Hanfhunt in darkest Deutschland
Hemp has sustained and nurtured Germany from its beginnings
By Dr. Alexander Sumach
The Obscure Origins of German Hemp
Germany and hemp go back a long, long time. The early Germanic tribes were keen hemp enthusiasts who grew and worked the weed of wonder into many necessities. As these beer and mead drinking, tattooed and top-knotted, leather and hemp clad horsemen/bikers began to chop out their first farms from the Black Forest, hemp was an early and important crop that provided cloth, cordage, food and entertainment.
Hemp was essential for rough work in the mines, fields and fisheries, and was used by the fraus to make clothes for her family. Cotton was unknown, silk required extensive shopping, wolves ate the sheep, linen required slaves. . .the only choice was hemp.
Perhaps cannabis was a housewarming gift from their Scythian neighbours, or maybe the idea was borrowed from the Roman hemp growing colonies to the Southeast. It is also quite possible that hemp had always been with them, a good-idea legacy from the Golden Age that never went out of style. The origin of German hemp remains obscure, but one thing is for certain: the Germans are archo-emotionally tied to hemp, and are experts at making it into whatever they need as the occasion demands.
A scrap of beautifully woven hempen textile was recently unearthed outside of Berlin, found in context with a funeral urn that contained charred hemp seed. These items were dated as being 2,000 years old.
Gnomes with Gusto
The rough and tumble German people managed to enjoy an extended golden age of forest culture, and developed their distinctive national character in the solitude of permanent cottage country, far to the North of the crash and burn urban chaos of the stone cities of the Mediterranean.
Highly resourceful, socially disciplined and with fierce tribal loyalties, they lived in a perfect pagan paradise with a poetic relationship to nature. The Germans were the last people in Europe to fall under the sway of the Roman Catholic Church, and were the first people in Europe to quit the Catholic mainstream when Martin Luther invented protestantism (the protesters). Apparently, the Germans have retained a lot of their Bronze Age gusto.
Even today, Germans tend to drive their high-powered BMWs like warhorses off to battle. Their clusters of huts have grown into crisp, orderly cities, yet beneath these toys of urbanity there remains curiously intact a quasi-religious reverence for the trees and little animals. After a few drinks, Germans will wax nostalgic about nature, and a sentimental moan of adoration is sure to follow.
Anyone with a respect for nature and a willingness to toil will in due time reap the benefits of all the good things that nature has to offer. And when you retire, you can live like a garden gnome, and whistle while you work.
Hanf for Victory
Germany undertook a crash program to grow more hemp on home soil in the decades between the world wars of this century. Hemp, an essential material in peace and war, was encouraged by the National Socialists, who realized how vulnerable Germany had become to a fibre drought after the loss of their colonies in Africa that had supplied cotton. Triple digit inflation and blockades were potent motivations for Germany to curb fibre imports and rationalize home agriculture.
Government programs produced snappy illustrated hemp-growing manuals and distributed seed to German farmers. Germany’s Axis partners, Italy, Spain and Japan, were also stepping up their own national hemp-o-ramas, and agreed to supply hemp and other key materials to their partners, and to defend that traffic to the death. Hemp for Victory was not an American monopoly during the war; both sides grew hemp and encouraged their citizens to grow hemp big time.
Then came the deluge — our fathers chose insanity and too little, too late for retreat, and slew and ruined whatever stood before them. At the war’s end, hemp cultivation was abandoned in Western Europe and North America, although it carried on with primitive machinery in Eastern Europe and the USSR, and China resumed the hemp plantations the Japanese had started in Manchuria. Cotton and synthetic fibres began to replace the items hemp had served so well in time of great need. Hemp was moved to the fringes, and stayed there.
Rolling your own in the Cold War
Hemp was still viewed as a good idea by some, and was harnessed to consumer demand rather than military. In the 1960’s, France tinkered with breeding high yielding cellulose hemp with the assistance of German expertise and technology. This joint effort was aimed at developing the ideal cigarette paper, and marketing it to a world of heavy smokers. So excellent was this cigarette paper that even the multi-national tobacco companies switched to it rather than fumble along with their own inferior varieties of paper.
It is curious that the loose “roll your own smokes” cigarette papers, the Zig Zag, designed for the budget puffer, began to be the vehicle of choice for the burning and inhaling of marijuana. By the 1970’s, cigarette papers were big business, and everyone knew what they were for but didn’t let on. Hemp was also finding its way into filter paper: coffee filters, vacuum cleaning bags, and a wide range of food processing, medical and chemical applications.
