I’m sure to the chagrin of the locals, Amsterdam is known as the legal marijuana and prostitution capital of the world. Amsterdonians(?) actually appreciate the attention they get for those two items so little in fact that the city’s official website doesn’t even mention them (it’s a completely different section). And although Amsterdam does offer them, it also has year-round moderate temperatures, a population of 820,000 inhabitants and over 800,000 bicycles, it was the world’s financial hub during the 17th century, once home of world famous Northern renaissance artist Rembrandt, and is visited by 3.5 million people every year. That would make any native beam with pride, but that isn’t fun; we want their cheeks to turn the bright crimson of indignation, so this article is going to highlight the most shocking facts about De Wallen, Singelgebied and Ruysdaelkade which together make up Rosse Buurt – or most popularly known as Amsterdam’s Red Light District. Why? Because sex sells, and I know it.
Sex… Well, Everything
De Wallen is home to the Temple of Venus, or Amsterdam’s world famous smut sex museum. If you have a thirst for 7-foot tall phalluses and turn-of-the-century pictures of people masturbating, then this is definitely the spot for you. And because the museum aims to satisfy your little foray into human depravity sexuality, your visit will be accompanied by audio of sex groans and moans. The strangest sound bite is probably featured in the Marquis de Sade room which is a perplexing combination of a steam engine’s whistley and a woman’s pleasured moans. Sorry, I will not add a sample of the audio – you’ll just have to trawl the internet for it yourself.
If you consider your tastes a little more high-brow and would prefer something a bit more “artistic” (note the quotation marks around artistic, and don’t say you haven’t been warned), you can visit the Condomerie (or Kingdom of Condoms). If there is one thing that goes hand in latex-love-glove-covered-hand with the purchase of sexual congress, it’s protection. It was the world’s first specialty condom shop, having opened back in 1987, and even sells hand-painted frankfurter covers, which you obviously can’t use to protect your most valuable asset – they are just aesthetic.
Yeah, yeah, be patient, I’m getting to the actual selling of sex. In Amsterdam’s Red Light District, there’s actually a whopping 5,000 to 8,000 sex workers, most of which are female. Looking for the authentic Dutch experience (when in Rome, do a Roman?) might involve a little bit of sex market research, as local Dutch sex workers only account for about a third of the professionals in De Wallen. Feel more than free to fly your freak flag as most of the workers in the RLD will cover any demands regarding age, gender (even the third gender), body type, and ethnicity.
It’s Really Old
De Wallen is actually one of the oldest areas in Amsterdam. The actual Red Light District can probably be dated back to around the 13th or 14th century due to a harbor that was created in an adjacent area. Shortly afterwards, during the middle ages, priests and married men were disallowed from entering the area. After fornication was made punishable (yes, punishable. Do these priests not know where babies come from?), the sex trade went underground in the form of parlors run by madams who gave working women a room and board for a fee.
Later on in 18th century, rich people found these parlors below them, so the gambling houses they… um… commissioned services at began offering room and board to the sex workers, which made everything nice and incognito for the men of means. Due to the fact that rich, white men were involved in this arrangement, authorities turned a blind eye – even the parlors were left alone as long as they were hidden. No neon dancing lady on the outside of these salacious salons.
In 1811, the previous ban-but-looking-the-other-way arrangement was completely lifted because the French soldiers enjoyed the “ambience” of De Wallen and spent a lot of their time (and Francs) in the area. The industry went underground once again in the early 20th century but with the whole “I know the mayor bangs here so if you keep quiet, we’re cool” agreement, due yet again to pressure from religious organizations and it finally became the “tourist attraction” where the most husbands get yelled at today.
Drugs, Sex and Criminals
There are few places in the world where you can engage in explicitly Rated R ((language, substance abuse, nudity and sexual content) behaviors legally, but the Red Light District in Amsterdam offers all of that – I reiterate – legally. It’s like a dystopian Disneyland for adults and their twisted vices.
If you have any knowledge of contemporary crime though, you probably already are aware of the perpetual connection between the sex industry and substance abuse, human trafficking, and violence. Well, even though Amsterdam offers protection to the people that are sex workers and regulates the legal drug industry, some things still fly dangerously under the authorities’ radar. It has not only been host to some of the most notorious organized crime syndicates but has also seen numerous cases of drug trafficking, murders, money laundering, extortion for protection rackets, and human trafficking throughout the early 21st century. It is said that even today the area is patrolled by the Dutch Hell’s Angels for a fee payable by window owners and the women that work them.
Sure, it’s ironic that the section directly above the “regulated” part is the entry dedicated to all the evil and criminal wrongdoings of the Red Light District, but look, this is the last section, and thusly carries the most gravitas… at least that’s what my alcoholic English professor told me.
OK, so the minimum age to be a prostitute in Amsterdam was raised just a few years ago, ironically by a few years, from 18 to 21. They must always use protection which is easily accessible and readily available (condoms are even sold in food vending machines alongside candy bars and Skittles). Beyond that, the Dutch government is constantly regulating the “windows” of the Red Light District to make sure that people aren’t part of a human trafficking ring or under the control of pimps and madams. Actually, pimps and madams are even illegal in Holland as a deterrent against human trafficking.
See Also: Can You Make a Career Selling Sex?
Although I made light of both the industry and the people that work in it, it is a difficult and dangerous profession. These individuals find themselves in many precarious situations and, in many cases it is just due to a lack of opportunities. Thank you, and remember to tip your window workers. If you’d like to add anything else to this article, please feel free to leave a comment in the section below.