This is a video impression of an excellent meeting I had with Dutch, Belgian and German pipe-smokers in Düsseldorf, Germany. There we visited tobacco shop Linzbach, Hausbrauerei Zum Schlüssel and the Cigarworld lounge.
September 17th it was once again time for one of my annual highlights: The Inter Tabac fair in Dortmund. For those of you who missed the blogposts I made of the visit the last couple of years; the Inter-Tabac is the leading and biggest trade fair of the world for tobacco products and smoking accessories. This year there were more than 450 exhibitors from over 60 countries who presented themselves in 5 huge exhibition halls. Renowned companies from all over the world presented trends and innovative tobacco products. This includes cigars, cigarillos, cigarettes, E-cigarettes, E-pipes, E-shishas, smoking accessories, pipes, pipe tobacco, shishas, shop equipment and spirits. Unfortunately the fair is for retailers, not for consumers.
Like the last years I was able to secure a ticket through Fred, only, some days before the fair he told me he could not make it. His daughter moved out of the parental house a little bit earlier than expected. But I could have his ticket and make someone happy with it. Easy, I thought, what pipe-smoker does not want to go to the Valhalla of smoking? So I asked some friends if they had time but one was on holiday the other did not have a car, someone else had some “things” to do with his students. I obviously did not take into account that Saturday was rather short notice for most. In the end I just asked on the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum who wanted to go with me. I got no more than two reactions so I decided to flip a coin. The winner was Jan, a relaxed, intelligent man with an unique view on life, who was absolutely delighted. He lives not too far away from me and I discovered the detour for me was only 2 km. So I picked him up and together we drove to Dortmund.
After a pleasant ride we arrived at the Westfalenhallen just when the doors opened. Like every time I started in hall 4. I wanted to speak with Elbert Gubbels from Big Ben because he and I have some business to do for the new Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum tobacco. Unfortunately he was busy so we walked on to the stand of Dan Tobacco Manufacturing (DTM)/Dan Pipe where we were greeted by the lovely daughter of managing director Heiko Behrens. “Did I saw you here last year?” she asked. “Yes you did!” I said with a smile. She asked if we would like some coffee (yes please!) and sat down with us. “So, what is new at Dan Tobacco?” I asked.
She produced 3 plastic jars with in each a new blend. The first was called “Burley Maduro”, a sturdy, natural mixture of burley and some soft tasting Maduro leaf. Jan would not pack a pipe with it that “early” in the morning but I loaded up one. The taste surprised me, I expected to taste cigar but I did not. It just was a natural very mellow tobacco flavour which reminded me in the distance of the Langue de Chien variety of Semois, very pleasant. But I have to say, it packed a very healthy dose of vitamine N. The second was named “M.A. Blue Canary”. A blend of black cavendish with some gold-brown flake scraps topped with the aromas of apple, vanilla and a bit of cinnamon. The third one was called “Bill Bailey’s Country (Bourbon) Blend”. A mixture of bright US Virginias, a lot of black cavendish and a bit of deep brown dark fired Kentucky topped with Bourbon whiskey and Bourbon vanilla. We thanked Frau Behrens for her time and when we wanted to leave the (beautiful!) stand we were stopped by her old father, managing director Heiko Behrens, who thanked us for visiting. I said it before but the people at DTM are warm and passionate with the typical “no-nonsense working hard and effective” German mentality.
After visiting the stand of My Father Cigars who make my favourite “La Antiguedad” cigar Jan and I walked to another hall. There were several little pipe-smoking related stands put together where you could find names like Gabriele Pipes, Jobs Freehand Pipes, Talamona, Michal Novak, Mr. Brog, P. Jeppesen (who had some really beautiful stained blasted pipes) and… Cornell & Diehl. I especially was excited about visiting the stand of the latter, their first time on the Inter Tabac. Silently I hoped that the Dark Lord GL Pease, one of my pipe-smoking idols, would also be there. But alas, no.. Also the stand itself was quite a bit smaller than I expected, just a desk. At first I believed that in Europe their range was available at the Linzbach store in Düsseldorf. But to my surprise the friendly guy behind the desk said they had no German importer and C&D was not sold there. I later learned he was right when I visited Linzbach. However, they had an importer in the Ukraine! Uhm.. Ok.. We talked about the very worrying FDA regulations and on the lighter side about the (re)introduction of the new Drucquer blends. I asked if he had samples of those but sadly he did not. He did have a sample of one of their best aromatics, Autumn Evening, which I am smoking as I type this. Smooth and tasty!
