Monday

17th May 2021

Brussels attacks: Life resumes at Maelbeek station

  • Maelbeek station a month after the bombings (Photo: Eszter Zalan)

Vincent is taking a picture of one of the portraits that decorate the walls of Brussels' Maalbeek/Maelbeek metro station.

The stop, in the heart of the EU district, reopened on Monday (25 April), a month after Khalid El-Bakraoui detonated a bomb at 9am on 22 March that killed 16 people.

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  • (Photo: Eszter Zalan)

“These portraits now have a bigger significance, as if they have become images of life and resistance,” the 39-year-old Frenchman says as he sends to picture to his friends with the message: “Back to business.”

In the early evening rush-hour it looks like business as usual at the metro stop.

Very little physical damage can be seen along the tracks, and the 1987 hit Sign o' the Times by Prince is playing on the metro radio.

But the attacks are on everybody’s mind.

“I can’t say I’m not afraid, but it’s something we have to live with,” Vincent, who is working for a private company, says, adding: “I’m only afraid for my daughter.”

Like every day since the attacks, fresh flowers are laying at the makeshift memorial.

The simple line-drawn portraits by artist Benoit van Innis have graced the walls of the station for years and became a symbol of defiance after the attack, with Brussels' residents changing social-media profile pictures to one of the faces.

“It is quite emotional to come down here,” says Sibylle, 37, who works in advertising. On 22 March her metro stopped in the Schuman station because of the bombing.

“It’s strange that for some people this place meant death and for us life continues. We have no choice, but to continue.”

Police are at the station and a few army officers are outside, but security is not overwhelming. It seems almost normal. The rubbish bins have been sealed though, a common measure to prevent explosives being hidden.

“I’m concerned to come down here, [an attack] could happen to everybody,” Bouvier says. “I try not to have too much emotions about this, otherwise I couldn’t come back,” the 55-year-old Belgian gives insight to the sombre mood.

But it is Brussels’ defiance that brings its diverse citizens back to the 40km long underground routes.

“The day after the attacks I was back on the metro, I am not afraid,” says Thomas, a German diplomat.

“We shouldn’t give the terrorist what they want, to dictate our lives,” says the 40-year old, who remarks that the station is not as busy as it usually is at this after-work hour.

There are nervous glances throughout the station, some are looking to see if damage is visible from the blasts. But it is only Van Innis’s portraits looking back from the other side of the tracks. And that is a relief to the passengers at Maelbeek.

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