Nobody really thought I could be in Amsterdam for a few days and completely avoid the Red Light District. Somehow I manage to saunter through a time or two whenever I'm there. The recent visit was no exception. I, of course, have good excuses for these ventures. I needed to get to a destination on the other side.


 As most people know, prostitution is legal in the Netherlands. The Dutch have always been a tolerant lot so this shouldn't surprise anyone. The city of Amsterdam has gotten it down to a science. They have a section of the city known as the red light district. This is an area where prostitutes can sell their wares. The RLD extends for several blocks and alleys. It is located a few minutes walk from the Centraal Station. This is the oldest section of the city.  


There are many doors with windows. Red lights above the doors identify the prostitutes. Girls in lingerie will stand in the windows and try to attract the attention of young (or old) men sauntering through the area. There are also numerous sex shops and porno magazine shops for those who prefer the voyeuristic approach. The Dutch seem to want to please any preference.


 It is culture shock the first time. I can remember walking along a canal and suddenly spying a couple glass doors with the red lights. Further inspection revealed girls in each door. I was underwhelmed as they weren't really very attractive. It seemed strange that such a to do would be made over this. I still kept walking along as I needed to get back to my hostel. I noticed an alley with much foot traffic. Curiosity got the better of me. I decided to investigate. When I walked through the narrow alley I noticed rows of glass doors with many girls. They were decidedly more attractive than the first couple girls I saw. 


Some of the girls are downright beautiful and pretty much any ethnic preference can be satisfied. They will flirt with guys as they walk down the street. It can be rather enticing after hitting a pub or two and partaking in a cup of coffee at one of the local shops. (There is a Bulldog Cafe which has two alley ways on either side with plenty of lovely windows.) Some girls will even step out from the door to try to coax you into their lair. I am told that if you are seduced you will be led into a private room. The rooms generally have a bed and a sink.


 Legal prostitution actually eliminates many of the problems. Prostitutes are regularly tested for disease.  Use of condoms is also required. They even have a union for the girls.  Universal healthcare is provided.  They have the right to refuse service to anyone. I wonder what it would take to be rejected by a prostitute. I guess if you reach that point, it's time to give serious consideration to hari kari. Dishonor your family name no more.


After interviewing several patrons, I learned that the going rate is 50 euros for what is called the s*** & f***. You can get almost anything if you are willing to pay the price. The exchange rate is not very favorable for Americans right now but this is probably still more affordable than one would find in Nevada. My spies informed me that some of the really amazingly beautiful girls can charge more. Very little haggling is done. The world's oldest profession is very professional in this town.


It is interesting to see tourists walking and gawking. Occasionally, there will even be families wandering along the outskirts. There actually are some residents in the basic area although they try to isolate the actual “red lights” to specific areas. A few bars and coffee shops provide courage for would be pervs.


This certainly does lend new meaning to the term window shopping. Just be forewarned that they are very strict about the no photograph policy. This is alluded to even in the official tourist guides. There are guys presumably employed by the girl's union that will likely separate you from your camera if they catch you taking pictures. You can touch all you want if you have the euros but no photography please.


There are girls working on the street but these tend to be very undesirable. These are the equivalent of the crack ho's you might see in urban areas of America. I was amused by the official tourist booklet I picked up in the airport. They noted that if you have any problems with a girl or a pimp to not hesitate finding the police. “We know why you're here. You can hardly surprise us anymore.” Such an enlightened policy. They also strongly warn against purchasing hard drugs on the streets. You will likely be approached by English speaking dealers offering various white powders. Just ignore them and they will leave you be.


 There is humor to be found, too. The Christian Youth Hostel is located almost next door to a Thai Massage Parlor. I walked in the wrong door by mistake. Somebody handed me a Bible and people were praying for my soul. I said, “Hey this is pretty kinky. When do we get undressed?” As soon as I realized I wasn't going to have a petite Asian woman tiptoe along my spine, I departed. Another note is that the brewpub across the alley from the CYH and TMP was once a convent. You gotta love a town that would close a convent to open a brewpub.


I also remember being in Amsterdam on Halloween in 1998. I caused quite a stir by taking a walk through the RLD wearing a Bill Clinton mask and carrying a large cigar in my hand. There were some startled looks to be sure. But I assure you that I did not have sexual relations with that woman.


 I don't know that this is a good tourist destination for someone with more conservative or prudish attitudes. It is highly entertaining to just walk through and flirt with the girls. It is also amusing to watch other people as they maneuver through. Those with more prurient impulses will likely get a kick out of this. It is something very distinct. Amsterdam is an amazing city. This is just one of the many things that makes it special. I recommend it for both entertainment and sociological study.               

Author's Notes/Comments: 

A piece written about 13 years ago.  I'll leave it to the reader to draw the line on where reality ends and fiction begins.