I’ve seen so many statues and monuments now that I was getting a little bored with them, to be perfectly frank.
My enthusiasm was rekindled yesterday, however, during a visit to Brussels. I’d heard about this statue; I’d read about it; nothing, however, could have prepared me for the memorable (and slightly surreal) experience of seeing it for myself. It is a very famous tourist attraction in Brussels – and indeed, when I wandered down Rue de l’Etuve, hoping that I hadn’t missed it, it was the sight of a large crowd of tourists jostling for photographs that told me that I was in the right place. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you… Manneken Pis.
In case it’s not self-evident, that’s Flemish for “Little Man Peeing”. You wouldn’t think that there’s much more to be said about it, would you?
This tiny bronze statue is something of a Belgian celebrity. Nobody seems to know why he’s there, but they’ve had great fun making up so many stories and legends about his origin that it’s now completely impossible to know which one (if any) is true. The most official one seems to be that, in 1142, the troops of the two-year-old Lord Godfrey III of Leuven placed him in a basket and hung him from a tree as a means of encouraging morale. The baby lord peed on the enemy troops below, and the statue is a memorial to the grand victory that followed.
The story I prefer, however, is the one about a rich man whose son went missing. Heartbroken, the wealthy merchant organised a huge search party and vowed that if he ever got his son back, he would celebrate by making a little sculpture of the boy doing whatever he was doing at the moment he was found. A neighbour found the child cheerfully peeing in a garden… and so Manneken Pis was created.
There’s a lot of hype surrounding the statue, for all the size of it. It’s usually dressed in costumes, donated by celebrities and organisations, and changed at special ceremonies. Honestly. I accidentally wandered into one of these grand ceremonies as I was taking in the atmosphere at the Grand Place, and it was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. There were costumes… banners… a full, marching brass band… and a replica of the statue, on a mobile podium, randomly “peeing” over the delighted and squealing crowd.
It was my favourite part of my visit to Brussels. I’m not even being sarcastic or condescending. I was tempted to buy a small, chocolate Manneken Pis as a souvenir, but I don’t know that I could have brought myself to eat him.