I realize this is a family-friendly website, but have you heard of Manneken-Pis? Also known as le Petit Julien in this bilingual country, that’s the real name of a famous landmark and popular tourist attraction in Brussels, Belgium. Manneken-Pis (translation: little man pee) is a statue of a naked little boy going pee. My brothers and I loved going to see it when we were kids. As we all know, boys under the age of about
twenty-five twelve are obsessed with toilet humor and bodily functions. The jokes and laughter coming from men little boys upon visiting this statue will lighten up every weary member of a traveling family.
Knowing the legend of Manneken-Pis before you go makes it that much more amusing. There are several tales about the origin of the statue, but the story I was brought up with is that the young son of a Belgian noble once went missing while with his family in Brussels. The nobleman was devastated and the townspeople banded together to find the boy. The Belgian noble promised that he would have a statue cast, as a gift to the city, of his son doing whatever he was doing when he was found. The search party found the boy, in the woods without a stitch, relieving himself—and so the bronze was cast. As children, we giggled with beguilement and shared gasps at the misfortune that left this poor little boy immortalized in humiliation.
But why visit Brussels to see Manneken-Pis when there is naked statuary on every corner in Europe? Because (yes, there’s more) Manneken-Pis has a wardrobe. As far back as the seventeenth century (the fountain was designed and placed in the city in 1618), visiting dignitaries, tradesmen, and foreign militaries began bringing costumes from their native lands as sort of a hospitality gift when they paid official visits to Brussels. Perhaps they’d bring a costume of their national dress, or a uniform of their armed forces, or of their favorite sport—all with a hole cut out in just the right place. At the present time, Manneken-Pis’s wardrobe consists of more than eight hundred costumes, and the collection is available for viewing at the Museum of the City of Brussels, located in the King’s House on the Grand-Place across from the Town Hall. In addition to seeing the permanent costume exhibition, the museum admission fee of only 3€ includes an educational game for children (available in English) about the history of Brussels and comes in a six- to eight-year-old version and a nine- to twelve-year-old version.
Manneken-Pis is occasionally dressed in his costumes, always in an elaborate ceremony, often accompanied by brass band music. Scheduled dates and times for this all-around family fun are published and posted on the railings around the fountain.