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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrNot for the faint-hearted, though certainly a sight that even the faintest must endure at least once, the Red Light District isn't afraid to put everything out on display, right in front of your nose, and right in front of your lustrous eyes.
With over 300 individual single room booths for window prostitution, as well as sex clubs, private houses (more traditional style brothels), sex shops, and even a sex museum, this place might sound like either your worst nightmare, or your wettest dream. Either way, it has to be seen to be experienced.
HistoryDe Wallen is actually one of the oldest areas in the whole of Amsterdam, and is pretty much the birth place of the community. Two roads, Raken and Damrak , run parallel to each other down to what is now Dam Square, following the original course of the River Amstel. The river was damned at the bottom, and a bridge built across in 1270.
The Damrak was then a harbor, and the walled canals gave rise to the name of the area, De Wallen. The famous red lights began to appear around this time, to cater for the men at the docks; sailors and workers.
After going through various periods of suppression during Medieval times, and during Spanish occupation, the once openly touted prostitution trade was forced into the underground, before reemerging in 1811, when the ban was lifted once again, and regulations such as health checks were put in place.
The rocky road of legality continued for the prostitution trade in the Netherlands, but since October, 2010, window prostitution was made fully legal, and working girls now pay tax on their earnings, although the job is still stigmatized.
Window ShoppingIt is an unusual sight indeed to stumble upon the Red Light District, especially when it is fully illuminated and busy with punters in the nighttime. Women in windows line both sides of every street in the area, and gesture to potential clients to talk business, by making seductive movements to entice their customers. Crowds gather and parade, mostly at night, and contrary to what you might think, many different people take a stroll through the district, most of them simply curious.
With over 300 windows, and girls working from the daytime until deep into the night, there is certainly no lack of choice for those who are looking to purchase a sexual experience. The windows are also loosely broken down into sections, representing niches. Big women, black women, dutch women, Eastern European, and so on. Look out for the blue lights. They are women with penises. It would have been funnier not to tell you that!
Not So FastThe sex trade in Amsterdam is highly liberal, legal, and in De Wallen, it is fully on display. Many people agree with this approach to societal problems, while others reject it. The regulation of prostitution has at least encouraged a safer environment, both for the girl, and for the customer. Health checks, condoms, and minimum pay for working girls are obligatory.
However, the area is still somewhat associated with drugs, sex trafficking, and gangs. It is up to you how you view De Wallen on a moral level, but on an experiential level it is is worth a visit; it is up to you to take a look and find out what you really think.
Dabble In The Sex IndustryA large part of the commerce of the Red Light District is built up around the window brothels themselves, though the sex industry by no means stops there. De Wallen also boasts sex clubs such as the Moulin Rouge, or Casa Rosso, which each have live sex acted out in a kind of extreme porn theater sort of way, but with a touch of class.
The condomerie het Gulden Vlies (Golden Fleece) features a massive range of condoms. If you have ever stood in a basic pharmacy and looked at the choice of condoms for an hour, then this shop will truly blow your mind. Big ones, small ones; misshapen ones, flavors; colors, and even hand-painted condoms, for that special night in. There are also plenty of other sex shops selling every toy you can, and can not, imagine.
Peep shows are also a popular option for the quick-fix tourist, who is looking to experience some of the madness without going all of the way. You put a euro in a slot, and you get access to a small live show for a couple of minutes. Then, you put another coin in quick, because your light has gone out! Don't take too much change in with you if you like this sort of thing, your money will be swallowed quickly.
There is even a museum in De Wallen. The Erotic Museum features a three-story display on the history and culture of eroticism, including art from John Lennon.
Other AttractionsOf course, Amsterdam is a well-cultured place, and De Wallen, with its hundreds of window brothels, still manages to offer plenty on the menu other than sex. There are bars, cafés, and coffee shops, all of which make for a great opportunity to do some of the best people-watching you will do in Amsterdam. You can see punters enter the windows, and leave a few minutes later with any expression ranging from thrilled, to highly disappointed.
You Can Tell Your Mum You Went For...Being one of the oldest districts in Amsterdam, De Wallen features some amazing architecture, a 14th-century layout, and some old buildings that are well worth a look. The appropriately named Oude Kirk (Old Church), is a 14th-century wooden chapel, that now stands tall as a cathedral.
BehaviorThe Red Light District, despite its seedy reputation, and sometimes slightly shadowy underworld feel, is a relatively safe place to walk around, even at night. Many people choose to stay in one of the hotels on the strip, to be close to the nightlife. The area is well-policed and doormen are everywhere. You should, however, remain vigilant, and exercise common sense. Don't buy drugs off people on the streets, never act abusively, and definitely never take photos or videos of prostitutes. It is highly forbidden.
To Get ThereAmsterdam Airport Schiphol is close to the city center, and is one of the main airports in the Netherlands. From here you can take a train, tram, or bus to the city center. It is possible to take a train directly from within the airport, straight to central station, the main train station in the city. From here, it is easy to find the busy and well-known district.
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Author: M.Warburton. Last updated: Feb 17, 2015