Biographical Log of Michael Furstner - Page 81
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Saturday April 11, 2009
Martinshof - 7
continues from April 6
Those first years (from 1949 onwards) of Atelier Martinshof must have been incredibly
tough for my father. Every morning he would take a bus to the train station and then
travel to various places in Holland to visit jewelers and show his collection.
(rather pedantic) jewelers world in the Netherlands was relatively small and virtually
everybody knew that my father had been "fout" (pro German, NSB member, a "traitor")
during the war.
This was (and in some quarters still is to this very day) a horrible
stigma he carried for most of his life, and many jewelers in the early years must have
treated him accordingly. But my father rarely spoke about this to us, his family.
When I think about those days, tears for him come to my eyes. The only consolation I
have is that he (like us, his children and grandchildren later) had this strong
"Furstner force" within himself driving him forward on a relentless path of
self expression. "This is who I am, who I want to be, and this is the road I
About 30 years later, when I gave up my career in Geology and
started to study music I got lots of comments ranging from "You are stupid", "You are
doing the wrong thing", "That's fantastic, go for it" to "You are very brave." But
frankly none of these things come into it. There is only one predominant need to be
yourself. Everything else just falls by the roadside and is totally irrelevant. And is
this not what one's life really should be about ?
So my father carried on regardless, and gradually through his generous, caring and
compassionate nature started to get jewelers on his side. Especially the genuine, often
up market shops started to accept him.
An, although financially poor, but wonderfully
creative period opened up for Atelier Martinshof, for my parents and also
quickly for myself too.
Several of the larger jewelry firms throughout the country,
enchanted by the delightful Martinshof jewelry, offered to host Martinshof exhibitions
on their premises. Quickly this became for many a yearly event.
We also had every
year exhibitions in the prestigious Huis ter Duin in (the then up market North
Sea resort village of) Noordwijk aan
Zee and in the Kurhaus in Scheveningen. We also took part in
the annual show of the Art and Craft Guild of the Achterhoek (the region East of the
river IJssel in the province of Gelderland). These were always held in the lovely
village of Lochem.
My father, quite early on, also involved two more artists as contributors to the Martinshof
image. This were Guus Jansen, the architect from Zutphen who had designed our home
Martinshof. Guus designed modern collapsible display stands, made of compressed chipped wood. We had 8 or 10 of
them which fitted in two large easily transportable crates. The stands were a great
My father also got to know the young (then in his late 20s) sculptor Piet
Slegers from Velp (near
Piet made for us small abstract shapes (reminiscent of Miró, Calder and Henry Moore) of
wire and very light (dense foamy ?) material in various colours, used as displays on which jewelry
pieces were presented in each stand. Slegers also made for us several larger
white plaster abstract stand alone
shapes on which too jewelry was displayed. The overall effect was a for the
Netherlands (and possibly whole Europe) totally new, ground breaking way of jewelry
exposition which attracted enormous attention throughout the country.
I absolutely loved the exhibitions. At first my mother was the sole "interior decorator"
designing the display for all stands and tables. But at age 14 I was well established as
her assistant with my own share of stands I had to fill with jewelry. Before each exhibition we would set up a couple of stands and tables at home in our lounge room and the two of us work up "our own" displays, commenting on each other's creation untill we were finally happy with the result. When "on location" I also helped my
parents with the general layout of the exhibitions and connected all the necessary
After completing the exhibition's set up my parents would generally stay
with the exhibition, while I returned home to Martinshof looking after my brother and
sister and doing the cooking.
