Accidential Utopia: The Cultural Freehaven of Ruigoord vs. the 1960s Hippies of Haight Ashbury

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By Anikka van Eyl

Nobody likes a hippie, right? Hippies are lazy, dirty drug addicts that live off the system and contribute nothing to society. This is the common perception that mainstream society holds of hippies; they are a nuisance, promoting radical thinking and won’t conform to that of the traditional life. But is this what truly defines the core of a “hippie”? When understanding the concept of hippie, we often think of these definitions due to moral panic, negative media coverage and the fall of the hippie subculture in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco during the Summer of Love in 1967. Haight Ashbury, the center of the 1960s hippie movement in the United States, quickly became overpopulated with an influx of young radicals, bringing disease, drugs, and violence to the forefront of the originally peaceful movement. But the traditional values that defined a hippie before 1967 were overrun in the process: the values of community, love, peace, and nonconformity. Hippies were anti-capitalists, looking to replace the traditional American lifestyle with a radical, free spirited community of acceptance and freedom. Although we still think of these values, they are often the afterthought, negligible when we think of the chaos unleashed by the hippies. Is it possible to maintain these values over a longer period of time, to truly create a Utopian society that nourishes creativity, acceptance and autonomy? In the outskirts of Amsterdam, I believe I have found an artistic haven that encapsulates these traditional hippie values throughout daily life: Ruigoord.

Since I started college, I have developed an increasing obsession with that of the hippie subculture and the community that existed in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco in the 1960s. I read countless books on the subject from The Electric Koolaid Acid Test to Into the Wild to Hippie and spend way too much time on the internet searching for modern communities that hold the same ideals as Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, leaders of this counterculture movement in the 1960s. I wanted my life to mirror that of which I read, for I strongly believed in eastern philosophy, love, peace and radically opposed the government and that of large institutions. My desire to move to a community that held these ideals in strong regard was intense for when I decided to study abroad, I chose Amsterdam. I chose Amsterdam for the liberal politics, relaxed drug policy and idea of tolerance – qualities that I believed were present in counterculture societies. This was how a government should be run I thought- the people will be happy! There will be no problems! Amsterdam will be overrun with free-loving hippies that smoke weed all day and radically believe in make love not war. Or so this is what I thought. I arrived and to my dismay, this was not what I found. Where were the free-thinkers, the radicals? Isn’t that what this city was? I began in search of this community; I knew there were people with these ideas everywhere, sometimes they were just more hidden than expected. I stumbled upon Ruigoord in the west harbor of Amsterdam, defined by Ruigoord’s homepage as an “artistic colony where art and life are integrated into a common experiment,” and on others, listed as a hippie commune (Ruigoord, 2015). This was my place; I could feel it in my bones.

After visiting the first time, I fell in love. The atmosphere and community that existed at Ruigoord was unlike anything I had ever experienced within Amsterdam nor in most corners of the world. The kindness that permeated the air soaked into my skin, and after my first night-time event I attended, I couldn’t stop grinning for the remainder of the day after I left at 9AM on a Sunday morning. After speaking with a young Dutch man on the bus home (who later became one of my good friends), I learned incredible amounts on the origin of Ruigoord and how it came to be as well as the complexity behind the community. I decided I wanted to explore the topic further in this paper and truly understand the background of Ruigoord and the role Ruigoord plays in the counterculture of Amsterdam, as well as understand the connection to the 1960s hippie movement. In this research, I explored the following question: How does the community of artists and participants of Ruigoord compare to the 1960s hippies of Haight Ashbury? To truly dissect those that associate with Ruigoord, I will also expand on the community that identifies with Ruigoord, exploring the additional questions: What values and beliefs underlie the unique identity and community of Ruigoord? And how does the community of Ruigoord incorporate anti-capitalism into their everyday life?

The Original Hippies of the 1960s

The hippie movement began in the 1960s in San Francisco with many young people opposing the straight, consumerist lifestyle of mainstream society (Miles, 2011). Hippies typically were defined as non-conformists, followers of eastern philosophy, holding a strong aversion to consumerism and rejecting large institutions and typical middle-class values. Hippies were seen as free- spirits, “creat[ing] their own communities, listen[ing] to psychedelic music, embrac[ing] the sexual revolution, and us[ing] drugs…to explore altered states of consciousness,” (Crystal, 2014).

Hippies were young middle-class adults, that peacefully rejected established society, older generations’ rules and the ideals of work and ambition. It began after President Kennedy’s assassination and was further developed by the Vietnam War and Civil Rights movement. Hippies created their own counterculture through free love, peace, music and drugs.

