Sunday, August 19, 2018


Colin Davies and Nol van Schaik

The first time I became aware of the existence of Nol van Schaik and his book 'The Dutch Experience'  was when I came across not the book itself but this picture of the front cover somewhere on the internet in 2005. 

On the 14th August that year, in a previous 'Inside Dope' post, I reported on the attempt  by Colin Davies with the help of Nol van Schaik to open 'The Dutch Experience' coffeeshop in Stockport, England, They were raided and both were arrested along with others present. At time of writing, Davies was serving a three-year prison sentence as a result. Van Schaik owns three coffeeshops  in Harlem and a marijuana and hemp museum.

So as it happened, on the 2nd August this year I spotted a copy of the book itself in the window of a second-hand book and vinyl store in Brighton. It had to be purchased. So now I am able to at least give you the early history of the Dutch coffee shops. The book was published in 2002. The second post on this topic will also bring you up to speed as to what's happening now on the Amsterdam coffee shop scene.


The famous Provo White Bike Plan, Teun Voeten writes 'envisioned as the ultimate solution to the "traffic terrorism of a motorized minority." The brain-child of Industrial designer Luud. Schimmelpenninck, the White Bike Plan proposed the banning of. environmentally noxious cars from the inner city, to be replaced by bicycles. Of course, the bikes were to be provided free by the city. They would be painted white and permanently unlocked, to secure their public availability.'

Van Schaik begins his tale by reminding us that the Dutch have historically traded in spices, herbs and opium and grown hemp. He tries to set the scene from which the hash coffeeshops emerged. He is correct on focusing on two important individuals - Robert Jasper Grootveld and Roel van Duyn - but his account is somewhat brief and a bit muddled. Looking for clarification, I happened to immediately find what must be the best single article on the Provo Movement. Reading this changes one's perspective on the history of that whole period. Another exciting find.

It was commissioned in 1988 by Steven Hager, the then editor of High Times magazine, and written by the great Dutch photojournalist Teun Voeten who at that time was a young anthropology student from Leiden University. Hager loved his portfolio and immediately commissioned him to photograph the Cannabis Cup Awards in Amsterdam. As the conversation progressed Hager writes:
'Suddenly, we both got very excited about the possibility of publishing the first definitive history of the Provo movement. Since so little has been written about the group, the job required a lot of research. Teun flew back to Holland and spent nearly a year tracking down all the original members for interviews. It's a great article and presenting it provides my proudest moment as a magazine editor.'
 This is how the piece begins, introducing what is by any stretch a remarkable and interesting piece of work. Voteten begins:
'It's no secret that Holland has the most liberal drug laws in the world, especially when it comes to cannabis. What you may not realize, however, is that these laws were enacted thanks to the efforts of the Dutch Provos.  
The Provos set the stage for the creation of the Merry Pranksters, Diggers, and Yippies. They were the first to combine non-violence and absurd humor to create social change.
They created the first "Happenings" and "Be-Ins." They were also the first to actively campaign against marijuana prohibition. Even so, they remain relatively unknown outside of Holland. Now, for the first time, their true story is told.
'It all started with the Nozems. Born out of the postwar economic boom, the Nozems were disaffected Dutch teens armed with consumer spending power. Part mods, part '50s juvenile delinquents, they spent most of their time cruising the streets on mopeds, bored stiff and not knowing what to do. Their favorite past-time? Raising trouble and provoking the police."Provo" was actually first coined by Dutch sociologist Buikhuizen in a condescending description of the Nozems.  
'Roel Van Duyn. a philosophy student at the University of Amsterdam, was the first to recognize the Nozems' slumbering potential. "It is our task to turn their aggression into revolutionary consciousness," he wrote in 1965. Inspired by anarchism, Dadaism, German philosopher (and counter-culture guru-to-be) Herbert Marcuse, and the Marquis de Sade. Van Duyn, a timid, introverted intellectual, soon became the major force behind Provo magazine.  
'But while Van Duyn presided over the Provos' theoretical wing, another, more important element was provided even earlier by its other co-founder, Robert Jasper Grootveld, a former window cleaner and the original clown prince of popular culture. 
'More interested in magic than Marx, Grootveld was an extroverted performance artist with a gift for theatrical gesture. During the early '60s, he attracted massive crowds in Amsterdam with exhibitionistic "Happenings."  
'At the core of Grootveld's philosophy was the belief that the masses had been brainwashed into becoming a herd of addicted consumers, the "despicable plastic people." According to Grootveld, new rituals were needed to awaken these complacent consumers. While the writings of Van Duyn greatly appealed to the educated crowd, Grootveld found his followers among street punks.
'The Provo phenomenon was an outgrowth of the alienation and absurdity of life in the early '60s. It was irresistably attractive to Dutch youth and seemed like it would travel around the world. However, in only a few short years it disappeared, choked on its own successes.'


Van Schalk  writes that  Grootveld first came to public attention in 1955 when he began sailing Amsterdam's canals in a heated raft. He picks up the story of Grootveld in 1969 when he and Kees Hoekert, who 'had been sowing cannabis seeds all over Amsterdam's lanes, parks, veranda's and balconies', founded the Lowland Weed Company and 'opened the first ever pure hemp outlet'

Discovered that Kees Hoekert died on the last day of 2017 aged 88: According to his Facebook site: 'Cannabis culture started in Holland with Kees Hoekert going to Morocco in 1951. He's the one that found out that the cannabis seeds from Morocco and South America could also be grown in the Netherlands, and that smoking pot does not lead to addiction or hard drugs use. It was the start of the legendary (and officially registered) Lowland Weed Company.'

