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A Helping Hand

Lucas van Valckenborch, View of Antwerp with the frozen Scheldt, 1590.

1,761 words

As I have gotten older, I find myself thinking about the fleeting nature of time. I often ask myself whether I have wasted too much time playing video games, reading fantasy books, or attending heavy metal concerts. Yet without these hobbies, I would have never visited Antwerp or discovered its history, folklore, and monuments. My experience in Antwerp also made me realize that the most trivial of hobbies can sometimes inspire the greatest works of art and the largest political movements.

Much of my life has centered around fantasy books, role-playing video games, and heavy metal music. I have read nearly all the Forgotten Realms books and The Legend of Drizzt series. I also played a lot of computer role-playing games like Baldur’s Gate and The Elder Scrolls series. Whether I spent countless hours in front of a book or a computer screen, I greatly enjoyed immersing myself in these magical worlds where brave heroes would embark on epic quests to fight the forces of evil. While some would say that fantasy books and video games are a waste of time, I feel that they inspired me to embark upon my own quests and adventures in life. The folklore and legends of these books and video games also led to my interest in European folklore and mythology.

Perhaps the biggest influence of my life has been heavy metal music. One of my best childhood memories was sneaking into my cousin’s room on Christmas and finding Iron Maiden’s Somewhere in Time album. I put the cassette tape into my cousin’s stereo and the first song to play was “Alexander the Great.” From that point on, I became a metalhead and a history enthusiast. I spent the next few years discovering all the classic metal bands while exploring the emerging genres of black metal and Viking metal. In my 20s, I traveled around Europe to see many of these bands in concert. I eventually got to know one of my favorite German metal bands and traveled with them to be their roadie for a concert in Antwerp.

After a long drive from Saxony, we arrived at the concert venue in Antwerp. Once we unloaded the instruments, we decided to do some sightseeing around the city center. We made our way towards the city center and found the Grote Markt — the Great Market Square. Around the square were numerous cafes, Antwerp City Hall, and some guild houses from the 16th century. In the center of the square was a large fountain with a statue of a warrior throwing a large hand. This was the famous Brabo Fountain.

In Flemish folklore, Druon Antigoon was a giant who guarded a bridge over the Scheldt River. The giant would require an expensive toll from anyone who crossed the bridge. If anyone refused to pay the toll, Antigoon would sever one of their hands and throw it in the river. Since most of the local people could not afford to pay the toll, they asked a brave Roman soldier by the name of Silvius Brabo to fight the giant. After battling and defeating Antigoon, Brabo cut off one of the giant’s hands and threw it into the river. Legend has it that Antwerp got its name from this event, as “hantwerpen” could have meant “hand-thrown” in Old Dutch. However, most Dutch historians agree that the etymology behind “Antwerp” derives from “anda” (at) and “werpum” (wharf). After admiring Brabo Fountain, we decided to take a walk along the Scheldt River.

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Once we started walking towards the river, I saw a large structure that looked like a medieval castle. This castle was Het Steen, the Stone Castle. Het Steen was originally built during the Viking invasions and was known as Antwerpen Burcht. It gained its current name in the early 16th century after being renovated by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Since I am interested in medieval castles and fortresses, I took a detailed walk around Het Steen and noticed another statue near the entrance. This was a statue of Lange Wapper, another character in Flemish folklore.

Lange Wapper was a young boy who always helped people in the Antwerp area. After rescuing a woman in the Scheldt River, the boy acquired the ability to shapeshift into various objects and sizes. Since the boy preferred to shapeshift into a tall giant, he got the nickname Lange Wapper. The numerous tales of Lange Wapper portray him as a trickster who teaches thieves not to steal and drunkards not to drink alcohol. He is also known to scare misbehaving children with his sinister laugh. After taking a group photo in front of the Het Steen and the Lange Wapper statue, we decided to get some food and drinks back at the market square.

