Netherlands

Amsterdam is not just about the Red Light District

The Red Light District 'set' (picture courtesy of Pink Haylx, July 2007).

The Red Light District ‘set’ (picture courtesy of Pink Haylx, July 2007).

I am passing by the De Wallen and I cannot help but steal glances at the girls standing under the glow of the red neon-lit windows.

They are dressed in skimpy silky lingerie and appear to look out into space, resembling mannequins breathed into life. When I linger too long gazing at this cappuccino-complexioned broad with dark hair held high in a neat bun; she appears to scowl, furrowing her brows and meeting my stare with an angry glare of her own, in mock surprise.

From where she stands, I probably look confused about my orientation, ogling for all it’s worth, taking advantage of a free peep-show and she’s having none of it. From where I stand, I am in curious amazement that there exist creatures so perfectly sculpted, everything proportionate, flawless to the extent that there is no second-guessing about flaunting their near-nude selves in public.

I understand the message, as quietly and non-verbally as it has been communicated, and cower away, focussing the rest of my evening walk on balancing my steps on the cobblestoned paths and dodging the whispering giggling couples, tourists and paying johns.

Amsterdam Red Light District windows (picture courtesy of RudmerHK, Flickr)

Amsterdam Red Light District windows (picture courtesy of RudmerHK, Flickr)

As long as I can remember, I have been in pursuit of stories that would never really be complete, the star attraction being the hookers, yet never really hearing their voices, but voices from the periphery; former prostitutes, policy-makers, NGOs and the Amsterdam City Council.

The thought of paying up for interviews has crossed my mind several times, but I’m not brazen enough to walk up to these windows and ask, there exists criminality in the undercurrents, in more ways than one; pimps likely lurking in the background, traffickers whom in my mind’s eye I imagine to be bald, brawny, tatoo-ed, with thick East European drawls, steely cold eyes and a willingness to break limbs and whatever else, and toss cameras into the canals.

In the decade that has gone by; arguments have ebbed and flowed, laws and regulations have been drafted, a restructuring of the city’s sleazy image as it were, resulting in the common knowledge that Amsterdam has morphed into a new shell of its’ old self, toned down from being the capital of raunch.

Yet the sum-total of Amsterdam is not the Red Light district nor is it the free access to hard drugs as the world has taught itself to believe, rather there are numerous faces, an eclectic mix of what has made this city so awesome. I look forward to exploring these sides; the art, the history, the museums, the food, the markets, the canals and the shopping.

Night image of colourful coffee shop signs in the Red Light District of Amsterdam (Picture courtesy of shutterstock.com).

Night image of colourful coffee shop signs in the Red Light District of Amsterdam (Picture courtesy of shutterstock.com).

Do you think there’s more to Amsterdam than the Red Light district and the drugs?

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