A video impression of a visit to the shop of tobacconist Willem Schimmel in the beautiful city of Zutphen.
A video impression of a visit to the shop of tobacconist Willem Schimmel in the beautiful city of Zutphen.
On a warm and sunny June Sunday it was once again time for the annual Zutphen meeting of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum. Unfortunately like last year my good friend (and part time driver) Ed could not make it, it was his birthday. Also it turned out once again that the original date was the day after the Fortarock festival and for quite a few visiting forum members a meeting after a day of metal and beer was just too much. So once again I waited on the train (I live in a tiny village but somehow it managed to have an intercity train-station!) praying it would arrive at all, on time and get me safe in Zutphen. With the Dutch railways you never know.. Luckily it did all that and when I walked out of the station building in my place of destination I bumped, like last year, into Freek. “Oh, you here again?” Some things never change. Together we walked through the old streets to the store of Willem Schimmel.
At 11 o’clock sharp we entered the shop, precisely on time. It was not too busy yet so I had enough time to greet Willem and his staff after which I climbed the stair to the smoking lounge on the floor. I fell into a chair and noticed a new face, Hans, who looked pretty tired. It turned out he had just worked a night-shift and then came to the meeting. No wonder! But a nice man to talk to, I hope to see him at a next meeting. After chatting away with some people I decided to look downstairs where I saw some new Tsuge pipes that had just came into the store. I already saw those at the Inter Tabac last year and I was still amazed at how small they were. I mean, it was optimistic to think that smoking some of those pipe would last 15-minutes. However, because I got some explanation by the Tsuge salesman I was able to tell someone of Willem’s staff that with a certain model you had to screw off the bowl and fill the space beneath with tobacco. Why? Because it then functions as a filter.
Further below like every year stood Mr. Josef Nöring with his wife. He always has very nice high end pipes (Wallenstein, L’Anatra etc.) but sadly too pricey for my budget. I just bought some tobacco and… some cigars. Huh? Cigars? Traitor! No.. I have no interest or ambition whatsoever to know a lot about cigars (I just learned the difference between a short filler and long filler so go figure..). But last year I had a mini-meeting at Willem and at the same time there was this dude who knew really a lot about cigars. Being naturally curious I asked if he could pick out 4 (not too expensive) ones for me so I could venture a bit in the world of rolled tobacco sticks. From those 4, after smoking them, one (the most expensive..) stood out: My Father Cigars La Antiguedad. So I bought a couple of those more so I could enjoy them at warm summer evenings. Mr Pease already said this once, but cigars are just designed for hot climates. They definitely are not made to smoke indoors in my house. Once I smoked such a cigar in the small living room and had to apologize to Ellen because the room literally looked blue with smoke.. Whoops..
When I was below an elder gentleman holding a pipe entered the store. Apparently he saw the shop was opened and he needed to buy some tobacco. While in essence it was a closed meeting Willem thought like, well, business is business! I talked to the man, he had never heard of the forum and asked for a contact card. Ehrr.. I did not have one on me so I just wrote the internet address on a small piece of paper. The pipe of the man was interesting, it had a white dot on the mouthpiece. So or a Dunhill or a Vauen. I was allowed to look at the bottom of the pipe, it was a Dunhill Shell from 1972. “Ah, that could be correct!” said the man, “I believe I bought that one in 1973. How did you see that so fast?” Well.. Ehm.. I am a bit of Dunhill nerd so.. I also asked what he liked to smoke to which he answered that he liked latakia. So for the most part the Dunhill tobaccos that contained the dark leaf. Quickly I grabbed my tin of GL Pease Odyssey and let him smell it. He put up big eyes and made approving noises. “If you become a member of the forum and tell what you think of the blend you may keep the tin.” I said. He thankfully nodded and shook my hand.
