Among the many foreigners living in Brussels, a considerable number are in some way affiliated with one of the numerous international and intergovernmental organizations based in the city. However, even without major EU and NATO institutions, numerous people of foreign origin still settle down in Brussels.
In fact, the city has been a popular destination for both political refugees and labor migrants since the end of the 18th century. Famous political exiles who spent part of their life in Brussels include Karl Marx, Victor Hugo, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, and Léon Daudet.
Many people who originally came to Brussels from other countries have decided to stay and have adopted Belgian citizenship. This might account for the strange fact that, although about 70% of the population of Brussels consists of Belgian nationals, the percentage of inhabitants who have either French or Dutch as their first language is actually lower.
The city is officially bilingual, so it is possible to get by with either French or Dutch. However, most residents actually speak both languages. The city has gradually transformed from being a Dutch-speaking region to becoming a predominantly French-language territory, which has caused considerable resentment among the Flemish populace. Due to the many expats living in Brussels, English is increasingly heard on the streets as well.
Due to the large ethnic diversity, in Brussels there is an ample representation of different religions and cultures. Therefore, do not be surprised if during your time here you meet very few people of Belgian origins. Additionally, when talking a walk through the city, you will encounter Christian churches with the same ease as mosques and synagogues.
The residents of Brussels are blessed (or cursed) with an urban architecture comprising various styles, from medieval to postmodern. Flemish townhouses stand side by side with impressive Art Nouveau buildings, and postmodern edifices dominate the European Quarter.
There is truly a wide range of different architectural styles to be found here. For the lovers of modern art, the famous Atomium is a must. If you prefer to delve back further in history, the astonishing Royal Palace doesn’t disappoint with its Neoclassical style. Lastly, the Gothic town hall brings you straight to the Middle Ages.
There is no lack of museums either: over 100 museums and large collections of Flemish paintings cater to serious-minded culture enthusiasts. Moreover, the famous Belgium Comic Strip Center ensures that characters such as Lucky Luke, Tintin, Gaston Lagaffe, and the Marsupilami enjoy eternal life in Brussels, their place of birth. You will also spot large frescos of popular cartoon characters on buildings throughout the city.
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