and bailed her up against a hedge, and told her that she needed to go back inside – forbidding her to leave work, or indeed be on the streets at all!
Our manager was not pleased when he heard about it, but that was an hour later and the ‘manifestation’ was more or less all over by then, save for the constant drone of helicopters…

Note to self: stay the hell away from centres of bureaucracy, military or otherwise, and other hotbeds of security theatre. They do nothing to reinforce ones faith in humanity.



  1. weird. can you give me a google map? I want to look at where you are. Were they expecting a protest rally?

    NATO is the epicenter of US paranoia in europe – Obama’s heading there on March 31, be warned – you might have to work from home or bunker down at work!

  2. Where I’m working is here, and you can see NATO a couple of hundred metres to the ENE.

    Maybe they were doing a training run for the 31st?

  3. Just looked it up: it looks as though Obama’s NATO events are in Strasbourg and Kehl, not Brussels (phew!)

  4. They bailed up the lightly-built blond Kiwi girl in the miniskirt against a hedge for security reasons

    Yeah, right.

  5. They make it too easy to be cynical, don’t they. In their (unwarranted) defence, they were seen later galloping after some poor sod with a backpack – no doubt another evil terrorist hippy backpacker…

  6. It took me two readings to figure out what a cow orker is!

  7. I have lots of cow orkers ’round my place.

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