A new face to a forum-meeting was Frisian pipe-maker Meindert. Because of his health it was a bit shaky if he could make it (a 2 hour drive) but his daughter had come with him and drove the distance. It really was good to see and talk to him and I think he thoroughly enjoyed the whole meeting experience. I almost forgot I owned him a tin of tobacco but Meindert is the type of man that reminds you of that. Earlier he refurbished one of my Dunhills and the tobacco was his payment. I did not even need to ask what he wanted, “A tin of that new Peterson St. Patrick’s Day please!” So I got it for him. On the first floor I sat down for a while and chatted a bit with Mark when Willem came along with a fez which obviously belonged to Jos. Jokingly he put it on my head while Mark snapped a picture. It came out rather nice!
In the late afternoon at the end of the meeting it was time to eat. Willem had arranged a BBQ at Fort Bronsbergen in the Zutphen countryside. Luckily I could ride along with Rob(bie-San) and we took Pascal with us. After a bit of a detour (Rob his Garmin GPS device had other thoughts about the route) we arrived together with Jos. The friendly lady behind the bar guided us outside to the big wooden terrace on which we had a stunning view of the surroundings: a little lake with lots of green around it. Unfortunately when it came to drinks the choice was a bit limited. Rob could not drink a heavy beer because he had to drive and the only pilsner they had was Heineken. Ehrr… No, no sewage water please. “Do you have Coca Cola then?” he asked. Nope, just Pepsi. Rob buried his face in his hands and made crying noises. Luckily for him they had a brand of Weißbier and for me there was one excellent Belgian beer: Affligem Dubbel. On the good side, we were outside so we could smoke! Also, thanks to Rob I tried my first bit of snuff, some mint flavoured one from Pöschl. A not unpleasant experience.
The BBQ was not really a BBQ but (sometimes pre-grilled) meat on a hot plate. It was ok but only just that. I mean, perhaps I am a nitpicker but at least properly defrost the garlic-butter before serving it, provide a small trash can for bones and clean the hot plate now and then instead of baking all the meat in already charred black fat. I appreciate Willem’s arrangement but next year Rob and I will be eating in the old Zutphen city centre again where there is a restaurant which serves the most delicious spare-ribs. After the BBQ Rob hastily drove me to the station because otherwise I would miss my train. When I stepped on the platform it was already waiting so I quickly hopped on. While I saw the sun going down over the green fields, all by all I could look back at another wonderful day.
I would like to thank Willem, his staff and Mark for organizing the meeting. All pictures were made by Meindert, Paul, Mark and myself.
This year the road to the annual Zutphen-meeting was a bit bumpy. Willem Schimmel, the tobacconist where the meeting is always held, was full of ideas and enthusiasm but a lot of Dutch/Belgian pipe smokers forum-members said they could not come. It turned out that the original date was the day after Fortarock and for quite a few of them a meeting after a day of metal and beer was just too much. So Willem set a new date with the help of Mark and about 30 folks responded. Still not as much as last year but enough pipe-smokers to make a cosy, smoke-filled day.
Unfortunately one of the forum-members who could not make it was my dear friend Ed. Which meant that we all had to do without his pleasant company but also meant that I could not drive along with him. So I was forced to take the train, not a long trip, only 22 minutes. From earlier blogposts you could know that I believe the Dutch railways are pretty sh*tty. To my utter amazement I arrived without any delays precisely on time! When I stepped out of the train-wagon onto the platform I almost immediately heard an unfamiliar voice behind me: “You must be Arno!” I turned around and saw a rather big, middle aged man who turned out to be forum-member Freark (real name: Freek). “I hope you know how to walk to Schimmel because I really have no clue..” he said. Of course I knew the way, it was not my first time in Zutphen. So while chatting we strolled through the streets to our mutual destination.
When we arrived at Schimmel we clearly were not the first. As with every meeting I attended so far the first minutes mainly consisted of shaking hands. Luckily in the smoking lounge on the first floor there was a chair free to sit on. I filled up my Dunhill cherrywood shape pipe with some Rattray’s Hall O’ the Wynd, a full flavoured excellent Virginia with just a pinch of perique. Paul sat beside me and I told him about my clumsiness with the Dunhill I was smoking. From the first moment I bought it at the Lohmar show the stem was difficult to screw off. I already applied some graphite from a pencil on the tenon but one fateful day the stem just would not come off. While silently cursing I grabbed a towel and a pipe wrench (a fitting name) and wrapped the towel around the stem to keep it from harm. Then I carefully screwed off the mouthpiece and just as it got loose I slipped and made a deep scratch just beside the towel on the vulnerable ebonite.. Argh! A couple of months earlier forum-member Arjen had fixed the mouthpiece of a GBD prince for me so I mailed him with some pictures of the scratch and the question if he could repair it. Of course he could! After a short while I had it back in pristine condition! Then I saw Klaas entering the already smoky room together with his lovely wife Yvonne. She “sacrificed” herself so Klaas could be with us, the darling, and brought a huge camera with her which she aimed at us again and again.