This picture must be later. Kees (left) and Grootveld
'The plants were openly displayed on top of Kees' houseboat; they actually stashed 15.000 on it, and started offering them for sale, for a guilder a piece. Hundreds of people were attracted by this opportunity, every day, and visited the houseboat, where Grootveld and Hoekert sold them rapidly, the customers walking off with as much plants as the could carry. They sold a total of 30.000 plants in a few weeks, that season. This green enterprise caused a pile-up in the neighborhood traffic; Kees' and Robert Jasper's clientele wanted a trunk load full! The police came to their assistance, for a change, and directed the future cannabis growers to the Lowlands Weed Company houseboat, to keep the other traffic flowing.'
Between 1968 and 1976 the authorities re-examined their policy towards cannabis. The Baan committee was established to look into the alternatives to filling the prisons with hash smokers. Their report made it clear that the law had to change and offered various options to government. The result was the 1976 Netherlands Opium Act which made, writes van Shaik: 
'a distinction between cannabis products and drugs bearing unacceptable risks...Penalties for dealing in the latter were sharply increased, while those for trade and use of cannabis were reduced substantially. Possession of marijuana and hash up to 30 grams became a misdemeanour. It caused a boom in the number of so-called teahouses and coffeeshops that started selling cannabis, and the beginning of a new mainstream in Dutch society.'


Coffeeshop Mellow Yellow in the former bakery Eickholt, May 1978 Stadsarchief Beeldbank.Photo Martin Alberts
Source:  Amsterdam Museum

The first coffee shop or 'tea house' as it was then known was opened in Amsterdam in 1972, in a rented room at 'Second Home' - a walk-in youth centre - located at Weesperzijde 53 on the Keizersgracht canal, 

Old school friends of Wernard Bruining's invited him there to join their 1970 New Year celebrations.Wernard (b.1950), who was at the time training to be a teacher, completely dug the social atmosphere where hash was being smoked, which reminded him of New Guinea [then a Dutch colony] where he lived and grew up before settling into Holland in 1960. It was the beginning of what he called 'my year of love and peace'. Second Home was run by the 'uncles' who also supervised guided LSD experiences for groups in the 'trip room', 

At that time, according to Van Schaik, marijuana was scarce in Amsterdam. What was available was Moroccan hash. To get their supplies, Second Home pooled their money and a designated buyer ventured out, avoiding street hustlers and making a score with older, more established, dealers.

In 1971 the owners of the building that housed Second Home was sold by its owners. Nine members of the hippie group rented a flat with two small rooms and a kitchen. When a fire broke out on the floor below, they became homeless once more. That same night they squatted a former bakery shop  near Weesperzijde 53. 

So many friends and acquaintances started coming round on a regular basis they decided in 1972 to make it into the 'Mellow Yellow' teahouse, named after the Donovan track. Van Schaik says that 'they considered the term 'coffeeshop' but they found that too commercial.

What made their place different from other clubs and venues, where you had an array of competing dealers, was that they had one house dealer selling pre-packed bags of 10 and 25 guilder deals of cannabis. It was open from 'wake-up until 3 o'clock in the morning.'  until there was so many people coming they had to reduce the numbers by cutting the opening hours to 8pm-12pm only. The new look, as seen on the cover of van Schaik's book, featuring a yellow submarine with four portholes, came in 1973. At one point when Werner was house dealer he realised he was selling 100 kilos a day. That's when he stopped.

Police raided them after a few years but nothing was found or confiscated. A second visit came in 1978 without hassle but later that year, a 20-strong police force came at them with dogs and found their secret stash, confiscating 801 grams of cannabis and 82 grans of hash. At the end of that year, 'Mellow Yellow' caught fire and that was the end of that location. However, it reopened shortly after on Vijzelstraat, near the Heineken Museum, and has remained there until the last day of 2016 when it was forced to close. [See next post]

Nol's book is highly detailed and there is a wealth of other information to be gleaned. Copies of the book are not quite as rare as hen's teeth but nevertheless difficult to find. It took me 13 years!!


Colin Davies and Nol van Schaik
As mentioned at the beginning of this piece Nol van Schaik worked with Colin Davies to open the first Amsterdam-style coffeshop in the UK. Nol writes at length (45pp) about this in his book. The Generalist has put together a selection of links, arranged chronologically, which runs from the first news story when it opened and was immediately raided to 2015. It's an extraordinary story and shows that Davies was man ahead of his time in pushing for medical marijuana, now at last being recognised as an important and effective treatment for many illnesses and conditions.

16th Sept 2001: Cannabis Owner released [BBC News]

20 Nov 2001: A tea, a coffee and two joints, please... [The Independent]

14 Apr 2002: Dope cafe king was bank robber [The Guardian]

25 April 2002: Go Dutch in Dorset [The Guardian]. News of cannabis cafe in Bournemouth

May 17, 2002: Colin Davies is free [Cannabis Culture]

July 3, 2002: Colin Davies in jail again [Cannabis Culture]

02 Oct 2002: Coffee shop man guilty of cannabis charges [The Telegraph]

No comments: