From Thursday, March 2, through Monday, March 6, the Amsterdam scene is in celebration of the Amsterdam Bear Weekend. Some years ago, this annual event was successfully launched by Michael Roks as Amsterdam Bear Pride. The event is aimed at “bears, cubs, muscle bears, daddies, chubbies, chasers, polarbears and everything in between,” as the organizers describe the potential visitors.
The men behind the renowned organizations Furball, Bear Necessity and Club Church were part of the team responsible for the previous editions of Amsterdam Bear Pride and are now the driving forces behind the Amsterdam Bear Weekend. The organization has looked at what works in international Bear events, such as Mad.bear (Madrid), Brussels Bear Pride and Bear Pride Cologne, and incorporated the feedback from visitors in the Amsterdam plans.
The intention of Amsterdam Bear Weekend is to organize an event which incorporates local initiatives. It is up to those initiatives to decide whether they want to organize something and join in with the promotion.
The former editor-in-chief of the leather magazine “Drummer,” Jack Fritscher, once noted that Bears celebrate “secondary sexual characteristics of the male: facial hair, body hair, proportional size, baldness.” For a large part of the general population, this preference will have come as a big surprise, as the public opinion worked decades long on the premise of the unfounded prejudice that all gay men are aroused by Tadzio-like men (you know, that young guy in Luchino Visconti’s film “Death in Venice,” who indeed worked for many, but certainly not for all, gay men).
Even though the Bear as a gay species, according to Wikipedia, was introduced by “The Advocate” in 1979, a preference for hairy, bearded and often not so super-slim men has been around for much longer. The pioneering German gay publicist Peter Hamecher, for instance, discovered the story “Armer Junge!” by Hanns Heinz Ewers in a 1899 issue of the magazine “Der Eigene.” In his book “Zwischen den Geschlechtern” (1901) Hamecher wrote that much to his surprise, the hero “like a woman loves hearty, bearded men, - a phenomenon that to my astonishment I found to be widespread among the younger homosexuals in Berlin (and Cologne).”
Despite the relatively long history in which a Bear-like type of man is a lust object, it was not until the last quarter of the twentieth century Bears began to organize and surface as a group. In the Netherlands, this happened in 1990, when almost at the same time, people in Amsterdam and Eindhoven came together feeling that - then still mostly - stout men and their admirers were worthy of being seen and heard. This led to the foundation of clubs, such as Dikke Maatjes and Big Dutch. In 1997, both clubs decided to work together, and the association Dikke Maatjes Big & Bear Netherlands was founded.
Bram Sniekers, one of the organizers of the Amsterdam Bear Weekend, remembers on this subject: “In the late nineties, I attended the Big & Bear weekends in Amsterdam, started at the time by Dikke Maatjes Big & Bear Netherlands. I always really enjoyed them. Unfortunately, it is now more difficult to arrange a ‘host hotel’ because of high hotel prices in Amsterdam, but that did not put a stop to the success of the Amsterdam Bear Weekend.”
With some surprise, Bram Sniekers notes: “People sometimes say that Amsterdam and/or the Netherlands do not have a Bear scene. That is nonsense. Perhaps not on a scale as in Madrid, Cologne or Barcelona, but look at the local and national initiatives! A monthly sauna day in Eindhoven and Amsterdam, the Netherbears have a monthly ‘Bear Hug,’ the Web has a theme night, and so does the Eagle. And Furball and Bear Necessity together organise more than ten parties a year in Amsterdam. Nothing for the bears, you said?”
That there is not much to do certainly isn’t true during the Amsterdam Bear Weekend. The official launch will take place on Thursday, March 2, from 16:00-9:00 at Mister B, Warmoesstraat 89. While enjoying a free drink and great music, visitors can complement their wardrobe for the weekend, for example with the Amsterdam Bear Weekend T-shirt, which is for sale up to size 3x1! At the same time, the Spijker Bar, Kerkstraat 4, organizes the “Bear Bear Bust,” with draft beer for happy hour prices. This “beer bust” ends at 01:00. Those who want a change in entertainment can visit Café The Queen’s Head, Zeedijk 20, from 18:00-23:59 for the Netherbears “Meet & Grrrreet.” At 19:00 at Getto Food and Drinks, Warmoesstraat 51, the “Bear Variety Show” starts, running up to 22:00.
