The Museum aan de Stroom (MAS) stands for Museum by the River. From the location, to the architecture, to it’s significant maritime collection, the whole edifice reflects the importance of waterways in the history of Antwerp. Antwerp remains one of Europe’s most important ports, and is one of the world’s largest for shipping freight. Located along the river Scheldt, the museum is built from Indian red sandstone and stretches of undulating glass that shimmers like the surface of water. It’s a brilliant and impressive building to approach.
Before going inside the museum, I wandered around Bonaparte dock, where tall ships, a lightship and barges all form an open-air maritime museum. I was also excited to see ancient port cranes.
The museum is free to walk around and hang out on the rooftop to take in the panoramic views of the city, but you need to purchase tickets to access the exhibitions on the middle floors. I paid the fee and took the elevator up one floor to see a permanent exhibit titled “Visible Storage”. The museum houses close to 500,000 objects, some of which are stored and catalogued in ways that allow visitors to wander through, open drawers, and read the various tags and labels. This was a cool and unique way to store artifacts!
An exhibit on the French architect Le Corbusier and modernism took up one of the higher floors. Le Corbusier was tasked with designing two cities; one in Antwerp, which was never constructed, and 20 years later, a second city in Chandigarh, India. The latter was constructed, though heavily criticized along with Le Corbusier’s outlook on the role of the machine in organizing human life.
By far the best thing I saw at the MAS were the two giant party organs. A Belgium phenomenon that reached the height of popularity in the early 1900s, these huge organs were rented for parties, weddings, all kinds of celebration, roadside cafes, and so on. The two on display at the MAS are enormous, made from moveable parts that illuminate in rhythm with the music, and outfitted with self-playing instruments. The Mortier Anvers organ was built around 1895 and has a Baroque facade. Facing this is the FRANGEMA organ which was built in 1947 but updated in the ‘60s to give it a decidedly disco appearance. Insider tip: ask security politely to turn them on!
Two great lunch spots right across from the museum are Roest and Marcel (reservation recommended). If you are looking for a high end culinary experience, the restaurant inside the MAS boasts two Michelin stars.