A couple of weeks ago I went with Paul on a day-trip to what perhaps is Europe’s biggest tobacco store: Peter Heinrichs in Bergheim, Germany. It is best described as a castle, “Chateau Henri”, dedicated to the art of smoking. Also called “Haus der 10.000 Pfeifen” (House of 10.000 pipes) it consists of over 1000 square meters of sales area, a tobacco museum and smoking lounge! Hallelujah!!!
At 17 years old Peter Heinrichs, the owner, finished an apprenticeship at his parent’s cigarette-shop. He then founded his own tobacco wholesale with a starting capital of 3000 D-Mark in his home-town Cologne. At the young age of 30 he sold his quickly growing business to a conglomerate for such an amount that he easily could have retired. But he was not the kind of person to do nothing. All he now wanted was a small shop for pipes in the heart of Cologne. Instead of selling soulless mass-targeted cigarettes Peter now had the opportunity to specialize in high-class pipes and cigars to emphasize the pleasure in smoking. This proved to be Heinrichs’ second success. He further established other branches in San Francisco and Taipei. Also, he started (read: he gave tobacco factories orders) producing his own brand of cigars, tobacco and cigarettes containing pipe tobacco that today are sold all over the world.
Even before opening his online shop Peter already sent out worldwide orders on a daily basis. Both shops in Cologne and Bergheim (yes, two German shops!) provide a unique selection of finest goods. There are always a several thousand pipes in stock, especially exclusive models and collectibles. Inside the walk-in humidors every important cigar brand in every size and shape is to be found. This includes limited editions that have already sold out at other stores. In addition to that a wide range of products is offered such as tobacco, elegant smoking equipment and selected Rum, Whisky and Cognac. Personal commitment, a relaxed atmosphere and competent service make a difference. Still, Peter Heinrichs takes care of daily business himself at his Cologne store. His wife and daughter run the store in Bergheim. This really sounds like Dunhill but ok: No matter how much money a customer spends or if he carries a famous name, to Peter Heinrichs it is not important: “Everybody is entitled to get the best products and first-class service”. And it is not all about products and brands, but rather about communication and dialogue. Cosy smoking lounges in both stores invite the customers to stay, light a pipe or cigar and enjoy coffee, wine, whiskey, cognac or rum.
So at a rainy Saturday morning I was picked up by Paul and together we drove to Bergheim. Well, actually the city’s Niederaußem district where the store is located. Really a shame because that part of the city is dominated by the immense Niederaussem Power Station which gigantic cooling towers billow out huge plume clouds. Also the access road to the terrain of the store looked a bit shabby. Come on Germany, fix those roads! Around half past ten we arrived at “Chateau Henri” and hurried inside not wanting to get wet from the pouring rain.
Inside we were greeted by a kind of strange creepy hanging puppet of Peter Heinrichs himself. Ok… There was not much of a counter left because all kinds of stuff was placed on it. Besides the puppet we also were greeted by the friendly staff. Luckily they not came up to us asking if we need any assistance, I really do not like that. They just nodded and softly said “Guten Tag (hello)” and let us slowly go through the store. However, after 5 minutes one of the clerks came up to us and asked if we would like a cup of coffee. Jawohl!
While sipping my cup of coffee I took the time to properly look around and jeeez, the store really is enormous! Every time you look to a side you see pipes, and more pipes, and more pipes.. Pipe Valhalla! All, or nearly all the European pipe brands are available here. Unfortunately for me most of them are filter-pipes, the German standard. Paul was looking for some Jensen pipes (which are getting more rare) for a friend and found some! And of course got a discount, he’s also Dutch. New pipes are not really my thing so I asked if they had any estate pipes. They had, not in the shop but in the warehouse. The clerk came back with two boxes, one with…. I forgot.. And the other one full of Dunhills! Unfortunately all billiard shapes, my least favourite one.. But there were some oldies between them from the early 60’s.
