Forever Berghaus Girls, and their impact on the “Berghaus” Boy(s)
By Ruud Jansen The Netherlands Wed 26th October 2011
Berghaus Girls, that is what they are called. This website, among others, uses the name as header for groups of Philippine females who came to the Netherlands from the late sixties up to the middle of the seventies from the last century to work for the garment company called Berghaus. So these girls must be at least reaching sixty and some probably approaching their seventies. Yet, they remain girls in our eyes. Or at least my eyes.
My eyes are the eyes of a Berghaus Boy. Actually an original one because I really worked at Berghaus from 1969 until the end of 1970. There were of course other boys I met at the Kruitberg and Geinwijk groups in Amsterdam but as far as I know they did not work at Berghaus. Some came from places like Ulft, Wehl en Gendringen, places I never heard of before, because they knew some of the girls from earlier contracts with Berghaus in the Achterhoek. These guys came over to Amsterdam nearly every weekend to see the girls they loved.
The Berghaus Boys (MN archive photo)
I was a mere boy then. 17 years old in 1969 and as innocent as the Netherlands at the time. The sixties were a confusing but exciting time for a teenager. Lots of changes were taking place. It was a creative time for the music. Foreigners started to enter the country in larger numbers. We had of course some foreigners in Amsterdam. Indonesian, but we considered them Dutch being from the old colony. Besides, my grandfather was stationed in the Dutch Indies as a military and he used to tell me stories about the beauty of the country and their women. So they were all very familiar. And then Italian and Spanish laborers (gastarbeiders) started to enter during the sixties because of a shortage of workers. But Philippines? Never heard about it at that time. Not at school, TV or newspapers. And suddenly came the news at a department meeting that we were hiring Philippine girls for the Amsterdam sewing department.
My world was about to change and I never realized then what the impact of that change would be for the rest of my life.
Caroling in 1996 for a Philippine based orphanage(MN archive photo)
In 1969 I worked at the office (bedrijfsbureau) for the sewing department. I didn’t need to apply for the job. I just finished secondary school and joined my sister Elly to her workplace because she was sure they needed somebody there. My sister was a seamstress there and apparently knew her way around. On the spot I was accepted and started right away. It was that easy back then. The company was in need of garment workers and through the help of Father Croonen, brother of Mr. Croonen our “personeelschef” (HR Manager) Berghaus started hiring Filipinas in de Achterhoek. It was such a success that also Amsterdam was up for the arrival of the Filipinas at the Kruitberg, Amsterdam.
My first touch was the list of names I received in preparation for the arrival. I was confused as all the names seemed Spanish. I couldn’t picture a face to all these names. I had to look up the location and history of this strange country. The first glance I had from the girls was from a distanced second floor window of the Berghaus building. They arrived for work with the city bus from the Bijlmer. I met girls only occasionally and was probably too shy to talk to them. But my sister Elly asked me to join one Sunday to house 128 Kruitberg. She’s was the on-the-job-trainer for house 128 and was invited to come over on a Sunday. She was afraid that her English wasn’t good enough so she asked me to join.
So I did, and it feels as if I never left anymore. From then on my world changed in every aspect of my life. Of course, the beautiful girls I met. The food changed, not only the kind of food changed but also the time to eat it. I was not used to eat hot rice for breakfast but there I was eating it in the morning. “Kippennekjes” (chicken neck) was something new for us Dutch. Potatoes were used but only a few for the caldereta. It made the market salesman crazy, not two kilo’s potatoes but only two pieces.
During the Kruitberg and Geinwijk groups there were parties nearly every weekend. I brought some records but I also heard music from the artists in the Philippines. The very first album I heard was from Nora Aunor named “More More More”. I believed it was brought by Nene Dandan in the Kruitberg. Later I heard artists as Edgar Mortiz and Eddie Peregrina. Since then I heard great music from them but also from later artists as Freddie Aguilar and Yeng Constatino.
In a couple of months my wife Tessie (a lovely girl from Negros Occ.(1st Geinwijk Group)) and I will be celebrating our 38th wedding anniversary. Yearly we visit our place near Bacolod. I understand enough of Tagalog and Ilongo not to be fooled anymore. Our friends here in Holland are mostly Berghaus/Pinoy based and after all these years we still enjoy being together. So in short, I feel interlocked with the Philippines, my very own Berghaus girl and all the friends we have from that time frame. The Philippines, a country I didn’t know anything about in 1969 but now feels like my motherland. I know from my visits to Canada in 1995, 1999 and 2004 that the groups from Holland made an equally strong name for themselves over there. Unfortunately we were not able to be at the latest reunion. But even if we are not there we feel connected.
The Berghaus Girls are a great group and the best representation the Philippines ever had. If going to the Netherlands had an impact on you, you left immense impact on us.
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