A visit to Amsterdam

Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Yesterday it was time for a long planned visit with my girlfriend Ellen to the Dutch capital: Amsterdam. After a dreadful, cold and rainy spring we were in luck, the weather finally was good. Not too cold, not too hot, a blue sky, just perfect for a day of culture and shopping.

After a longer-then-necessary train-ride (trains are very often delayed in The Netherlands) we arrived at Amsterdam Central Station. To our surprise outside the station we saw our former queen, now princess Beatrix. She just walked inside the Beurs of Berlage to attend some award ceremony.

One of the the most famous Dutch paintings: the “Nachtwacht” by Rembrandt van Rijn

First we went to the recently renovated Rijksmuseum. The distance from the Central station to the museum is about 3 km. Of course you can take a bus or tram but it is much more fun and cheaper (and healthy) if you walk. The direction-signs are very clear and when walking you can much better see all the old buildings and soak up the atmosphere.

Rijksmuseum library

Rijksmuseum library

I won’t go into providing lots of information about the Rijksmuseum, after all, this is not an art-blog. But if you click on the links I already provided you soon know what you need to know. A visit to this historic building with it’s vast and excellent collection is mandatory if you are in Amsterdam. The museum has on display 8,000 objects of art and history, from their total collection of 1 million objects from the years 1200 – 2000. And among those are some masterpieces by Rembrandt van Rijn, Frans Hals, Vincent van Gogh and Johannes Vermeer. Beware, it can be very busy in the museum. But if you like some peace and quiet you can go to the Rijksmuseum library.

Next after the museum it was time for me to do some shopping. Amsterdam has several tobacco-shops, here are the ones I know of:
Sigarenmagazijn Berkman. Singel 528, 1017 AZ Amsterdam, tel. 0031 20 62 33 751, video on youtube
Hajenius. Rokin 92-96, 1012 KZ, Amsterdam, tel. 0031 20 623 74 94, Hajenius website
Davidoff. Van Baerlestraat 84, 1071 BB, Amsterdam, tel. 0031 20 67 11 042, video on youtube
Hartman. Leidsestraat 58, 1017 PC, Amsterdam, tel. 0031 20 624 51 50, Hartman website, video on youtube
Hartman. Beethovenstraat 88, 1077 JN, Amsterdam, tel. 0031 20 67 05 770, Hartman website, video on youtube
Van Lookeren. Gelderlandplein 143, 1082 LV, Amsterdam, tel. 0031 20 644 10 62, Van Lookeren website

Amsterdam also has a pipe-museum. If you are a pipe smoker (which I hope!), this visit is a must, it is maybe the last museum of its kind in Europe.
Amsterdam Pipe Museum. Prinsengracht 488, 1017 KH, Amsterdam, tel. 0031 20 4211 779, Amsterdam Pipe Museum website

Sigarenmagazijn Berkman

Sigarenmagazijn Berkman

The two shops on the top I visited yesterday. Sigarenmagazijn Berkman was the first one. Pretty easy to find, walk straight ahead from The Dam until you reach the Bloemenmarkt. Turn right there, walk a few hundred meters and than it is on your left. You can’t miss it because of the large sign on the outer wall. Inside the shop is pretty small but very cosy. The owner is a very nice man who makes you feel welcome at once. He laughed when I asked him about some vintage tins he should have. I wasn’t the first one from the Dutch / Belgian pipesmokers forum to ask about those. Luckily he still had some nice tins of De Graaff Seamen’s Club, a red Virginia mixture for a cheap price. Also he had tins of Samuel Gawith’s Perfection for little money compared to the current prices. Unfortunately I had to cut short the friendly conversations we had because Ellen was waiting outside. She never goes inside tobacco stores..

Pantaleon Gerhard Coenraad Hajenius

Pantaleon Gerhard Coenraad Hajenius

The second shop I visited was Hajenius, the most well-known of the Amsterdam tobacconists. Also easy to find. Walk straight ahead from the Dam, the street there is called Rokin. After about 500 meter the store is on your right hand.
Some history: On September 4, 1826 Pantaleon Gerhard Coenraad Hajenius opened his tobacco and cigar store in hotel De Rijnstroom at the Dam. In 1868 the store moved to another spot on the Dam, due to the widening of a nearby street. The business prospered, more and more diplomas and medals at international exhibitions were gained and thus a high reputation was acquired. The house Hajenius developed into a purveyor of many European monarchs. In 1914 the company was forced to move again to its current location on the Rokin. This time for the construction of the clothing store Peek & Cloppenburg. A year later the store was opened with much grandeur.


