One of the nicer areas in Amsterdam is the neighborhood known as “De Wallen”, as it is the area around the Voorburgwal and Achterburgwal canals, roughly between the Oude Kerk (“Old Church”, which dates back to the 1200s) and Nieuwmarket Square. It’s a surprisingly pleasant residential area, with trees along the canals, little alleys and side streets, and a bunch of bars and night spots all less than a kilometer away from the Central Station and about two minutes from the Damrak.
“De Wallen” is what you call it when you don’t want to say you’re going to the Red Light District…..
To get the “inside scoop” as it were, I booked a walking tour with Oranje Umbrella Tours. Jelle, our guide, was great. He was fun and informative, and we all had a great time.
As he informed us, 50 Euros is the basic “entry fee” to one of the “rooms” – it gets you 15 minutes. 100 Euros gets you half an hour, and can lead to something more than just that. All special requests are negotiable (as long you can afford it), but the woman has the right to refuse service to any client. And the rooms are all equipped with panic buttons if things get nasty. Oh, condoms are MANDATORY, all the ladies speak English (Note: I NEVER had language difficulties while I was there), and it’s pretty much a CASH ONLY business as you’d expect.
All of the women are required to be licensed by the government. About half of their income goes to taxes, but even after rent is subtracted (they have to rent the “window”, almost always from an agent who rents the houses and sublets the space), it’s still possible to make a acceptable living doing it. There’s also a union!
No, I don’t have photographs. There are little signs all over the place reminding you that it’s forbidden to photograph the women in the windows.. And if you’re lucky when you try it, you just might be able to fish your camera/phone out of the canal….
The “storefronts” are all windowed doors with red florescent lights over them. Dark red curtains close over the windows when the spot is closed (or the woman is busy). The actual space is a bit bigger than a walk-in closet. There’s a chair or stool for the woman to relax and check her phone when she’s not showing off for passers-by. The bedroom is in the back. Windows tend to come in clusters, suggesting that they all share a common suite of “bedrooms”. Many of them are located in alleys, so don’t hesitate to at least peek down them. Please note – these alleys can be VERY narrow. We’re talking barely enough room for two people to pass by each other. While some “windows” are active during the day, those are very few. It’s only around 8 pm when the “night shift” begins that things really pick up.
There are also a LOT of bars and “coffee shops” in the area, which means that there’s going to be quite a few louts (drunks, mostly) wandering around. Try to avoid them as best you can. Better yet, avoid the place entirely on a weekend night. I gather that due to the press of tourists, the city is seriously considering new policies to help deal with the crowds (and their trash).
By the way, there’s a smaller collection of red lit windows on the other side of the Damrak just south of the Lutheran church, and another in the area known as “De Pijp”.
Despite all the business that goes on there, the Red Light District really is a residential area. It’s actually a nice place to stroll around when the crowds aren’t too oppressive – if your feet can handle the fact that virtually all the sidewalks (and many of the streets) in the area are paved with brick or stones…..
I’ll wrap things up next time.