Then we were off to the large stand of Planta and Designer Berlin (DB) pipes. Like every year Planta had a big wooden barrel standing there with in it their year tobacco, this time called Bacchus mixture. I asked Jan to put his nose near the lid when I pulled it off. He went like “whooaaaa!!!” when he smelled the blend, it was very, very sweet. We admired the many displayed pipes of DB and had to laugh when we saw a couple called “Caribbean Black Pearl”. Undoubtedly ideal for smoking Pirate Kake! Arrrrr matey!
Gradually we moved towards what I call “the Italian corner” which has pipe-brands as Savinelli, L’Anatra and Ser Jacopo. Especially some pipes of the latter boasted some stunning silver-work. Around the corner was the shared stand of Northern Briars and Samuel Gawith (Gawith & Hoggarth). I looked forward to meeting Bob Gregory because I also had some business to do with him for the new Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum tobacco (it is made by Samuel Gawith and imported by Gubbels). I mailed Bob twice to ask if he could bring a sample of the final product with him but I heard nothing. Typical Bob, “I am 70 years old and semi-retired ok??”. As soon as he saw me he shouted with wide eyes “Go away you! Go away!” at me. But I cornered the bastard and forced him to hand over 2 tins of Flatlander Flake, which is the name of the forum tobacco. He did think of me *smiles*. His bald lackey and himself anxiously looked at me when I opened up one of the tins and smelled it. Approved! At which they both smiled (very rare for Bob). Then we exchanged some pleasantries and Bob told some funny stories about how him and Brian Levine (the PipesMagazine.com radio-show host) constantly keep insulting each other. By the way, I saw Brian already a couple of times in the hallways. First time he had a big German glass of beer with him and the second time he was on his way to a whisky-tasting..
The lunch this year was sober. The prices of food and beverages are outrageous at the Inter Tabac (€4,30 for a small bottle of cola!). So I brought brown buns with cheese on them with me and Jan had some sandwiches. Screw you expensive catering! We’re Dutch! After the lunch we walked to the stand of the Scandinavian Tobacco Group where pipes of brands like Winslow, Peterson, Butz Choquin, Stanwell and Dunhill are displayed. Soon a lady came asking if we wanted a cup of coffee (yes please!) and while we sipped that away we looked at the shown pipes. To be honest there was not much new. Butz Choquin (sorry to say but masters of bad taste) had some new awful plastic looking colourful pipes and I think that was about it. Ok, at least they try to bring something new. But it all was a bit.. Soulless.. Despite the wonderful pipes Mr. Winslow makes.
Talking about soulless, German tobacco manufacturer Kohlhase & Kopp also radiates that. They have wonderful brands in pipes and tobaccos like Rattrays, Ashton, Sillem’s, Solani and Robert McConnell but inside their large stand no one cares about you. The pipes, cigars and tobacco are nicely displayed but there is no interaction with employees. It all looks and feels a bit cold and snobbish.. However, they did have tins of the “new” Dunhill Dark Flake and Ye Olde Signe offerings. But no one around to ask for a sample. On to Vauen, they had a new pipe which looked like typical Austrian or Bavarian smoking pipes. I actually liked the model but that can be because of my love for Austria. Of course all the amazing looking Auenland pipes were prominently displayed. On the way to yet another hall we passed the Falcon stand. The guy there was a bit disappointed when he discovered we were not salesmen. Sorry, I am just a humble blogger! The loose Falcon bowls were pretty nice, but the stems looked kind of plastic-like.
We immediately noticed we entered the hall of the shishas because of the typical faintly sweet odour hanging there. Remarkable was 1. that it was the busiest hall (busier than the E-smoke one!) and 2. it contained the youngest visitors by far. Perhaps this was due to the presence of many beautiful ladies praising and demonstrating the shown wares. I admit, I was too much a coward to ask these beauties if I could take a picture of them. Luckily Jan was much braver, took my camera, asked the ladies and snapped some shots. He never smoked a shisha so we went looking for a nice place to smoke one. But it was so busy everywhere that that plan did not work out. Apparently the crazier the better goes for the world of shishas. Walking through the hallways we saw some “interesting” looking ones shaped like dildos (sadly no girl to demonstrate them..), tommy-guns and glittery kalashnikovs (for the smoking jihadist?) and gas masks.
