A journey into Doel, Belgium, an unreal place. Before it disappears. Forever
Doel is a little unique village. Surrounded by a nuclear power plant and a big harbor on the other side, IT has a no chance to survive in its future. This small town was born 400 years ago and it’s now almost abandoned. After having been chosen decades ago to hold a nuclear plant, it was recently selected to become part of the enlargement of the Antwerp harbor. A project called ‘Saeftinghedok’. Doel will be soon demolished to make space for pearls and water. And the whole town will disappear underwater. The town is situated in the north of Belgium, not far from Antwerp.
Until the seventies it used to have 1300 citizens. But, starting from 2001, they run into barely 10, making it a semi desert place. The reason behind is that the Belgium society Lso bought the whole area and forced the inhabitants to leave in order to promote the ‘Saeftinghedok’, which is led by the regional administration. This place will be soon part of the reservoir of one of the biggest European harbors, and in the meanwhile has become a very special contemporary art museum.
Empty streets, rip doors and broken glasses appear at a first sight. No one seems to live there anymore. It has been described as Chernobyl, but without an accident. After the exodus of the habitants, Doel became an open air museum for protesting messages, as it is visible in some slogan written on the red bricks houses. These slogans are the witness of inhabitant’s frustration: ‘ Doel blift!’ (Doel stay!). But after a very short time, this vulnerable place became a tasty whiteboard for many street artists who found an uncontrolled place where, almost illegally, they could express their own art.
In this little heaven for taggers and iconic set for video clips and dabbler pimp riders’ photos it is possible to see some of the best street art creations of all the times, such as a bloody Barack Obama portrait, a Ives’ Joker, huge birds and animals, aliens and a big rat by Bruxelles-based artist Resto. Walking through the tiny and regular streets it is not hard to find a little sketch or an illustration that tells a story. A weird atmosphere pervades this semi desert place, where the real habitants are the hundreds of imaginary characters painted on the red bricks of the buildings.
DOEL BECOMES A TOURISM SPOT
During the weekend a lot of tourists come around with cameras to take the last pictures of this ephemeral place, fated to disappear. The church looks untouched, the gardens are in good order, but the only place still opened is a café: Doel 5. This was the former favorite spot for the nuclear plant’s workers. Now it is thoroughly full of motorcycle riders and sightseers who come around for a visit. While having food and drinks, just for a moment, you forget the absurd ambience outside. The shy owner, one of the very few residents left, argues that there are a lot of vandals and drug addicted who come during the night, as the local police is slightly present.
A SPECIAL ATMOSPHERE
Anxiety and desolation reign in this creepy place with a non-sense atmosphere, but the art enrolment creates a special and intriguing alchemy. The first impact is shocking, but after an accurate overview, strong emotions can be felt. Drawings and imaginary characters has taken human spaces. But soon a new mutation will happen and everything will sink in a sunken silence.
Pratical information. Doel is half an hour drive from Antwerp. A car renting service is available in Antwerp and street signals are well positioned . Otherwise a bus from Antwerp, number 31, takes 45 minutes to get and with few euros it allows visitors to go with public transports. There is also a third option: starting from Easter until September it is possible to reach Doel via sea by a ferry that goes from Lillo, a tiny village situated in the heart of Antwerp.
Article by Francesca Luciano
Pictures by Geert de Brabanter