Leuven Kermis

The magnificent flower carpet decorating the big market square in front of the stunning gothic city hall of Leuven, made of Belgian begonia's

Leuven kermis started this weekend : a yearly outdoor fair that lasts 3 weeks. Every tiny village has its own yearly kermis, accompagnied with lots of festivities in the village. For some families the kermis is the moment of a traditional family gathering. Local businesses close, sometimes schools give a day off, etc...

I am not too much of a kermis girl. As a little kid we did not go very often to the kermis, although fishing for little ducks floating by has always been my weakness. Fishing for duckies is great fun, although the prices you can win are guaranteed crap. When in elementary school I stopped going to the local kermis.

In fact as a new inhabitant I had not really realised that it was Leuven kermis at this moment and I probably would have missed it as last years if it werent for the fences that the city's technical department had dropped off this week very very early in the morning. Waking up by the noisy sound of metal fences being put in place on the crosspoint here, alarmed me that something was bount to happen. Leuven kermis is also the moment that the GP Jef Scherens cycling race is organised and apparently it comes by our door. When watching the Tour arriving on the city boulevards in Ghent in July, we had joked that Leuven could perfectly organise the arrival of the Tour as well in front of our door. Well...they are already rehearsing with an international race although far less known. So much less known that I had never heard of it before :) : the GP Jef Scherens named after a local historic cycling hero. 13 rounds of 14,1 km including 3 hills of which 2 climb 14%, (who claims that Leuven is flat huh...now you must understand why I have a hard time cycling here!), 247 cyclers from 26 international cycling teams is nevertheless a nice program. Average speed 44km/h...comparable to the Tour the France. So this is not what we call a "kermiskoers", the race any little town organises during a kermis.

This morning I woke up by the whistles of some police men directing traffic on the city's boulevard in one direction only counter-clock wise while the other half across the street had been reserved to the race. No big media circus as in the Tour here, only the stereotypical "Wedstrijd" car with the annoying "RODANIAAAAA" jingle informed us that the race had started somewhere late in the morning. Indeed, a little later a whole bunch of branded cars came by and then the cyclers , followed at their turn by their team cars with spare bikes and tires and ....

Since the RODANIAAA would come by 13 times today, we did not spend much attention to the race in the morning. When cycling to church though, I pitied the police men who was stuck in front of our doors for most of the day. He had a bag out of which he sneaked a sandwich now and then and he was rubbing his arm a bit while continously directing the traffic to continue or to stop during the intervals that the let traffic cross. What if he has to go to the toilet??? There is a pub on the corner, but would he be allowed to leave his post? You can eat a sandwich while directing the traffic but peeing would be a little harder. Every time I looked out of the window, I had to wonder that and I pitied him a bit more! Poor guys. So out of tribute, here's a picture to the brave policeman.

On the other side of our house in a little park, a group of people had setup a big tent and a whole group of people with lots of children were picknicking outside. Every time the cyclers came by they sheered and ran to the side of the road.

In the beginning of the afternoon we finally went to have a closer look. We strolled a bit along the circuit, enjoying the sight of families having pulled out their tables in front of the house, having small bbq's with the neighbours and children decorating the street with chalk in between the intervals of the race. This is why cycling is so tremendously popular in the low countries: it is so approachable. The racers are relatively approchable before and after the race (unlike football "stars") , you can watch the race for free along the road (unlike games in expensive stadia) , it is a family event, it is a sport that everyone can participate in, etc...

When we arrived downtown we were just in time to see the finish and the victory of Bram Tankink (NL) from the Quick-Step team. I think we aught to get paid by Quick-Step because our presence seems to bring them luck. In Ghent it was also Quick-Step who won!

We had a drink downtown and strolled over the fair back home.


Jen said…
This was completely fascinating! We have a big race this weekend, too, but it's in nearby Detroit and it's a stock car race or something like that (I don't like NASCAR and that sort of thing). What we DID have here, though, was a huge American football game between our university (one of the top in the nation) and a really, really small college that no one's ever heard of. And the college WON! And everyone got way too upset.
I hope you enjoyed the day! Why is Kermis celebrated?
Goofball said…
why is kermis celebrated??

I have no clue, there is no real reason. I just think it grew historically when this was one of the only amusements a town could get. Although wikipedia learns me that it all started to celebrate the annual anniversary of the local church. The name is indeed derived from "kerk" and "mis" which is church and mass. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kermesse_%28Festival%29

Whereas the traditional kermis in previous century were little stands where you could throw balls at piled up cans etc...(we still call that "Flemish kermis" when a school organises that for a fundraiser or something), the modern one consists of often quite high tech spectacular attractions.
"Kermispeople" are living at least parttime of the year a gypsy type of life, travelling around with their RV and their attractions. A bit like a circus.

So when they landed in old village, I assume the entire village shut down and partied as they had little more. Now in bigger cities, the kermis takes a couple of weeks or even more than a month, so then it's not only the locals coming to celebrate.

Why a kermis is also linked to a "kermiskoers " or "kermesse" bycicle race: I have no clue. It just is.
Jen said…
Hmm... this sounds a lot like our county fairs. These are more to show off harvest, etc., but have all those little games and folks come and set them up and live this nomadic life from June - September or even October.

Our fairs usually also contain some displays and competitions with livestock, vegetables, etc.

BTW... I did NOT cook all that today, lol. Those are favorite recipes from the last MONTH. I did, though, cook all those recipes that I mentioned on Thursday, in terms of our family dinner for Friday, but that was because it was a sort-of birthday dinner.
anno said…
It does sound like our county fairs. Except for the bicycling. And, no cotton candy?

Popular Posts