My secret life

Give me a sign

I have lived in Brussels long enough to know that this is not a city that puts a lot of effort into its signposts. You might occasionally spot a useful sign directing you to the , but most of the time you are left to figure out directions for yourself.

You would have thought in the case of the Atomium that directions would hardly be necessary. We are talking about a building in the form of an iron crystal magnified 170 billion times. It is almost the biggest structure in Belgium. And it’s lit up at night.


So when our friends arrived from America, I thought that it would be a simple business to drive them across town to look at our answer to the Statue of Liberty.

Well, I was wrong. There are no signs that point to the Atomium, or maybe there was one, but it must have been hidden by a tree. So I ended up totally lost in northern Brussels, trying desperately to spot those giant steel balls.

“There’s a sign to the Atomium,” said one of the Americans, brightly. And he was right. There was finally a sign, placed about one hundred metres from the Atomium itself, when no one could possibly need directions.

That set me off thinking about other signs in Brussels. In the centre of town, the signage is baffling for a different reason. The street signs give the names in the two official languages, but sometimes also in the local Brussels dialect. So you often have one street with three different names.

And, finally, there are some streets that have been named after a comic book hero. But these streets still have their old name as well. So the Rue des Sables is also called Zandstraat. But it is also named Rue Schtroumph after the little blue cartoon folk. And, finally, it is Smurfstraat.

So you either have no signs, or too many signs, or signs that are not really signs at all. But never, I can assure you, will you ever find just one perfectly clear sign.