Opposite me sat Wilfred with a big beard. Normally he is cleanly shaven in summertime and has facial hair in the winter. However he decided at the beginning of spring to just let it grow with a great result for which I envy him a bit. My beard is almost non-existent.. But I had something for him. Before my trip to the Semois-region this year he asked if I could bring a pack of Didot’s Langue de Chien so of course I bought it for him. As an extra “thank you” he gave me an old tin of no longer available De Graaff’s Seamen’s Club, (extra) matured dark Virginia which I often use in my home-mixtures. And there was more generosity! Jos approached me with the tale that he had been at a market in Amsterdam, where he lives, and had to think about me. He saw a stand which sold little signs for in the house like “kitchen” and asked the vendor if he also had a “smoking area” sign. Unfortunately he was out of stock, otherwise Jos would have bought it for me. Last week I received an e-mail from him saying that he was able to buy the sign, he is going to give it to me at the next big meeting in Heukelum. Nice! Then to find out where to hang the sign, I don’t think Ellen will appreciate it when I put it on the front door..
As an extra activity Willem had organized a tasting at the local Grand Café/brewery in Zutphen; Stadsbrouwerij Cambrinus. Just a short walk from the store across the public square. Upon entering the Grand Café we were led below to the basement and greeted by the friendly master-brewer. We all sat down at tables with at each place 6 little glasses upon a placemat with numbers. One of the first things he told us was that the basement we sat in was 800 years old! Wow! And the nice thing is, in that time it was already a brewery so the walls must have been soaked with the fumes of alcohol. No smoking fumes sadly, it was not allowed.. Damn laws.. Anyway, the stories of the master-brewer were so good and vividly told that I totally forgot about my pipes. The tasting of beers went from the lighter beers to the dark and heavy ones, similar to Paul’s whisky tasting I once attended. And with each new beer the master-brewer told a story about its origins, very interesting. Paul himself did not want most of the beers, he still had to drive, so the content of a lot of his glasses disappeared in the bellies of Johnny (the Undertaker) and myself. I am no beer-expert but all beers were decent (I am spoiled by all the great Belgian beers I guess..) with a couple that were really nice. The glasses were small but afterwards I could really notice the alcohol coursing through my veins..
During the tasting a forum-member joined us that I had not seen for a while. The man with the most difficult nickname of all, Gypscoprotheres. Try to say that 10 times in a row. His real name is Stanley and he is an utmost friendly, good bloke. Reason for his long absence was the fact that he and his stunning Brazilian wife had become parents of a son called Arthur. To celebrate that Stanley had ordered a General MacArthur corncob pipe with the date of birth engraved. He took a picture of Arthur together with the pipe and posted it on the forum, but I could not help myself doing a tiny bit of photoshop to include the iconic glasses and cap.
Back at the store our youngest member, Robin, proudly showed off his new Zippo. It had a pin-up lady from the 1940’s on it which is something he obviously loves. When he opened the lid I saw it was an ordinary Zippo insert, not a pipe Zippo insert with a round hole in it. I know that one can freely exchange a regular one for a pipe one so I asked Willem, who just passed by, if he had a new pipe insert. He mentioned Robin to follow him and later I saw to my delight that the pin-up Zippo now had a pipe insert. And that was not the only luck Robin had. Downstairs he came to me with a tin of Capstan he just bought and asked if it was MacBaren made or Orlik made. After a good look I came to the conclusion that it was Orlik made, the lucky bastard!