With the tumble of the Berlin Wall in the 80’s, West Germany was once again reunited with her Eastern kin, and the possibility of reviving hemp for german agriculture presented itself once again. Cotton and synthetics were falling out of favour after only 40 years, while hemp had many attractive features, from utility to low cost. The only problem? Cannabis was a forbidden crop as dictated by the United Nations.
Hemp was sporadically grown in Germany for strictly scientific purposes. The surprise came in the 1990’s, when private individuals sought to grow hemp for an industry of their own making, one forged with values that didn’t salute a war machine mentality, and which considered the health of the world beneath its feet.
The cold warriors who dammed the hemp field’s bounty for their own purposes are now all old or dead. Hemp is a prize for the post-war generation of Germans who are serious about what they are doing to bring hemp to their own tribe, and if the market permits, to the world.
At the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam in November 1995, there was ample evidence of German know-how concerning all things hemp. Other nations had good wares as well, but it was the no-nonsense Germans that stole the show.
While the New World Hempsters hiss at the godless corporate devils whom they accuse of thwarting their dreams of a hemp renaissance, the cool and sober Germans seriously lobby their governing strata to accommodate their hempen ambitions in the marketplace.
After all the noise and smoke of pro-hemp clamour has subsided, it will be the Germans, or those who work as hard and as smart as they do, who will be on the top of the hemp heap, and who will prosper in the lucrative market which they have sweated so diligently to achieve.
The Tortoise and the Hare
On March 1st, 1996, the German Bundesrat, representing the states, followed the Bundestag, their federal parliament, in enacting laws that effectively relegalised industrial cannabis hemp. This bill was passed by a large majority of German legislators at about the same time our own Canadian House of Commons was preparing to launch the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, a piece of summer-school quality lawcraft that completely ignored the concept of industrial hemp in its hit list of botanical bogeymen.
It is curious, if not downright suspicious, that the evidence concerning industrial hemp was being reviewed in these far flung halls of policy knitting at the same time. They both had two years or so to evaluate the potential for “abuse” and “harm reduction” in their respective jurisdictions. I can’t believe that they didn’t both bring in pocket calculators to size up the “economic potential” and “environmental impact.”
Yet while the Germans voted for hemp, the Canadians prepared to step up their firepower in the War on Drugs. Our own House of Commons nearly sold us into servitude, but was slowed only by the sober second voice of the Senate, which I believe functions as a referee with an eye open for dirty dealing on the ice rink of national policy.
Our Senate, the butt of 1001 jokes, actually turned out a brave and wise rebuff in a bid to rescue us from the social shipwreck of Bill C-8. An amendment for hemp was fudged through, but it’s a start. We still have a long way to go in Canada before we have any sort of pro-hemp legislation that is equal to the scope and accommodation that is matter of fact in Germany.
While Canada swats at the storm clouds of pot smoke, the Germans are gearing up to welcome hemp into their agricultural portfolio. German law regarding hemp follows EU regulations, and there is sufficient opportunity open to full-time German farmers to grow certified, EU approved varieties of low (less than 0.3%) THC hemp. Verification is required, but nobody is inconvenienced if they are playing fair.
German farmers that do play fair are eligible for EU agricultural subsidies of 1500DM (about $400 US) per hectare of hemp. Germany offers an incentive to hopeful hanf growers, Canada offers red tape and penalties. Go figure! It is embarrassing to think that this is how history will portray our nation’s hempen genesis.
Redeemable Industry vs the Circus of Spoil
At the Cannabis Cup, after coffee and combustibles, I quizzed some friendly German exhibitors about their stake in planet hemp. I found them to be very serious indeed about devoting their careers, time and money into hemp. To them hemp is a very good thing, a new way of doing business.
“War,” I was told, “will continue to be run like a business, for as long as business continues to operate like a war.” Hemp is an opportunity to participate in what I can only describe as a Redeemable Industry. I understand this to mean “making a living without spoiling nature or trampling on the human rights of others.”
Germany, you may remember from high school history, has had two extremely nasty world wars take place in their faces this century. However they started, it was Germany that twice ended up in ruins. The current generation of Germans grew up after the wars, and witnessed their cities and factories being rebuilt from scratch while we watched Elvis movies and waited for the internet.
As a result of this baffling yin-yang of social expectation contrasts, the Germans shudder at the wasteful and excessive habits of the typical North American. We see but do not heed that 5% of the world controls 75% of the resources, and of this, 2% wastes at least 25% of everything it can get its hands on. It may be legal, but it ain’t the way to run a species.