After walking through the E-smoke hall (nothing special there for me) we tried to have a conversation with Elbert Gubbels again. But he still was too busy which I took as a good sign. So on we went to the huge stand of MacBaren. There Per Jensen, the product manager of MacBaren, recognized me. We shook hands and beside him stood a basket filled with small flashy looking round boxes. Apparently there was some kind of snus inside made by MacBaren in cooperation with another company. Per opened one and inside the box were what seemed little tea-bags filled with tobacco. I had to place one in my mouth between my cheek and gums, which I did. The first minutes it was quite enjoyable until the point the juices started flowing. My cheek began to have a burning feeling and I got the hiccups because of the vast quantities of nicotine getting into my system. I hurried to take the bag out of my mouth and was glad Per quickly arranged a refreshing glass of water. Nope, not for me this..
The 3 of us sat down inside the stand where Per asked if we wanted a cocktail. A cocktail? Here? Well, uhm, yes please! He mentioned for a waitress to come and I ordered a Highball (never had one but it sure tasted good!) and Jan a No Sex On The Beach. Then I asked Per what was new at MacBaren. There were some new Amphora offerings which grabbed my attention because originally Amphora is a Dutch brand which was made by Douwe Egberts. Two of them (Amphora Special Reserve No. 2 and No. 8) were typical Danish aromatics, and did not pique my interest. The other one did because it was a pure Virginia, hence the name: Amphora Virginia. I really hope this blend will be on sale in The Netherlands. There are not so many pure Virginia blends left here.. Per gifted me a pouch which I will open soon.
Then we talked about tobacco laws and regulations (the new stricter European rules and the American FDA legislation) and how it affects MacBaren. In Europe they can no longer sell heavily flavoured shag tobacco. But being the inventive Danes that they are they found a way around. For example, the pouch has a certain colour, let us say, apple green. Then on the pouch it says “appeal #12” (no fruit names etc. can be used). Sounds a bit like “apple” right? Then you can buy loose flavourings in the same colour as the pouch, also #12 and it is called “apple”. Apply the flavouring onto the tobacco et voilà! About the States Per was a little more sombre. If the FDA rules go through they will lose a really large part of their turnover. Because MacBaren mostly sells loose tobaccos to tobacconists there who can then mix their own blends. But with the new regulations that is forbidden. But as the always positive Per said: new rules mean new chances.
Towards the end of the afternoon Brian finally joined us. He looked a bit groggy out of his eyes, the whisky-tasting went very well obviously. We talked about all kinds of things while I felt the Highball kicking in. Brian asked what Jan liked to smoke (Virginia) on which a tin of HH Pure Virginia and Capstan Gold were presented to my flabbergasted fellow Dutchman. Just as I was getting a bit sober the fair closed for the day. Brian invited us to grab a beer at his nearby hotel so we walked with him. On the way we bumped into Bob Gregory who almost screamed “Arno! Do not go with him!” at me. On which Brian discreetly showed his middle finger. At the hotel bar we chatted away while feasting on real German beer and before we knew it Brian had to leave because he had dinner elsewhere.
Dinner, that sounds nice, Jan and I thought. Last year I ate at an excellent Greek restaurant in a German place called Herne. But I could 1. not remember the town and 2. the name of the restaurant. Luckily on the highway my infallible photographic memory *ahem* finally kicked in when I saw the “Herne” sign. In the town-centre I searched on my navigation device for Greek sounding restaurants. 5 places and half an hour later we still did not find the damn restaurant.. With his last internet-data Jan looked on his mobile phone for “Greek restaurants”. The first name that popped up was “El Greco“, we drove to the address and lo and behold; it was the place of last year! Needless to say I was a happy man and also Jan when he tasted the superb Greek food and saw the friendly curvaceous waitress. Once again it was a good day.
I would like to thank Jan for his company, during the ride and the walks through the halls we had some really interesting conversations. By the way, if you want to enlarge the pictures in the gallery below, right mouse-click and then press “look at image” (the first option).
