While the amount of wooden shoes that are produced annually in the Netherlands has gone down from 3.5 million to 1.5 million a year, the number of customers to the clog workshop at the Zaanse Schans is growing steadily. “We used to be busy in the summer only, but now people come all year around,” Justin Kooijman, 3rd generation workshop manager told Hi-Europe.

Outside the weather has turned cold and rainy, but this has not discouraged the groups of tourists who are visiting the wooden windmill village next to Amsterdam. Inside the workshop, they sit in neat rows, watching how a craftsman uses a simple, antique machine to turn two pieces of wood into wearable clogs.

Outside, more tourists take pictures in the workshop’s giant wooden shoes. “The last giant shoe was made from a 4-meter long piece of wood. After 20 years, it was falling apart, but it proved really difficult to make a new one. In the end, we found a factory that could produce it layer by layer,” Kooijman says.

The wooden shoe workshop was founded by Justin’s grandfather, Jaap Kooijman. “He was a salesman and used to eat at a restaurant close by. When he heard that there was a place for rent, he gave up his job and started with clogs. It was a family business from the beginning,” says owner Willem Kooijman, Justin’s father.

At the Zaanse Schans, old traditional buildings and houses from the surrounding areas were put into an open air museum in the 1960’s and Kooijman saw the potential for tourism. “He negotiated with tour operators and managed to get two busses a week to visit. At first, there were many American tourists. In the eighties, the Italians came, maybe because Holland became famous for its soccer players. Our first Chinese groups arrived in the nineties, in the beginning mostly official delegations,” says Willem Kooijman.

Nowadays, the village is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Netherlands, with over 1.5 million visitors a year. “Some days, during the high season, we get up to 87 busses a day,” Willem Kooijman says.

Master Pieces

Jaap Kooijman, who is now 89, didn’t just sell wooden shoes, he also researched the 1000 year history and collected master pieces. “We were once at Christie’s and he was bidding for a 300 year old pair of clogs from Hindeloopen. He really wanted them, but the auctioneer informed him that he could stop, the pair was his already. He had been bidding against himself,” Willem Kooijman says.

Collecting old clogs is a challenge, as few of them were preserved. “They often ended up in the fire, once they were worn out or broken,” Willem Kooijman explains. Nonetheless, the family has managed to collect quite a few, for people and horses alike and from many countries. One round in the museum shows how perfect this footwear was for the Dutch swampy areas. The wooden shoe was inexpensive, protective, dry, warm and healthy for the foot. It was also adaptable - there were special versions to wear on ice, in the garden, or when smuggling goods, these latter models leaving footprints that pointed backwards. Farmers in the Netherlands still wear clogs, as the footwear passed every modern safety test set by the European Union, often faring better than steel-reinforced work shoes. At the same time, the clogs became works of art- decorated for weddings, or Sunday church.

The wooden shoes that are sold at the Zaanse Schans come from clog factories in the Dutch province. Making the footwear by hand is a trade that is fast dying out. “There are about 10 craftsmen who can still make clogs by hand. They are all in their seventies and they are passing on their trade to 3 or 4 younger apprentices. A real clog maker gets a certificate from a master,” Kooijman says.

The old craftsmen leave their villages to give demonstrations at the Zaanse Schans a few times a year. The rest of the time, clog making is demonstrated on the simple machines, which also date from the beginning of the last century. Kooijman: “Our people have to learn to give their demonstrations in many different languages. In our workshop, it’s all about the presentation.”

Pictures: Rik Braune

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