First steps in Amsterdam, Mokum: ‘Confident, I stepped into the trap’
by Riny Reiken
I came to Amsterdam without having any idea what the city would bring. In the countryside I had had some jobs at several offices. I hoped for something better in the big city and said goodbye to my parents, my sister Janneke and brother Wim.
In Amsterdam (Mokum), I followed courses in self-employment, received my ‘hospitality’ documents and a diploma in entrepreneurship.
I was going to run my own chocolate shop in a former bakery in the center of Amsterdam, and negotiated a contract with the baker ('De Kampioen'). After I signed it, it turned out the contract was of no use, I was fooled, had been cheated. I fell flat on my face, like they say in Amsterdam: (‘Op je bek gaan’). Certain people had tried to take advantage of my lack of experience, making money out of it. Confident, I had stepped into the trap.
But people learn the hard way. I was not going to give up yet. After talking with the director of the housing corporation ‘Hendrick de Keyser, where I was able to clarify my good intentions with a business plan, they agreed to cooperate. The eviction order was converted into a real contract. From the start, moving to ‘Mokum’ had been a real experience, yet I was happy to receive my whole family into my brand-new chocolate shop ‘In de Lompen’ when it opened in 1985.
Chocolate shop 'In de Lompen' 1985–’88
With a chocolate shop established in an authentic 17th century old bakery shop from the year 1618, restored into an ‘Anton Pieck’ old fashioned style like this painter depicted it, I took a risk. The area in this heart of the red light district was a degraded neighborhood with addicts, criminals and illegals. Just at the time of the Barbizon Palace hotel construction, the Warmoesstraat and Zeedijk area was cleared.
Though the neighborhood was gradually polished off - thanks to the police and the municipality - I still had to deal with junkies who were attracted to the sweets as well. Daily, these goods were delivered by Martin Ockhyuzen, an enthusiastic and creative pastry chef. Again and again, Martin surprised with his new creations, beautiful cakes and handmade bonbons. He even made a design of the building out of marzipan.
Frequently, Commissar Dorst from the Warmoesstraat police office, came to the shop to buy a box of chocolates. Thanks to this very kind man, I became a lot wiser. Through all kinds of shameful, hilarious incidents I became alert in this neighborhood:
‘Ich verkauf kein bumsen’ (I don't sell fucks)
In the chocolate shop, I tried to attract the public by selling nostalgic chocolate boxes with colorful laces. So one day, when a middle aged gentleman on the street curiously looked through the window, and smiled at me, I waved at him. He certainly would buy an Easter egg, I thought.
After a while, I heard the doorbell. The gentleman spoke German and asked me the price of 'bumsen'. ‘I don't sell 'bumsen’, I replied, without having any idea what he meant. Until another (Dutch) gentleman came in with the same request, I began to realize that small shops in the area often appeared to be a pretext for ladies of pleasure, who earned some extra ‘pennies’ in a backroom.
Though I liked the neighborhood with all these various people, tourists as well, I disliked it when sitting outside in the sun in my chair in front of my shop, with car drivers driving past, yelling to negotiate a 'price' for me.
When I first visited the local butcher with the idea to make a delicious pea soup, and asked him:’do you also sell pork legs? to my astonishment he unzipped his trousers, let them drop, showed his legs and then asked his employees ‘Guys, do we have pork legs?’ Upon making jokes –underpants talk - with his employees, my face became red like red pepper. I kept staring at the floor: ‘It's not a problem, 'gal. We don't see so many naive girls like you here. You'll get used to it’, the butcher laughed. I left, carrying a beating heart and a bag full of pork legs, with the butcher yelling: ‘Welcome to the neighborhood, and please come back again!’
‘Temeier’ (Amsterdam slang for prostitute)
The ladies of pleasure often came into the shop to buy bonbons. In this way I got to know the professional details. For instance from Yvon, who worked behind the window further down the alley. She was a real Amsterdam prostitute with a peculiar bleached candy floss hairstyle. Very friendly she used to wave at me and to shout at the door when she wanted some sweets to order. Or she would pass by for bonbons, and chatted before she would go home. Since she always asked how my day had been, I inquired in return if she had had a nice day. Once, in her Amsterdam accent, she revealed: ‘You have to hear who came in today, a tiny Chinese! I might as well have used tweezers!’ We both laughed, the way I got used to this other world.
Yet the chocolate shop brought me no happiness. The sweeties attracted addicts who tried to rob me. One day, a junkie ran off with a kilo of handmade bonbons that I had packed for the Thai restaurant of my friend Jan Strijbosch. Furiously, I chased the man. After a fight in the alley, I had enough of it. I changed the chocolate shop into a Winkel van Sinkel, shop decorated with souvenirs of windmills on the panel sides. When turning the gadget on, it produced a melody which attracted the tourists to come inside. I had to find ways to pay the bills.
When I changed the tourist shop into café and tasting bar The Olofspoort, I came home, it was established from my heart, and the tasting bar my own reflection.