When I arrived in Brussels I had no fixed plans. I had prepared myself to walk around and simply explore and find the city’s treasures on my own. However, there was one well-known attraction that didn’t interest me in the least. Call me stuffy or call me a prude but at no time did I have any intention of seeking out Brussels’ most famous resident: the Manneken Pis.
At first I just didn’t get the allure. Yeah, a statue that pees. Big deal! There are tons of statues out there that pee, right? I don’t need to spend my valuable travel time to see that. But on my first day, trying to navigate my way from the Grand Place to Rue Anspach so I could catch the Metro back to my hostel, I stumbled upon a crowd of people buzzing about a nondescript street corner. Curiosity got the best of me and I approached. There he was in all his naked, peeing glory: the Manneken himself.
If his popularity confounded me before, now I was downright flummoxed.
Is that all?
Here’s this tiny statue—from tip to toe the Manneken is barely 2 feet tall—tucked into a street corner spouting water from his wee-wee while the tourist hordes file in and out all day long just to take a picture.
With time, though, I learned to love that cheeky little cherub with the big bladder.
You see, after I first encountered the Manneken, I spent a few days traveling around Belgium . And when I got back to Brussels with four days left before I flew home, I inexplicably kept finding myself on the Manneken’s street corner. Maybe it was because I knew there were two competing 1Euro waffle stands across from each other right next to the statue where I could cheaply satisfy my full-on addiction to those hot, sugary confections. Maybe. But I think the allure of the Manneken endures because there really is something special about it (either that or brilliant tourism marketing). After I thought about it a little more, I counted five reasons why it’s okay to love the Manneken Pis.
You have to pay to gain entry to many of the attractions around Belgium. A visit to the Rubenhuis in Antwerp will set you back 6 Euro, and then you can’t take pictures inside. The new Magritte Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels? 13 Euro. The Manneken Pis you can visit day or night and it’s totally free. Plus with all his fame, the Manneken doesn’t mind all the paparazzi and he never tries to hide from all the flashbulbs with weird disguises. Oh, wait…yes he does….
He’s a fashion icon
From time to time, the Manneken gets dressed to the nines but he never stops doing what he does best. During one of the days I spent in Brussels, he was fully clothed in a Portuguese costume, complete with an opening for his winky-winky. I visited the city museum a day or two later and discovered that the Manneken has a walk-in closet to rival even the most intrepid fashionista’s.
He brings people together
If you stayed at the corner of Rue du Chène and Rue de l’Étuve for a full day, you’d see tourists from all nationalities, races, and languages filing past the Manneken Pis. And their reactions are almost always the same (is that all?) It’s a beautiful thing to observe people who don’t share the same language or nationality or race taking pictures of each other in front of the Manneken. Although they go their separate ways after the photo op, in that moment differences become inconsequential. And who do we have to thank for that? That’s right–the little bronze statue with his pee-pipe hangin’ out.
He knows how to party
There’s a rumor floating around (unsubstantiated, but still) that on special occasions, the Manneken spouts beer from his tinkle-tube. That’s right: beer. Although I think that’s a perfectly good waste of some good Belgian beer, it shows that although he’s close to 400 years old, the Manneken still knows how to relax and have a good time.
He’s the symbol of a city…and maybe a nation
It wasn’t until I’d spent a few days in Brussels (and damn if I just kept visiting and re-visiting the Manneken) that I began to understand. The Bruxellois don’t take life too seriously. Yes, they know how to work hard, but when work is done, they know how to leave it behind and really enjoy their leisure. They love their freedom and embrace their liberty. And the Manneken simply personifies that attitude.
So go ahead and love Brussels or hate it, the city really couldn’t care less.
At the end of my nine days in Belgium, I made it a point to return one last time to visit the cheeky, impertinent, irreverent icon who encapsulates the spirit of Brussels and perhaps the entire nation. Just as I’d hated Brussels when I arrived, I developed a new appreciation for both the city and its emblem by the time I left.
So if you ever travel to Brussels, go ahead–play the tourist and visit the Manneken Pis. But do it more than once—like Brussels itself, the Manneken improves on closer acquaintance.