We decided to get our annual dose of culture at this year’s Museum Night Fever event in Brussels, when 23 museums would open their doors on a Saturday night until 1am as an alternative to the classic museum visit. Aiming to present the museums’ collections to the public in a contemporary way, a range of special activities and entertainment had been organised at each venue.
The Cinquantenaire Museum was presenting street art as a contemporary take on its ancient Lascaux rock engravings, while the Parlamentarium was the site of a fashion workshop. At the Coudenberg, the underground remains of the former Palace of Brussels, there would be a medieval ball combining live baroque music and modern dance. The Choco-Story museum received a chocolate graffiti makeover, and the Ixelles Museum coupled their Gao Xingjian paintings with Qi Gong sessions and chinese tea.
Armed with a list of our top ten venues, we boarded the provided shuttle bus with our itinerary for the evening but only managed to make it to four museums: the Museum of Fantastic Art, the Natural History and Sciences Museum, Autoworld and the ateliers of the La Monnaie opera house. Despite not making it through our entire ambitious list, we were able to fully appreciate and enjoy each visit in a classic case of quality over quantity. This was our first time visiting each of these museums, and while they ranged from fantastical to scientific to cultural and creative, each was entertaining and thought provoking. The evening setting did add a sense of occasion, but each of these venues would warrant a visit in their own right.
With museum admission, entertainment and transport all included, the 10 euro ticket price presented excellent value for a great night out that doubled as cultural stimulation. For a small surcharge there was even the option to attend the Museum Night Fever afterparty at the Old Casino. But after five hours and four museums, our not-so-young bodies had had their fill of activity for one night. We were able to peel off knowing it was not yet quite over – our tickets would still be valid for a free admission to one of the participating museums until the end of the month.
Adorned with bright pink wristbands to identify ourselves as Museum Night Fever-goers, we boarded our first shuttle bus for the Museum of Fantastic Art which has some of the strangest works I’ve ever seen. Some things I can’t even describe, so it’s just as well I had my camera – you can take a look at some of the photos above and see for yourself. The museum is incredibly unique, sometimes disturbing but definitely not dull. I’m glad we went to see this place even though it’s given me enough vivid images to fuel my nightmares for years!
Next we made our way to the Natural History Museum, which had a giant glow-in-the-dark blow-up t-rex at the front to welcome us inside. The dinosaur gallery has a big collection of complete dinosaur bones including the skeletons of 30 complete iguanadons which were discovered in an underground coal mine in Bernissart, right here in Belgium. Housed in 300m2 glass enclosure for protection, it was impressive to see so many intact dinosaurs in one place. As we passed the enclosure I saw a lady dressed as a mad professor cleaning the glass, wearing thick glasses and a canvas backpack that made dinosaur noises. She was one of the many “life exhibitions” provided for our entertainment by the Museum Night Fever organisers.
On the way to Autoworld our bus featured live salsa dancers who also doubled as our tour guides. They tried their best to get me to dance with them but I didn’t want to risk injury dancing in a bendy bus – that would be too difficult to explain to my travel insurance company! Spanning two levels, the variety of cars at the automobile museum was excellent, with many rarities on display. Among the classic cars jugglers and aerial acrobats were staging an impressive show as a special treat for Museum Night Fever visitors.
We ended the evening with a behind-the-scenes tour of the opera house. We were directed to the theatre’s atelier entrance a few streets away where there were two queues for two apparently different tours that seemed to be a mystery to everyone. We choose the queue on the right which looked like the most popular, and were treated to a rare look at the workshops where the sets, props and costumes are made for the theatre. It was impressive to see that La Monnaie does all of its own production which they like to keep under wraps until opening night, hence the no photos policy. It’s a shame I wasn’t able to capture the bemused faces among our tour group as were entertained by a very sombre but somehow highly amusing solo clarinet performance in the props room…
Musée d’Art Fantastique
Rue Américaine 7, 1060 Brussels
Museum of Natural Sciences
Rue Vautier 29, 1000 Brussels
Parc du Cinquantenaire 11, 1000 Brussels
Place de la Monnaie, 1000 Brussels