Just as I thought there were no pipes for me I saw a nice black slender cutty-shape lying on the table. I picked it up, Rattray’s was the brand. But strange, the cabinet with the rest of Rattray’s pipes was on the far end of the room. I looked at the price, hmm… Cheaper than the other ones. I took a firm pipe-cleaner and pushed it through the mouthpiece. Without a hitch it passed through until I saw it in the bottom of the bowl. Good, that means it was straight drilled. I looked around if anyone saw me and I quickly and softly put the bit between my teeth. Ah, a good fit, very important! So I bought the pipe, my first cutty.
But the main reason I was at Heinrichs was because of their vast assortment of tobaccos. As you can see in the picture there are a couple of big tables with a lot of sample-jars containing all of the Heinrichs house-blends. They have a small booklet containing (almost) all of these ±170(!) blends which you really need in order to pick out what could be of your liking. And Heinrichs has it all, from the ultra-sweet to latakia-bombs. It is so much fun to open a sample-jar, sniff the tobacco, guess what it is and then look it up in the booklet. And if you really like the smell and description of a mixture you can take something out and smoke it at the spot. Is the sample-jar empty? No problem, just ask the friendly staff if they would like to refill it. And if the house-blends are not enough, at another part of the building you can find almost all of the in Germany available brand-blends.
One of the really special house-blends is the 250 gr. Curly Block, a classic roll cake. Normally you see such a tobacco all sliced up but here you have a massive roll which you have to cut yourself. It is made of high quality Virginia grades and a bit of perique. For at least 6 weeks the mixture rests in the round form in the press. There it ferments gently and reveals multi-layered taste nuances. After the ageing period the roll cake is divided into blocks of 250 grams each. When smoking you can expect wonderful, natural sweet notes. The perique enriches the mixture with spiciness, strength and fruity flavours. Some say this particular blend is similar to the old Escudo. I can’t say that because I never smoked the old Escudo. But what I do know is that this stuff is excellent!
Another of Heinrichs’ winners is their Golden Sliced. Golden Sliced huh? Orlik also has a Golden Sliced. Yes, true, this one is similar to the Orlik one. Smooth golden Virginias topped with a citrus-like bergamot aroma. A blend I keep on smoking. Talking about Orlik, Heinrichs revived an Orlik classic that is not made any more, the Dark Strong Kentucky. Heinrichs just calls it the Dark Strong. It is a tobacco that you won’t forget once you’ve seen it. A rectangular, almost square flake which is light in the middle with dark edges. If they had called it “Tiger Flake” that would have been an appropriate name. Remarkable is that Kohlhase & Kopp makes this flake for Heinrichs. And I know that Kohlhase & Kopp don’t make their own flakes, they get them from…. Orlik. So in fact Heinrichs Dark Strong is nothing more than the old Orlik version. All house-blends are available in different quantities and unlike The Netherlands, the more you buy from one blend, the cheaper it gets. So it pays to buy large bulk-sacks.
Besides looking at pipes and sniffing at tobaccos Paul and I spent a lot of the day talking. The perfect place for that was the lounge part of the store. Well, lounge.. A couch with a table and a couple of chairs surrounded by pipe-cabinets. But it was sufficient, new coffee was provided and we could chat while enjoying samples of the house-blends. I knew Paul a bit before of course but it turned out that we had more in common than I thought. Always nice, an open conversation.
We were still talking to each other when we noticed the staff tidy up the place. Ah, it was four o’clock, the store was closing. We gathered our belongings and walked to the counter where we had put the pipes and tobaccos we wanted to buy. To my surprise the clerk started writing everything down we wanted to buy and used a calculator to add up the prices. A bit old fashioned but ok, it worked. Paul got a discount on two pipes he bought and I got 3 packs of sturdy pipe cleaners for free. We thanked the clerk and remaining staff and drove back to Holland. Around dinnertime we arrived in Uden (my old home-town) where I had parked my car. We decided to grab something to eat at the local Chinese restaurant, Paradijs. After having enjoyed the food and more conversations we thanked each other for the wonderful day and went our own way.
Today I sadly heard that Peter Heinrichs passed away. Also see this link. May he rest in peace.