We were looking for a restaurant where all of us could sit together, but most of the restaurants were full. We walked a block away and found a restaurant near the Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library. We each ordered a shot of jenever (a juniper-flavored liquor), along with some Trappist and Abbey beers from Belgium. After a round of drinks, I had carbonnade flamande (beef stew) with Liège waffles for dessert. As we were having dinner, I noticed a statue in front of the library. It was a statue of Hendrik Conscience.

Hendrik Conscience was born in Antwerp in 1812 when it was under French rule. He grew up with an interest in Flemish folklore and enjoyed the various stories of Druon Antigoon and Lange Wapper. Conscience eventually took interest in the nationalist movements throughout Europe and participated in the Belgian Revolution in 1830. He also served in the Belgian Army from 1831 to 1836. From that point on, he focused on writing. In the Year of Wonder was published in 1837 and along with being Conscience’s first book, it was one of the first historical novels to be written in the Dutch language. Soon after his first book, Conscience began working on what would become The Lion of Flanders.

The Lion of Flanders, or the Battle of the Golden Spurs (De Leeuw van Vlaenderen, of de Slag der Gulden Sporen) was published in 1838 and is set in Medieval Flanders during the Franco-Flemish War (1297-1305). The focus of the story is the Battle of the Golden Spurs in 1302, where a smaller Flemish militia defeated the invading forces from the Kingdom of France. In the introduction to the 1838 edition, Conscience boldly stated that he wanted his novel to invoke and inspire a national consciousness. The Lion of Flanders became a Flemish national epic and was popular with both Flemish nationalists and Belgian nationalists. It would also inspire the design for the flag of Flanders, which hung from the restaurant we had dinner at.

After dinner, we went to the venue and started preparing for the concert. In between the bands, the sound engineer played the entire Battlefields album by Scavenger, an obscure 80s metal band from Antwerp (RIP Jan Boeken). Once I was done setting up their instruments on stage, I watched my friends put on a great show that was well-received by the local crowd. After their set, we enjoyed complimentary drinks from the bar while listening to classic heavy metal songs all night. When the bar closed, we walked through the Grote Markt to Het Steen while singing the chorus to “Wasted Years,” one of the songs from Iron Maiden’s Somewhere in Time album. If someone told me as a kid that I would be singing my favorite metal songs late at night in Antwerp with one of my favorite bands, it would have seemed as believable as a Roman soldier cutting off a giant’s hand. But as surreal as it seems, that night in Antwerp was one of the best experiences of my life.

We are often reminded in the Dissident Right that art creates culture and that culture impacts politics. Yet we are often told that we should not waste our time with frivolous or unproductive hobbies. While I agree that time is important, I realize that some of the most frivolous hobbies can inspire the greatest works of literature, music, and art. The Flemish folklore of Druon Antigoon and Lange Wapper inspired artists like Conscience to tell the stories of his people in their native language. The works of Conscience then inspired nationalists to stand up for their identity and sovereignty. As crazy as it sounds, video games, fantasy books, and heavy metal eventually inspired me to travel and write about the history, folklore, and statues of Antwerp.

Whether a hobby is productive or not is often dependent on the person and their situation in life. But even the greatest works of Western civilization have given us moments of hope, inspiration, and escapism. Like most things in life, video games and fantasy books can be useful in small doses to destress, relax, or have some nostalgic fun. They might even inspire you to create your own art. As with any hobby or endeavor, just be sure that these things do not consume your life. We only have so much time on this earth to secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.

Nowadays, I read more historical fiction books than fantasy novels. But I am looking forward to the next book in The Stormlight Archive series. I do not play as many video games as I did in the past, but I do find time each week to play Crusader Kings III. Since the start of the pandemic, I have not been to any metal concerts, but I do listen to all my favorite bands while working out each morning. If I ever return to Antwerp, I plan on walking past Het Steen, the Grote Markt, and the Brabo Fountain one more time. Until then, I might attempt to read De Leeuw van Vlaenderen in Dutch. Reading anything in a foreign language can be difficult. But with the folklore of Antwerp, I am sure I can find some inspiration and a helping hand.

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