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Brakel (Municipality, Province of East Flanders, Belgium)

Last modified: 2019-01-12 by ivan sache
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Municipal flag of Brakel - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 2 November 2006

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Presentation of Brakel and its villages

The municipality of Brakel (13,759 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 5,644 ha; municipal website) is located in the hilly region of the Flemish Ardennes, in south-eastern Flanders. The municipality of Brakel was established in 1976 as the merger of the former municipalities of Brakel (itself established in 1970 as the merger of the former municipalities of Elst, Michelbeke, Nederbrakel, Opbrakel and Zegelsem), Everbeek, Parike and of a part of the former municipality of Sint Maria-Oudenhove (the other part having been incorporated into Zottegem).

Nederbrakel (Lower Brakel) was a significant village in the 16th century: a document dated 1515 mentions a market hall where a market took place every week. The towers of the village church, ending with half-peer shaped spires, date back to the middle of the 16th century. The famous mineral water Top Bronnen gushes fourth in Nederbrakel. The Topeberg hill is surmounted by the nice neo-gothic Toepkapel (Toep chapel), built after the First World War and dedicated to St. Joseph, who had protected the village from destruction during the war.
Nederbrakel is the home of the famous Brakel hen (Brakelhoen), to which a club was dedicated in the village in 1898. The Brakel hen is the oldest Flemish hatching hen still found. It was very popular in the past and was known under several names, such as the white-necked grey hen, the convents' hen... The standard was designed in 1899. In the 1960s, the Brakel hen was nearly extinct in Belgium; a few fans of the hen recreated the Brakel Hen Special Club (Speciaalclub voor het Brakelhoen; website); membership in 1996 was 120 breeders and the Brakel hen was saved.

Opbrakel (Upper Brakel) is built around the St. Martin church on the top of a small slope. The church is famous for its square tower, dating back to the 13th century, and for its rococo decoration. The wood of Brakel (Brakelboos, known as "The Small Pearl of the Flemish Ardennes"), a 52-ha wood open to the public since 1976, is one of the oldest settled places in Belgium, as shown by the 10,000 years old flints found there. The place was also settled by the Romans, and was crossed by the Bavay-Ghent way, which was one of the oldest links between Flanders and Hainaut.
Opbrakel is the birth place of the cyclists Peter Van Petegem (b. 1970), winner of the Tour of Flanders (1999 and 2003), Paris-Roubaix (2003) and Het Volk (1997, 1998 and 2002), and Serge Baguet (b. 1969), champion of Belgium in 2005 and winner of one stage in the Tour de France 2001.
Brakel is also the home of the Australian cyclist Robbie McEwen (b. 1972 in Brisbane), who once needed contact lenses and ended with a wedding ring. In 1996, he signed his first professional contract with Holland's Rabobank and found a niche in Brakel, Belgium, where he would met his future bride, Angélique Pattyn. Robbie met Angélique when he was buying contact lenses in the Pattyn's family optical shop. He certainly looked deep in her eyes, and they became soon inseparable, so they eventually married. McEwen, retired from racing since 2012, won 11 stages in the Tour de France (1999-2006), winning three times the best sprinter's green jersey (2002, 2004 and 2006), and three times Paris-Brussels (2002, 2005 & 2006).

Zegelsem is a rural village with an old church, venerable lindens and a small cute village square. It is the birth place of Isidoor Terilinck, father of the writer Herman Teirlinck (1879-1967; biography), who spent his vacations in the village and depicted the local landscapes in several of his works. Teirlinck was successively municipal clark, director of a furniture factory (1912-1926), designer, private tutor of to-be King Leopold III, director of the National Institute for Decorative Arts and director of the actors' class with the National Theater in Brussels (1938-1951). He contributed to several newspapers such as Van nu en Straks, Vlaanderen (which he co-founded in 1903), Vlaamse Guids and Nieuw Vlaams Tijdschrift (of which he was appointed Editor-in-Chief in 1946). He is mostly known for his novels (Maria Spermalie, 1940; Rolande met de ble, 1944; Het gevet met de engel, 1952; Zelfportret of Het galgemaal, written in the second person, 1955), theater plays (for instance the expressionist Vertraagde film - Film in slow motion, 1922), and essays dedicated to theater.

Elst and Michelbeke are two adjacent villages. The patron saint of Elst is St. Apollonia, invoked against tooth ache, which was in the past so common that several parishes had a tooth ache pilgrimage. According to Isidoor Teirlinck, the Elst pilgrimage was the most popular in the region. The Apollonia fair (kermis) is still celebrated in Elst on 9 February; it is also known as geutelingenkermis and Elst is the geutelingendorp, the geuteling being a local pancake made with wheat flour, eggs, milk, yeast, salt and cinnamon.
Michelbeke is watered by the Zwalm brook and its landscapes, with wind mills and big farms, recall those painted by Breughel. The patron saint of Michelbeke is St. Sebastian, invoked in the past against the black plague.

Everbeek and Parike also form a continuous settlement. Parike was already mentioned in 866 but very little is known on its history. During the Great Ghent War against Philip the Good in 1453, the village was completely destroyed by the Ghent militias, therefore its nickname, het verbrande dorp (the burned village).

Ivan Sache, 2 November 2006

Flag of Brakel

The flag of Brakel is red with four thin white chevrons.
According to Gemeentewapens in België - Vlaanderen en Brussel [w2v02], the flag, adopted on 28 January 1985 by the Municipal Council, is prescribed by a Decree issued on 1 April 1985 by the Executive of Flanders and published on 8 July 1986 in the Belgian official gazette.
The flag is a banner of the municipal arms.

According to Servais [svm55a], the present arms of Brakel are the old arms of Opbrakel, based on the oldest known seal of the village, dated 1769. The arms belonged to the lords of Brakel, known since the 15th century.

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 2 November 2006

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