Amsterdam is much more than brothels and coffee shops which I can write about but what would you rather read first ‘Amsterdam – the beautiful canal city’ or this? That’s what I thought. Furthermore I’m not sure if there are other cities that are as proud of their world’s first and biggest condom shop.
I love taking guided tours of cities. I would highly recommend that you do too. You can see, feel and do things but they most definitely seem different with the right context. Imagine being at the Taj Mahal but had to ask someone who the hell is Mumtaj or at the Statue of Liberty with not much idea on the great American immigrant history. Well, not so great for the natives, it’s an interesting history nevertheless, that for better or worse had a major impact on the course of the modern world.
Having just landed and breathed the sweet smell of the brand new morning of a new country we were mostly walking around the streets during the day, getting a feel of the city, getting lost every now and then – given the city looks like a maze of canals. While I was at a notary service in the morning, to get some paper work done, the very concerned notary with an accent, threw me a free advice –
‘Don’t go by the red light district, ok? You don’t wanna risk encountering the kind of people that come there’.
‘Yes sir. No red light district, point noted!’
As the daylight drew close and the city started lighting up, I was looking up information on the walking tours and obviously was intrigued by the Red Light District tour. Someone’s giving a tour of the red light district? Count me in.
(I don’t own pictures in this post. All following pictures were from random google search. I didn’t risk getting my camera thrown in the canal. For obvious reasons they were pretty serious about photographing here)
Martin (or Martyn as he would prefer), our tour guide, definitely few inches above 6 feet was waiting right at the dam square as he texted earlier. Not someone who could be easily missed. After an exchange of pleasantries, he started off with a disclaimer – ‘If you’re a religious person or a conservative person you may not really like this tour much. Also I’m not soliciting prostitution or drug consumption of any kind even though it might sound like I am’. Morality is such a skewed and volatile concept. It was completely legal for our great grand father to own a person. Our grand father lived in the same timeline as a society that believed it is definitely in the realm of morality to exterminate an ‘evil’ race for the survival of a ‘supreme’ race. Martin, a proud Dutch, definitely didn’t sound like someone to not call bull shit on morality lessons from an outsider.
I wish I was mature enough to not have found history classes the most boring. Anthropology must be a fascinating study. Every culture and life style has an origin and a reason why things exist the way they do. Amsterdam’s, as a dam on the river Amstel, started somewhere around the 12th century and it went on to become the center of a world wide trade network by the 17th century. One of the richest city that time with large influx of traders from all over the world it is only natural that the oldest profession found its roots too.
Martin was intent on clarifying the tourists about one point. As it is widely misunderstood, weed in Holland is not legal, but it is tolerated. Technically it is illegal to grow one’s own weed beyond personal needs and to trade it to another person but it is tolerated, that the authorities just turn a blind eye to where it comes from and let them be sold in coffee shops. Prostitution and brothels on the other hand are completely legal and regulated.
Amsterdam’s RLD is famous for its window prostitution and hence he started off with a personal anecdote to give us an idea of what it’s like to go seeking a ‘service’ in one of the windows. Being a teenager (the legal age is 16) pumped with hormones, he ended up walking by the windows, perhaps a rite of passage, lured in by the drop dead gorgeous women. He was as much scared as was aroused, seeing one such East European woman who would probably have seen thousands before him walk by the street staring, and she exactly knew what it takes to make a man feel desired – sometimes it’s just a smile. Having struck a deal of an additional 25 Euros over the typical 50 Euros, for her to be on the top, he went behind the window, closing the curtains behind on a bunch of cheering weirdos outside. To his dismay, the smile and the fake love that came along with it faded and it was nothing more than a business transaction once behind. Adding to his disappointment was that, he only had about 5 minutes of the agreed upon 20 minutes to ‘perform’. And that my friends is why it’s not that much fun as one would think to hire a cheap prostitute. Vow Martin, thanks for the enlightening anecdote. Damn, I hate stories with morals.
Very much convinced that we were given a fair warning of how things work behind the curtains and about the drug peddlers, he led us on to the streets for some show-and-tell. A few blocks further down, after a quick left and a right and then another left into an alley we walked into a building which I didn’t really pay much attention to what we were walking into. That intoxicating smell, the seductive women, the sensual lights. We just walked into a brothel. It wouldn’t be surprising if we miss a few men by the end of the tour. The RLD of Amsterdam seemed quite laid back, casual and less shady than one would think. Definitely looked more dignified than the nights in Pattaya (of Thailand). It seemed a bit insensitive at first to be on a walking tour watching women like some kind of exhibits, but then they must really appreciate the opportunity for new clientele.
The tour went on further to other attractions. The peep show – for those who are on a shoestring budget and hence would rather take care of their ‘business’ themselves, with the aid of a video or a live performance. Martin was pretty serious about making the tour as informative as possible and took us through the block with such cabins and went on to describe how this guy who just went into the cabin might have started unbuttoning his pants and how this other guy who went in a few minutes earlier might have started wanking off already, making some of us go eww. He also went very much into the details of this type of show with a woman on the stage and men all around in their private cabins jerking off. That is when I realized I’ve had enough of the day! Not really though. We went on further through the blue light streets. In case you find yourself in one of those, be known that it is for those that seek the warmth and comfort of transgenders, transvestites etc, unless you want to be surprised.
© Martin Alberts
Martin was really proud of the Dutch model and made sure to take a dig at other countries that aren’t as liberal and at religion quite often. Netherlands is one of the countries with atheists outnumbering the theists and steadily on the rise. The legalization of prostitution seem to have really made the lives of those in the profession safer and better. There is a prostitution information center for their aide and all possible support. With the cops patrolling around most of the time, personal body guards and a panic button right by their side – one has to concur. Did I mention that many of them easily make six figures annually?
He was also happy about their world’s first and biggest condom shop, condomerie, the idea born in the 80s with the emergence of AIDS, to make condom shopping casual and not a taboo. For a city with one of the prominent red light districts in the world, they really need one.
Having grown up and lived in a place where weed is such a taboo and a big no, it was fascinating to stroll around, watching people smoking joints by the canals and in coffee shops, getting high casually. Martin had lot more anecdotes – about the time someone mixed alcohol and shrooms causing a pretty bad trip ending up in jail, about the illegal drug peddlers who lured some tourists into taking untested drugs in the name of coke causing a bad overdose and the wild nights of some dumb tourists who ended up eating one too many space cakes (an edible weed) despite the warning on the label that half a cake would be more than enough for most people. The dutch government has established free drug test centers to test the composition of even the illegal drugs one bought on streets.
After letting us know of all such untoward incidents that dumb tourists run into and the dos and don’ts of the place, Martin invited us for a drink to end the tour. I had a long walk back home and had a really long day. I thought I would rather spend an hour or two by the canals and call it a day and walked the other way, while a few of them asked for directions to the dam square and the rest took on the offer and followed Martin.