Berchem is a southern district of the municipality and city of Antwerp in the Flemish Region of Belgium. Berchem is located along the old Grote Steenweg (Dutch for 'Big Paved Road') that has connected Brussels to Antwerp for several centuries; the town borders the districts of Deurne, Borgerhout, Wilrijk and Antwerp and the municipality of Mortsel. Berchem itself consists of three quarters, Oud Berchem, Groenenhoek and Nieuw Kwartier.
The 'Ring', Antwerp's circular motorway which follows the track of the former city defense walls, cuts Berchem in two parts, separating the urban inner city area of Oud-Berchem (intra muros) from the more residential and suburban areas Groenenhoek en Nieuw Kwartier (extra muros).
Berchem's total surface is over 1,500 acres (6.1 km2), and it is inhabited by more than 40,000 citizens.
After the decentralization of Antwerp in 2000, Berchem became a semi-independent district with its own legislative body, the so-called Districtsraad (District Council), and its own executive college. The District Council includes 23 members, directly elected for six-year terms by popular vote. The executive college comprises five Aldermen (Districtsschepenen), including a District Mayor (Districtsburgemeester), who are installed by the District Council.
The District Council currently consists out of seven members of Socialistische Partij Anders-Spirit, six members of Vlaams Belang-VLOTT, four members of Open Flemish Liberals and Democrats (Open VLD), four members of CD&V-New-Flemish Alliance and two members of Groen!. The DEFUSIE party of former District Mayor Pros Slachmuylders did not win any seat in the District Council in the last elections of October 2006.
The current District Mayor is Peter Raets, a member of the Socialist Party - Different (SP.A), and the four other Aldermen are Fatiha Azzaoui (SP.A), Luc Thiessen (CD&V), Ann Bakelants (Open VLD) and Axel Polis (Open VLD). Fons Borginon (Open VLD) is the Speaker of the District Council.
Points of interest
The Zurenborg area hosts a high concentration of Art Nouveau and other fin-de-siècle style townhouses, many built between 1894 and 1906. The main streets of interest are Cogels-Osylei, Transvaalstraat, and Waterloostraat. After the area was entitled for demolition in the 1960s to be replaced with a business and office complex, demolition could be prevented while the area got monumental status in the 1980s. In recent years, the area became an attraction for architecture-minded visitors.
The Driekoningenstraat - Statiestraat is the main shopping and commercial area of Berchem. Though suffering competition from suburban shopping centers, the retail highstreet still has an interesting mix of Belgian, local, and international convenience and non-food stores. The highstreet has recently been refurbished, giving more space to pedestrians.