“Hippies created their own counterculture that revolved around free love, peace, drugs and music. They were anti-establishment, outraged by the Vietnam War and protested for peace. Hippies were non-violent and turned to drugs and music to rebel and to feel freedom and a new experience…The hippie movement was all about discovering new things, exploring new ideas and rebelling against society” (Marsden, 2012).

Early hippies originated with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, who were known for their journey across the United States in an old school bus named Further, promoting Kesey’s new novel, Sometimes a Great Notion, and their usage of then legal LSD. As a result of this road trip, many people gained interest in the radical hippie lifestyle and young Americans began to migrate to San Francisco. The hippie community flourished and by June 1966, around 15,000 young hippies had moved into the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco.

San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury district became the center of the hippie movement, with an influx of young people who wanted to radicalize their lives in search of something different than mainstream society, away from the demands of capitalism. However, the hippie movement began to die just as it became popular. For as the movement became popular, it became part of mainstream culture and thus, lost its authenticity and spark. The Summer of Love of 1967, typically cited as the height of the hippie movement, was also the end (Crystal, 2014). With increased media attention and overcrowding of Haight-Ashbury, the original intentions of peace and love were replaced with violence, excessive drugs and disease. Many of the hippies began to move on and conform back to regular society.

After the death of the hippie movement, many people began to search for an alternative to find safety in an ideological community in the 1970s. These often took the form of a commune or an intentional living situation, based on religious beliefs or the desire for community and emotional vulnerability (Brown, 2002). The idea is to move away from the demands of city life and find harmony in nature, sharing a mutual mindset with others for a desire of something different, often exploring art, music and spirituality (Bentley, 2008). These communities often have the same values that formed the hippie movement and are often noted as ‘hippie communes.’

Ruigoord: a Culturele Vrijhaven

I have found a hippie commune hidden in the outskirts of Amsterdam: Ruigoord. Ruigoord is a small village located in the west harbor of Amsterdam, in the province of North Holland in the region Kennemerland. It is seen as a free cultural haven, culturele vrijhaven, or a unique community where creativity has free range, and is one of the main contributors to the Amsterdam Underground, or the counterculture of Amsterdam. It is defined as an “idealistic and idyllic place where artists [can] work on their own work,” by offering a place where artists can retreat from the demands of daily life in the urbanized and industrialized city of Amsterdam (Ruigoord, 2015).

Ruigoord was originally founded in 1875 as a prospering village in Amsterdam with approximately two hundred inhabitants. It began as an island, surrounded by marshes and water of the IJ. During this time, many things were built including a Roman Catholic church, school, shop, post office, two cafes, and numerous farms. In 1964, Ruigoord was evacuated by the municipality of Amsterdam, forcing the residents to move in order to expand the Amsterdam port. Only a few resisted, including the priest. In 1973, the village was squatted by a group of artists, ex-rebels and teachers and with their activism, the destruction of Ruigoord was aborted on July 24, 1973. The two main forces behind saving Ruigoord were leaders of the Provo Dutch counterculture movement. Provo was an anti-capitalist movement that was formed during the 1960s in alignment with the ideals that captured the hippie counterculture movement that was underway in the United States at this time. The foundation of provo lie within anarchism with a playful and creative approach. With this foundation, Ruigoord continued to flourish, this time as an island of art and creativity in the hectic city of Amsterdam, anti-capitalist in nature.

Again, there were plans to demolish Ruigoord in 1997 in order to completely develop the surrounding area into an industrial zone. In 1999, the community put forth a plan for Ruigoord to transform from a residential space into an artist’s workplace. Activists came to the forefront, founding the action group Groenoord, based on radical ecological and anarchist principles, in the process. In 2000, the plan was approved, and the residential buildings turned into studios, workshops and galleries. Thus, the place transitioned from a place of residency into a place for the community to find freedom, inclusivity, nonconformity and autonomy. Ruigoord has evolved out of the defining values of the traditional hippie movement, and now continues to hold many of the original ideals of the 1960s hippies of Haight Ashbury.

Today, exploring Ruigoord one wonders what is this magical place that is tucked away behind massive industrial buildings far from the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam. Upon arrival, you may wonder if this is it…where am I? A half-hour bus ride outside the city center of Amsterdam, the landscape is dominated by massive chemical plants and factories, rising out of the barren terrain, rather than the quaint canals, bikes and historical buildings of the city. But behind the train tracks, the artistic haven can be found.

