intoHistory, geschiedenis beleven in authentieke logies
The railway adventure is infinitely more than the history of a mode of transport, spawned during the industrial revolution: it comes with its own unique culture and enthusiasm. The universe of the Train is a source of fascination, caught up in the magic of travel, the sheer power of its locomotives, whistles, swayings, hissings, alarms, signals and timetables, involving a wide range of skilled railway professions… If you are a fan of electric trains, sleeper-cars and and stationmaster kepis, then the Train hostel will be just the ticket! You are transported back into the world of railways, redolent of the age of steam, diesel or electric trains. Relive the joy of travel in 1st or 2nd class comfort, right next to the Train Museum of Schaerbeek.
The scenographer François Schuiten and the painter Alexandre Obolensky have supervised the overall decor of the hostel. Quite a few original works decorate the rooms and public areas. © F. Schuiten and A. Obolensky
Nicolas Kervyn, who has spent a considerable time gobe-trotting round the world, dreamed of being able to set up an original hostel (for the young and not-so-young) in the heart of Brussels. The former production unit building which he purchased in avenue Rodenbach seemed just right for this project, with its attractive Art Deco frontage and vast interior spaces, just a stone’s throw away from Schaerbeek station.
The view from this carriage projecting from the roof of the Train hostel catches the eye of every passer-by. © intoHistory
When he learned that this station was going to be converted into a Train Museum, he decided to make rail the central theme of his hostel. A project which he would develop further, since, not content to decorate each room with authentic railway memorabilia, he went as far as buying two sleeper-cars which he had placed on the roof of the building. These cabins were soon open for business. The corridors are lit by station lamps and guests sleep in couchettes which can be converted into carriage seating…
The 1920-1930 period saw the birth of the facade of the hostel which has retained quite a few Art Deco motifs: geometric window frames, floral bas-reliefs and wrought iron scrollwork. However, it is mostly the myriad souvenirs of the great age of rail in the train Hostel which will recall its history.
The engineering drawings were often printed on silk fabric at the dawn of the 20th century.
Everywhere are locomotive designs, scale models (often unique items which work), meters, electrical switchboards, posters for rail travel and various enamel plaques which decorate the walls in the bedrooms and public areas. The armchairs in the salon? Authentic old wooden benches, worn smooth by thousands of passengers. Bedside tables? Small foldaway cabin shelves or former reels of cable. Not to mention the kepis of the stationmaster and old suitcases pasted with many labels… In the inner courtyard, you will even find a genuine «water crane» used by the old steam trains: a multitude of historical objects, quite familiar to those who used to work on the railways.
In the «Train Rooms», the couchettes have been custom-made to remind you of those in the sleeper-cars.
The celebrated strip cartoon artist and scenographer François Schuiten, an author who also designed the museography of the the new Train Museum in Brussels, advised the owner regarding the interior design of the Train Hostel. Organising the spaces, colours, furniture, decoration, lighting and presentation… nothing escaped his notice. Of course, many of the works on the walls are also by his hand, taken from his world of strip cartoon albums – including the famous La Douce.
François Schuiten has left the imprint of his celebrated drawing style in a much frequented location in the hostel, but you will have to hone your curiosity to find this hidden drawing…
As in stations, on platforms, in carriages and their compartments, guests at the Train Hostel enter freely into contact with each other. Conversations will centre round travel, what’s to be seen in Brussels, local specialities, life experiences… The Hostel is a stopover, a place to stay en route. Former railway workers –among those most keen to stay in its rooms– evoke their memories and tell us what all these assembled objects mean to them. The bunk beds in the shared compartments also encourage this feeling of adventure. The only element missing is the ‘clickety-clack’ of the wheels on the rails and whistle blasts before entering tunnels before you settle back in the good old days of couchette-trains…
An ultrasound system will soon permit travellers staying in the old sleeper-cars to feel the vibrations of a train as it speeds along the track …
Le Train Hostel is not just for globe-trotters. To be honest, many local residents are also happy to enjoy its hospitality with their family or friends. Even the Brussels Minister for Mobility has stayed at the hostel. In the special suite, of course. It’s a very popular room, located in a half-carriage (the one that overhangs the roof). What a magical place with its wall painting by Obolensky, vintage-style decor, terrace and old weighing scales in the bathroom…
Treat yourself to a half-carriage overnight stay, without the risk of being disturbed by a ticket inspector: this used to be a privilege only enjoyed by Heads of State or the directors of multinational companies…
Schaerbeek was one of the chic districts for well-to-do Bruxellois at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. The avenues were laid out by the greatest town planners and the sumptuous mansions which border them proudly display their beautiful storeys, with elaborate oriels, artistic wrought ironwork and sculpted dressed stone.
Schaerbeek Station, just two minutes from the Train Hostel, reflects the opulence and creativity of this wealthy period particularly well. Its oldest part, dated 1887, is Flemish-Renaissance in style, while the right wing, built 26 years later, has definite Art Nouveau touches.
The originality of the design, the choice of floorings and the finesse of the decoration at Schaerbeek Station stands out particularly well in the golden light of dusk.
The site has now been re-designed as a railway museum called Train World, a fantastic evocation of the Great Age of the railway in Belgium (the first continental country to have a railway line for passengers, back in 1835). The finest locomotives and historic carriages of the Société Nationale des Chemins de fer belges (SNCB) are displayed in a setting worthy of an opera. Among them are the carriages designed for four Belgian sovereigns as well as those of the first Orient-Express (also born in Belgium).
The creativity of its engineers and the quality of its rolling stock contributed to the prosperity of Belgium during the Belle Epoque. Belgian know-how is recognised internationally and a great many railway networks still bear this trademark, from China to South America, through Egypt and black Africa.
Whether you go by train, tram or bus, you will soon reach the heart of Brussels, with its Grand Place, Mont des Arts, park and the museums of the Cinquantenaire, the Atomium or the little historic streets between the Place Sainte-Catherine and the Sablon, with their typical restaurants, original shops and antique stalls. A great many cultural organisations offer a range of themed guided tours.
Railway heritage enthusiasts will enjoy the central station, a late creation by the celebrated Victor Horta, or the tram museum.
To fully appreciate the period atmosphere of the Train Hostel, do not hesitate to enhance your stay by reading a few books (nothing beats a good historical novel to bring old stones back to life). Watching a film evoking the era may also be a good way to transport you back in time… A few suggestions:
Books to savour during your stay
Films to be watched before arriving
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Av. Georges Rodenbach, 6
+32 2 808 61 76
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