Around Christmas time a lot of cities and towns in Germany have the long time tradition of the Christmas market. The city of Düsseldorf boasts it has the biggest and most beautiful of them all. And I must say, the Christmas market with 200 (!) lovingly decorated nostalgic huts transforms the city into some kind of winter fairy tale. Illuminated streets, the fragrance of roasted almonds and cinnamon.. Yummie! The huts are set up at seven different locations, all with their own theme and all within easy reach of each other on foot. You can find glittering Christmas tree decorations, carvings from the Ore Mountains, handmade candles and light decorations as well as hand puppets or tin toys. There also are plenty of tasty seasonal treats too including roasted chestnuts, gingerbread, “Dampfnudeln”, festive “Feuerzangenbowle” and hot chocolate milk.
Last year my girlfriend Ellen and I went to the Christmas market of Münster, this year Düsseldorf was the destination. It is advisable to arrive after noon because in the morning there is not much going on and all the huts are still closed. Well, we certainly managed to arrive in the afternoon because of all the “Stau” (traffic jams).. From my home-town it is a 2 hour drive but thanks to a burned out lorry and a car wrapped around the front of a truck the ride took an hour longer. I hope nobody was injured.. In Düsseldorf the system for parking your car is pretty good.. If you follow it.. Of course I was too busy paying attention to my old TomTom and I drove right by the parking garage I wanted. Argh!! I could not turn back because it was all one-way traffic and Ellen had to laugh hard because I started swearing and cursing immensely. I very much dislike driving in busy cities. So we made a short trip around the centre of Düsseldorf and that time I did find the entrance of the parking garage.
First I wanted to go to the most well-known tobacco store in Düsseldorf: Linzbach. A little history about this wonderful place: It was August Otto Schmidt who founded the company, that later became known as Linzbach, on the Graf Adolf Strasse 78 in the centre of Düsseldorf in 1902. In 1938, shortly before WWII began, Peter Linzbach took over the business from his predecessor. When he returned from Russian captivity after the war he found his house and store destroyed down to the basement.. With his wife Elizabeth he began with the reconstruction of the tobacco store, according to his ideas.
In the years 1947 to 1960 Linzbach focused on the import, wholesale and retail with own subsidiaries and distribution of pipes, tobacco and cigars. Linzbach became the first tobacco store in Düsseldorf with a Davidoff depot and had Germany’s first walk-in humidor. In 1974 the was among the co-founders of John Aylesbury. This is a group of select independent shops with the common goal to offer customers expert advice, a high quality and yet a worthy price range. By 1977 the core business had grown to its current size . Then Peter Linzbach decided to close all stores and abandon the direct import and wholesale. This proved to be a visionary decision for the now well known Düsseldorf store.
In 1983 Peter and Elizabeth Linzbach withdrew from business life and daughter Margaret Schmitz and nephew Heinrich Linzbach took over the store. In 2000 Peter and Elizabeth Linzbach died at the age of 93 and 89 years. Until then they were always helpful with strategic advice. An example is Germany’s first walk-in humidor I mentioned earlier and its expansion to a total of over 130 square meters to Germany’s largest and most versatile assortment for tobacco and cigar imports from Cuba, Spain, Jamaica, Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. In 1995 Linzbach grandson Werner Schmitz claimed the domain “www.tobacco.de” as the first internet address of a German tobacco merchant.
In 1996 Margaret Schmitz became the sole owner of the shop and her son Werner became junior partner. Just as her parents had sent her at the age of 19 to England for a pipe-making training, she sent her son to the Dominican Republic to Davidoff . Also Werner was the first German tobacco retailer who had a unique opportunity to a 4 month training in Cuba in which he learned the entire process of tobacco production. In 1999 Ms. Schmitz asked her niece, Christina Lüdtke (who already had led her own small shop) to join the family business.
In 2004 the third generation, Christina Lüdtke and Werner Schmitz, took over the business. Heinrich Linzbach died in 2013. He had devoted his whole career to teaching his experiences to the family. Ms. Schmitz remains connected to the business today with her vast experience, strategic skills and presence in the store.
When you see the front of Linzbach you don’t expect the store is pretty big. It is not so wide, but very long. Upon entering we were directly greeted by a member of the staff. Normally I dislike this a bit because I first want to nose around in peace and quiet. However, Ellen was with me and she is not too fond of tobacco stores. So unfortunately I was in a bit of a hurry.. Luckily the friendly staff member offered us a cup of coffee. Just what we needed after a hellish ride. We were taken through the immense cigar humidor to a smoking lounge. Not that you are not allowed to smoke in the rest of the store but it was just a place where you could sit, smoke, drink and relax. I packed my new forum pipe with some Penzance, lit it and we both enjoyed our coffee. At the back of the lounge was a stair which went down. Being curious I looked where it went and to my surprise there was a sort of basement where people could also sit and smoke. Definitely a good place for a pipe-smokers meeting. Pictures of the store and the smoking lounge are at the bottom of this post.