One of the main organizers of the Amsterdam Bear Weekend is Club Church, Kerkstraat 52, which also is home to the highly popular Furball. At Club Church “Blue Beard,” one of the bigger parties during the Bear weekend, takes place on Thursday from 22:00-05:00. Now in its fourth year, “Blue Beard” is a time when many of the Bears descend on Church to drink, dance and party to the tunes of top bear DJ’s Bramsterdam, Big General and Moog. Jennifer Hopelezz from Church says: “The parties are always well attended but are especially known for their fun and over-the-top atmosphere. I’ll be there with some of the bigger and hairier members of my Hopelezz family, handing out honey and barrels of food. We always have lots of surprises and fun in store, so make sure you come early and stay late!”
On Friday, March 3, the Eagle Amsterdam, Warmoesstraat 90, is where the Mister Bear Amsterdam 2017 election takes place. Who will follow in the paw tracks of last year’s winner, Henk Heijenga? Henk and his predecessors have promoted the Netherlands well in the international Bear-scene. The organization hopes that the new Mister Bear Netherlands will continue this line. To achieve this visibility, the organization has a travel budget of a thousand Euros ready as one of the prizes for the winner who is presented with the sash.
At 20:00 at The Web, St. Jacobstraat 6, “Furr-Real” starts, a party for hairy and butch guys and their admirers. The party ends at 02:00. DJ Albert will be spinning. From 22:00 to 05:00 the party goers can then go to Club Church for “Underbear,” a special edition of the popular “(Z)onderbroek” party. The dress code is underwear, jock-straps, swimming trunks, or naked. On Saturday, March 4th, there will also be an “Extra Underbear” at Church.
The Saturday starts with an extra edition of the monthly “Bears Working Up A Sweat” at Sauna Nieuwezijds (NZ), Nieuwezijds Armsteeg 95, starting at 14:00. “Our ‘Bears Working Up A Sweat’ afternoons are some of the busiest times in the sauna. I’m pretty sure it’s not just the free finger food that draws the crowds, but the relaxed atmosphere that these events always create. Guys without the perfectly sculpted physique - and let’s be honest that’s most of us - feel more comfortable walking around in a towel then. Although there’s still plenty of cruising going on, it’s more a social gathering and lots of guys just chilling and chatting at the bar. During Amsterdam Bear Weekend it’ll be even busier and more fun than usual,” says the sauna’s Elard Diekman.
A very different ball-game is the “Big Bear Bingo” at Spijker Bar, where from 18:00-22:00 drag divas DiDi Licious and Dora Royale will thrill and entertain. The “LumBEARjack Party” at The Web with music by DJ Bass is again something totally different.
The real party goers can visit the “Amsterdam Bear Weekend Main Party” at AIR Amsterdam, Amstelstraat 24, from 23:00-06:00 with more than a thousand expected visitors. Co-organizer Bram Sniekers: “For the main party we have used an amalgamation of the names of the two Amsterdam Bear parties. The combination of ‘Furball’ and ‘Bear Necessity’ gives: ‘Bear Ball.’ This clearly shows that our cooperation has been excellent. For more than ten years now! The DJs are also from both ‘Furball’ and ‘Bear Necessity,’ serving a wide audience. ‘Furball’ sends its resident DJs Bramsterdam and Big General, while ‘Bear Necessity’ will have Rado, Sergio Cardoso and Mike Jay defending their honor.”
Also on Sunday, March 5, there are several activities, including “Disco Bears” in The Cuckoo’s Nest, Nieuwezijdskolk 6, during which visitors will experience a blast in the past with the swinging days of disco and early house (16:00-20:00).
Last year, Mister Bear Netherlands 2015, Maurice den Arend, told Gay News: “There is a huge diversity in the ‘Bear-scene’ and a ‘Bear’ does not have to be big, sturdy and stocky, nor does he have to wear leather. Of course there are certain external features, such as facial and body hair, but ‘being a Bear’ is also on the inside. Precisely because of this great diversity, everyone (Bear or Bear lovers) is welcome, making the Bear scene accessible to everyone.” Add to this the fact that George Mazzei, introducing the Bear in 1979 in “The Advocate,” not only mentioned “hair” but also “laughter” under “general characteristics”: “Bears laugh a lot and in general are in good spirits.” It is therefore to be expected that the Amsterdam Bear Weekend will offer relaxation and excitement, but also lots of fun.