My sister and brother were at that stage still too
young to participate, but when they grew older they too contributed in their own unique
ways to the Martinshof image and exhibitions in later years.
continues on April 12
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Sunday April 12, 2009
(diary, my childhood, Martinshof)
Easter Sunday : as I am writing yesterdays Martinshof story I receive a
chocolate Easter bunny from the Page family. I finish writing at around 2 PM and decide
to have lunch at Stokes Hill Wharf. On my way, just past Palmerston I am held up by an
unmarked Police car. I stayed too close behind the car and accelerated too early when
approaching the 100 kph speed zone. The Police man lectures me about my shortcomings
but, probably because it is Easter Sunday, lets me off the hook with a "disciplinary
warning" only. This encounter puts my mind back 64 years (when 8 years old) during the period just
after WW2 and before the birth of Atelier Martinshof. Strange how a traumatic experience
from one's childhood can still have an echo through the rest of one's life :
About one week after our return (as refugees from Germany in 1945 at the end of WW2) to our home
Martinshof my mother was arrested by two plain clothed police men and taken away to a concentration camp. Before the men lead her
away she managed to rush up to my bedroom where I was just brushing my teeth and told me
"Don't believe what anyone tells you Michel. I have to go away for a while,
but I will come back, I promise."
She was duly sentenced to 18
months imprisonment. Her crime, apart from being a native German, was that she had
entertained two German officers from around her birth place Wismar on a few occasions during the
I visit her regularly in the various camps she is held and after her release I am most
anxious that she is not taken away from us again. Every time we go shopping in town and
I spot an approaching police man I grab my mother's arm and hastily pull her away
into a side street. My mother tries to reassure me that it is safe, they won't take her
away again, but I am not convinced and keep pulling her "to safety" on many occasions
for several years.
Ever since those days I have retained an above average
anxiety for Police men. These feelings did subside somewhat in Adelaide during the 80s
when Dean Jeffreys, a member of the Adelaide Police force and very likeable
gentle person, became the Conductor of the local Concert Band I played in. But
curiously, some anxiety still lingers on until this very day.
Martinshof - 8
continues from April 11
In hindsight I now realise that my mother always felt personally responsible for the
political trouble and consequences our family had landed in. This was not true of course,
but my father's family members were too up front and at times too loud matter of fact
to comfort her, a highly introverted sensitive being. In all fairness intimate
communications about emotional personal matters where in those days highly embarrassing
and very rare.
From a practical perspective however my father's family was highly supportive of
His eldest sister Bep was for many years a member
of the Martinshof board of Directors. She was on the board of several Dutch companies, a
rare occurrence for a woman in those days, and brought with her considerable professional
His sister Tiny and her husband (and my Godfather) Ansco Dokkum provided an overnight base at
their home in Amsterdam every time my father did business in the West, which was very
My Grandmother provided the startup capital and our millionaire uncle Cor
van Sillevoldt, a former business partner of my late Grandfather, provided
considerable financial clout throughout the always financially troubled life of the
(Uncle Cor and his wife remained childless, so that my father and his two sisters
inherited considerable amounts after their death. This enabled my father in the 1970s
to buy back all the Martinshof company shares as well as the gold stock which until
then had been the property of the Niessing company in Germany.)
Martinshof greatest supporter right through its life however was my father's best friend
from childhood days Tom Jerne (seated on the left deck chair, his wife Nel on the
grass in front of him). Tom inherited his family's Cool and Freeze houses in Rotterdam.
He was the first in the Netherlands who started a frozen vegetables company : Vita
Diepvries. Eventually he sold this hugely successful company to the giant
Oom Tom was always there to provide financial clout whenever my
father was in trouble, which was not an un frequent occurrence.
After my father's unexpected death in 1981 I became in charge of Martinshof during a
time of deep recession and many jewelry shops as well as wholesales going bankrupt.
Just after Easter 1982 I too was ordered by my bank manager to "liquidate Martinshof
within 3 months". I had of course no intention of doing that, there simply was not
much to liquidate anyway. I had taken a wide range of drastic cost cutting measures but
these had not had enough time yet to come through. In my mind I had formed a "Plan
B" to continue with a skeleton crew of just 3 or even 2 paid staff (of a total of
11) besides myself, my mother and sister to see through the bad times.
