In the early nineties, the Three Musketeers of the Hoogte Kadijk, Amsterdam, sat together, reportedly drinking bad beer.”Tastes like cat pee,” Eymert van Manen said, staring at his glass in disgust, shaking it left and right. “You know any better?” his host Pieter Teepe asked, feeling hurt. “That brewery across the street, what was it again, The Crowned Falcon? Van Vollenhoven’s Beer? Was much better I was told, ” Eymert said. “The municipality is going to tear down the last brewery’s buildings for renovation,” Jan Nekkers said. “They keep setting fires in it.” “I heard about that,” Pieter said. “Also that column where that Falcon stood on will be crushed.” “My dad took me there once,” Eymert remembered, dreaming of his youthful days. “He assured me that Falcon beer was a lot better than this cat pee they sell here today. My father knocked his hand against the column and said “Eymert my boy, once a great Falcon stood on this column. It made Stout beer. It was so healthy and nutritious that doctors recommended it. As good as mother’s milk. Good tides never stay.” “It was an impressive bird,” Jan said. “Sired the whole neighborhood.” “Did it fly away?” Eymert asked. “The grandson of one of the original directors, Willem Hovy, had it lifted from its base at the brewery’s closing,”Jan explained, “and shipped it to Johannesburg, South Africa where he lived, as a souvenir.” “But that’s robbery!” Eymert exclaimed. “It belongs to the neighborhood.” “Apparently nobody objected,” Jan said. “But at least they should preserve the column as a souvenir for us,” Pieter said. “All these houses here were once houses belonging to the brewery. It’s part of our heritage.” “Let’s go to Johannesburg and grab that Falcon,” Eymert said, getting excited. “If we put it back on the column, the municipality won’t destroy it. Over there it will die a lonely rusting death, with all those vultures pooping on it.” “Great idea,” Jan mused. “Go see some elephants, walk by the Hovy’s house and then put that 2000 pound Falcon in your suitcase. You’re insane.”
From left to right: Jan Nekkers, Pieter Teepe, Eymert van Manen
“We must get it back,” Pieter said, stamping his foot. “Okay, we will get it back,” Jan said, looking doubtful at his empty glass. “Up to Johannesburg, friends. Take your swords and pack your bags.” Eymert commandeered, throwing the rest of his glass of cat pee into the sink. “Good riddance.”
The threesome met again a few days later. “Got some information, friends,” Eymert announced. “No travel to South Africa needed. I called the Dutch Embassy in Pretoria. They passed me on to the Ambassador himself, Eduard Roëll. He knew about Van Vollenhoven’s Beer and Ferdinand Schwartz, distant in-laws of the Roëlls. I told him we were looking for the Falcon and that we’d heard it was kept by the grandson of Willem Hovy, who lived somewhere near Johannesburg. Roell said he would find out. When I called him again, he told me he’d contacted the younger Willem Hovy who confirmed that the Falcon stood in his garden, but he didn’t want to give it back.” “Maybe we should make him an offer he can’t refuse,” Pieter suggested. “With whose money?” Eymert asked. “I heard that if you create a foundation you can raise money without having to pay taxes,” Jan said. “Let’s do that and start begging.” “Foundation of the Crowned Falcon,” Pieter offered. “Deal,” Eymert said. They shook hands and went to work.
With legal help from friends, they set up the Foundation. Jan became President, Pieter Financial Manager, and Eymert Secretary. They sent letters to the neighborhood and cultural funds, and donations started flowing in. Soon there was enough money to offer Hovy twenty five thousand guilders (then about US$14,000), but Hovy said “No”. He wanted to keep it for posterity. No other solution but to have a replica made of the cast-iron original. Ambassador Roëll recommended Mike Edwards, a local sculptor and bronze-caster, and the arrangements with Hovy were made. Roëll also negotiated with KLM to transport the Falcon to Amsterdam for free. Edwards made sure the Spirit of the Falcon would inhabit the replica, and with magical craft he brought the Falcon back to life.
The Falcon Reborn
Awaiting the Falcon’s flight back to Amsterdam, the Foundation put out all stops to organize its landing on the old column. They had collected some 40,000 guilders (about US$22,000), of which Heineken Beer (yes, Heineken!) contributed 50%. The unveiling took place on a cold day in November 1993, by popular Dutch comic and author Youp van’t Hek, in the presence of many guests, among others Mike Edwards and the great-grandson of Willem Hovy.
