In front of Het Steen, a medieval castle that served as the city center of Antwerp, stands a bronze statue of a towering giant terrorizing townsfolk. His name is Lange Wapper, translated to “Long Flag” in English, and the tale of this terribly tall trickster is well-known throughout the city.
The legend, which originated in the Wilrijk district during the 16th century, states that a farmer found an enormous parsley and a red cabbage in his bed, which turned into a baby. He put the child up for adoption and the baby was fostered by a family in Antwerp. The boy grew up helping people in need until one day, an old woman he saved gave him shapeshifting powers in return. The boy then transformed into a giant and became known as Lange Wapper.
The giant was known to disguise himself as a child to drink young mothers’s breast milk. He also loved to vex drunkards at night and cheat in games he played with local children. The Antwerpians were constantly bullied by Lange Wapper, and as one story explains, he had a strong dislike of the Virgin Mary. Thus, people around the town began placing effigies of the Holy Mother on their houses and stores to repel the giant. Legend has it that he couldn’t stand it and fled the city forever, or fell into the Scheldt River and drowned.
A statue of Lange Wapper was erected in 1963 by Albert Poels and became a minor icon of the city. Considered a bogeyman of sorts in Antwerp, Lange Wapper’s shadow still haunts every nook and corner.