Although living in Oman, particularly in Salalah in the south, sometimes one can become nostalgic. Certainly when you receive the message in the mail box that when travelling this summer to Europe, particularly to Brussels, upon presentation of the ticket of one of the three participating institutions – the Atomium, the Museums of the Far East and the Planetarium – one can get a reduction on the entrance fee of a second institution of your choice. The three institutions, also three icons reminds me of my student years.
The Atomium, half-way between sculpture and architecture, built in 1958, for the World’s fair commonly called Expo 58 – the biggest since the one New York put on in 1939 – was placed under the sign of Humanism. Just as the Eiffel-Tower built for the 1889 Exhibition in Paris, marked the advent of the steel age, the 360 feet high Atomium symbolised the atomic age calling to mind the prodigious force of atomic energy and the latest conquest of man over matter.
At 102 metres high, with its nine interconnected spheres, it represents an elementary iron crystal enlarged 165 billion (thousand million) times. It was dreamed up by the engineer André Waterkeyn (1917-2005). The spheres, though, were fitted out by the architects André and Jean Polak. The Atomium was not intended to survive beyond the 1958 World Fair but its popularity and success soon made it a key landmark, first of Brussels then internationally. Renovated in 2006 the Belgian monument presents beside a surrealistic walk through tubes and spheres not only the most beautiful panorama (92m) over Brussels and surroundigs but houses also a museum with its permanent collections and temporary exhibitions.
Former member of German ex-Kraftwerk band, Karl Bartos, wrote a single dedicated to the ‘Atomium’ from his new album: Off the Record.
Builder king, Leopold II realized peculiar architectural buildings. Visible from many points in Brussel, the Japanese tower, the Chinese pavilion and the Museum of Japanese Art, are an intriguing sight due to their exotic outlines. Designed at the beginning of the twentieth century by Alexandre Marcel, major orders were placed in Japan and China. Some ornamental elements of the Japanese tower come from Yokohama. For the Chinese pavilion, initially designed as a luxury restaurant, the kiosk and outer wooden paneling were made in Shanghai. Parisian craftsmen and Belgian workmen were responsible for the realization. Today, these buildings together form the Museums of the Far East. Their unusual exotic appearance makes them a tourist attraction and they house art treasures from China and Japan exhibited in their extraordinary interiors.
Looking to the stars
The Planetarium of the Royal Observatory of Belgium is one of the largest planetariums in Europe. The marvels of a starry sky are projected on a 23m diameter, 360° screen. And at the Planetarium you can be as close as possible to the launching of a rocket, see Earth from Space, visit the International Space Station, fly over the surface of Mars, approach the rings of Saturn! And why stop there?