It gets much livelier at night …
The first mention of the medieval village of Doel is in 1267, when ‘the Doolen’ was a small island surrounded by flooded plains. Times have changed and Doel’s no longer waterlogged, but if the port of Antwerp has its way – and all signs indicate it will – Doel will vanish as the space-hungry port expands. Most of the inhabitants moved out or were bought out, yet 25 remain, determined to hold on to their homes. But how do you fight developers? By turning the town into an open-air museum, and encouraging graffiti artists far and wide to use the abandoned buildings of Doel as their canvas.
At first the scheme seemed to be working well, but there are drawbacks. Abandoned properties attract more than just graffiti artists. Illegal raves in abandoned buildings and street racing has become common, especially at night. “Last night I got to sleep at 2am because I could hear people racing down the streets in their cars,” says one resident, while others have taken to leaving notes on their front door – dit huis is bewoond, or ‘this house is inhabited’ – to dissuade vandals.
The port is using this to strengthen its argument that the town is unsafe and uninhabitable. It’s anyone’s guess how much longer the hold outs can hold out; some of them have lived in Doel all their lives, and have said they intend to die there.
Only 11 houses remain inhabited, and they – along with the church, the cemetery and a historic property that once was owned by Rubens’ family – are the only buildings unmarked by graffiti. Once Doel is demolished, the historic house will be preserved and rebuilt elsewhere, but that, and some memories, will be all that’s left of Belgium’s graffiti ghost village.