The Red Light District in Amsterdam: The Netherlands – the land of windmills and tolerance. The first thing that comes to mind at the mention of the Netherlands is either weed or prostitution. Well, today we are going to take you on a journey to explore the famous Red Light District and tell you more about the history and what it looks like nowadays.
The thing I like the most about the Netherlands is the sense of inclusion this country offers because their mentality in dealing with most things is based on acceptance. They were the first country to legalize same sex marriages, the first country to legalize marijuana, and they have always been pioneers in breaking taboos and creating a free world where everyone can be themselves without the fear of being judged or prosecuted.
That being said, the Netherlands was the first country (again!) to legalize prostitution, and consider it as a career, a job like any other. Sex workers are protected and have the same rights as people exercising any other profession. That profession is located at a special place called “The Red Light District” or in Dutch “De Wallen”.
Prostitution in Amsterdam is almost as old as the city itself. In the early 15th century and maybe even earlier, the first prostitutes arrived to earn a living and were located mostly at the harbor of Amsterdam. The Red Light District is still located in the oldest part of the city. Women in olden times started their trade in the streets. The Red Light District became a name, combining areas with a high concentrations of sex workers in the 19th century when brothel-owners started using red gaslights to discreetly inform potential clients of the nature of their business. In 1960-s, it became illegal to solicit from doorways. Sitting behind the window was tolerated, if the curtains were almost closed. Today it is allowed to keep the curtains open but the red lights are still used. That’s how the name “Red Light District” came to use – it’s the red neon lights that illuminate the 300 windows behind which women work.
There are some unwritten rules that should be respected if you are planning on paying the place a visit. Firstly, DO NOT take photos of sex workers. Like any other profession or any normal person, strangers taking picture of someone without their consent is disrespectful. Naturally, the same applies for taking pictures of sex workers. Secondly, DO NOT stare or stand in front of the windows for a long time. If you are not planning on going in, then don’t block the way for potential clients. Besides, there is nothing to keep staring at. Last, but not least, DO NOT deal with street prostitutes. Sex workers can only work from behind their windows and street prostitution is illegal. If you go for a street prostitute, a fine of 115 euros can be imposed on both the sex worker and the client.
Another interesting thing you can find in De wallen is the Blue Light District. It is a place located within the Red Light District that is known for the transgender sex workers. It is called the Blue Light District because of the colour of the lights on the windows of these workers. In this place there is a certain kind of humor involved, as some visitors to the district walk in drunk and/ or stoned and being totally unaware of what this is all about and not having paid attention to the colour of the light on the window, when they get inside they are in for a big surprise.
By now you must be curious about the cost and what sex workers charge? There are no fixed rates or charges. However, sex workers usually charge 50 euros per 15-20 minutes. Additional time and services cost extra, adding up to the bill quite quickly. So, if you are planning on using more services, be ready and have some extra money.
There are some other activities the Red Light District offers. If you are interested in historical buildings, then visiting the Red Light District is a must. One can start from the city’s oldest residence that is located at Warmoesstraat 90. It is believed to have been erected in 1485. Then, moving on to another major attraction in this district – Oude Kerk (Old Church). It is not only the oldest church in Amsterdam, but also its oldest building. The Old Church goes back to 1213, and survived the great fires in the 15th century, the Beeldenstorm of 1566, and is still standing beautiful and majestic in the heart of the city. Another important building that has been preserved in the area is the Dutch East India Company building. It is considered to be one of the first international companies in the world. It was founded at the beginning of the 17th century and was established by people from different countries and background. They financed the company with their own money and had shares in it. It is known as the first stock exchange market in the world and it was founded here, in Amsterdam, in 1602. And since you are there, then you should see the narrowest street in Amsterdam – “Trompettersteeg”. It is one meter wide and two people cannot walk side by side! Moreover, if someone happens to be coming from the other side, you will have to press your back against the wall to let them pass.
Having this information at hand, I hope you look at the Red Light District through a different perspective because it is much more than streets full of brothels. It is a place full of history, it provokes controversial debates which, most of the time, lead to beneficial outcomes for everyone because the Netherlands is a place full of culture and historical magic, and it is also a place where everyone can do what makes them whole.
-Text by Marianne Wolf!