It was a long flight - three flights: From Seattle to Vancouver and then Frankfurt, finally Amsterdam. I took the tram from Schiphol Airport into Central Station, just 4 stops away. Short conversation with woman on the train. She's forty something, been around, Intelligent. Now lives in Italy, but born in Amsterdam and lived here 20 years. We talk about our country's: art, and politics, and Amsterdam.
"It used to be so much more," she says. "They allowed small areas where people could do what they wanted as long as in did not harm anyone else. There were a lot of artists. People were happy. We enjoyed life. It was easy here, relaxed, you know? Now it's all about money . . . and laws. The politicians keep on passing more new laws. Now things are so expensive. Artists can't afford a place to work. It's changed."
Change is the reason why I'm here. There have been articles in newspapers and magazines about the city cleaning up its Red Light District, an attempt to escape Amsterdam's sex and drugs image. The Red Light District is a small, canal laced grid that spans about five city blocks or less, and is a tourist magnet. Hard to believe it's coming to an end. Sex and drugs are Amsterdam's Eiffel Tower, but I can see their point as this is not the most attractive thing for a great city to be noted for.
It's interesting though, as prostitution's legal in Las Vegas, Thailand, Germany, Australia and so many other places. It was made legal here in Amsterdam in 1830, but was easily available before that time, ignored by the authorities. Then someone had a brilliant thought - let's make it legal. We can tax the income, (19%). Prostitution's more discrete in other places, but in Amsterdam it's right out front. It isn't going to disappear, the same for marijuana.
Which is easily available at any U.S. inner city high school, and becomes more legal in the States each day - medical now, but that will change. Weed will create a flood of tax money for States now close to going bankrupt.
The Italian and me go our separate ways at Central Station. My hotel is in the Red Light District, a short walk. Already I see major changes. They have dug up the canal in front of where I'm going to stay. Huge rusting metal girders stab up from the water like spilled soda straws, and they've destroyed two of bridges crossing the canal. What's left of the brick sidewalk's has been covered with steel plates now dusted with white sand. The trees are gone!
Note hotel with three red awnings on the right - both photos
There are projects scattered everywhere. Even the Oude Kerk, located in the center of the Red Light District , Amsterdam's oldest building, built 1306. Rembrandt's wife is buried here, beneath its stone slab floor along with other famous locals. Rembrandt himself was buried in a paupers grave. The church is dedicated to Saint Nicholas, the saint of water and protector of sailors, merchants, pawnbrokers and children - multitasker.
Off to one side of the Oude Kerk there is statue representing a prostitute waiting for customers at her door. It was erected in 2007 by the Prostitution Information Center, an organization similar to San Francisco's, Coyote (Call off your old tired ethics).
Press releases say they're going to get rid of some of the whores and refurbish hotels, such as the one I'm at, a one-star residence with common bathroom and a shower down the hall, a hundred fifteen bucks a day. And do they really plan to kick out drugs? Replace the coffee shops with posh hotels and restaurants? The 'haven for crime' bit they proclaim as drug related is untrue. There's far less crime here than most cities. Pickpockets are the greatest threat to tourists. I recall the words of the Italian woman . . . money.
The Red Light district is one of the most beautiful areas in Amsterdam, laced with canals and punctuated with cathedrals. It's already expensive here, made more so by the falling value of the dollar. One Euro's worth a little better than a dollar fifty at this writing. There are inexpensive hostels for the young. Backpackers are abundant.
I suspect movers and shakers here have seen a way to squeeze a lot more out of tourists. Youth hostels will be some of the first to disappear, replaced by more expensive, modern and resplendent four and five star places. First they'll use taxpayer money to upgrade the infrastructure that has served the last five hundred years. Just my opinion.
Here at the bar on the ground floor of my hotel I see four store-front windows on the other side of the canal, each with a hooker on display as an unending stream of tour groups pass by gawking. I cannot imagine someone going doing business with them while so many watch. Last year I saw a guy decide to go for it and as he dove into one of the hooker's doors the passing crowd applauded.
The most beautiful girls look like Playboy models, dressed in bikinis but sometimes more imaginative outfits, police costumes, harem outfits, cowgirls. Some are beautiful as Playboy models. They look airbrushed . . . skin seems not quite real. Others are less attractive. Some are fat, and others (my opinion) ugly, but the must be doing something right. They all seem tireless. Most are standing, beckoning, and vougeing for anyone who dares to look. Most men do. The girls rap on their windows. Hey baby. . . .
Depending on location hookers pay around one-hundred fifty Euros rent to use the windows for eight hours, about $225. There are two shifts with different girls. This comes to $500 a day for rent of a single window. The owner of a building with three or four windows on the sidewalk level's doing very well indeed. The girls charge patrons fifty Euros, about seventy five bucks. They are from every race and place, but very few from Amsterdam . . . best not to practice where you live. Forty percent of their clients come from England.
One of the gang of four
New windows are forbidden. No more will be licensed, and there are enough. They're everywhere, along one of the main streets and on many narrow alleyways. The windows all have colored lights. Red is for straights, blue is for gays - yes there are male prostitutes as well, and also purple. Purple is for surgically enhanced males that look like women. Rebuilt, the bartender explains. He tells me there's around two hundred windows in the district.
I'm still drinking beer to chase the jet lag and make sleep more possible. Forty-eight hours on planes and in airports. I'm too tired and wired to sleep. The time here is nine hours ahead of the Seattle clocks.
I've yet to see a single person step into a window worker's door though hundreds have gone passed them in these last two hours. I have begun to wonder if these four are just for show, attractions for the non-stop tours of twenty-five to thirty people . . . sidewalk's always filled with passers-by. Theater Casa Rosso is next door. I'll you more about the sex shows later.