Tervuren’s Boat House reopening soon?

Tervuren's Boat House may soon reopen, if town grandees are to be believed. The Boat House restaurant is also one of so many Tervurenaars' fondest childhood memories, together with the accompanying paddle boats.

Tervuren’s Boat House may soon reopen, if town grandees are to be believed. Money and administrative power tussles between the grandees and the Federal Property Office conspired against the Boat House restaurant — also one of Ursula von der Leyen’s fondest childhood memories of Tervuren, together with the accompanying paddle boats.

Good with numbers, moonlighting by day as a senior insurance manager, mayor Marc Charlier refused to pay a rent till mid-century of €7500/yr. After haggling with federal officials, the mayor has pushed the price down to €3500/yr for 40 years.

“With summer approaching, it would be scandalous to see this building rotting away. It’s a fantastic place,” says councillor Serge Liesenborgh. “We need to do everything, including finding a temporary solution, to give this site a great attractive function,” he says. “It’s worth more than the €4000/yr [difference].”

“We tried to just pick out the Bootjeshuis. That’s the bone of contention for most people. But the Federal Property Office didn’t want any cherry-picking,” Marc told town council. “The biggest cost is investment and staff costs. Then we’re talking about €30-40,000 per year,” Marc says, adding that the 40-year contract would entail Tervuren paying to maintain and restore not only the Boat House but the neighboring Royal Kitchen Gardens behind town hall as well as the magnificent Saint Hubertus Chapel, built at the beginning of the 17th century in an early Baroque style.

A provisional agreement is now almost ready to be signed off. More of a formality, the agreement is not expected to fall victim to bureaucracy and busy federal politicians campaigning for reelection. Federal government approval should come even if June elections plunge Belgium into a year or more of political uncertainty.

Ursula’s fondest memory of Tervuren

Having spent the first thirteen years of life in her “beautiful” Tervuren, von der Leyen returns frequently for fresher air than stuffy Brussels, often seen walking or jogging with bodyguards in the forest. One thing still puzzles von der Leyen and all who visit Tervuren: the sad empty restaurant by the lakes. Even the natives remain clueless.

The stylish café and restaurant should be operating at full capacity, attracting tourists and locals alike. Instead, the place has been abandoned to the cruel elements. So, what happened?

Photo copyrights: for von der Leyen. EU2024. Source: EC Audiovisual. Other photographs and article are licensed © 2024  by Tervuren+  under Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International

The Bootjeshuis burned down in November 2000. While some locals still point without clear reason at naughty teenagers from the town’s large expat community, police never brought the culprits to justice. That may have been reason enough for insurers not to pay out the large sums to rebuild.With no clearly established reason for the fire, insurers were not eager to pay out large sums. This made the struggle to rebuild lengthy and arduous for the restaurant’s family. And reopening in Belgium’s most beautiful park quickly became a long and challenging bureaucratic battle with the country’s Federal Property Office.

Only in 2010 did the doors finally reopen. Local Kurt Singulé, along with his mother Els, fought to keep the restaurant open. However, the heavy financial burden from the past, inherited from unresolved fire insurance issues, and a bureaucratic federal property office, forced closure in May 2016.

You can’t accuse Kurt or his parents of not trying hard enough. Kurt even launched a petition to oblige the owners, Belgium’s Federal Property Office and Flemish Nature and Forest Agency, to allow a boat rental service once again — just like the one so begotten to von der Leyen and operated by Kurt’s father, Emiel Singulé. Many older Tervurenaars, too, fondly remember the previous chalet and boats, open since 1952.

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“What happened happened. It can’t be undone,” Kurt tells Tervuren+. “But it’s like a backpack that you carry along throughout your life. We went bankrupt and lost everything, the boathouse, our house, holiday home, savings, cars, my father’s life work and even our savings as children,” he says.

If the Boat House cafe and restaurant ever reopen, it’ll certainly be a good thing for Tervuren’s tourism. Still, there’s little chance of the wonderful boats returning.

“For me, it’s a closed chapter with beautiful childhood memories. It was more of a home than our own house,” says Kurt.

For former tourism alderman Mario Van Rossum, boat rentals were an amazing tourist plus point for Tervuren. “Who hasn’t been there for a boat ride with their sweetheart?” Mario told Het Laatste Nieuws after the restaurant closed in 2016.

Who hasn’t been there for a boat ride with their sweetheart?

Former tourism alderman Mario Van Rossum.

“Unfortunately, I never went out on a paddle boat with a lover. Some of us have had a boring life,” says Rosalyn, originally from Llanandras in Wales. Happy to be in Tervuren since 1988, she nonetheless misses the Boat House restaurant and its boats.

Another native, Miriana Frattarola, also never had the opportunity to sail away with sweethearts on Tervuren’s choppy lakes. But she does remember the Bootjeshuis as a terrible teen. “My funniest memory is that of a girl falling in the lake because she wanted to show off how she could stand between two boats,” Miriana tells Tervuren+.

I never went out on a paddle boat with a lover. Some of us have had a boring life,” says Rosalyn, originally from Llanandras in Wales.

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When the Boat House closed in 2016, town aldermen and women may have been more eager to attract clients and visitors a hundred meters away to their newly opened €13 million Foyer café and Warandepoort cultural center. After all the Boat House doesn’t belong to Tervuren town hall, but the Federal Property Office.

Photo copyrights: for von der Leyen: EU2024. Source: EC Audiovisual. Other photographs and article are licensed © 2024  by Tervuren+  under Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International