Hajenius outside © Roel Wijnants

The new Hajenius building was designed by the brothers Van Gendt A.Lzn. It consists of a functional and modern for that time concrete skeleton with a traditionally styled exterior of natural stone. Above the entrance is the carved royal arms, a reference to the time Hajenius was purveyor to the royal household. On the outside the name Rijnstroom reminds us of the previous buildings of the firm.

Hajenius inside

Hajenius inside

The rich and stylish interior, also designed by the Van Gendt brothers, remains almost entirely original. The walls and the counters are covered with various kinds of marble, wooden panels and decorative brass-ware. The decorated and gold and bronze colour painted ceiling is divided into compartments. On the ceiling are two colossal brass chandeliers that date from the time that Amsterdam was still lit by gas. The big tobacco jars on the shelves of the display cases are made of Delft pottery and are painted with Chinese scenes. In the back of the store is a very beautiful foyer where you can smoke and enjoy a cup of coffee or something stronger.

The My Own Blend corner at Hajenius

The My Own Blend chamber at Hajenius

Since the beginning of this year Hajenius also has a My Own Blend chamber. In short, the name My Own Blend was first used by the renowned Paul Olsen in the 1930’s. The core of all this is that pipe smokers can get their own personal tobacco blend mixed. Personally I think the concept was inspired by the famous Dunhill My Mixtures. More than 35,000 pipe smokers since the 1930’s had their own blends made and one of them is King Frederick IX. In the “recipe database” are over 10,000 different recipes!
But… in The Netherlands it is forbidden to sell loose tobacco. They solved it by making the My Own Blend chamber a toll-free zone. When the tobacco comes in it belongs to the Scandinavian Tobacco Group. That stays that way until the blended mix is put in a tin and a Dutch tax-seal is glued on.

The different tobaccos are being put together

The selected tobaccos are being put together

So of course my main target at Hajenius was the My Own Blend chamber. When I entered the store I saw two people behind the big marble counter. An elder man and a young attractive girl. I turned to the geezer and asked if it was possible to get an own blend made. “Of course”, he said, “my colleague will help you”, while pointing at the young girl. Ehrrr… ok, nice.. I stood there, sweaty and smelly but the girl stayed a total professional. She and I walked to the room and I was allowed to go in and make some pictures. In the small chamber stood about 50 big numbered translucent jars with all kinds of tobacco in them. From several Virginia species to Kentucky and burley to orientals to latakia.

The selected tobaccos are being blended together

Then they are mixed

The first thing the girl asked me if I liked aromatic or natural tobaccos. Natural please! I asked if she had the ingredients I wanted, of course I already had a recipe in mind. She produced some papers with numbered tobacco descriptions on them that corresponded with the numbers on the jars. But, I must say this, she did not need those papers. She had memorized what was in the jars and even knew the tobacco descriptions by heart. Besides that the girl told me she was trained by Scandinavian Tobacco master-blender Lasse Berg, quite impressive. I also asked if the concept was successful for them. She answered that in Denmark the concept (of course) did very well but that it here still had to take off. Well, maybe they first should update their website I said to which she vaguely murmured something..

Finally the mixture is put into the tin and the Dutch tax seal is glued on

Finally the mixture is put into the tin

After I hastily went through the descriptions (remember, Ellen was waiting outside..) I knew which tobaccos I needed. Some golden Virginias, red Virginias, orientals, black cavendish and latakia. The girl fetched the corresponding jars, weight off the quantities I wanted, put those together and started mixing them. “Hmm.. Is there not too much latakia in there?” She asked. *Sighs* Women and latakia… “No there is not too much latakia in there”, I said. “Together with the other tobaccos a nice balance is created.” When the different ingredients were well blended the girl put the mixture in a 100 gr. tin and sealed it off with a lid. She then produced a Dutch tax-seal and glued it over the tin and the lid. “What is the name of the mixture?” She asked. “Ehm.. Arno’s Mixture 665” I said. In girly handwriting she wrote that on the tin. I asked if the recipe and name of the blend could be saved. Of course that was possible and she put the data in the computer.

