While in Amsterdam, the word Sex is like the word Tea or Majani in Kericho. Part of the Dutch pride and fame for sex is synonymous to the kind of global advertisement our tea has done for Kenya. In Amsterdam, sex is cool. It’s rich. It’s okay. It’s liberating. Because of the legalization of prostitution, it draws tourists. Together with the legalization of weed; prostitution is part of the Dutch toleration for things, otherwise, not legal in many parts of the world.
On my first day in Amsterdam, while walking down the shopping district, I bump into the Sex Museum. It’s right between tourists’ souvenir shops, food joints and a kid’s toy (no pun intended) store. And it’s only four euros in. As soon as I tell one of my friends that I am staying right in the CBD close to Amsterdam Centraal Station (CS), they say: “That’s very close to the Red Light District (RLD), make sure you take a trip there!” I end up visiting RLD at different times on different days, thus noticing different things, every single time, day and night.
From the start, I have no imaginations of what RLD is like, apart from a place where it’s okay to pick up a prostitute when in lust and with money, or a street where you can easily spot hookers. On my first evening in Netherlands, accompanied by friends, I take my first walk down Amsterdam’s RLD, known for high-profile hookers. The buildings along RLD boast part of the city’s charming 14th century architecture—not what I had ever pictured. The District is located along one of the most beautiful parts of Amsterdam, with long alleys with a few twists and turns. It’s about 9:00 p.m. and still quite bright because it’s summer. Most of the large and long windows or glass doors through which prostitutes show up, from the classic buildings, still have curtains. The streets aren’t jammed. Prostitutes, in sexy lingerie and truckloads of makeup driven by bright or deep red lipstick, tease streetwalkers. As if made a tad shy by the bright of night, they dramatically jump in front of the curtain, revealing a leg or their torso, and then quickly jump back. Some prostitutes just peep out of the window, smiling and waving or beckoning passersby by the index finger.
“Good gracious!’ – my first thought. What a wonderfully liberal world this must be. For these women to be as proud as they are, up for sex, and not being jeered or stoned or arrested but being adored and marveled at, just as any other product on sale would be window-shopped.
There are gay bars, pornography cinemas, an Erotic Museum of Prostitution and a Sex Theatre (where you can view live sex – yes!) along RLD. There’s also the Condomerie, Worlds First Condom Specialty shop, first opened in 1987. Photography here, and generally along RLD inclusive of the signs and prostitutes is prohibited, but I still steal some and the video below:
On a different day I visit Condomerie with a friend. We marvel at the naughty post cards and joke about how it would be cool to see if a receiver would put two and two together if sent the wittily designed cards. But none of us wants to experiment. The tiny sex shop, full of curious (in all ways) customers and tourists, has ALL shades, sizes and flavours of condoms. And then there are toys and probably whips and chains. We don’t stay in too long. I am already in trouble for being spotted taking a photo.
On a different day – the end of the night Netherlands win against Costa Rica in the World Cup, together with my two male friends (names withheld for obvious reasons), we decide to head over to RLD for two reasons: to find a bar with good beer and simply assess business. Why not? Especially after Netherlands beat Costa Rica by luck at the penalties. We are curious if this result will influence an influx or decrease of clients at RLD tonight. Although there are celebrations and a lot of drinking beer and singing in town, most fans (read – everyone including me) are still not too happy by Netherlands performance again. The game against Costa Rica was just like their previous match against Mexico, too much struggle and still failing to score in 90 minutes.
“It’s going to be a bad night for the girls. Or should I say, a good night?” One of my friends jests, adding, “The prostitutes will probably make a lot of money, still.”
We have arrived.
Tonight I see the RLD in different light. (It’s the busiest I’ve seen any street, day or night, during my entire stay in Netherlands). It’s the first time I am experiencing human traffic. There are so many people, among them, more than half dressed in orange jerseys, walking up and down RLD lanes. Everyone (the Dutch and tourists alike) has been wearing orange all day, in support of Netherlands at World Cup, so there’s no way of knowing nationalities of people along RLD, tonight largely dominated by men. My friend says a lot of the guys down RLD are usually Brits. And leaning on that statement, I overhear several British accents along the crammed and jammed street. I wonder if there are male or homosexual prostitutes too, somewhere. They can’t miss to have their spot in a place like Amsterdam—the city with something for everyone. We spot a couple of policemen along the canal bridges dressed in their “Politie” jackets, standing at bay watching people stream in and out of the district. They are possibly looking out for trouble. But there is never trouble.
It’s way past 1:30 a.m. The prostitutes are not afraid of the dark of night – they seem to be encouraged by it. They are on display just like meat hangs by the butchery windows or how mannequins pose by windows at the malls. There are no curtains here. As you stare at them, the more they lure you while touching themselves and demonstrating skills and positions, some smiling as innocently as virgins. All this happens through the life-sized windows through which I can see single rooms lighted up in red, blue, violet and even green. The rooms have beds layered with white towels and numerous toys, some looking like gadgets. Some rooms seem to have doors in the back.
We are standing next to a group of three girls and one boy staring so hard at one of prostitutes demonstrating her prowess by mocking her viewers from across the window. The foursome stares so hard as if they are watching a silent movie. I can now see that most of the prostitutes have done a boob or mouth job, or both – it’s so evident. The prostitutes clearly represent different nationalities. Some look Indonesian and Korean. There is also a lane with black girls. Here is the first place I see big -sized prostitutes. We also pass a window where several men are queuing for one prostitute and there is a bouncer, (or should we refer to him as a pimp?) ensuring that there’s no pushing and pulling or jumping the line.
Most pubs and clubs have red-lit signs gleaming and popping with witty names of the places. Sex Palace. Banana Bar. Moulin Rouge. And so on. We finally find a club that is full enough to handle us (the others are overflowing). I just want some of that good rose’ beer. My boys are soon turned off by the fact that there are only four girls (me included) in this club so we leave soon after …
In the continuing series of of my tales from Netherlands, read:
Love, Sex and Drugs: Amsterdam (Part III)
Love, Sex and Drugs: Amsterdam (Part IV)
BONUS: Prostitution is legal in Holland with most of Amsterdam’s business running in the Red Light District. Window prostitutes have been allowed to legally display their trade since October 2000. PS: RLD hasn’t always been known to be the safest place in Amsterdam. From time to time, several crimes have been reported from there so while visiting, make sure you have company and be watchful.