The Peeing Statues of Brussels

You thought there was only the little boy peeing, didn’t you? Well, turns out that as of the 1990s, it has become a trio including the young boy (Manneken Pis), a young girl (Jeanneke Pis), and a dog (Het Zinneke). But why peeing? Why so many?

Het Zinneke

This peeing pooch is the less well-known of the three, but interestingly, the highest-rated attraction of the three on Google Maps.

Unlike its counterparts, Het Zinneke is not a fountain, and as such does not have any water anywhere near it. You can walk right up to it, touch it, and take photos to your heart’s content.

The statue’s history is short: It was erected in 1998 by Belgian artist Tom Frantzen. It was made in the spirit of Manneken Pis, and is sometimes called Zinneke Pis. But what in the world is a “Zinneke?”

Once upon a time, his pee was painted yellow. Now, only a few flecks of paint remain on the sidewalk.

This lead me on an interesting Dutch-language dive: Turns out that Zinneke has a pretty important place in Belgian history and is directly related to the water systems. Back in the 16th century, there was a big rat problem in Brussels, with many of the diseased vermin ending up in the Senne River, a main source of water for the city. To combat these rats, many people started adopting dogs to hunt the rats. Then a new problem faced them: There were too many dogs, many of which were abandoned once the rat problem was taken care of. They became the issue and many ended up dead in the Senne.

In Brussels, the river Senne can be pronounced “Zinne.” “Ke” is a word that means “small.” While this can mean small tributaries and offshoots of the Senne, it also ended up with a different colloquial meaning, and a grim portmanteau evolved: Zinneke referred to small mongrel dogs who would end up dead in the river. Yikes!

Nowadays, the term simply means a non-purebred dog, coming from more than 2 breeds. This can also be applied to people, lovingly describing Belgium and its mixing of various peoples and cultures. It’s a nice little nod naming the dog peeing statue Het Zinneke, capturing a bit of history, culture, and local humor, much like the other peeing statues in the city.

Jeanneke Pis

Jeanneke Pis is tucked away down Impasse de la Fidélité (Getrouwheidsgang) off the famous Petite rue des Bouchers, an area famous for its many restaurants. It’s down past the seating for the Delirium Pub, behind a set of iron bars, to prevent it from being stolen.

Jeanneke Pis is much younger than Manneken Pis, but slightly older that Het Zinneke: She was put up in 1987, commissioned by famous restauranteur Denis-Adrien Debouvrie (who was mysteriously murdered in 2008). He wanted more equality for women in the city, and made that move by getting a peeing girl to accompany the famous peeing boy. The statue was supposedly designed after his younger sister, and during its second inauguration, a former porn actress turned politician (famous for flashing her breasts at events), Cicciolina, came to celebrate the statue.

There’s a QR code next to the statue where you can learn more about the statue’s charitable ventures!

The very cool thing about Jeanneke Pis is what it does with the coins collected in the basin where the girl is peeing: The money is used to fund medical research and help the needy in Brussels. Back in the 1980s, the money was used to help with AIDS research and treatment in the city. It’s a wonderful gesture that adds a lovely depth to a playful and very distinctly Belgian fountain.

Manneken Pis

Arguably the most famous of the trio is Manneken Pis.

Manneken Pis can trace its origins back to 1451, when it was used as part of the water distribution system in the city. While it doesn’t serve that purpose anymore, it has become a symbol of Belgian culture and humor, like a bit of a mascot for the city of Brussels and of Belgium as a whole.

One fun tradition they do is dressing up Manneken Pis in various costumes. This tradition dates back to 1616, with one preserved outfit at the Mannekin Pis Costume Museum having been donated by King Louis XV of France back in 1747.

We visited on Belgian National Day, so he was set up in his best Dutch finery!

With such a famous statue, shenanigans are bound to happen. Turns out there is a robust history of the statue being stolen, with the last kidnapping happening back in 1965. The original is now held, quite sensibly, in the Brussels City Museum. A replica is out in the wild, peeing freely for all to see.

There aren’t many crowds around the statues, and pictures tend to be taken quickly, so you can rotate in and out pretty quickly at all three statues. When we visited in the summer, no one was at Hat Zenneke, a small crowd of cautious observers at Jeanneke Pis, and a slightly more robust (yet still manageable) crowd at Mannekin Pis.

Are there any famous statues for your town, city, or country? Anything that reflects the humor of your people? Let us know in the comments below!

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