My Own Blend “Arno’s Mixture 665”

So if someone comes into the Hajenius store he/she can now ask for Arno’s Mixture 665. It is a medium Balkan blend with deep red Virginias, fresh golden Virginia’s, assorted orientals, Cyprian latakia and a bit of black cavendish to round it all out. Remember that if you buy it you should let it rest for at least week and preferably longer. This because the used tobaccos still have to “blend” together. I also found the mixture somewhat dry, so a bit of moistening can do no harm. The price for such a custom blend is €25,50 ($33.05, £21.80). Pretty expensive but considering the whole experience I thought it was very fair.

After I came back from Hajenius it was halfway the afternoon and Ellen and I decided to go back home. We both saw what we wanted to see that day. We stopped in Deventer, where we live nearby, to go to a restaurant to nicely round off the day. It was hot enough to eat outside so after a tasty dinner with lots of smoky, grilled meat, I was able to light up a pipe while enjoying a cup of coffee. Ahhh.. Life is good.

EDIT 28-9-2017: Sadly sigarenmagazijn Berkman has closed its doors some time ago..

The quest for forum tobaccos – Part 1.

The Dutch/Belgium Pipe Smokers Forum logo

The Dutch/Belgium Pipe Smokers Forum logo

This year the Dutch/Belgium Pipe Smokers Forum exists 5 years. Because of that last year the idea arose for some special forum tobaccos to celebrate the jubilee. Of course I had to open my big mouth and I became responsible for the creation of those tobaccos and the artwork. Why? Because it is a dream of me to see a blend which is created by myself is made available for others.

Rudi and me talking

Rudi and me talking

So how do you accomplish this? In comes Rudi. Rudi is the retired owner of a big pipes and tobacco shop in Middelburg. Now for fun he runs a website on which you can order what he once sold in his shop: tobaccoshop.nl. Because of his past Rudi has a vast knowledge about the world of tobacco and he still has the connections. He also has a passion for pipe smoking. That way he was willing to take the financial risk for the forum tobaccos. Of course Rudi would get a little percentage of every sold tin. My work would be for free, a labour of love. I don’t care so much for money.


Poseidon, which was going to be the latakia mixture of the forum tobaccos

My artwork for Poseidon, the latakia mixture of the forum tobaccos

After a meeting with some other forum members we came to a few conclusions:
– 30 kilo of tobacco had to be made by a foreign pipe-tobacco manufacturer. Here in The Netherlands there are none left.. Belgium also has none so the obvious choice was Germany. DTM to be precise. Well known for their aromatic tobaccos like Sweet Vanilla Honeydew and their American History Mixtures. Why them? Because they were flexible enough to produce such a small batch of tobacco and invest some time in the creation of the recipes together with me.
– That 30 kilo of tobacco was to be divided into 3 blends: an aromatic, a Virginia based one and a latakia mixture.
– Together with DTM I would create the recipes and first samples. Then I would smoke those and report my findings so the recipes could be altered. After the second round a panel of smokers from our forum would test the tobaccos and report their findings to me so the final versions could be made. The ready tins would get labelled with my artwork (that I already had partly finished) and tax-seals would be placed before shipping to Rudi who would sell them to the forum members.

The mid 19th century redbrick industrial building where DTM is located

The mid 19th century redbrick industrial building where DTM is located

At the end of June last year my good friend Ed (forum nickname St Patrick) and myself drove off to the German town of Lauenburg. We would stay there for 2 days and visit the DTM factory which is located just outside the town near the river Elbe. Soon after arrival we were greeted by master-blender Andreas Mund. Managing Director Dr. Heiko Behrens was not there so he took it upon himself to give us a guided tour. Every corner of every room was shown to us, no secrecy. We were allowed to touch everything, ask everything and smell everything and we did just that. An amazing experience!

