This is despite the fact that Louvain-la-Neuve is a true hell-hole of Sixties architecture, a place that only exists because of the Belgian language conflict and whose most prominent features are pot-holes and car parks. Readers acquainted with the English city of Milton Keynes should consider what it would be like with no soul and no money; that will give you something of the flavour of Louvain-la-Neuve.
However, it hosts various important institutions, of which the largest is probably the Université Catholique and one of the newest is the Hergé Museum. An amazing modernist building designed by noted French architect Christian de Portzamparc, it straddles one of the dubious bits of the Louvain-la-Neuve ring road like a beacon of civilisation among the chaos. (The architect itself says that he wanted to make "the whole building look a bit like a moored ship, resembling Fitzcarraldo’s great steamship being hauled over the Amazon forest." He succeeded.)
Given that the museum celebrates the vision of a singular creative genius, Fitzcarraldo isn't a bad metaphor. Though, on reflection, that is very unfair to George Rémi, aka Hergé, who was a lot more sane than Fitzcarraldo (and also of course real). The whole thing is a really nice celebration of a man who gave a lot of pleasure to chldren (and adults) all over the world; it depicts the environment in which he grew up (Boy Scouts, you will not be surprised to learn, are a crucial element in the personal history of Tintin's creator), and the way in which he worked (in later years as head of a studio of artists, all producing output under the name of Hergé) as well as the possible inspirations of some of the characters, plots and scenes from the books.
You can even step quite literally into the world of Tintin:
And buy all kinds of souvenirs:
The museum is rather muted on the racism of the earliest Tintin books (notably Tintin in the Congo) and totally silent about the blow to Hergé's reputation and career caused by his lack of resistance to the Germans occupation and his publication of his stories in a collaborationist newspaper. But in fairness Rémi himself comes across in interviews (and there are many viewable in the museum and on the cute iPods which talk you through the displays in five languages) as a man dedicated, first, to his art and second, to his family and colleagues, rather than to the grand political issues of the day. His accommodation with the Nazis was the behaviour of a coward rather than an ideologue; which of us can really know what we would do in a similar situation? And his later work seems to show that he had learned from his mistakes, with consistent attacks on big business and sympathy for the oppressed (including the depressing conclusion of his last full book, Tintin and the Picaros, where the man at the top may have changed but the police remain the same).
Anyway, after reading Thomas McCarthy's Tintin and the Secret of Literature, this was a welcome reminder of how we got there. I left with three Tintin volumes under my belt, two of which I haven't actually read before. Well worth a trip if you are in Brussels, or otherwise nearby, and have half a day to spare.