Franziska Gifffey et Pascal Smet posent avec le sourire.
A lively exchange between Pascal Smet, the Brussels State Secretary, and Franziska Giffey, the Governing Mayor of Berlin.

Brussels and Berlin celebrate 30 years of cooperation

To mark the 30th anniversary of the bilateral agreement between the Brussels-Capital Region and Berlin, a Brussels delegation travelled to the German capital at the end of November 2022. The fruitful cooperation was celebrated with a varied programme, focussing on bilateral discussions as well as territorial development, economic relations, and sport and culture.

The Brussels delegation, led by Pascal Smet, the State Secretary responsible for International Relations and Foreign Trade, met with various prominent Berlin personalities and visited several projects. Twenty athletes and their staff, as well two Brussels associations, also joined them.

The Brussels-Capital Region (BCR) forged its first-ever international alliance in 1992 with  Berlin. For the BCR, which had been created just three years earlier, Berlin, which was reunited around the same time, was a logical choice. The cooperation between the two entities since then is ample proof.

Networking on sustainability in construction and visit of an urban development project

On 24 November 2022, organised a first networking event, highlighting the flourishing economic relations between the BCR and Berlin, among others in the area of sustainable construction.

The morning of 25 November focused on territorial development, an important aspect of the cooperation in recent years, given that both capitals are dealing with the same challenges. The day started with a visit of Haus der Statistik. The building, which remained vacant for ten years, is being converted into a mixed community project, with space for artists, cultural, social, educational activities, and affordable housing. An excellent source of inspiration for Brussels.

The State Secretary in conversation with project partners in the spaces of Haus der Statistik
State Secretary Pascal Smet and the Brussels delegation visit Haus der Statistik.
The building, with Stop Wars written in large red letters on the façade.
Haus der Statistik.

Official meetings

The delegation then headed to Berlin’s City Hall for a meeting with Permanent Secretary Dr Petra Kahlfeldt,  to exchange views on urban development.

This was followed by a bilateral meeting with Franziska Giffey, the Governing Mayor of Berlin, which gave the participants an opportunity to reflect on 30 years of cooperation between the two entities. All the parties reiterated their desire to continue to develop relations – bilateral and within networks – in an international context, where a united front is more important than ever.

Petra Kahlfedt seated at a meeting table
Meeting of Brussels State Secretary Pascal Smet, …
Pascal Smet seated at a meeting table
… and Permanent Secretary of Berlin Petra Kahlfeldt.

Cultural and associative meetings

In the afternoon, the delegation headed to one of Berlin’s must-sees, the East Side Gallery. There they inaugurated the new open-air exhibition, near the last fragments of the Berlin Wall, together with Franziska Giffey, the Governing Mayor of Berlin. A wonderful opportunity for a cultural exchange at a memorial that celebrates peace and the union of peoples.

Pascal Smet, Franziska Giffey and two other protagonists pose in front of the wall
Posing in front of the fragments of the Berlin Wall.

The Brussels delegation then met with Globe Aroma, a Brussels association that had exceptionally travelled to Berlin for the occasion. The organisation has established textile workshops to foster links with and among immigrant women. It also wants to create softer and safer spaces for hospitality, where these women can meet in the public sphere. An excellent idea given that 25 November was also the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Group of participants posing flanked by textile creations
The Brussels delegation visiting …
Two women working on textile creations
… the Globe Aroma project.

Reception to celebrate a double anniversary, of the bilateral agreement and of an extraordinary artist

Later that evening, the Belgian Embassy hosted a reception, where the diversity of the guests reflected the many partnerships with Berlin. The evening kicked off with a concert celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Toots Thielemans. The talent and open mindset of this legendary jazz musician, who has become part of Brussels cultural heritage, also made an impression on guests in Berlin. The audience, which included passionate jazz fans and neophytes, gave a rousing applause at the end.

Time for sport

On Saturday 26 November, everyone’s mind turned to sport. The day started with a competition for young promising athletes. The athletic meet, which had to be postponed due to the pandemic, could finally go ahead as originally planned.

Young people from Brussels, from various backgrounds and origins, had the opportunity to compete against some of the best athletes from Berlin, Paris, Helsinki and Glasgow. Berlin also invited them to take in part in various cultural and social events. That evening, the young athletes attended a reception at the old City Hall of Berlin. A memorable experience and a potent reminder that there are no borders or cultural differences in sport.

The delegation posing with the Brussels and Belgian flags
The Brussels delegation at …
A young athlete, seen from behind, wearing a hoodie with the logo of the Brussels-Capital Region
…the athletic event organised by Berlin.

Celebrating cooperation with music

The day ended on a lovely note thanks to the The Legacy of Toots Thielemans. The organisation put Brussels and its musical talent in the spotlight during a Masterclass in collaboration with the Harmonica School Berlin and a concert of the Bert Joris Quartet, with guest musicians at ZigZag, the iconic Berlin jazz club. Judging by the applause, the audience loved the concert, bringing this official visit to a magnificent close.