It might sound weird, but one of the most famous symbols of the capital of Europe is a little curly boy peeing shamelessly right a few meters away from the Grand Place. And he is not the only one messing around in the city! If you search hard enough, you’ll also find the peeing statues of a little girl and a dog.
1. Manneken Pis
The Manneken Pis (literally “little pissing man” in Flemish) is a bronze fountain statue built in the 17th century. The tiny (only 61 cm!) statue, which is protected by an iron fence, depicts a boy while peeing in a basin.
There are different stories and legends trying to explain why this statue was erected, all of them quite funny. According to one legend, the statue is a gift to locals from a tourist who lost his little son in Brussels and later found him thanks to the help from villagers. The legend tells that the statue was placed in the corner where the boy was found. Another story tells that the boy was a spy who attempted to bomb the city by urinating on the explosives! A third tale tells that a boy prevented the city to be destroyed by a fire by peeing on a burning fuse before it exploded. To manifest their gratitude, the locals made a statue in his likeness.
And what’s even funnier: the Manneken Pis has a special outfit for every occasion. The tradition to dress him up in costumes for special occasions dates back to at least the 18th century. He has been dressed up as Santa Claus, or with national costumes from different countries, and, more recently, he has worn a protective face mask and a white gown to honor health workers fighting against Covid-19.
Where: Rue de l’Etuve 31 / Lievevrouwbroersstraat 31
2. Jeanneke Pis
Many centuries later the Manneken Pis was erected, his female counterpart joined him in the city. Jeanneke-Pis is a fountain statue that depicts a little girl with her hair in pigtails while peeing on a rock. Jeanneke is located in a small and narrow alley close to the famous Delirium Café and not too far from the Grand Place.
The statue was commissioned by Denis-Adrien Debouvrie in 1985 and later built in 1987. However, her erection generated some rumors around Debouvrie. The millionaire man, also known as the Godfather of the city center, was the owner of many nearby restaurants. Some people thought that locating Jeanneke in the narrow street was an attempt to attract more tourists in that area.
The half-meter-high statue is quite difficult to spot if you don’t know where to look. Indeed, the statue is surrounded by a red fence and the alley is often packed with people drinking beer who stand right in front of it. If you manage to find it, throw a coin into the fountain: each penny will support medical research against cancer.
Where: Impasse de la Fidélité / Getrouwheidsgang
Finally, to complete the family, there is Zinneke, the dog version of the peeing statues. The statue depicts a small dog lifting a leg on a pole to pee. Zinneke is the newest of the trio: it was erected in 1998 and located in the city center, next to the Halles Saint Gery. It is the only statue of the trio that is not a fountain, but also the only one free of any fences.
If you really want to see him, keep your eyes open… Zinneke is even harder to find than Jeanneke!
The name “Zinneke” has a long history. First of all, let’s clarify that in the past, the river Senne flew in many areas of Brussels. An artificial arm of the river was called “little Senne”, or “Zenneke” in Flemish. Throughout the years, the word modified from Zenneke to Zinneke. Back in the 19th century, the city was full of cats and dogs scampering around its streets. To get rid of them, they were drowned in the Zinneke – the Little Senne – and so these animals started to be called “Zinnekes”. Today, the term also refers to the inhabitants of Brussels that are not originally from there, and to the cosmopolitan atmosphere that characterizes the city.
Where: corner of Rue des Chartreux and Vieux Marché aux Grains