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Doel – The Abolition of a Town

One of the most exciting excursions I did this year was my day-trip to the village of Doel. I guess none of my readers have ever heard about Doel, so let me enlighten you. This is kind of a “Twilight Zone Thing” you cannot believe until there is solid proof. It’s something crazy going on, and I went to Doel to visit a friend of mine, actually a street artist who is nowadays regarded as a house occupant of his own house. Until the 1980ies Doel was one of the few villages situated on a Polder-area, an area reclaimed from the river Scheldt in the 17th century. Three-hundred years later and the village that would grow behind the sea wall is under threat. The threat does not come from a falling dyke or, as one could fear, a sudden rise in water levels, but actually from the expanding Port of Antwerp and its insatiable need for more and more land along the Scheldt in which to grow. Now, Doel, the last of the Belgian polder villages on the banks of the Scheldt, faces a full-scale demolition. The construction of a large dock and container terminal capable of receiving deep-sea ships is already underway on a site immediately next to the village, and the Port Authority has already made it clear that the construction of a second dock is on its way where the village now stands.

The majority of the inhabitants of Doel have been forced to sell their properties and move to other areas of Flanders. They have all been generously compensated, but nobody is happy with the situation.  Nice houses in a small, quiet countryside village have already been destroyed, and many historical buildings now face the same fate.

200 inhabitants still inhabit the village, and the refuse to leave. This has actually stalled the constructors, and there have been court cases which have ruled in favor of the people who want to stay. Sooner or later, though, everybody knows deep down inside that there is only one way out of this. They all have to move, and Doel will have to subdue itself to the Port of Antwerp. That is one reason why the Flemish Executive resorted to sending a 100 strong squad of riot police to the village in order to force through the start of the demolition works. The sheer brutality and heavy handed approach of the Flemish Executive has left the remaining villagers humiliated and the wider region in a state of shock. The streets are strewn with rubble, big ugly gaps appeared in between the houses. The village now looks like a war torn zone. But still, the villagers show resilience and announced to go on with their resistance in a bid to save their village.

So what is there to see in Doel, a derelict village with no shops, no cafes, no buses and a mere 200 inhabitants sticking to their properties with the constant fear of forcefully being ejected any day? Well, it is nice. It is quiet, and interesting. The town still stands. You can see the old church, the old school buildings, one Catholic School and one Public School, just like in any other Belgian town. There are lush gardens, lots of wild flowers and houses, dykes and streets full of Graffiti. Just like Luke, a lot of street-artists have found their way to Doel, and the all occupy houses that have been abandoned. This is where they stay, and the remaining part of the town is their playground. Great art – a real pleasure to see and to interpret their messages.

There is actually one remaining restaurant. There is an old wind-mill on top of the dike, constructed a couple of hundred years ago, renovated recently. This is where visitors and villagers meet. And this is where they discuss the future of Doel, the latest court-cases, the nuclear power plant situated some hundred meters further up the dike. Will Doel once again be revived? Everybody agrees, probably not. But in the meantime – the derelict ghost-town, the open art museum and the quiet atmosphere is there for us all to enjoy.