There is one main road, which really isn’t much of a road at all, that is lined with houses, (if you can call them that). They are broken down shacks with piles of lumber out front and eccentric art on the lawns, with metallic woman legs sticking out of the ground and colorful inspirational quotes covering signs and buildings. On one wall near the entrance to the town in neon paint, there is a graffiti-like drawing with the quote, “All men are hippies, but some are more hippie than others.”  It looks abandoned, but there are a handful of people wandering around behind the houses, so it clearly isn’t. If I wandered this at night by myself, I might compare the scene to that of an empty town in a horror film. Yet the environment feels positively charged with acceptance, artistic talent and love. The people I stumble into as I walk around and take pictures, clearly an outsider, all welcome me and we exchange greetings. Everyone is friendly. No one asks why I am there, they just accept that I am.

“Ruigoord is a place where everyone is smiling, everyone is happy. When I arrive, I never want to leave. The people are welcoming, whether I know them or not. It is a place of old hippies, but also a place of child hippies. Everyone fits in and everyone is loved.”

The first women I meet is gardening, wearing a faux fur coat, jeans and duck boots, with large hoop earrings, her hair flowing wildly in the wind. She is friendly for a moment, and continues her work. I watch from a-far a well-dressed man around 40 years of age, relaxing in the side door of the church, with Pink Floyd loudly showcased on the speakers inside. He appears content and does not cast a glance in my direction. I keep walking past the church and find more houses tucked behind the shrubbery and trees. The ground is muddy, for the path is dirt rather than concrete. There is a sign that says, “Dutch Acid Family,” reminding me of Further, the LSD-infused road trip taken by Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters in 1964 that often is one of the main defining features of the hippie movement in the 1960s.

Ruigoord hosts a number of both day-time and night-time events, ranging from African drum workshops, Saturday night parties with psychedelic music, artistic workshops such as learning how to stain a glass window, to large festivals including a poetry festival and many music festivals. These events take place on the weekends, with typically 8-10 events occurring over the span of a month and all are virtually free. During the weekdays, eccentric artists flock to the abandoned houses and create art in the safety and freedom of Ruigoord in the workshops, studios and galleries. In addition, there are weekly meetings to plan new events and prevent the cultural freeport from coming to a standstill. The autonomy and organization of the community has allowed Ruigoord to prosper for over forty years.

Larger festivals bring many participants into the village of Ruigoord, such as Landjuweel, a five-day festival at the beginning of August similar to that of Burning Man in Las Vegas.

“Landjuweel is a celebration of the spontaneous creativity and a maze of mad playfulness. Expect fire shows, spontaneous jams, secret nooks and visual spectacle. Ruigoord will as always provide space for small and large groups of artists, young talent and old friends from home and from abroad to give their own interpretation to the Lanjuweel. The highlight of the Lanjuweel [is] the Sculpture Route on Saturday night, a large parade over the festival in which everyone has the opportunity to show his or her creativity” (Ruigoord Cultural Free News, 2015).

With these festivals, there is often worry that the spirit of Ruigoord is lost. From long-standing participants and artists, they worry over the influx of people who do not truly appreciate the spirit and community of Ruigoord, but would rather get fucked up on drugs. However, from all the people I spoke with, this was only a worry, and very rarely an actual issue. The experience of Ruigoord seeps into the soul of every person that walks through this mystical place, allowing the safe space to be upheld.

The symbol of Ruigoord is a psilist, derived the infinity symbol and the letter psi of the Greek alphabet. It is defined as the cosmic smile, symbolizing eternal life, the interplay of opposing forces and inner peace. This representation seems to encapsulate Ruigoord in a nutshell, as the universe smiles down on the happiness and peace Ruigoord brings to all those that visit here.

The Experience of Ruigoord

To understand Ruigoord through ethnography, I used a combination of both participant observation and semi-structured interviews. I interviewed three Dutch friends, between the ages of 18 and 23, that attend events at Ruigoord frequently to understand what Ruigoord means to them. In addition, I interviewed one older community member of Ruigoord that participates in the artistic haven through the weekly planning meetings. I participated in five events, four night-time and one during the day to capture the experience of Ruigoord and carry out participant observation. I acted as I normally would, dancing, chatting with friends, and meeting new people. A limitation was of course, I thought about Ruigoord and its comparison to the 1960s constantly and thus was unable to fully immerse myself as a participant.

