World / Offbeat

Brussels' Manneken-Pis statue becomes a conservation whiz


Brussels authorities recently discovered that a fault in the 400-year-old plumbing of its Manneken-Pis landmark was causing it to pee away 2.5 tons of water a day.

In 2019, such waste is an environmental no-no.

A missing part in the guttering under the diminutive statue’s fountain sent his public urination directly down the drain.

It may not be the most overwhelming torrent, but it was building up over time — to the equivalent daily water use of five Belgian households.

No one is quite sure how long Brussels’ celebrity has been suffering the leak. “We prefer to look to the future,” said city engineer Regis Callens.

And the future is recycling. Henceforth, the Manneken’s pee will loop through a recuperation tank to be pumped back through his bronze bladder.

“So it’s really a closed circuit. There’s no more waste,” said Callens, giving journalists a tour of the hidden pipework.

Brussels was able to detect the anomalous overflow thanks to new electronic monitors dotted around the municipal system.

“We want to develop a real policy of limiting waste,” said the city’s new mayor, Benoit Hellings, from the green Ecolo party.

“We want to say to Brussels folk, to Belgians and to all Europeans, ‘If the Manneken-Pis is able to stop wasting drinking water, you can too.’

“The Manneken-Pis has become a responsible eco-consumer.”

Some accounts date the incontinent cherub’s origin to the 14th century, but the best records suggest the 55-centimeter (22-inch) bronze nude was cast in 1619.

The boy seen today at a street corner in Brussel’s tourist-thronged old city is a copy, with the original now in the city museum, safe from theft or vandalism.

One legend recounts that the child saved the city from an explosion by peeing on a flame that threatened a gunpowder arsenal in the 17th century.

He is now a municipal symbol and tourist draw, and plays a full role in the evolving cultural life of the Belgian capital.

He is often dressed up in colorful outfits, including soccer kits to mark the start of the World Cup.