My Day in Amsterdam’s Red Light District
I'm zoned out - I just can't handle anymore. You can only smoke so many joints in a day.
I take out my Frommer's Travel Guide and try to determine how to make it from The DampKring coffeeshop to the famous Red Light District of Amsterdam. After a few long pauses I give up, order a drink, and begin to roll another joint. I guess you can never smoke too many.
The DampKring was made famous by the movie 'Ocean's 12,' and has since seen a steady stream of people trying to pretend they're Brad Pitt or George Clooney. I chose to be Brad because I too am happily in love with a hot babe that likes wearing vials of my blood around her neck (just kidding, but she is hot) to be Clooney.
The shop has a wide open interior with orange walls. Various shades of orange overlap in different shapes, to provide you with the ultimate psychedelic experience. Good drinks and good weed are served here at moderate prices. Plus, you are greeted at the door by a lazy cat that sits in the window purring contentedly, no doubt due to the large amount of wacky second-hand smoke.
After my initial haze wore off, I ventured out only to be greeted by blinding sunlight - it was, after all, only a little past noon on a Friday. My bloodshot eyes adjusted slowly, and I began my journey to the famed district of the Red Lights.
Nowhere in Amsterdam do they promote the Red Light District; you only find this place through a concerted effort. All I knew was that it was centered around an old church and it ran mainly along one of the many canals that ring the city. As I passed through a narrow street, assuming I was getting close, I caught a glimpse of a set of windows with an old woman perched on a chair in one. I had arrived.
On the ground floor of the old brick building I was passing were five large windows bordered with neon lights. Inside, four of the windows displayed closed curtains, but the other held the aforementioned old lady. This aging prostitute-for-hire wore skimpy clothing and read her book, oblivious to the people outside her window. I moved on in hopes of catching a glimpse of younger, sexier babes.
As I moved into the more bustling part of the district, a more exciting, racy atmosphere emerged. Fast-paced beats pulsated out of the pubs, clubs, sex shops, and restaurants. The streets were congested with people, many of which were fellow tourists, but also families of locals wandering the canals as if what was displayed in the windows was merely everyday fare. The crowd was mostly composed of rowdy young men, though; either high on the weed they had just smoked, or high on the hope that they could afford one of the Red Light Ladies. Countless more windows were lit up in red, highlighting the gorgeous, sex-pot, attainable-but-it's-gonna-cost-you women.
I wanted to see this famed area after dark, so I eased my way back to my hotel to take a nap and allow the effects of the smoke to ease a bit. After a three hour nap I was refreshed and ready to make the trek back to the Red Light scene.
After dark the area changes - red lights do indeed light up the surroundings. Each window is surrounded by red neon, but inside black lights make the clothing the ladies of the evening wear glow a haunting, bright white.
Some of the girls do a little shake and twirl, some sit there with bored expressions chatting away on their cell phones, while others, like the older lady from earlier in the day, read books or magazines. Some shoot their sexy come-hither stare at the dumbfounded men on the streets, most of whom seem to have no idea what to do with themselves in such a target-rich environment.
There is a strict code of no picture taking in the district, but I did have the fortune to witness some poor chap attempt it. The women quickly beat on their windows angrily, glaring at the poor rube who was behaving inappropriately. Here's a photo I obtained legally, from 1976:
I was particularly interested in observing the interactions between the women, after they had opened their windows a crack, talking business with the anxiously awaiting men. But honestly, I was never quite sure where to look as I walked around the district.
I felt like it was rude to look at the women, even though they are selling themselves willingly, and make careers out of being looked at. I tried to maintain a business as usual facade while exploring, but what I really wanted to do was gawk and stare, and knock on their windows to ask them how much their services were. Ok, that probably came out wrong.
I did not want their services personally, I just have a curious mind, and was dying to know more details, like why they do it, how much money they make, how many customers they take a day, do they have boyfriends/husbands, and if so, do they mind their work.
To my surprise, I found the Red Light District only slightly trashy. Regardless of the fact that they were practically naked, these prostitutes seemed to have a lot more class than the ones I've seen working street corners across the US and Canada.
The Red Light women seem to be more powerful and in control. You get the impression that it is a professional business which they excel at, and it appears that they are free to pick and choose which ever customer suits them best. Elsewhere, I always got the impression that the hookers were weak, destitute, possible victims of trafficking, who out of pure desperation would take on any and all comers, so to speak, just to make a buck.
The Red Light District is a place like no other, with an endless amount of things to see and do (no pun intended). A visit to Amsterdam would not be complete without gawking at the X Rated sights found here. Plus, you can't take pictures, so you really do have to see it for yourself.