Saturday, 16 July 2011

Amsterdam: Thoughts on The Red Light District

No discussion of a trip to Amsterdam would be complete without comment on the Red Light District. Yes, prostitution is legal in Holland, and the Dutch seem to be the only ones who really don't care about it. It attracts the attention of visitors and even surrounding countries (conversations I had during my short trip to Belgium can attest to this). So what's the big deal?

There isn't one, that I can tell -- at least not there. For starters, there's really not only one "Red Light District" in Amsterdam. Sure, there's a big area in the middle of town marked on pretty much every map, but just around the corner from our beautiful apartment in our beautiful residential neighbourhood was a street of "windows".
Red Lights are the giveaway 
Lots of red lights
This street happened to be on the most direct and least trafficked route between our apartment and the central station, so we walked it most days. So did lots of other people, 99.9999% of whom just ignore the windows. At the end of this street, and 10' from the start of the windows, was a restaurant, a deli, and the ground floor office of a magazine. On the street, between the windows, were the entries to 2 hotels -- and not seedy, run-down hotels. There's nothing seedy or run down about the windows in Amsterdam. The Red Light District is one of the safest places in a very safe town. There are police cameras on every corner and in the middle of every block. There's no hiding, and someone is always watching.

They are referred to as "windows" because they always consist of a door with a full length window in which the ladies (and they're usually ladies; more on this later) sit or stand and "advertise their wares". The rules are simple:

  1. No taking pictures of the windows or the contents;
  2. The occupants are allowed to do whatever they want to attract your attention, but...
  3. They can't open the door unless you ask them to.
Some bang on the glass to attract your attention. All dress scantily. The windows are occupied basically 24 hrs a day (though we saw them being cleaned, usually around 7 AM. The Dutch clean stuff a lot).

One of the free tourist pamphlets has a section on the windows for tourists. It points out that not all of the ladies are ladies. There are "districts" catering to different tastes. Fat, thin, old, young, local, foreign, male, female and any of the various combinations and permutations you can imagine have their districts. I swear to goodness that we saw a 400 lb woman wearing a size 2 corset in one window. Not appealing. As I mentioned in an earlier post, it strikes me that if one is going to advertise like that, it would be more helpful if the product on display was not only well displayed (which some of them are), but that the product itself was worth buying.

Tourist make a big deal about the windows. Especially party barge loads of drunk guys, most of whom appear to be British anyway. The heart of the main section of windows is host to the (now de-consecrated) Oude Kerk, and there's tourists all over the place. There's a tour you can take (Saturdays at 1:30 PM) out of the Prostitution Information Centre. It really was on my list of things to do, but we never got around to it. The narrowest street in Amsterdam happens to be lined with windows (or I would have taken a picture).

The windows rent out for €150 per 8 hour shift. You do the rest of the math.

In the "main" red light district, there are your standard issue sex shows with on-street barkers, just like in many other major cities (though not where I live). This doesn't have anything to do with the windows or their occupants. Many of these sex shops are connected to gangs. The windows are fine. These other places I'm not so sure about.

But the reason I have to post about this is to attempt to highlight how little the Dutch actually care about all of this. They tax it (the Dutch are tolerant, not stupid). They know it's there. And they basically ignore it, under the simple and effective logic that so long as it doesn't bother them, folks are pretty welcome to do whatever they please. Keep the doors closed and voila, no bothering.

1 comment:

Edwin said...

Please do note that prostitution used to be illegal (selling canabis still is, but buying - for provate use only, max 5 gr - is legal however......strange but true, just imagine where owners of the so called coffeshop nhave to their's just condoned, but strickly speking it's illegal). Since 2005 (I could be 1 or two years of, prostitution was legalised, in order to help woman who are forced into prostitution by their pimps (mostly illegals from eastern europe, africa, and asia). Since legalisation means that one can only work when one has a permit, and you can only get one if your allowed to stay and can prove that your master of your own destiny by e.g. showing your ID etc.

Organised crime in the Netherlands is now (said to be) mostly related to criminals from eastern Europe (former Yugoslavia and Russia)and it does evolve around trafficking of hard drugs (mostly cocaine and other designer drugs). There's hardly any problems or usage of hardline drugs like speed and heroine etc.