Youp Van ‘t Hek in red jacket standing on a platform lifted by a crane defying his fear of heights
Heineken’s Beer served its version of Van Vollenhoven’s Stout that it had put back on the market. When the rumor of free beer spread, the crowd admiring the Falcon grew quickly to over 150 people. Ambassador Roëll, who had played such a memorable role in the Return of the Falcon, got a special toast.
“This Heineken Stout is not the real Stout,” a member of the Körner family said, hearing the Spirit of the Falcon talking to him. “We have to make our own,” Eymert agreed, but where to find the recipe? “My mother may know, ” Körner said. “My father brewed it.” The Foundation contacted Mrs. Körner, who happily gave it audience in a senior citizens home near Arnhem. She gave them the five page recipe that her husband had left, “strictly confidential”. But what to do with it? “You need a threefold boiler system for this, a brewer told me,” Eymert said. They traveled to breweries in Holland, Belgium and Luxemburg, but no luck, until they heard of a small brewery”De Schans” (unpronounceable name for non-Dutch speakers, and even harder to translate, something like “The Trench”), some ten miles south of Amsterdam. The Spirit of the Falcon kept holding out the torch to move forward. Heineken stopped brewing their stout in 2002, and handed The Foundation the license to brew it under the name of Van Vollenhoven’s Stout, using the original recipe Heineken was never given. The Foundation got in touch with “De Schans”, which accepted the challenge and concocted the new stout according to the old proven recipe. In November 2006, it was served for the first time in a bar, called “The English Reet”, in a small side street in the center of Amsterdam, and tasted quite good. Some said the Falcon stood smiling on its column.
Picture Left: The Falcon is smiling
Picture Right: The Falcon’s Stout Reborn
Fact-checked by The Foundation of the Crowned Falcon
Next Issue: The Falcon Remembers its Glorious Past (and looks towards the Future)
Once upon a time….there was a blooming beer brewery, Thew Crowned Falcon, employing hundreds of employees at the Hoogte Kadijk in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. It started in the early part of the 18th century. As described in “Geloof in de Brouwerij” by Rolf van der Woude (“Faith in the Brewery”, 2009, an excellent book on which much of this material is based, but unfortunately only available in Dutch), Jan Messchert van Vollenhoven, a businessman from Rotterdam origin and a known literary personality and poet, bought the small brewery in 1791. Together with his wife, the wealthy Elisabeth van der Poorten from Amsterdam, they were eminent ancestors in my family. The brewery became “Van Vollenhoven’s Beer”, and The Crowned Falcon became its trademark.
Though brewing beer proved a tough business with small margins, The Crowned Falcon survived competition and heavy taxation. In the second half of the 19th century, following consolidation in the industry and more favorable tax liabilities,Van Vollenhoven’s Beer turned more profitable.
Jan Messchert and Elisabeth had six children. One of those children, Antoni, had a daughter, also called Elisabeth,who married Hendrik Hovy. Their son, Willem Hovy, starting as an apprentice in the family brewery at the age of 18, became one of the prominent directors of The Crowned Falcon in the 19th century, establishing social benefits, including pension, and fixed wages for the brewery’s employees, which was rather innovative for that period. A man of strong Christian conviction, he ran the brewery in an atmosphere of managers and employees forming one family working for its common good.
Another daughter of Antoni, Cornelia, married Carl A.F. Schwartz, a prominent reverend of the Free Scottish Church in Amsterdam and the great grandfather of the Schwartz family. One of their sons, John Schwartz (my grand father), became co-director with Willem Hovy, thus keeping management fully in family hands. His other son, Joshua van der Poorten Schwartz, became a member of the board, but left this position to devote himself to writing (under the pseudonym of “Maarten Maartens”, 1858-1915, authoring some 30 books in English – see my blog “A Prolific Ancestor”), successfully applying the talents he had inherited from his great-grandfather Jan Messchert.
The Crowned Falcon started the production of Van Vollenhoven’s Stout, a dark beer that was promoted, among others in France (“Bière brune du Faucon”), as a “healthy, highly nutritious beer with curative elements, recommended by doctors”. In French hospitals, it was admitted “by decision of The Public Assistance” (“Consult your doctor”!). An article about the famous stout was published in “Moniteur Illustré”, issued at the World Exposition in Paris in 1889, for which the Eiffel Tower was built. As you can imagine, sales shot up. Think of seeing an ad like this on today’s TV!
