My brother Stephan and I are sixteen years apart in age and haven’t lived in the same city since I was three and he lanky teenager. Needless to say it took some readjusting and getting to know each other when I moved to his city, Hamburg, last May. While this may sound odd, I wasn’t quite sure if I liked my brother. You are supposed to love your siblings, but truthfully if you never shared a life with them that only works in theory. But having spent a lot of time with him since I’ve moved back, I have realized it is nice to have a brother and I do love him.

We also share mutual love for two things which connects us big time: food and fashion. So when he finished a big photography job and invited me to eat at The Jane in Antwerp, and follow the footsteps of our great-great-grandfather, who owned one of the first ready-to-wear stores there, I was of course game.

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Quite frankly, getting to Antwerp from Hamburg was a bit of a mission. As neither of us felt like driving six hours in my brother’s ancient car and winter weather, we decided to take a train/bus combo that though it took slightly longer, it was at least comfortable and allowed for movie watching and free wifi.

Upon arrival we were met by more horrid weather, but the city made up for it, at least in my books, by sending us a very cute Belgium guy who offered to show us the way to our hotel. A short ten minute tram ride away from the historic city centre and we had arrived in what is usually a hip, local area. On this rainy Thursday afternoon most shops and cafes seemed deserted though and so instead of walking around we took a unilateral family vote and opted for a nap before our dinner feast.

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I had never associated Belgium with much more, than beer, fries, and chocolates – food-wise at least. And not that there is anything wrong with these, but Belgium never struck me as a place where foodies from all over would flock to almost literally worship at the altar of a Food God. The Food God here is Sergio Herman and his church is The Jane. That comparison is to be taken quite literal as The Jane is located in a former military church, where a stove has replaced the altar and an oversized neon lit skull has replaced the cross. Obviously worshipping takes a different form here, albeit an enthusiastic one.

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The waiters were hipper than us and seemed perfectly cast: there was a Pippi Longstocking lookalike, a few Dutch hipsters, and an Italian sommelier who I wanted to marry after he poured me the best glass of red wine I ever had (in addition to being very cute and sporting an Italian/Dutch accent of course). We were also lucky as God himself was in the kitchen, busy with the creation of a new world on a plate. Or in his case ceramics that looked like crumbled paper cups and slates. The kitchen is set behind a huge glass wall, making all chefs resemble fish in a tank for us to sit back and watch. While everything was running like busy clockwork, there was no yelling and shouting, like one would expect after watching the Gordon Ramsay show. But then again this was a church after all and not hell’s kitchen.

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Of course we ate everything (you can only chose between seven or nine courses for dinner) and everything tasted amazing, was beautifully presented, and the waiters didn’t seem to mind that every dish needed to be photographed and instagramed before eaten.

After dinner we decided to roll walk back to the hotel and discovered that Antwerp was pretty at night, particularly without the rain gone. Narrow streets, old houses with miniature balconies, and of course bicycles everywhere, which were now sleeping on the roadside.

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How I managed to eat a waffle the next morning, I do not know, but I decided that I couldn’t pass up on any Belgium food icon while here and also needed sustenance for the day ahead: shopping and historical explorations.

In Antwerp past and present meet at every corner to mix and mingle. Many stores of the Antwerp Six are located in late 19th century buildings where high ceilings and old wooden floors are complemented by their ultra modern collections and the occasional art installation announcing the latest sale. A skull carving from the 17th century inspired Luc Tuymans to a huge mosaic titled ‘Dead Skull’ in front of the MAS (Museum Aan de Stroom). In order to see the whole 40 square meters piece of art we climbed up to the 5th floor to view it behind the facade of curved perspex; not an easy task for a brother who is afraid of heights.

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And as if to create another old-meets-new contrast there was me, hobbling along cobble stoned streets that reminded of Harry Potter in my very new, very cool Ann Demeulemeester boots.

We braved the literal storm, but quickly decided to escape to MoMu, the Fashion Museum of Antwerp, which unfortunately was closed until February’s exhibition in honor of Dries van Noten. In lieu we made our way to the Het Modepaleis, his flagship store, which showed his latest collection and looked enough like an exhibition to make us happy.

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Afterwards we were off for some ‘real’ culture and visited the Rubens House, which – while interesting – was dark and a tad bit depressing in this weather, so we quickly decided to cheer ourselves up with some chocolate tasting. We didn’t only stuff our own faces on left over Christmas samples, but also bought boxes to take home before tearing ourselves away from the best smelling store ever.

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With full chocolate bellies we made our way to the former Rue de Tanneur, no easy task in the new heels and gushing winds. There we managed to find our great-great-grandfather’s very ever first shop, he owned in Antwerp. With the help of his diary which our mother had transcribed, bound, and supplied with pictures a few years back we found the original building. The shopfront still looked very much the same compared to the old image in the diary from 1898 and we excitedly snapped some photos for our family chronic.

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After that much culture and power walking it was once again time for food. This time we were taking the classic route and opted for a tableau de fruit de mer at Dock’s Cafe. It resembled a Planet Hollywood a bit too much for my liking, but the food and the service were good enough to overlook the celebrity pictures on the wall. I practiced my lobster eating skills and also quickly learned the art to peel little bulots (sea snails) out of their shell and eat them without pondering too much about shape and consistency. Once I got over both, they were actually quite delicious, especially when washed down with plenty of white wine.

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The next morning we left before dawn. We had an early bus to catch and were both quiet and sleepy. It was a good sleepiness though; still filled with food and impressions and somehow with a newfound appreciation for my brother. After all, how many brothers does one get, who will share fries and lobster with you and carry your shopping bags after a long day on cobble stoned streets?

All images by Annika.
Except for the picture of Stephan and me which was taken by my future husband, the sommelier.

This post was written by Annika Ziehen who was a Travelette until 2019. Originally from Germany, Annika has lived in New York and Cape Town and now travels the world full time. She considers herself a very hungry mermaid and writes about her adventures, scuba diving and food on her blog The Midnight Blue Elephant. You can also find her on Instagram here!