When Jacques Pauwels enters a bistro in Brussels’ Grand-Place, he finds himself under the watchful eye of an illustrious former patron – Karl Marx. As he dines, a great number of stories cross his mind. The historian, author of ‘The Great Class War 1914-1918’, tells us how this tourist hotspot was once a hotbed of revolutionaries, and how Marx’s stay in Brussels played a role in his writings.
The historic Grand’ Place of Brussels is considered to be one of the finest city squares in the world, and it attracts tens of thousands of tourists daily. Many of these outlanders spend plenty of Euros in the businesses established here: high-end shops selling lace and chocolate and other typically Belgian products, cozy cafés where the country’s famous beer flows freely, and restaurants where patrons can feast on immensely popular local specialties such as mussels and frites or the Belgian version of steak tartare, that is, raw beef, for some mysterious reason known here as filet américain. One of these eateries is ensconced in a gorgeous baroque building constructed in 1698. It used to be an extremely expensive luxury restaurant, but has recently morphed into a still sumptuous, but more down-to-earth and affordable “bistro.” Its name is La Maison du Cygne, the “House of the Swan,” and the appellation refers to the sculpted white swan perched proudly above the front door.