In 1891, to attract capital for renovation, modernization and expansion, The Crowned Falcon became a public company, a decision that turned out a fatal mistake, as the brewery exposed itself to growing robber-competitors such as neighboring Heineken and Amstel, who were out to take over or destroy competition in the industry, as they wanted to be the only chiefs in town. But in the latter part of the 19th century, The Crowned Falcon was the largest beer brewery in The Netherlands.
Composition of Tiles of Van Vollenhoven’s Beer by Distel Cy., Dutch Tile Museum, The Netherlands.
As a result of World War I (1914-18), and the great depression of the 1930s, The Crowned Falcon – and many other family breweries in Holland – began to face economic hardship because of sluggish demand. In 1908, some 380 breweries populated The Netherlands and by 1930 this number was reduced to 63, employing on average about 85 workers (source: “Faith in the Brewery”, 2009). Consolidation of breweries became unavoidable due to falling market shares and bankruptcies. In one bankruptcy of a small brewery, Heineken and The Crowned Falcon shared the booty, but that’s the only time they worked together.
Modernization followed, but operating costs, including wages, continued to soar and forced The Crowned Falcon to greater expenses.
Production stagnated and competition from Amstel, which produced a cheaper Stout, reduced the Falcon’s market share. Marketing too many labels proved also uneconomic. During the 1930s, Heineken and Amstel grew rapidly, among others by producing “cheaper” beer (that is, of lesser quality by shortening the period of fermentation that determines the beer’s good taste, in order to get quicker turn around in sales), leaving The Crowned Falcon behind. It struggled to regain its leading position, especially maintaining its lead in the export market to South-Asia, the Far-East and the Middle-East that Director Ferdinand Schwartz (my father) had developed. Many movies and pictures evidence this achievement.
An effort to seek collaboration with Heineken failed. The Falcon was forced to obtain loans from Amsterdam Bank, which demanded a seat at the brewery’s board. This brought in The Troyan Horse. Heineken, Amstel and The Falcon started discussions over a possible take-over, with Amsterdam Bank luring eagerly in the back. Heineken was particularly interested in The Falcon’s export market. Sneakingly, Heineken set up director Van Reede, recruited earlier from another brewery, against Ferdinand Schwartz, the last Van Vollenhoven’s family member, by offering Van Reede a position at Heineken’s if The Falcon would go under in its financial quagmire. Heineken clearly wanted the last Mohican of the Van Vollenhoven/Hovy/Schwartz family “out”.
World War II (1940-45) became the final blow. Though the brewery was allowed to continue after Nazi invasion (Hitler would have said that “beer must stay”), its revenues did not match costs, while it carried a substantial loan liability with Amsterdam Bank. Through stock manipulations, the origin of which was never uncovered, Heineken and Amstel strengthened their grip on The Crowned Falcon through the appointment of board members sympathetic to their views. Differences over national industry production agreements in Holland soured the relations further. Quarrels in the board between Heineken appointed members and The Falcon’s Executive Officers (Ferdinand Schwartz and Van Reede) about the brewery’s management were at the order of the day.
The Crowned Falcon began to operate notably better after the war during 1945-46, among others by increased export deals secured by Ferdinand Schwartz, but Heineken remained utter negative about the brewery’s future. Then fate struck. Ferdinand died in a car accident in January 1946, when a truck hit him while biking to the brewery, as he had done many years due to the lack of transport during the war. Van Reede died mysteriously a year later. Were these murders or was it just coincidence?
Mr. Körner, son of The Falcon’s master brewer, replaced Ferdinand Schwartz, but despite his heroic efforts to keep the brewery going, he was stabbed in the back by Heineken and Amstel, with help from Amsterdam Bank. The trio grabbed their chance, took over, and finally closed the brewery in 1949, rendering some 400 employees unemployed and cutting three Schwartz kids (14, 12 and 10) loose from a long-held family tradition. The matter was raised in parliament but to no avail. The kids wouldn’t touch Heineken beer with a long pole. I drink Samuel Adams in the USA, which I think is closest to the unmatched Falcon taste.
A grandson of Willem Hovy had The Falcon lifted from its column at the entrance of the brewery and took it as a souvenir to Johannesburg in South Africa, where he moved, leaving a naked column standing at the Hoogte Kadijk. End of story for the glorious Falcon, once renowned over the world. Amsterdam Municipality was planning to remove the column in a reconstruction of the brewery’s neighborhood.
But some inventive people living on Hoogte Kadijk remembered.
Next issue: The Return of the Falcon.