Singing with the Russians

Although I am born, partly raised and live in Amsterdam, I knew the Olofspoort just as 'some’ café in the red-light district. Until the fall of 2010, when my lover Erik Pels let me taste the finest liqueurs there, with sweet titles, like 'The longer the better'. Although he is not born, yet raised in Amsterdam and lives in Amstelveen, you can safely call the Olofspoort his favorite cafe, where he can drink in joy and sorrow with Riny. He introduced her as the singer who had, among other things, had singing lessons from the famous concert singer Aafje Heynis, while pointing at Heynis’ portrait close to the bar.

Music, singing songs, has strengthened our relationship. Believe it or not, in the year that I met Erik and the Olofspoort, a Russian musician suddenly appeared on my doorstep. It turned out that he, Andrei Alexeyev Boretsky - a Cossack from Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad, and living in St. Petersburg – made a study of my ancestor, the forgotten nineteenth-century composer Nikolai Zaremba. While this news still hardly dawned on us, the family, Andrei stuck a meter-long pedigree card on the wall of my living room with double-sized tape (that could not even burned off) and indicated where Zaremba's descendants had remained, with Zaremba’s direct descendants in the Netherlands.

How it all came about, is too complicated for an anniversary book. The most important fact for the Olofspoort was that Andrej was able to sing, to say the least. And thus it so happened that he and Riny in January 2011, after a Zaremba piano concerto at the Conservatory of Amsterdam, sang Tchaikovsky's version of Goethe's poem Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt. While enjoying liqueurs of course, with the instruction that it should be drunk in sips, and not tossed down like vodka in one go.

From that moment on, Andrei knew the Sehnsucht, the desire to return to Amsterdam. He once again sang in the Olofspoort on February 2013. In the meantime, he had become a choir conductor of St. Petersburg Serenade's choir and encouraged his entire choir to sing Russian (folk) songs. The choir never stopped. Intoxicated by old-Dutch liqueur, they continued their journey to Dam square. They sang at the spot of the Monument, they sang in tram 4 and still sings, thanks to the wonderful friendly reception in the most beautiful music cafe in Amsterdam! 


Letzter Aufenthalt, Nieuwe Brugsteeg 13, Amsterdam

by Gerrit van der Vorst


On the In the Olofspoort website, the café is presented as a tasting bar. The tasting doesn't need to be shy; the client can consume more drinks of the same. I know how, since my grand grandparents Berend and Hendrika Brugman-Ten Napel used to have a tasting tavern in Kampen, a town in the east of Holland, next to a barrack, until 1925. Presenting this tasting business was confusing, since their tavern was also a coffee house. Clients could get their coffee, but my grand grandparents were merchants and they rather served liquor to thirsty soldiers and cigar makers in those days.

Yet the modest presentation of a tasting bar is not the reason for my regular visits to Nieuwe Brugsteeg 13 in Amsterdam and Oudestraat 220 in Kampen.

Within nine years. my grand grandparents Brugman had two sons; grandfather Gerrit (after whom I am named) in 1889 and Arend in 1898. Gerrit became a ('red') glass painter. He looked like a reformed priest rather than a socialist. With his austere appearance, steep and prudish remarks about life, being a priest would have been more practical in Calvinist Kampen. His brother Arend was the opposite.

When driving in my car from Zeist, where I live, to my work in Nijmegen, I suddenly realized that in my family no word was said about Arend. Why not? What kind of man Arend had been, what had happened to him?

In 1990, I decided to investigate. Questions to old Kampen people granted me with a peculiar story, in which the address of 'In de Olofspoort' played a role. Arend Brugman had become a specialist in cigar making (50 beautiful cigars per hour). His tendency to a bohemian life style limited the production considerably. So he sold self-caught garfish for extra income. He also took advantage of the (good) name of his parents who readily paid for his debts.

He loved to swagger in the Oudestraat after dinner in his elegant garments ('as if the mayor arrived') before going out drinking. Naturally, some ladies fell for Mr A. This lead to a short marriage and an engagement that was cancelled last minute. His drinking destroyed more than Arend's parents could make up for, especially when Kampen became too small for him.

The tasting bar of B. Brugman overlooked the dock of the boat that every day sailed back and forth to Amsterdam. So Arend decided to explore the nightlife in the big city and soon he was hooked. It was a great contrast to the atmosphere in Calvinist Kampen, where a fierce discussion was going on about the opening or closing of the Zuiderzeebad pool on Sunday’s, and where Sunday’s rest won.

So, Amsterdam! As soon as Arend had sold a significant portion of cigars or made the money any another way, he got on the boat, after having a tested recipe from prostitutes by consuming a few raw eggs. Days later he arrived again in Kampen, disheveled, without his overcoat, a nightgown instead of a shirt and without his beautiful bike.

To this precarious existence came an ending, or started with another development, when Arend met another black sheep: the prostitute Sina M. from Emmen (close to Kampen in the province of Drenthe). A big, black appearance, nicknamed 'the tiger' in her environment. Arend and Sina M. settled together in Amsterdam, and continued prostitution.

The inhabitants of Kampen only saw Arend in 1931for his parent’s heritage. When we believe the Amsterdam's vice squad, my great-uncle Arend at some point had become ‘one of the most notorious pimps of Amsterdam’.

By the end of 1934, Arend and Sina M. departed to Groningen. There, along with some figures out of Amsterdam's city life, set up a pistol fraud. After this ‘gang of East Groningen’ got coiled, Arend had to serve a long sentence in prison. After he got out, he cheated a barman in Deventer, and then got sentenced again for destroying the big café window. After this failed time in Groningen, Sina M. and Arend Brugman went back to Amsterdam in 1938, where the notorious prostitute broke the once ardent partnership and in April 1939 she married a honest Amsterdam's citizen. Then, the ‘tiger’ retreated from the scene.

No more income for Arend. Due to his criminal record and his pimp reputation, the Social Service pertinently denied a subsidy, despite his ardent and personal begging’s. After he had found a place to make cigars and temporarily worked as a barman, he landed in the gutter in June 1941. He found shelter as a disabled street singer in the night shelter for the homeless and the Salvation Army.

In July 1941, the Social Services sent the unemployed Arend to Bremen, Germany for work. Around a year later he was back to Amsterdam, where he stayed in coffee house Het Vosje at Oudekerksplein 56. Maybe he believed to be capable of earning something with his knowledge of German and Dutch.

As an – of course unauthorized - public servant, he seized, along with a few others, a business on the black market. He got 500 German Marks out of it. Yet the police found and arrested him on February 12, 1943 at Nieuwebrugsteeg 13, possibly in the secret hideout that Riny later found in there. He got condemned to three years in prison for fraud, which he served in a Prussian jail in the pied piper city Hameln. When the liberation approached, the Germans wandered around with their prisoners. During one of these ‘death marches’ in April 1945, the already weakened Arend Brugman disappeared. Around 1950 he was officially declared dead.

For me, this tragic history is a reason to visit In de Olofspoort every now and then (a pleasant place to be as well). There, I muse about the idea that once I would like to drink a good glass of wine with my – special, then taken the right path = great-uncle to talk about his stirring past. Preferably at this address, that was noted by the verdict of German law in June 1943 with: 'letzer Aufenhalt (last stop), Nieuwebrugsteeg 13'.