Article published in Shangri-la-la magazine, spring 2003.
The Yin and Yang Of The ELF Experiment
It’s been a while now,since the Elf bulding in Amsterdam was evicted – 2 years or so. Still the stories remain,the project has a cult status in the global movement.
The founder of the project,the guy that cooked up the E.L.F. concept, feels the time has come to look back,evaluate the project and reveal some inside stories on the experiment.
When yours truly was asked to write an article about the Elf, the killing of Gijs and Fred, and what not, it was a difficult thing for him. His friends said: ” It’s time for the truth to come out”. But knowing that the truth has always two faces, the question arose which face to show. And knowing that faces are always masks, the matter became academic; Those that have eyes to see, they know. The rest, they believe. But we love animals:Even though we know that the wolves know,we like to explain to the sheep. So that they may become wolves one day.
For those who don’t know the story: The Elf was a squatted building,being occupied by a group of people that were determined to set an initiative,an experiment in positive squatting. The place we occupied was a 200 rooms office building on the border of Amsterdam center. At the culmination of the experiment, the building was inhabited by people of 27 different countries, living in a global community. There was a magic restaurant (people paid what they could / wanted to/afford to into a magic hat, out of which the shopping was paid for the next day), a chai-shop, a budget dormitory, studios and art spaces, a grow-room producing sweet marijuana and other shamanistic medicines, a chai-shop and a Skylab, where 24-hours parties were held on a regular basis. Shamen came to organise rituals where big groups of people would get together ,sing and talk to spirits.
3 months after the opening, the owners of the building took the squatters to court. The owners won and the squatters were convicted to have to leave the building within a month. The squatters refused to go and stayed for 2,5 more years before finally being thrown out.
Now what was exactly the idea behind the Elf ? Well, let’s be honest: The Elf initiative was designed to act as a front-store to be able to run a big building. Yours truly had a quite long experience in running big squats. Out of experience he knew that managing a big place like that, it would involve huge bills, that could never be carried by any private person. On its regular turning, the Elf was paying about 10.000 every month in bills, various costs and volunteers pocket money. An official body was essentially needed to carry those bills. Preferably a foundation (a not-for-profit organisation with a good purpose as its official goal). Looking for a nice official goal for this foundation, yours truly meditated for a few months. Finally he saw the light and cooked up a nice goal : The E.L.F. experiment. The E stood for Exploration and Evolution (why we did it), The L stood for Love and Light (what we did it with) and the F stood for Filaments and Frequencies (how we spread it). Yours truly typed up the idea on a paper and spread it amongst his friends in the Amsterdam underground. Which was pretty fucked at that moment, by the way, because repression by the dutch state was hard in those days (Holland was trying to make a good impression to the EU and was coming down hard on anything having to do with with autonomy, alternative, underground and the free use of drugs) and the Silo, one of the last strongholds of the underground, had just been evicted and the friends were screaming for a new place.
And so the Vlaardingenlaan no. 11 was squatted by a group of 22 people. What followed after that was a new-age saga of love and light, but also hate and darkness and what not…
The building was a dream: Fairly new, a working elevator, sliding doors, a fancy reception, flat roof, a big space on the top floor to party in.
A few weeks after the squatting, the E.L.F. foundation was founded. With the official goal to stimulate and spread the powers of Love and Light in the broadest sense of the word. The foundation was run by 3 dutch guys who shared a vision: to organise social, cultural and art activities and to throw fat parties.
Everything on a non-commercial basis, but still generating enough money to put aside. So that if the building would be evicted one day, there would be autonomous funding available to continue the project. Who knows, to maybe buy or rent a building one day and never be evicted anymore. And the experiment was very successful: From all around the world,people came to visit and stay over for a while. Things were going so well that the foundation succeeded to feed around 20 volunteers, offer them free housing and enjoying their enthusiasm in helping to keep the building clean and vibrant with good energy.
