It is about five months since we last visited the town of Arendonk. Arendonk is a small town in the Antwerp Kempen region, but it is world-renowned in international pigeon racing. Any respected fancier that has ever come to Belgium, payed a visit to Arendonk for sure. It were the Janssen brothers who stole the show for the most part. They are world-renowned for the pigeons they bred. More than 100 years ago – this is not a typing error – ‘Drieske’ started playing with the pigeons. It was the year 1884...
In 1886, he founded a pigeon association in Arendonk, to make sure that other villagers could become fanciers as well. Back in the days, you needed more than good racing pigeons, you also needed someone who could run fast. As fanciers did not have their own clocks, the pigeons had to be brought to the local club as quickly as possible for time registration. One of the best runners was Fik van Jan Pientjes, the miller. He ran for Kup and Gust Peeters.In 1914-1918, there were no pigeon races, but pigeons were allowed to fly from 12 o’clock in the afternoon to 10 o’clock in the evening. As for pigeon feed, fanciers had to resort to acorns that were dried and cut. The Germans had installed a monthly control council, and all dead or missing birds had to be reported. Father Janssen remained a fancier until 1947. Meanwhile, his sons had already taken over several of his activities. The Second World War was a difficult period as well. Pigeons now had to be fed with grains. But the Janssens fed the grains to their pigs, and the pigeons were instead given the best feed available. Despite hard times, 50 pigeons survived the war.
The golden age already started in 1933, and from 1945 to 1954, they won 154 first prizes. They believe that their successes can be contributed to the fact that they could start with very healthy pigeons (that were well taken care of in wartime), and that crossings made their stem better and better. No special feed or drinks were given to the pigeons. Soon, the Janssens birds became world-famous. Their descendants were wanted far beyond Belgium, and can be found in The Netherlands, France, Germany, Great-Britain, Denmark, Bangkok, Japan, South-Africa, etc. In recent years, very large bids were made for the ‘impressive’ breeding pigeons that were sitting in the lofts of Louis Janssen. But he never sold any of them. “All breeding pigeons should stay here”, he used to say. And nobody could ever change his mind. But in the last few months, his health deteriorated. He is the last remaining descendant of the family... At the moment, he is almost 100 years old, an age at which health problems are inevitable. He is now in hospital, so he is not capable of taking care of the pigeons. Then, a child of one of the Janssen brothers read a report in the ‘De Duif’ newspaper, written by Ad Schaerlaeckens. Schaerlaeckens commented on the high bids that were sometimes made on websites (he directly referred to PIPA), and so, the descendants decided to contact PIPA. They had never heard of bidding sites, as they did not have an internet connection at home. So they could not witness the enormous sums that have been offered on PIPA in recent years. A telephone call was made to the PIPA offices, we made an appointment, and a few days later, Thomas Gyselbrecht went to Arendonk himself. At the end of the day, he took all the pigeons with him, 24 old pigeons and two youngsters.
“It was a strange sensation, having to take away all the pigeons at the Arendonk lofts…” (Thomas Gyselbrecht)
Last weekend, Thomas made the trip from Ghent to Arendonk, one he will never forget. “I have not been to the Schoolstraat in Arendonk very often.” So I felt honoured to be their guest, although it felt a bit strange as well: Louis Janssen was not sitting in his chair as head of the family as he used to. It was the family itself who asked to auction all the pigeons. There was no time to waste: Pack and go. At the same place where possibly thousands of pigeon fanciers had been, I had the opportunity to take the last top pigeons from the loft. For the first time since more than a hundred years, there would be no longer any pigeon in the loft. A special feeling!” In the meantime, all the pigeons are at a secret location, waiting to be auctioned.
And with the visit of Thomas Gyselbrecht in Arendonk, the entire pigeon dynasty disappears, created by the brothers Janssens. In pigeon racing, several icons have disappeared, for various reasons, often decease. But Louis Janssen and his brothers can for sure be considered one of the biggest icons. They deserve a statue...
Several stories have been going around at Schoolstraat n° 6, but the most striking story was that Louis was not at all fond of banks. “They are all thieves”, he used to say. As a result, he stored all his money at home, in his famous well, which was still in use until a couple of months ago. Sometimes, it was as if time stood still in Arendonk. Everything is authentic, like a ‘Bokrijk’ amid the Antwerp Kempen. Arendonk was pigeon racing, and pigeon racing was Arendonk. This was mostly the result of Louis Janssen and his companions. They turned Arendonk and the Schoolstraat into a sanctuary for pigeon fanciers. People would get on their knees to get hold of one of their pigeons. We witnessed it ourselves: they would pay anything. But then again, Louis Janssen showed them the endless waiting list in his notebook. In the last years, only a few couples housed his lofts, as Janssen had always kept things to a minimum, despite his fame.
They could have grown as much as they wanted, but Louis never wanted to. His ideas were always the same: small, healthy, good and of top quality. “That is all that matters”, he said recently. And he has right. Soon, his entire colony will be auctioned, somewhere mid-to-late April. Thomas Gyselbrecht is very proud: “I was probably the last person to walk around the lofts in Arendonk. I have mixed feelings though: we are proud to have the chance to auction this unique collection. But on the other hand, it is also a bit sad: Janssen is an icon, probably the only true icon that pigeon racing has ever known. It is a pity that this should come to an end!”