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The nursery rhyme on Alva’s glasses is babytalk. What actually happened can be summarised as follows: on 1 April 1572 the Sea Beggars captured Brielle and seized the Spanish garrison, which was a turning point in the Eighty Years’ War. That event has been commemorated for a great many years now by our VUB students who set out on a Brielle voyage every year on that specific day. (in Dutch “bril” means glasses, a “vaart” means pilgrimage) The event is taking place this year as well, more specifically on Sunday 1 April 2018, details of which can be found at the bottom of this article.
Those who take a closer look at the poster advertisement or flyer, complete with bad Latin and creative Greek, are likely to doubt whether BSGgtgv, De Gilde [The Guild] or the Folkloric Academy are not playing a joke on them, especially when checking the small print that states ‘Freethinking 1 April Association Sus Antigoon.’
But this is not a joke sir, we carried out research and what we found has deeply touched us. This brings us to the year 1872, says Marn.X. X, who wishes to remain anonymous and who describes himself as ‘old and immature’, is the last remaining comrade of Tungrensia, one of the matriarchs of present Limburgia and Campina student societies. Most of their members were educated by teachers who were trained at the renowned teacher training college in Lier, which also (and for a good reason) had an Orangist reputation. They attached great importance to those roots as there is an unmistakable bond with the history of freethinking, namely the will for freedom and the Beggars’ fight against imposed thinking. That struggle was emphasised by Julius Vuylsteke, whose speech at Brielle in 1872 caused quite a commotion in Catholic Flanders, where the hatred for Protestants was still very much alive.
Julius, an ardent anticlerical, founded the student society ’t Zal Wel Gaan, the ‘Free Inquirers’ of Ghent, so to speak, and became president of the Willemsfonds, a sociocultural organisation, in 1873. At ‘home base’ Tungrensia students of Brussels, Ghent, and Antwerp met, and hatched the first plans to commemorate the rich history of the Beggars in a student-like manner. They reached a compromise, so to speak, and had the bright idea to attend the celebrations in Brielle every year. Around 1990, they could still rely on private cars, from 1996 onwards they had to fall back on a minibus, around 2005 the first coach set out, and this year they are travelling with two full coaches.
The second coach, departing from Jette, is an initiative launched by Mathias De Bruyne, who is participating for the seventh time already. He obtained the support of the Student Council, since he is providing a fully fledged historical framework, complete with a guided visit to the historical museum and the Kruithuis, besides the travelling cantus happenings. ‘Brielvaarders’ from Etterbeek are now being offered this experience as well. They will only have to pay for the local beers, such as geuze or kriek.
In his application, Mathias referred to the recent reintroduction of the ‘oranje-blanje-bleu’ (orangewhite-blue) of the Prince’s Flag in the VUB’s corporate identity and the other Beggars’ symbolism of our alma mater. For justified reasons: the first mention of the Prince’s Flag, the precursor to the current Dutch flag, can be found in an account of the Capture of Brielle. He also reminds us of the 450th anniversary of the beheadings of the Counts of Egmont and Horne this year and he will make use of the journey time to explain the Beggars’ epic and the link with the VUB by means of stories and songs. If necessary in English or even French or German.
Once arrived, the club flags are flown in honour of the nymph – yes, even the voluptuous wench on the poster is historically justified – and you can enjoy the city game, in which the events of 1572 are imitated by the residents in 16th -century folk costume. Of course, people are fraternising in local cafés and brasseries before heading home.
Those who still want to join this year need to call +32 477 53 51 27 immediately for departures from Etterbeek at 8.30 am, or +32 472 20 85 42 for departures leaving at the same time from Jette. We wish you a beautiful ‘Biervaart’ (beer voyage)!