Just after 6 o’clock Rudi came into the smoking room and said it was enough for today, we had to leave. So we thanked Willem and his friendly ladies for the great day and went outside. A small group was left and we all were hungry. Mark knew a nearby Chinese restaurant with a buffet option which sounded great to my ears. Once inside we all sat down and drinks were ordered but before they arrived I already went to the buffet and started eating while the others looked a bit strange at me. Well, when I am hungry I don’t like to wait and a buffet is a buffet, just go and get it. I am not really a conventional type. After dinner we all said goodbye to each other and together with Wilfred I walked back to the station which made waiting for the next train more enjoyable. On the way home the clouds broke open with loads of rain so I looked wet as a drowning rat when I finally stood dripping before Ellen. Luckily all day it had been dry so I was not complaining!
I hope I am not forgetting someone but I would to thank Willem (and his ladies) and Mark for organising the meeting, Martin and Freek for the samples and the rest of the group for the nice conversations and excellent day! All pictures you see were made by Yvonne, Klaas, Stanley and Janneman.
With the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum we currently roughly have two big annual meetings. One of those always is held in the city of Zutphen at the beginning of June. Zutphen is very old, it received city-rights between 1191 and 1196, which makes it one of the oldest cities in the country. With my love for history I very much like to look at all the old buildings and wander around there. And smoke a pipe of course.
The place to stay for the Zutphen-meeting is always the store of tobacconist Willem Schimmel. Willem is a very friendly, although a bit chaotic, host who knows the fine trade of being a salesman. He has just has that gut-feeling, is able to tune in on his customers and make them feel very welcome. A rare talent these days. In 1972 at the early age of 21 Willem started his business in the building in the Sprongstraat where he is still located today. Since 1919 a tobacconist is housed there. Originally the business was founded by the Jewish family Gies. Later Bennie Smolders took over and like I said, Willem himself began in 1972.
Since the sixties his father had a cigar store in Doetinchem. When Willem came back from military service he initially did not really know what he wanted. But with a lot of support from his parents and the three Smolders brothers he then started the business in Zutphen as a 21-year-old rookie. Willem had it not easy in those early years. Of course he was still young and a stranger in Zutphen, so he really had to prove himself. It was always all about hard work and making long hours. His parents had put their savings in the business and he got 25 guilders pocket money and 15 guilders petrol money, he had to do it with that. His father was a true entrepreneur. At that time Willem had some candy standing on the counter, but if he took one for himself it was expected of him that he would put sixty cents in the cash register. His father would say that he had to sell a few packs of cigarettes for that money.
Willem now runs the business with help of two faithful colleagues. After all these years he is still not tired of his profession. He even can call himself now “Maître Pipier”, a prestigious French title in pipe smoking. “What you do, you have to do with passion and I have that for this kind of business.” Willem says. “You have to, because otherwise you can’t properly advise your clients. You have to love the product and possess the desired knowledge.”
That degree of specialization, combined with the authentic look of the store probably made that Willem managed to survive. In the early eighties there was a renovation which was followed by a restoration in 2000. There it was tried to do justice to the old building (which dates back to 1724!) in the Sprongstraat and give it an authentic look as much as possible. Willem: “People are coming in here who do not even smoke, but simply want to see how it looks. We have quite a special historic building with an interior design to match that.” Upon entering you see a large wooden counter and high shelves with cigars, cigarettes and pipe-tobacco tins and pouches in all shapes and sizes. Furthermore, in the back of the store is a real climate-room for the storage of cigars. On the first floor is a smoking lounge where customers can sit and smoke and where activities are organised such as workshops and lectures.
So last Sunday it was once again time for the annual Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum meeting at Willem’s store. Actually it just was a Dutch occasion since no folks from our neighbour country to the South came over. A pity but understandable since it is quite a long drive from the Belgium border to Zutphen. At half past eight in the morning my good friend Ed rang the doorbell to pick me up. We had to be early at the store because I had all the name-badges. Usually we have a bunch of regulars who visit a lot of the meetings (like myself) and know each other but there also always are some newbies. Then it is very handy to see the forum-names and real names on those badges.