When we had finished our cup of coffee we went back to the store, I wanted to buy some tobaccos. I asked if they had the Honoré Flake and the staff member was in doubt if it was in their assortment. After asking several other members of the staff and some searching a tin was found to my delight at the bottom of a shelf. I also wanted a tin of the marvellous McConnell (formerly Ashton) Old London Pebblecut. Once I smoked a tin of it and I downed that one in a record time. Seeing their immense collection of John Aylesbury house-blends I just had to have one and ended up with a tin of Golden Flake. A nice light Virginia flake in the vein of Dunhill Flake. However, I do have one remark for them: keep your tobacco samples in airtight jars. No customer likes trying to smoke a dry sample. At the counter when I wanted to pay I received some goodies from Werner, a John Aylesbury magazine, another magazine about men-culture and a Linzbach lighter. Very nice! I definitely will be back at this store with some more time on my hands.
Not far from Linzbach began the famous Königsallee, the big shopping street. Since most of my budget was blown on tobaccos we pretty quickly walked through it. Ehmm.. And even if I still had my budget, most shops on this street are just too expensive for people with a moderate income. I mean, Cartier, Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Swarovski.. Come on.. At the end of a side-street of the Königsallee we encountered the first Christmas market. Ellen and I both were a bit hungry so we decided to buy some crêpes at one of the huts. Beside us stood a group of Belgian folks who clearly did not speak German. They were looking at the menu card and could not decipher the word “Zimt”. So I asked Ellen out loud (while pointing at the word) if she wanted a crêpe with cinnamon. The reason I know this is because last year when I was at DTM for the forum tobaccos I was interested in creating a blend with a slight cinnamon flavour.
After having eaten the delicious crêpe we moved on to the Altstad. Unfortunately Düsseldorf was heavily bombed during WWII so the Altstad is a mixture of old and new buildings. The eye gets most attracted to the old (1209 AD) St. Lambertus church with its twisted spire. A folk-tale tells the story that an angry Devil twisted the spire in an attempt to destroy the church. Another eye-catcher is the Schlossturm, which partly dates back to the 13th century. In this time of the year yet another attraction is clearly visible, the “Riesenrad” (Ferris wheel). This piece of engineering should give you a beautiful view of the city with all its Christmas lights. We did not go on it, it was a bit too expensive, €7 per person. Well, for €14 you can eat and drink a lot in Germany so.. We did make a stroll across the Rheinufer-promenade along the Rhine river, a nice walk with beautiful far-sights of the city.
Back into the Altstad-centre it was getting dark and more and more people gathered in the Christmas markets. The atmosphere was getting pretty cosy, especially on the marketplace near the old Rathaus. You really could notice it was the time for the German inhabitants to flock together after their day-jobs and chat, drink and eat. It was around dinner time so Ellen and I decided to look for a restaurant.
I must say Düsseldorf really has some inviting looking streets stocked with all kinds of places to eat. I was searching for somewhere I could have dinner and smoke a pipe afterwards. Just a little time ago this was possible but due to a smoking ban I could not lit up a pipe indoors. But outdoors, no problem. Big kudos go out to the owners of the restaurants because almost all of them had made heated covered terraces in front of their buildings. So in the end we found a comfortably heated place where we had dinner. Unfortunately the food was lukewarm, it was just hot enough to eat. Also I did not eat all of my vegetables ( I know, I know, I am a bad unhealthy man) for which the waiter foolishly remarked, while pointing at the green stuff “What? Too healthy?” He did not enjoy my smile when I gave him a tip of only €0,50 cents which is a bigger insult than giving nothing at all. That will be the last time he gives a smart remark to a cheap Dutchman.. After dinner Ellen and I regretted not having booked a hotel room, we still had to drive home. This because the nicely lit streets with all the pubs looked very inviting. But sitting there without having the opportunity to drink a nice glass of heavenly Altbier (no drinking and driving folks!) would be too much to bear. So we walked to the parking garage and drove back to The Netherlands.