And this circus of spoil continues, in spite of evidence that the consumer glut party is over. Even Barney the Dinosaur knows that the resources of Mother Earth are not just limited, they are measurably shrinking. In the final analysis, frugality will elbow out frivolity, and those that manage their portion of God’s gifts will outlast those that squander their inheritance. Ignorance is no excuse, for as long as we are still part of nature, natural law applies. The last time I looked up, Nature still ruled.
This Summer of 1996 saw 1400 hectares of cannabis hemp sown in the rich German soil. That’s 3000 acres. Doubtless even more would have been grown if it wasn’t for the shortage of certified hemp seed. As additional varieties of low THC hemp strains from Germany, France and Hungary pass the EU certification tests, even more hemp will be grown in Germany in 1997. This will soon bring seed stocks up to the levels required for ’98, ’99, and 2000 AD.
Hempseed sells for 10 DM per kilo at current rates, and demand will push these prices up even higher. Germany could conceivably clean up in the hemp seed sweepstakes, selling seed stock to legally retarded latecomers such as Canada.
The field retted hemp stalks are destined for all manner of processing experiments. Flax machinery is being retooled to handle this new hanf, and new equipment is being brought in from Belgium. One sequence of hemp machines at present can handle a mere two metric tons per hour, but it will do a complete job of turning the raw stalks into finished, clean fibre. The trick is to enlarge the scale, like printing presses did for books.
Nothing like this exists in Canada, and nothing like these machines have ever existed in North America. German mechanical engineers are adapting some of these hemp/flax line units for special “high end” applications. Here’s the extra: the hemp is subjected to a bath in eco-detergent in order to produce a very fine fibre, flasin, that resembles high-grade cotton.
There are plans for machinery that will produce super-ultra-fine fibre from those clunky bast fibres, of a quality that will give King Cotton a serious run for the money. By the time the world catches on that hemp has all the desirable qualities of cotton and then some, and can be produced without slave labour or noxious chemicals, Germany will be right there at the top, mooning Levi’s. Cotton will never disappear, but it will not be the only game in town once hemp stands on its own green feet. My bet is that it will be the Germans who wet nurse hemp to the point of stability.
This hemp/flax machinery is relatively cheap; one full line unit, custom built, is only 4 million DM. North America throws out that much money in stale donuts every 30 days. We could do better. We’ll have to.
German industry is lining up to get ahold of that processed hemp the moment it blows out the chute. One filter paper manufacturing company plans to utilize 7500 metric tonnes of that hemp each year, and they may well gobble up even more if they can get it. They have determined that hemp has the ideal fibre matting qualities to make an excellent filter, suitable for coffee, food processing, air cleaning, and numerous industrial separating processes as well.
Suppliers to the vast German automobile industry have shown keen interest in hemp’s special strength vs weight properties. There have been successful test runs of compressed and heat moulded hemp fibres made into dashboards, interior door panels, and other car parts that are currently made of petroleum plastics. These people know a good thing when they see it and are willing to pay slightly more than the going rate for similar raw materials. They know the sweetness of incentive creates a favourable business climate, which goes onwards in good will and pretty much guarantees the stuff will be there in the future. With the uncertain supply of raw materials in the 21st century, this is not industrial benevolence, this is survival. There is no marketplace if everyone is bankrupt.
There is still a lot of work to be done before hemp can be profitably woven into textiles in Germany. Eco-safe chemical enzyme processing, steam explosion of the fibre in monstrous pressure cookers and other developing technologies all look promising, but at present the Germans find it more economical to purchase hemp cloth from the former Eastern Europe and Asia. Germany has calculated that it’s easier right now to let those countries in the traditional hemp zones grunt it out with their primitive machinery and handle it with their own back breaking human toil, until a German hanf cloth infrastructure is in place. They are planning ribbon cutting ceremonies in the near future. I hope I get invited to their wine and cheese party afterwards.
The Red Baron of Eurohempsterism
The modern hemp boom in Germany came into bud in a big way when the Red Baron of Eurohempsterism, leftist publisher Mathias Br?ckers, saw American author Jack Herer’s book The Emperor Wears no Clothes and arranged to have it translated into German. In order to make Captain Jack’s quirky manifesto palatable to discerning European readers, Br?ckers wisely published it in hardcover and printed it on hemp paper to drive the point home. Br?ckers also assembled a hand-picked team of eco-scholars to add a titanic chunk of meticulously researched and carefully footnoted hemp information with a distinctive Euroslant. Hanf, the title in German, has sold over 100,000 copies worldwide.
Br?ckers’ team transformed Herer’s softly paranoid vision of a semi-satanic anti-hemp conspiracy into a virtual galaxy of credible industrial potential. The German spinoff is in many ways a big improvement over Herer’s original rants, and presents the case for industrial hemp with cool logic and lots of illustrations.
“Hemp is the most universal resource imaginable,” says Br?ckers. “There is still too much of the old thinking; oil, steam engine and chemical thinking. That is the thinking of the last century.”
Br?ckers takes his theories into the practical arena, and followed his own advice by entering the commercial hemp zone himself, without surrendering any of his lofty lefty ideals concerning the advance of people on Earth. The result is Hamphaus (House of Hemp), a business collective based in Berlin that now supplies more than twenty Hamphaus stores across Germany. Each store is independently owned and operated, and the Hamphaus honchos are then free to create the more than one hundred hempen products which the bouquet of franchised Hamphaus stores sell to a hemp hungry public.
Br?ckers and his comrade hempsters began by selling the Hanf book, then started to import hemp cloth and hemp clothing from Asia and Eastern Europe. They soon began to manufacture hemp duds, suds and sundries. Hamphaus is eagerly conducting serious R&D into hemp, and takes the lead where others merely follow. They recently introduced a rather wonderful hemp oil and enzyme based ecosafe detergent that is effective, yet safe enough to ingest. (That is, if you like to eat soap!)
For now, Hamphaus must of necessity obtain hemp raw materials beyond Germany’s borders. They are determined to use German grown hemp as soon as local supplies are available. In the meantime, Hamphaus encourages wider production of home-grown hanf, and aims to be the address where farmers, financiers, inventors and marketers of hemp can come together to launch a big step beyond the Circus of Ruin. Please recall that Walmart and the Kremlin have similar outlooks, but Hamphaus does not seek to dominate, only to become excellent. Consider the Volkswagon, and how well it fared against the Batmobile gas guzzlers of Detroit, now look at Hamphaus, shepherding hemp with its ideals at the wheel.
A Green Wake up Call
Yet another German hemp business of merit is Greenhouse. Although they are not quite as big as Hamphaus, they make up for it in style and quality. If you can pay, Greenhouse has the very best hemp clothing, soaps and cosmetics. They too came into being in the 90’s, and started out flipping hemp clothing. Greenhouse soon branched out and began going to the source for hemp fabrics.
This Asian and East European hanf was then sent to Portugal and Turkey where, under Greenhouse supervision, it was manufactured into shoes, shirts, jackets, jeans, backpacks, hats and high fashion frau duds. I was told by Greenhouse manager Iris Maul that once quality control had been “massaged” to meet the high standards the European market demands, Greenhouse began to attract the cream of the continent’s fashion-conscious superstars.
Greenhouse has also come out with a line of superb quality hemp soaps, lotions, shower gels and balms that are all a few incarnations ahead of anything North America has to offer in the evolution of hempen revolution.
Greenhouse is looking at a bigger warehouse space, and is in the process of merging businesses with one of their more successful distributors. Together, they will bring their fine products to North America and give the smug hemp establishment here a wake-up call they will not soon forget.
Mr Hanf Soap
I met Alfred Dupetit, the main man of the Dupetit empire, at his booth at the Frankfurt BioFach Fair. His was the busiest of all exhibitors on the “Hempen Way” corner of the show. When I told him I was doing an article about the hemp scene in Germany Mr Dupetit personally showed me everything he had to sell, and let me try it out. When he discovered that I had written A Treasury of Hashish he insisted that we meet for coffee and a smoke after the show, as apparently he has a well worn copy in his library.
Alfred Dupetit is South American born, but has lived in Europe for 20 years. He has considerable charm and does business like a swordsman. He holds three conversations at once, in German, Spanish and English, while operating an espresso machine to stimulate sales, and at the same time eyeing a blonde beauty bending over in a hemp mini-skirt to tie her shoe laces.
He approaches her with an almost cartoonish sense of gallantry and offers to spritz her extended ivory arm with some all-natural “Dupetit hemp essence perfume.” He bows to sniff her lovely limb, purrs in macho ecstasy and convinces her to buy some, her boyfriend will love her even more. This is not just hollow flattery, this perfume is a good product at a good price.
His company is growing fast, and can defend all the territory they conquer. Alfred Dupetit wants to be Mr Hanf Soap. He is convinced that “Dupetit” will be a household name in a few years. He is in love with what he does, and manages to attract business partners who see him as a long distance runner in a field of sprinters.
The concentrated strategic timetable for his business was worked out in minute detail well in advance of opening his doors to the public. Dupetit was his name, honour was at stake, the products were to be totally hemp based, totally organic and totally wonderful. He knew he would have to manufacture everything himself if he wanted the quality he demanded. He also knew he would have to educate the public about hemp before he could sell it to them, but then he would be able to outsell everyone else because he was trusted and had built loyalty.
Dupetit had time to plan this conquest of hemp while serving time in a Swedish jail for smuggling hash. He believes that he will make more money, have more fun and make a bigger splash in the pool being Mr Hanf Soap than skulking around with a bunch of low orbit nickel and dime hash hounds. Say yes to hemp soap, come clean and get excellent.
I am reminded of how 17th Century pirates in the Caribbean would “retire” at 40, and then go back to their respective treasure islands as Crown Appointed Governors, transcending the skull and crossbones for bigger opportunities in commerce.
Slick and Funky
This emerging hempen hustle is well displayed in the popular press, and German fascination with hedonistic marijuana home culture has spawned an armful of slick yet funky magazines. They are sassy, sexy and cater to the hobby anarchist who likes music and pot. Europeans mix pictures of beautiful naked fraulines with glistening buds of cannabis as a way of livening up what would otherwise be a cold botany lesson.
The biggest circulation German cannabis culture magazine is Hanf, which sells 45,000 copies across Europe each month for 5 DM a copy. It’s available in almost every well stocked news kiosk, even at the train station. Hanf is battling for readers with the Dutch language High Life magazine, which is planning an English edition to sock it to the US and Canada. Apparently, the bong merchants are beginning to advertise internationally.
The Popular Mechanics of German pot growing is Grow! magazine in Frankfurt. The ads indicate that the closet growing industry has come a long way in the last few years. The jump from cottage industry to microbrewery scale is upon Germany as you read this page.
Grow! magazine is owned in part by Blackman, Germany’s most successful manufacturer, distributor and retailer of advanced lighting and grow supplies. Blackman also offers an incredible variety of high potency viable marijuana seeds which they wholesale through Holland’s Sensi Seeds. As long as they refrain from mailing ganja seeds illicitly out of the country and pay their income tax, they are not harassed by the authorities.
Blackman’s Green Lighting
I met with Blackman’s owner Jochen Forer at his fledgling store in Stuttgart. There are two Blackman stores, and more are in the works. Blackman attracts 500 devoted new growers every month. Nobody quits growing pot once they start, and only an idiot can fail to make money, so long as they have good equipment.
As we chatted in his busy office, we were interrupted by his secretary, who pressed a note from a customer concerning a technical question on a lighting ballast he was about to tumble a fat wad of marks to buy. Forer tossed off a quick sketch of a safe wiring diagram, and handed it to his secretary while dropping the question into the teeth of his deskside document shredder. He’s recycling, as it will be reused to package merchandise for tomorrow’s mail.
Regarding hanf, the fabric, food and fuel of tomorrow, Forer shakes his head and chuckles. Nobody is making big money on the cloth side of cannabis, he says, except Greenhouse. Hanf is only an idea, and the business of cannabis is going to be irrigated by the gravity and gold from pot for at least the rest of this decade.
Blackman is a keen supporter of the Green Party, which holds a much bigger bite of the political scene in Germany than it does in the New World, where the Greens don’t even have a parking spot outside our federal arena. The Green Parties in Europe, and in Germany in particular, are committed to nurturing hemp into the mainstream, alongside their policy of pro-pot liberationism. Let us not forget that it was people like the Greens who actually managed to save the whales, stop the nukes, halt the rape of the forests and put the rights of chipmunks on equal status as humans.
God knows it must
I was certainly impressed by what the Europeans were actually doing about hemp. Canada has just, only just put their little toe into the deep end of the hemp pool, and America is still waiting for television stars to play Boston Tea Party and plant more than four hemp seeds at a time. It is Europe that will lay us out like cookie dough when it comes to the hard work of hemp that lies ahead.
The pen may be mightier than the sword, but the plough is even mightier than the pen. This planet will be crowded very soon, and each one of these new humans will need clothing, food, and shelter. Where will this stuff come from?
Canadians suspect that hemp can deliver the goods, the Europeans know it will. America hopes it doesn’t, but God knows it must.
Leave us Feedback?