Somewhere down the line, though, problems started to arise. The building attracted more and more people without any income at all. That was quite understandable because in the Elf you could eat in the Magic Restaurant every day, even if you had no money to put into the Hat. The building was centrally heated, there was always a corner where you could crash and always a friendly person close by to share his / her joint with you. More and more rooms got occupied by brothers and sisters for whom the monthly donation of #100 to pay for the water, the electra and the heating gas was a too big amount of money to put up. And so there came the day when about 30 residents of the house held a meeting. They agreed that the foundation was making piles of money and lots of profit and decided that from now on, no one would be obliged anymore to put up the #100 euros a month for their room. The parties would bring in enough money to pay for all the bills, was the general opinion. At the time of this meeting, the financial person of the foundation happened to be out of the country for a week and so the foundation office was occupied by a group of people that demanded the safe (in which the Elf savings were being kept) to be opened. The foundation chairman (yours truly) did not feel at all to go and fight his own friends and housemates and handed over the safe key. In the safe there was about #7000.
From that moment on,the dutch people of the foundation felt the control of the experiment slipping away from their hands. They stepped back and started to push the people of the house to start a union that could take over all the bills. But although the unity in squatting the safe was strong, it took the same group of people close to a year to start their union.
In that year, the bills were taken on the personal names of some of the members of the union-to-be. Also during that time, a big dutch organisation that helped big squats to get government subsidies and assist them in finding legal buildings, decided to step back also. Because they noticed that things were getting out of control. And because they found out that out of the 100 steady residents of the building, maybe 3 to 5 persons were legally and economically able to contribute to a legal building of that size. The union-to-be-founded found itself with the responsability to keep paying the bills or have gas & electra cut off. Suddenly, the parties that used to be an extra, became a necessary thing to keep the bill-collectors happy.
By the time the union was finally founded, the authorities decided it was time to clean out the place. A new trial was started to force eviction. This time there was no more delay possible. When the eviction came, the new union found itself with no one cent in the bank to finance a new big project and the people that had taken the bills on their names found themselves in debts for thousands of euros. Several other buildings were being squatted by different groups of the original collective but none of them succeeded to really hold ground and in a few months time, the whole Elf thing fell apart and spread out over the globe.
All this was more than 2 years ago now. The Elf initiative has become a legend. Those who were there still talk about it quite a lot. It was hot it, was cool. It was sex, drugs and rock & roll. Or more accurate, it was love, drugs and trance music. And besides the dramas and the hard times, friendships and deep connections between people were made that will hold for life. Once family, always family. Although yours truly has done many a big squat, the Elf was the most special thing that ever happened to him, not by far comparable to all the rest. I will never forget the circles we made, holding hands, never forget the people that burst out in tears of happiness, the strong feeling of love and unity that would roam through the corridors of that concrete building. Never forget the fighting and the making up, brothers and sisters breaking each other down on house-meetings but embracing each other at night and smoking a joint together in the chai shop. I hope one day to forgive myself for all those times i screamed at people because i could not make my point with love and patience. Will never forget my beautifull girl-friend Sharyn, angel Sharyn, that jumped from the roof of the Elf. Because she couldn’t handle getting divorced from her husband and loosing her 2 little daughters for life, while i didn’t realise that and had taken off for a few weeks to Guyana to set up an interesting gold business. Man, the Elf was the best, the worst, but for sure the most intense thing i’ve ever experienced.
And Gijs and Fred ? They were 2 of the early day members of the collective. Gijs was the painter, Fred the musician. They were loved by the collective for their uniqueness and their willingness to help people. Gijs used to be the transport guy; With his van he drove around anybody that needed things to be moved, For about 10 years he supplied paintings and decos to decorate the new squats that yours truly had opened. He was as close as family could get. Fred used to be a cool vibe all the way. And now they’re dead. Got stabbed together in some vague hotel bar,having some vague arguments with some vague people, the day before new year’s eve. We’ve cried a river and have thrown a fat party to send them off to heaven.
We will miss and never forget them.
Nasty stories like that keep showing us how important it is to share love with our friends, enjoy life while it’s there. Live it to the max and when the time comes, make sure you’ve lived something and have not spent yours days dreaming about things you could have done. And yes there are powers of the light ,balanced by the powers of darkness. Which one you connect to is up to you and you only. And karma is real,as real as the paradox of life: Some things you will only get by letting them go.
Will the Elf come back? Who knows. Besides, it has never been gone. It has just transformed. The idea behind it has lived as long as people have been on this planet. What’s in a name, it’s all in the game. Next experiment might have the same or a different name, but it will be about the same thing. Love, light, trans-cultural unity. An alternative to the so-called official society.
Written by Ton , light child/ego asshole,initiator of the E.L.F. experiment.
Some Elf pictures:
Gallery :: Elf 2001