Ruigoord feels like a playground, a space where your spirit is free and anything is acceptable. The first time I walked into a night-time event at Ruigoord, I noticed the psychedelic and spiritual art adorning the buildings written with neon Day-Glo paint. The atmosphere felt energized, awakening my heart from the dusty and dingy corners. The sense of community was overpowering, the kindness of everyone extremely apparent through friendly conversation and sharing of cigarettes and joints. There were two bonfires warming up the frigid air outside with many young people gathered around and a small gypsy shack off to the left. The laughter echoed in the trees with happiness flooding into the air. It was clear the majority of those in attendance were on drugs of some form, most likely LSD or MDMA. Hearing loud music (the primary reason we were there), my friend and I wandered into the large church off to the right. As we walked in, we immediately noticed the large monkey head at the front of the church, where you would typically see a crucifix. This wasn’t surprising considering the event was called “Monkey Business,” and the Facebook page stated the church would be transformed into a jungle-style playground. The eyes were an eerie white, that lit up to the goa music. Despite the music being slow, everyone was manically dancing with impressive style. There was a cage in the middle, with people dancing wildly and climbing the shaky structure to sit on top. We noticed everyone had water bottles, soda cans and candy rather than the typical beers one has at a party: clearly evidence of the drugs that had been used.

The rules of Ruigoord are few. As the website states, the most important thing is to give a space for alternative lifestyles.

“You are in Ruigoord where a lot is permitted! The most important thing here in this artist community and breeding ground is that free spirits are given plenty of space to excel and that alternatives to present lifestyles are accepted and even promoted.” (Helliga)

Ruigoord appears a place for those that do not want to mold to mainstream society, as these lifestyles are accepted and even promoted. The more eccentric and radical one is, the more they are accepted by the community of Ruigoord. It is a matter of authenticity, do you truly not fit in with the norms of society? That is how one fits in at Ruigoord. But regardless of where you fit in terms of nonconformity, everyone is welcome at Ruigoord. For when talking with others, my conversation was much more intense than any typical club I have been to in Amsterdam. Very few people were drunk, and barely anyone was trying to make sexual advances. Rather people chatted about life –  politics, drugs, religion, music, everything – and actually got to know each other.  It didn’t matter that I didn’t speak Dutch (even though everyone else did), the conversation seamlessly switched to English and no one had a problem with me coming from the United States (a rare thing). Others wanted to hear about my life and were truly engaged in our conversation. The inclusivity and acceptance defined the experience of Ruigoord.

More “Hippie” than Haight Ashbury

From the outside, Ruigoord appears to be a hippie commune, identical to the young community of hippies that dominated southern California in the 1960s. But I believe Ruigoord is much more true to the values that founded the hippie movement than Haight Ashbury ever actually was in the 1960s. For Ruigoord has sustained itself for over forty years, and thrives on values of inclusivity, autonomy, freedom and nonconformity. Although the hippie movement began on these identical roots, it spread too quickly, ruining the core values that founded Haight Ashbury.

Ruigoord is heavily populated with young adults, but unlike Haight Ashbury, also has a strong population of elders up to the age of sixty-five years. I believe the range of age and wisdom allows the community of Ruigoord to prosper with acceptance and organization. By learning from the wisdom of the elders, the young people can enrich the community by adding fresh ideas while still maintaining the structure that is needed to have the community exist for over forty years. Young people have a much different experience of Ruigoord than the old, for they are at their peak years of developing their beliefs and are attending all the nighttime events. They are learning from the elders to respect the community and respect the safe space they have entered.

“I’m eighteen years old. But I am friends with all the old people. They don’t act as my parents, but they are my friends… my mentors. I see how they live their life, and I want to live my life that way. I want to experience happiness and joy like they do. I want to keep giving back to Ruigoord as they do because Ruigoord has given so much to me. Ruigoord gave me hope that the world is not the bad place I always thought it was.”

Unlike Haight Ashbury, the people of Ruigoord do not fit one single mold. The hippies of Haight Ashbury are typically defined by long hair and flowy, second-hand clothing.  There is no one stereotype of the person that engages in the community of Ruigoord, besides the word ‘unique.’ As one interviewee stated,

“Not a single person at Ruigoord is the same as the next. Some wear suits during the day,  some wear shorts in the snow. Some wear tie-dye, some wear all black. How could we all fit the same mold? I’ve seen a sixteen-year old kid but I also have friends here that are sixty, sixty-five! Ruigoord does not operate on fitting in a mold, Ruigoord functions on differences. Ruigoord is a place of difference, this is why we love it. We thrive on the uniqueness and that’s what makes Ruigoord so special.”