When Ed and I arrived Willem was not even there, his colleagues were preparing the store for the meeting. Besides the folks from the forum, some people from German pipe-brand Vauen, Dutch tobacco-importer Pronk and a German gentleman with pipes and tobacco also were going to be present. Nonetheless we immediately got some hot coffee and cake. Shortly after nine o’clock Willem walked in, shook hands with us and asked how we were doing. We sat down and I lit up my first pipe, some Sweet Vanilla Honeydew to begin the day with. When I took the first puffs Mark (Deadl0ck) entered the store. Together with Willem he had organised the day. While chatting away it suddenly seemed that the grim-reaper had appeared! It turned out to be Jos in his pipe-smoking coat. At the back of it he had glued a large metal sign of his favourite tobacco brand: Troost. For me he brought a mouse-mat with the Hell’s Pipe Smokers design that I made for some forum shirts a while ago and a couple of home-made peanut-butter pots from the Hartog bakery. Yummie!
After a while more and more forum-folks trickled in and the store got filled up with people. Hands were shaken, pipes were drawn and soon the smoking-lounge saw blue of all the smoke. I approached meeting-newbie Carro (Calinero) because he had a book for me. He is a big bald headed man with tattoos and skull jewellery. Carro lives nearby the store which had that book so I asked him if he could buy it for me a week for the meeting. No problem of course. I decided to give him some extra money for his troubles but he stubbornly refused. Such a nice guy! And from Martin I got the tobacco that was the reason to buy the book. But more about this sometime in another post..
Somewhat after eleven it was time for us to go the harbour where we were going aboard on two “Fluisterboten” (Whispering-boats), arranged by Willem. These boats are navigated through the canals of Zutphen by volunteers while they point out landmarks and buildings and tell all kinds of stories and facts about the city. We were really in luck with the weather, not too hot, not too cold so it was an enjoyable and educational trip. Once in a while we heard the other boat because Jos then blew loud on his brass ship-horn. So if you ever visit Zutphen with a couple of people, go on a “Fluisterboot” and soak up the history, culture and nature of the city.
When we came back at Willem’s store all kinds of sandwiches and drinks were waiting for us. Who was also waiting was forum-member Huub, he arrived just to late for the boats. I wanted to meet him for a long time because he is such a walking encyclopaedia of pipes and tobaccos. He was amazed at how many younger people were present at the meeting. “In my time you were seen as old when you put a pipe in your mouth” he said. “Well, we don’t care!” said someone else smiling.
The rest of the afternoon I spent talking to lots of people. And smoking of course. As always you never get to speak all the folks presents but that really does not matter much. There will be other meetings. Who I did talk to was Rob, he showed me an exquisite gold-banded Dunhill billiard and wanted to know from which year it came. And since I am somewhat of a Dunhill-snob I could tell him that. Also present was a guy who brought some (home-blended) whiskies for us to try. A lot of pipe-smokers love whisky. I heard that the man was interested in trying a latakia-blend because he was curious if it resembled the taste of peaty whiskies. He had almost no smoking experience but brought a pipe with him so I fetched my tin of Penzance and filled up his bowl with it. He lit the pipe and I honestly expected the guy to start coughing and seeing green. To my surprise he actually liked the tobacco, he found it very smooth and recognized the peaty flavour. He kept his pipe pretty well lit and began enjoying it even more when the Virginias and orientals kicked in.
About half past six it was time to go. We shook hands with Willem and his colleagues and thanked them for the wonderful day. Outside the store one part of the forum-folks said goodbye and the other part made their way to restaurant Oriental. I had been there one time before with Mark and Wilfred (Wowbagger). The restaurant has the best spare-ribs in Zutphen and surrounding area. You know, a nice marinade and properly grilled so the bones fall of the meat. Yum-mie! Several other forum members had heard of that visit so we ended up with 15 people there. Luckily Mark had made reservations.. After the meal we all said goodbye and together with Ed I went home full and satisfied.
So thanks to Willem Schimmel & crew and all the folks of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum. I can’t wait until next year!!!
Here are some more pictures of Willem’s store and the meeting: