Every third year in Poperinge, the hop parade brings the fest to a close, and in a part of the world where rain is a constant throughout the year, citizenry and visitors seek nothing more than a clear day to suit the pageantry.
In 2017, the Keikoppen (cobble-heads, a nickname for residents of the city) got ample blue skies, sun and suitable autumn temperatures. It rained on Saturday and Monday, but not Sunday, at least during daylight hours.
We five occupants of the apartment above the travel agency had gone shopping on Saturday afternoon and diligently gathered breakfast supplies to augment the Westvleteren ales already on hand.
Light exercise was merited. We were eager to introduce Roy to the exemplary town park, which didn’t exist the first time I visited Poperinge in 1998.
The town park, named after Viscount Dirk Frimout (first Belgian in space ), forms the green lung in the center of Poperinge. The park (3 hectares) is divided into three zones: a demonstration zone with gardens , an ecological zone and a recreational zone. You can take a nice walk in the park. There is a play zone for children in the beginning of the park. In spring and summer the park is the setting for many performances and outdoor events.
The park is a relaxing way to prepare for a grueling fest day.
Back at the Grote Markt, there were leftover tokens from the previous day’s visit to the “Lekker Westhoeks” beer sampling. As we sipped again on Sunday, the visiting band from Wolnzach in Bavaria serenaded the denizens of nearby sidewalk cafes.
The hop queen contest had been decided, but the campaign materials remained posted throughout Poperinge.
Poperinge’s Hop Museum alone would be reason enough to visit the city. It’s the place where I first met my friend Luc almost 20 years ago, and it has been steadily upgraded over the intervening years.
Poperinge’s Hop Museum is located in the old “Stadsschaal” or Municipal Scales. An informative audio tour guides you through four floors of history and culture, all the way from the impressive loft to the concluding ground floor. On your way down, local characters like “The Bagger” and “The Nose” will guide you along the four seasons of the hop, historic documents, photographs, scale models and audiovisuals illustrate both the story of this unique building and that of local hop growing, its past and present.
The museum is informative to the point of exhaustion. I snapped only these photos, having gone berserk on our last visit in 2014.
It bears reminding those beer enthusiasts who’ve never been to Poperinge that you can stay there for days during non-fest times and find plenty to do, especially with a bicycle, using the city as a base and taking day rides. Consider the hop fields; at least five breweries within easy cycling distance (and France not far away); great eateries and local food producers; and history everywhere you look.
Back at the hop museum, out front in the courtyard were humans, hops and local ale made with local hops — named for the Keikoppen, and brewed by De Plukker, an organic hop farm and organic brewery just outside of town. It is a pale ale along the lines of the famous Hommelbier, and absolutely delicious.
We noticed several examples of construction along the streets radiating to the Grote Markt. The gaps are like missing teeth, but soon the new building will appear. Usually they’re in harmony with the older ones around it.
There were few disappointments on the trip, but missing this exhibit was one of them. We’d have had time on Sunday, but I misread the sign, and hours didn’t resume until the following weekend.
The first Chinese labourers arrive in Poperinge during the summer of 1917. They work for the CLC, Chinese Labour Corps, a working corps of the British Army. The Chinese labourers stay until 1920. They live in separate camps and they maintain their own rituals. The exhibition “Vive Labeur – Hail to the work” tells the story of the Chinese during WWI. Was it hard labour? How did they socialize with the local people? Did they celebrate Chinese New Year? The WWI Chinese story inspires contemporary artists. Two famous Belgian photographers, Stephan Vanfleteren and Sanne Dewilde go back to the roots of the Chinese labourers. They explore the China region where they came from. This results in a fascinating photographic account. Reporter Lieselotte Vandamme stays in the Poperinge region and tries to find the legacy of the Chinese labourers. She presents a documentary film.
By now it was time to gear up for the parade, so we returned to Ieperstraat for lunch at the Poussecafe and the prime watching spot. I’ll pick up the story in the next installment.
TRAVEL PRELUDES: The Talbot House in Poperinge, where the ghosts congregate.
2014 Euro Reunion Tour, Day 12: Is the hop plant satanic?
2014 Euro Reunion Tour, Day 10: Time again for the hop festival in Poperinge.