Yet, when you think of Ruigoord, one almost always thinks of hippies. The traditional hippie appearance does still exist…it’s just not required. There are no requirements to fit in the community of Ruigoord. On the other hand, Haight Ashbury expects this molding to the stereotypical fashion and appearance. In the 1960s, the more “hippie-like” one dressed, the more likely [s]he would be accepted into the Haight Ashbury culture.

“My uncle lived in San Francisco in 1967 and now lives outside of Amsterdam and visits Ruigoord often. These are not the same places. Ruigoord genuinely cares about each and    every person that visits. San Francisco did not. Rather from what I hear, [San Francisco] was a place that was awful. Originally a place of love and acceptance, it was nothing of  the sort in 1967. I understand why hippies have a bad reputation in America, they caused disturbance and chaos….Ruigoord isn’t like that. Ruigoord has the same base values that   supposedly defined [San Francisco] but actually holds these values in high esteem and  stays true to them. That is why Ruigoord succeeds. Ruigoord is Utopia and you are lucky to have found this place tucked away in the outskirts of Amsterdam.”

Anti-capitalist, or an Accidental Utopia?

Is Ruigoord an anti-capitalist community? That is a question I struggled with throughout the research process. Is this an intentional rejection of mainstream society or an accidental Utopian community? Those that identify with Ruigoord value alternative ways of living, radical thinking and a community of love and peace. Ruigoord began as a squatting community, and continues to fight against the municipality of Amsterdam to save their small artistic haven, tucked among the industrialized West. The irony is present: this counterculture space surrounded by massive industries that support capitalism. Ruigoord allows art and daily life to be incorporated into a social experiment. Although not purposely an anti-capitalist place, it becomes that through the defining features of anti-capitalism: its self-management, art of experimental organization, lack of hierarchy, building of social relationships and open space for conversation (Chatterton, 2010). Ruigoord became an accidental Utopian community, developing into this place of anti-capitalism. With counterculture ideas and a cultural free space where anything goes, Ruigoord becomes a safe space in everyday life where participants can find “permanence in a world which is increasingly unstable and difficult to comprehend,” (Chatterton, 2010). Through this space, participants can socialize and exchange ideas, while engaging in artistic ventures. The artistic colony of Ruigoord allows a place for artists to withdraw from the demands of city life and escape the materialistic and egocentric modern lifestyle.

“Is Ruigoord anti-capitalist? I don’t define what we are doing as anti-capitalist; to me, it’s just the best place. I find a space where I feel loved…accepted. I can discuss anything and not feel judged, not feel like an outcast. But I suppose looking from the outside, yes,  we are anti-capitalists. We don’t live in the ordinary realm of society, we live on the  outskirts. We are those that don’t conform to the traditional life. We don’t value routine or government or hierarchy. I think everyone is important…everyone has something to contribute. And here at Ruigoord, we value that. We value everyone, young or old, and we care what you have to say.”

“Ruigoord was founded from the provo movement…. a Dutch counterculture movement in the 1960s. It was focused on anarchism [and was] against every form of government: capitalism, communism, bureaucracy, everything.  Provo was about inspiring the young, inspiring the old, inspiring the people to revolt and resist against the traditional life.”

From my perspective and to others on the outside, Ruigoord is anti-capitalist. Every source I read there is mention of the defining values of anti-capitalism and nonconformity: freedom, expression, autonomy, social relationships and inclusivity. With the community’s roots of anarchy, squatting and resistance, Ruigoord developed the values that are behind anti-capitalist actions. Although not actively resisting capitalism today, the culture and values of Ruigoord allow a passive resistance. Through this passive resistance, there develops a safe space to discuss the faults of modern society and the need for change. This safe space maintains the anti-capitalist atmosphere with its lack of hierarchy in organization and is only ran by volunteers. All events are virtually free, allowing them to be accessible to everyone. Lastly Ruigoord enables emotional connections to form through socialization of different types of people that may not regularly encounter one another in other situations.

It can be concluded that Ruigoord is an accidental Utopian community, anti-capitalist in nature, that maintains the true values that founded the 1960s hippie movement in Haight Ashbury. Ruigoord is developed out of community, love, peace, acceptance, freedom and nonconformity. Through my research, it is clear that Ruigoord is more ‘hippie’ than Haight Ashbury ever was as Ruigoord has continued to prosper for over forty years, flourishing and expanding, through its autonomy and organization. Ruigoord has stolen my heart and will revive and capture others for years and years to come.

(Written for Youth Cultures in a Transnational Context)

References

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