Doel – Street art on the abandoned buildings of Doel
Doel in Belgium is known for being a street art and graffiti paradise. It is located less than 30km from Antwerp, in a surreal landscape: an area with a nuclear power station. Every since the demolition started and depopulation, it has attracted street artists.
They say Doel is an abandoned village, but there are still a few people living there. It is not an abandoned village, and it is not the paradise of graffiti that I had heard about in an article published more than 4 years ago. There are a few pieces with good quality. When Belgian artist ROA started painting in Doel, it was nice and great. Nowadays it is not just the art of ROA, but a variety of different artists.
How did Doel become what it is now? In the 60’s locals had to leave Doel because of the amplification of Antwerp Port. The area was threatened with complete demolition due to the future enlargement of the harbor. Everything was (supposed) to be destroyed. In the early 70s, the population was around 1.300, nowadays there are still 20 people living there. So, not really really abandoned as yet.
Every day a lot of curious people go to Doel. For the locals this can be very annoying, as every day they have to deal with questions, pictures, paintings and vandalism. Not everybody who goes to Doel respects those who still live there.
I went to Belgium in the beginning of April, one week after the terrorist attacks in Brussels. For security reasons, it was a bit difficult to get to Doel from Antwerp. During the summer time boats are available from Antwerp. The bus line is currently not operating. The only way to get there is by car or bike.
I decided to go to Doel by bike after a chat with Elias, a very nice guy who works at Flanders Info Point in Brussels. He had been to Doel, so he gave me a few tips and maps to get there. The journey was supposed to be 1:30hrs by bike from Antwerp to Doel, but one of the roads was closed. It is on private land, so for security reasons I was not allowed to get in. I had to try another route and of course I got lost. Don’t get me wrong, it is very easy to ride a bike in Belgium, I highly recommend it. But a little mistake can add an extra few minutes to your trip, especially on a main road. Thanks to the maps and the amazing people who appeared on my way, I finally arrived at Doel after 4 hours. It was an adventure with rain, strong wind, a beautiful sunset after the storm and a lot of surprises.
Once you arrive at Doel, you can’t miss the street art and graffiti on the houses that have been abandoned. Throughout the years it got invaded by several different artists from Belgium, The Netherlands and beyond. When walking around you will see a variety in styles. Tags, stencils, free hand paintings, throw-ups, characters. You name it, Doel has it. For some artworks you will have to go inside the abandoned houses.
In this landscape with decadent houses it’s possible to find some well-preserved houses. The church and cemetery are even still in operation. In the only bar/restaurant you can find locals and workers from the nuclear station, also tourists. Yes, every street is invaded by street art. For example: ROA is one of the artists who painted quite a few of his well-known artworks in this small village. You will also find artworks by Bue the Warrior, LastPlak and Resto.
Doel is a special place, where you can clearly see the paradox between what was lost and what is still there. This relative freedom gives you an open art exhibition. In Doel I found a beautiful atmosphere. The nuclear station reminds me of Homer in the Simpsons.
It’s crazy to imagine what this place was, and how as a resident it is to continue living there. The Petrol station, schools, shops are all abandoned. It is the beautiful architecture, amazing houses and infrastructure that makes it difficult to believe how something like this happened. There is so much waste of material, energy, money and everything! It’s a complex story and it’s interesting to see how this reflects in the street art, and how the arts have taken over the city of Doel.
I hope you will enjoy a trip to Doel as much as I liked it. And have a look at this amazing aerial view of Doel on YouTube.