In this context it was with leaden feet that I traveled with my
sister to Antwerp for lunch with Oom Tom and his family. After lunch I told him
that I had to relieve him from his Martinshof Directorship and cancel his regular
Director's salary, which at that time formed a substantial part of his retirement
income. I returned home with a very heavy heart. Back at Martinshof I picked up the
phone, rang him and told him that I could not go ahead cutting him off. "Oom
Tom," I said "I can not go through with this. You have been
part of the heart and soul of Martinshof since its very beginning, and you will remain
part of it, no matter what, as long as the company remains in my family's hands." He was happy and very touched, more about my gesture than the money and
I knew that my father was smiling down on me.
A small, but emotionally very important decision.
A few months later I
had halted the financial slide and turned the company around, away from disaster and by Christmas I had sold
Martinshof to the Netherlands's largest, most powerful wholesaler Jansen Post and
Cox (JPC). Oom Tom then of course had to resign his Directorship but he and I were
both at peace with that. He had remained with us until the very end. I kept sending him
and his wife a Christmas card every year until their death.
continues on April 24
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Monday & Tuesday April 13 & 14, 2009
As I flick through the TV channels late Sunday night I see SBS is just starting to
cover the Paris-
Roubaix one day cycle classic. It is a 260 km long race with 27 sections of
narrow cobble stone roads, varying in length from 1 to 3 km. It is a race where one
needs plenty of luck, not to get a puncture or become involved in one of the many
Phil Ligget and Paul Sherwed are reporting and it is always a joy to
listen to them. They are by far the best cycling commentators I have ever heard.
the end of the race 6 cyclists are in a lead group well ahead of the rest, but
predictably less than 20 km before the finish a crash involving five of them allows the
Belgian Tom Boonen to shake them off and win the race for a third time in his
Stuart O'Grady is the only Australian ever to have won this famous race,
but he is not participating today, injured with a broken collarbone. Hopefully he will be
fit for the Tour de France in a few months time.
Monday is a quiet day but in the evening I have a very pleasant bridge session
with Mairead. We do reasonably well I believe. Tuesday I drive into
town to get a hair cut, but Mendi's shop (my regular barber in Darwin) is closed
for a month. She is overseas on a holiday, back on the 13th of May. So I have a seafood
laksa on Stokes Hill Wharf and a swim in Nightcliff before returning home.
I receive an email from Marcus Weber the owner of the Zährliner Eck Cafe in Sankt
Peter (Black Forest, Germany). Their Monday evening skat group has folded,
because Sigi, the oldest member has died, and Lucia another member has moved to
Freiburg. Hopefully they have reformed by the time I get back in 2010.
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Wednesday April 15, 2009
Last year I subscribed to the Conservative magazine Quadrant, but I find many of
its articles rather too longwinded for my taste. They could in my view be much improved
by a brief synopsis at the beginning and, where appropriate, some definite
Conclusions at the end.
There are some good ones amongst them however, for example
Reflections of a Neo-Liberal by Dr Steven Kates (an economist
at the RMIT University in Melbourne). in which he presents a well argued critique on
Prime Minister Rudd's latest amateurish article (as a non economist) on the financial
crisis and the World market economy.
It is rather worrying in fact. The cracks in
the thick cover of endless platitudes are starting to appear through which glimpses of
the true nature of the man are becoming visible. As long as Rudd keeps doling out money
like confetti the general public seems to be quite happy to support him. But in the end
the country will be served with a heavy bill for his ill conceived ideas. I also have the feeling
that Rudd (unlike John Howard) has very little traction with other World leaders. The
handshakes and smiles are but shallow media cover hiding (what I suspect to be) the true
In the evening I drive to the Darwin Entertainment Centre to watch the Rhythms of Ireland
show. I have not been to the Centre before and find it very nice with many artistic
touches. The show itself however is a different matter. I enjoy Irish music and dancing
(up to a point) but the present rather boring looking production is typically designed
for country towns consumption (with limited facilities) and a far cry from the splendid
Riverdance shows from the past. I stay until the Interval, then drive home
early. That will do me for the rest of my life I think.
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Copyright © 2009 Michael Furstner