Ed, Andreas and myself

Ed, Andreas and myself

After the tour Andreas excused himself. He was busy and would discuss the forum tobaccos the next day when Dr. Heiko Behrens was also there. So Ed and I walked around the wonderful DTM shop (with an old interior from 1920) where you can sample and buy all of their tobaccos and more. The main salesman in the shop is Michael Apitz which some of you may know, he created the famous Sweet Vanilla Honeydew mixture. Besides a very, very nice man Michael is also a walking pipes and tobacco encyclopaedia. I learned a lot from him regarding the creation of aromatics.

The next day we met the very friendly Dr. Heiko Behrens (“please call me Heiko, everyone does”). Together with Andreas we spoke about the forum tobaccos. “Why don’t you take some of our excellent tobaccos and re-label them?” said Heiko. I explained him my dream of a self made mixture which he understood. In the end I was given permission to make 3 mixtures together with Andreas! I told him what I wanted and he immediately went to his lab to prepare some samples. Just before Ed and I went home we got samples of two of the forum tobaccos (the latakia mixture and the aromatic). The third one was a flake and it takes a while to make that.

In the next two months I smoked the two samples and wrote down what I liked and did not like about them. At the beginning of September I phoned Andreas, told him my findings and also mailed them. Then it became very quiet.. I e-mailed Andreas a couple of times, phoned but no reaction. I had no idea what to do. Be more persistent in contacting him? Get angry? Just wait? I was dependent on the guy so I really did not want to piss him off. It was not until the beginning of December that I got an e-mail from the other Director, Maria Sousa. She said that they no longer wished to cooperate in the making of the forum tobaccos in the format that I wanted. I could use existing tobaccos of them and maybe perhaps change them a little bit.. I still don’t know what made them change their minds.. So I contacted Rudi and asked him what to do. Pull the plug with DTM he said. We go look further.

003After some discussions we decided to ask if another German pipe-tobacco manufacturer was interested: Kohlhase & Kopp. Famous  for making the European version of Ashton tobaccos, Peterson, Rattray’s, Solani and McConnell. In the mean time I asked master-blender Hans Wiedemann from HU Tobacco if he was willing to help. Hans has a vast knowledge about the creation of new tobaccos and has good connections with Kohlhase & Kopp. But a talented man like him has to be paid (which made the forum tobaccos more expensive) and I could sense he was not really enthusiastic to participate in the whole process. However, if I had any questions whatsoever I could always knock on his door. Things were also not going smooth with Kohlhase & Kopp. They only worked with existing tobacco importers. So Rudi asked if Dutch importer Pronk was willing to import the forum tobaccos, put a Dutch tax seal on them and send them through to him. And they were willing. Downside of this all were the extra costs. Kohlhase & Kopp manufactures excellent but pricey tobaccos. Pronk also wanted their share for putting on the Dutch tax seals. In the end it all bounced off on the fairly small amount of tobacco we wanted, only 30 kilo. Such manufacturers are used to quantities like hundreds or thousands kilos. Besides I think the extra work with  me (the creation of the recipes) also scared them off.

plogoAt the Heukelum meeting Rudi and I spoke to each other once again. Rudi has good connections with yet another German pipe-tobacco manufacturer: Planta. Well known for their Black Vanilla and Presbyterian Mixture. Rudi phoned them and said I could send a mail. Which I did at the beginning of March this year. Now we are halfway April and I still have not heard anything from them.. To be honest I think it is the same as with Kohlhase & Kopp: the low tobacco quantity and the extra work for the creation of the recipes scared them off.

Now Rudi has mailed Samuel Gawith twice to no avail. Also through a friend I am waiting to hear if J.F. Germain has any interest. But to be perfectly honest I have lost my faith.. The quantities are too small and no tobacco manufacturer wants to have extra work with the creation of the recipes in these times of economical crisis. Maybe I was naive to think that those companies would easily cooperate. It is all about money, money and money. I understand that, companies have to make a living, but still… Where has the passion for tobacco gone? Must it all be strictly business? I guess so.. Dreaming is no longer allowed.

c270e204c8700d0f5a06cb3aa52dThe only thing I can do now is to go to Hajenius in Amsterdam who have recently built a My Own Blend bar. There I can design a mixture, or several mixtures and let those be written down so other forum members can buy them. Better than nothing I guess..

Surprisingly enough the quest for forum tobaccos continues in part 2.