Sunday, September 7, 2008

Amsterdam (Part 5: Red Light District)

While Amsterdam is very historic and has tons of shopping, museums, tours, restaurants, etc., we all know its modern day fame is derived from its red light district, where the world's oldest profession (prostitution) is not only alive and well - it's legal (since 1980).

Laura and I ventured to the district (called De Wallen) in the late afternoon to do some of the most disturbing window shopping of our lives. As we approached the red light district, I expected there to be some kind of warning signs for unsuspecting tourists, but there were not. There were indicators, of course, including the increasingly frequent scent of marijuana smoke and the presence of street urinals.

Marijuana is sold throughout The Netherlands (including Delft) in "coffeeshops" (so named because whether you buy marijuana there or not, you can smoke it there as long as you've at least bought a cup of coffee). There's a particularly large concentration of coffee shops in the red light district of Amsterdam, of course. Basically, you walk in and ask to see a menu, and then buy a baggie of pot for € 10-15. According to a local Amsterdam magazine, "Boom!" : "... you won't get arrested no matter where you smoke, although good manners say stick to less busy places and steer clear of old ladies and children." There are also shops, called "Smart Shops," which sell legal herbal "remedies." Places like this exist all over the world, but the Amsterdam twist is that they also sell hallucinogenic mushrooms.

When we arrived in the district, we first visited the Old Church. (That's right, a church in the red light district...apparently this is not odd because there is also a Buddhist temple.) It was built between 1300-1600 and was HUGE but otherwise uninteresting. In our walk around the church, we saw the following (in order):

  1. Two rather large prostitutes leering at us from their windows.
  2. A daycare.
  3. A typical office-type business.
  4. A porno cinema.
  5. Several restaurants

I can only conclude that the daycare was for the prostitutes' illegitimate children.

So the way prostitution works in the red light district is that prostitutes sit or stand in their display windows (some at street level and some above), not unlike a mannequin in the window at a Victoria's Secret. Apparently they are entrepreneurs, renting their space for € 75-150; they make upwards of € 500 a day. Laura and I were among the many tourists "window shopping," and by "window shopping" I mean "walking briskly and uncomfortably by each window." We quickly discovered that the attractive prostitutes are hidden away in windows on narrow alleys and the other variety - meaning the kind who are eating a Big Mac in their display case - are on the more typically sized streets in plain view. Most of the prostitutes looked bored. (It must have been a slow business day.)

1 comment:

Anna said...

A cannabis coffee shop--who would've dreamed? You're definitely not in Kansas any more.