Posted by: patenttranslator | July 4, 2010

Het kleine cafe aan de haven-Down at the Little Cafe by the Harbor

On se voyait au café des trois colombes
Au rendez-vous des amours sans abri
On était bien, on se sentait seuls au monde
On n’avait rien, mais on avait toute la vie

This song from mid seventies has been translated into more than a dozen languages and performed by many singers. I did not even know that it was originally a Dutch song, composed and sung first in 1975 by the Dutch singer Vader Abraham (Father Abraham). I think I first heard the French version, Le café des trois colombes, by Joe Dassin, in mid seventies. Later I heard the Czech version by Jaromír Majer, Hospůdko známá na návsi (Little Pub on the Village Green), also from the seventies. I found a song with the Czech version that I can listen to but there is no music video that I can find. I remember, a few years ago, this song was playing on the radio when a taxi brought me to Prague airport. I asked the cab driver to wait a little at the parking lot until the song was finished. He understood.

I can understand enough of Dutch to tell that the lyrics of the version by Engelbert Humperdinck are very similar to the Dutch original. The lyrics in the French version added des amours sans abri (lovers without a shelter), sort of like Tristan et Iseult. I really like the French version by Joe Dassin, it brings me back to my student years in Prague. The French guy in the song was studying “la philo” in Nancy, I was studying philosophy in Prague. The Czech version by Jaromír Majer reminds me of Czech pubs in Prague and Český Krumlov. Most of them are either gone now or they have been turned into tourist traps, all you hear around you is German and English. The foreign tourists tend to be loud (Germans are usually so calm and civilized in Germany, almost like the Japanese, but abroad they keep shouting at each other for some reason) and the beer is usually quite expensive, not like in the old times. But it does taste the same.

There is a Dutchman somewhere who is collecting different versions of this song. He posted on some website that he would like to to have an English translation of the Czech lyrics too. I tried to let him know that that I would translate it for him for free but the firewall on that website would not let me send him an e-mail.

So, unreachable Dutch collector of the Vader Abraham’s classic song in different languages, if you read this, my offer to translate the Czech lyrics into English is still standing.

It’s a great song about one of the greatest traditions that one can find in most countries.


I did find several Czech versions of this song on Youtube eventually. The song is a part of popular culture now because there are several Czech parodies on this song on Youtube. In one of them “The Little Pub on the Village Green” (“Die kleine Kneipe” in German) became a “Záchytka”, which is slang for a drunk tank or “Jail for Drunks”, and the song tells the heartbreaking story of an alcoholic who always ends up being picked up by cops and hauled to jail in spite of his best intentions to stay sober. It’s actually pretty funny. Or maybe more sad than funny, depending on how you look at it.

But I am adding the Czech version by Jaromír Majer to this post. The video is just a few photos but I could not resist.


  1. Veľmi pekný článok. Ďakujem.


  2. Rado se stalo.


  3. Very nice! I love this song and the singers.


  4. Thank you.


  5. I am only familiar with this song from Medieval and Renaissance Faires in the USA & I had no idea it had such a history! In our version it is the “Red Rose Cafe in the harbor in the port just outside Amsterdam. Everyone shares in the songs and the laughter. Everyone there is so happy to be there.”
    Thanks for your info! I’ll pass it along. I would love to see an English translation for all the different versions!


  6. “I would love to see an English translation for all the different versions!”
    That would be a lot of work necessitating about a dozen translators, but I would like to see it too.

    Each version tells a different story, for instance the French and Czech versions are very different from the Dutch or the English version.


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