Father of the neighborhood

foto: Mats van Soolingen
Amsterdam, 9 augustus 2016 – Het buurtcentrum de Blije Buren aan de Cruquiusweg. Oprichter Peter Gualterus (‘de Zeeburgman’). Foto: Mats van Soolingen

Free food and hospitality at  Neighborhood service-center Blije Buren( happy neighbors) on Zeeburg , Amsterdam the Netherlands. Driving force Peter Gualterus(58) has a particular life story: once rich by a coffee shop chain, now free from money as generous social worker.

HET PAROOL . Monday 15 August 2016
text: Rinske Verkerk, photos: Mats van Soolingen, translation: Peter muller

I’m in Zeeburg , Amsterdam and I’m hungry. There is only a snack-stall where you have to pay cash, but I have no cash. close by i see a weird white building with a large piece of land surrounding it and a roof that juts. actually, it is more of a barn, with a porch and an umbrella under which people are.

On the street side is a market stall with fruits and vegetables. But the merchant is nowhere to be seen. I want to leave. But a man calls me , “Hey! What’s your name? ”
His name is Peter and looks like an auto mechanic, with its blue overall. ” What are you doing here? ” I say that I’m hungry. He says  you are welcome to eat  here. I question whether I can pay with my credit card only. He says it costs nothing!

I’m not the only one. We eat between men and women, a Suriname who listens to the speech of two activists and a boy in a spider-man costume comes for a gratis ice-cream. The cottage is a neighborhood service consolidate the name  BlijeBuren. Peter Gualterus  runs the foundation for six years now.His mean goal is to prevent loneliness in the neighborhood and to promote togetherness. He is a social worker by profession. He practices his craft  in an unconventional way.

“I let people who come here, to  participate. Because focus on one task, is for some hard enough. It is my goal to teach others to complete their task before thinking of themselves again “.

At the market stall is no salesman because everyone can take the fruit and vegetables for free.

“Happy Neighbors has contracts for daily supplement with local supermarkets and bakeries in the city. On busy days I see  250 to 300 visitors. And then we also go to  people doing all kind of jobs and bringing food “. He stands up and shows me his bed. In the neighborhood service center where he temporarily resides.

Gualterus is actually too long for the bed, so a 60 centimeters wide. but with a mat and a blanket on top it is fine. Early in his youth Gualterus saw that money was more an obstacle for happiness  and so it became his dream to one day to give everything away for free out of his home . “That was successful”.

Money, Money, Money

The name Blije Buren refers to Gualterus ‘ mother: Babie Beatrice, B.B. “she was born on Java, and my grandma could really not imagine a tastier dish than babie pangang.” There in Indonesia, was Babie in love with a man eventually ‘ Gualterus father. Not much later Babie ended up  in a Japanese POW camp. “horrible things happend  . My great-grandfather a judge, was tortured to death. I did not want to hear those stories . What my mother told me, was the importance of togetherness. They forgot tensions and sorrow by songs to sing and be together. Togetherness became the most important aspect of the Blije Buren .They started a family at the Biesboschstraat in Amsterdam. Indonesian culture was never far away. “Everyone was welcome. Everyone could stay for dinner. I was very happy. Until I heard one night my parents  arguing about money. I got pain in my stomach and could no longer keep up in school. Sometimes I saw my mother on the couch, with sleeping pills.

Other times the plates flew through the room. It was so beautiful,  that family . And then it hit rock bottom. Only because of money, money, money.”
Gualterus dropped out of school.” I started with burglaries. Committed robberies. I was fifteen or sixteen and the most intelligent of my group, so I coordinated the lot. With guns and all”.

Outside on the veranda stops an Arab Lady in a mobility scooter for the market stall. She puts two melons in her bag and waving to Gualterus. He raises his hand. “Hello , dear!”
” I was in prison for three and half years  for crimes against property. My mother cried the tears out of her eyes. She has beaten me a lot, as only one of the children.Because I was her favorite who would rescue the family . That’s happened, but in a whole different way than she had imagined.”

I was happy. Until i heard my parents arguing about money.  Our family went through a hard time only because of that .

Gualterus began in the 1980s to training as a social worker. Wow, he thought, this had my parents need to know. ” You learn techniques to solve problems, instead of thinking: this is my fate.” At that time he was also manager of the Amsterdam coffee shop chain The Happy Family. Within the company he sought directly to the togetherness he knew of his mother.
He came up with a living room project, with the aim of disadvantaged young people and make sure that they get their lives back on track. ” It started with a shop in the Pijp – a neighborhood in Amsterdam. My way of organizing help drew many people. Free rolls, for which I stole the ingredients at the supermarket. I invited people  as if they were my brother or sister, you know. ”


The Happy Family grows into a chain with five branches and twenty thousand members. The success is not separate from the legal hashish and marijuana sales.
“We put people on track and then we saw them again in trouble if they were going to buy hashish and weed. That is why we wanted to do the same, selling drugs i mean. I have consulted with the municipality and that became-the beginning of the tolerance policy. ” Gualterus decided  to import  softdrugs  as well . “I was so in that business, and it brought so much money on. I gave sandwiches and coffee, but on top days i make 25 thousand guilders per day to soft drugs sales. And no one saw it. But the official owner, who in the meantime was married my with my sister , began to interfere with the business and  turned it around  just to make money. The family was suddenly not so happy anymore. I carried over the business and walked away from it. I could  have a few million. But I was not in for the money.” In the following years he thought about the solution to the money quarrels in his family. That he found: “all without money.” He discovered that the city least invested in Zeeburg a neighborhood in Amsterdam and started there BlijeBuren.The time is almost ripe to approach the Dutch Association of Social Workers and to get involved in his project, he says” A socially responsible corporate needs a social worker. And if we get there, there must be money. But first BlijeBuren must have a clean start. That is only possible without money. Then you can help people without distraction.”
A group of men drinking coffee outside. A shy man comes in to help with a supply of fresh bread. Gualterus stands up. “I want to be that kid that I was when I was seven years old. That nothing needed to be happy. ” Where do you live from? He points at my plate warmed up fried rice with beans, egg, melon and  half of a pork chop. “What do you mean?”