Peeing Statues in Brussels:
Manneken Pis, Jeanneke Pis, & Zennike Pis
Brussels is a good place to find absurdist art. One of the main tourist attractions in Brussels is a small statue of a urinating boy. It's just two feet or 61 cm tall, but crowds of people wait to get a close look and take a picture. The statue has been drawing people to this part of the Belgian capital since the early 1600s. Statues of a peeing girl and a peeing dog have been added in the past few decades.
The most famous legend behind this statue has to do with Duke Godfrey III of Leuven. He grew up to be count of Leuven, landgrave of Brabant, margrave of Antwerp, and the duke of Lower Lorraine. But while he was still an infant, he succeeded Godfrey II.
Since things were being run by grownups on behalf of the child, the Wars of Grimbergen broke out in 1141-1159 as some small regions of Flemish Brabant attempted to become independent of the dukes of Lower Lorraine.
The story is that the infant duke's troops (who seem to have brought a baby to a battle) put Godfrey in a basket and hung the basket in a tree, so as to encourage his troops. From there, he urinated on the opposing troops who eventually lost the battle.
There are other legends, of course. One says that Brussels was under siege and the attackers had placed explosive chages along the city walls. A young boy just happed to see this, urinated on the burning fuse, and saved the city.
Or, a young boy was awakened by a fire, put it out by urinating on it, and saved the king's castle from burning down.
Or, some variation on a young boy who went missing in the city and was found urinating in a garden.
Manneken Pis, The Peeing Boy
Two symbols of Belgium are the art of René Magritte (and also see the Trompe l'Oeil Toilet page) and Manneken Pis, the famous Peeing Boy Statue in central Brussels.
The current bronze statue was made by Hieronimus Duquesnoy the Elder in 1619. It replaces an earlier one dating from 1388. It's just 61 centimeters or 24 inches tall.
The name Manneken Pis means "Little Man Pee" in Marols, a dialect of Dutch spoken in Brussels back when the Hapsburgs ruled the Low Countries in the 16th and 17th centuries. It incorporated many French words and a few Spanish words, and has survived to today as a mixture of Dutch and French that is simultaneously neither and both at once.
To get there, he's at the intersection of Rue de l'Étuve / Stoofstraat and Rue du Chêne / Eikstraat — every street in Brussels has both Walloons (Belgian French) and Flemish (Belgian Dutch) names. Take the street to the left of the Brussels Town Hall — not the street in the far south corner of Grand-Place but the next street to its right. Walk three short blocks, you will see the crowd before you get there.
Here is Manneken Pis in all his diminutive glory. Really. That's all there is.
It's just one little statue, and it's small.
But the little square he overlooks gets very crowded. everyone is determined to see him.
As you can see, he's quite the tourist attraction.
They dress him in costumes several times a week, with a schedule posted on the railings.
The traditon of putting costumes on the statue go back to soon after the statue's installation. But it was in the 20th century that the number of costumes grew into the hundreds. They commemorate various trades and professions and branches of the Belgian military and civil services. Plus, more recently, national costumes of foreign visitors to Belgium.
Jeanneke Pis, The Peeing Girl
Figuring that if one Peeing Child statue was a good thing, then two Peeing Child statues would be twice as good, a local artist created Jeanneke Pis. She is also plumbed for realistic operation.
To get there, she's on the right-hand side near the end of the 30-meter-long dead-end alley Impasse de la Fidélité / Getrouwheidsgang. That alley leads north off the narrow passageway packed with restaurants and obstructed by restaurant touts, and known as Rue des Bouchers / Beenhouwersstraat.
The easiest way to get there might be to follow directions to the Delirium Tremens cafe, directly across the narrow alley. They have over 2,000 beers on their menu, and are a very popular tourist site. Click here for my pictures of that bar and other traditional Brussels cafes. Across the alley (appropriately next to Jeanneke) they have an absinthe bar with a few hundred choices.
The creator of Jeanneke Pis seems to be a practitioner of absurdism. The sign by the fountain says, spelling, grammar, and all:
This fountain was built in honour of loyalty.
A very old custom has it that your wish be granted if you throw a coin into the bowl of the fountain. The coins thrown by passers-by into the fountain of Jeanneke Pis bears witness to Tenderness, Virtue ans Admiration of the loved one with the wish to remain faithful to one another.
Yes, it really says "ans"...
Zennike Pis, The Peeing Dog
Well, if two Peeing Child statues are a good thing, then adding a third statue of a peeing dog would be THREE TIMES as good!
And so Zennike Pis was created.
Like both Manneken Pis and Jeanneke Pis, Zennike Pis is plumbed for realistic operation. But alas, he has not been operating when I have visited...
To get there, he's at the corner of Rue Van Artevelde / Arteveldestraat and Rue St-Kristoffel / St-Kristoffel Straat. Start at the Bourse along the main north-south Boulevard Anspach / Anspachlaan. Three streets fan out from the opposite site of the boulevard — take the left-most one, Rue J. Van Praet / J. Van Praet Straat. The Mappa Mundo bar is across the triangular square at the far end of the block. All the Thai and Vietnamese restaurants along that block and the bars around the square are great places, by the way. Anyway, Zennike Pis is around the triangular block on which Mappa Mundo is found.
Zennike was created by Belgian artist Tom Frantzen.
"Zennike" is based on a Flemish word for "mongrel". As the artist says, "Because he is a dog of mixed breed, he symbolises the multicultural nature of Brussels."
Finally, Brussels has paired statues of what appear to be vomiting goats. I don't know if they are intended as part of the theme, it's hard to tell...
These are at the south end of the park on the north side of St Catherine's Cathedral.