Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Amsterdam Red Light District Tour

It’d been a week of bad weather coming up to the Amsterdam Red Light District walking tour, making it feel like the place was kinda living up to its name. Old Man Horizontal Snow, Captain Sleet and Unfeasibly Strong and Bloody Cold Wind with Grey Skies (didn’t get his first name) had all been round and over stayed any welcome they might have had in this town, so that when the night of the walk through Amsterdam‘s Red Light District finally came by, the sky was at least clear enough to make out the Red Lights in question.
amsterdam red light district tour sculpture
Amsterdam's Red Light District - Jack Takes a Tour
Red light, apparently, smooths out your skin with its invisible Super Rays, making you look 10 years younger and your booty hotter, too, I’ll bet. Now, you’ve probably all been imagining Old Jack as a six-foot man with wisdom etched into his Outback-hardened features. And so he could probably do with a little red light to make him look younger. Well, as I climbed atop my standard Amsterdam-issue bicycle (the straight black frame, bent handlebars and the standard upright posture) that had been built for someone at least a foot taller than me, I found myself wishing for some way to stop the giggles of pedestrians, as not even a little red light could cover up the tippy-toes riding posture and my helplessly aged booty stuck high in the air. I’ll put dignity on next month’s shopping list.
But enough about me getting my leg over on the high bike seat, I reckon what you all want is to hear about the laydeez…

Jack’s Amsterdam Red Light District Tour

The red light district in Amsterdam is just next to the Centraal Station, and the streets nearby are full of tourists that couldn’t tell a bike path from the road to hell – they’re the ones standing grinning in front of you, once you’ve brought your bike to an abrupt halt. They’re the same ones filling the “coffeeshops”, slowly driving their heads into their navels on the local’s “greenery” that comes in menu-filling flavours over here.
Overall though, Amsterdam ain’t so full of non-locals, what with the thousand flavours of English spokjen over here, and given that this is the centre of town you’d probably expect to be tripping over someone in the thick of the action, but there’s still space enough.
amsterdam red light district tour window
Amsterdam's Red Light District
Departing from the tourist pickup point on the Damrak, our little loving posse led by local guide [her name removed, to protect the not-so-innocent], we wandered across the road where the lanes got narrower and the alleys more alley-like. Starting at the Prostitution Information Centre (PIC), we were given an overview of what goes on and has gone on over the years with the hustling and bustling of the neighbourhood. And some questions bantered about to answers by the former sex worker, now one of many working at the PIC (you have to have worked in the area before working in the Centre, which provides free help to workers in Amsterdam since 1994).
And then out on the street, the tour proper begins – with a little “window shopping” as it, er, would be… In this area in Amsterdam, one of three red light districts we are told, but by far the most visible being in the old town centre, there are 200 windows (of the 400 in Amsterdam). In these windows, after joining the waiting list to get a spot, is a strange little slice of life – the window itself, more a glass fronted doorway, with the talent standing ready for your order, and behind the bed all a-ready and waiting to go. Get her attention, should this be your port of call in your personal storm, fix a price, pull the curtains and get to work, or not as you wish, as the clock starts on your 20 minutes. Simple as that. Back out the door and back on the streets you’ll be feeling like a new man, or if that’s what you want, that can be organised for a price, too.

Sex? Oh sure. Me? No thanks.

Over a beer at a pub back home one day, a mate characterised the Dutch approach to drugs pretty simply – “Drugs? Oh sure. Me? No, thanks.�? That’s liberal with the small “L�? and an open-minded culture to boot.
Same goes for the “oldest professional,” which in Holland is respected and the workers’ rights protected. As our guide tells us between bouts of “we (Dutch) think this is all OK�? (which I’m not one to argue either way), she mentions that the profession is OK for many except if it’s your wife, or mother, or sister, or workmate.
Kinda same difference really. So it’s probably no big surprise either, that rather than be a big eye-opener, it’s sometimes, well, a bit odd. Strangely, during the tour, I kinda felt like making the two worlds meet and grab a pre-roll of the green stuff on our way past a coffeeshop to make sure the stroll had a bit more of that surreal edge. But, for you, my dear readers, despite my New World yearnings, I stayed alert and sober to spot the unmissable and see with eyes wide open rather than ajar like a letterbox. Perhaps it would have made the minute down the single-file row of windows later in the tour that bit more confronting as the laydeez did their dance in white knickers and teeth under the UV bulbs and red lights…
The church that stands smack in the middle of the district, Amsterdam’s first, is a strange testament to the separation between sacred and profane that saw the oldest profession start up in the first place all those years ago – the church’s taboo finding a way to bring a price on the street. In its 700 years, Amsterdam has grown from its maritime beginnings, the old town centre now forming part of the Red Light District, being the site of the old dyke wall that held back the sea and marked the beginnings of the new land. The sailors would spill off the ships and into the impromptu shops where anything that had been missing those last few months at sea could be set for a price. The statue built by the PIC out front of the Old Church has a woman standing in a doorway, just as those ready for what the sea blew in back in the day.

Change the oil, rotate those tires

Rather than tell you all the juicy bits and recount the hollers of the strapping young American lads as they caught men coming out of what they called “the wrong doorway, dude�?, it’s probably best if you see it for yourself. I’ve never been one for Kings Cross, back in old Sydney-town – but this place luckily lacks that down-on-your-luck atmosphere that rumples its way through those back-alleys in Kings X. There’s a strange “nothing to hide here” attitude pervading the district by the Damrak that makes it all a transparent – maybe leaves you wondering what other people are walking through there for, and maybe you, too?
So, I’ll leave you with a thought – some comparative economics if you like. I just sold my car, the one with the penchant for losing wheels at high speed I mentioned a while back. Well, in Australia it’s about $80 for a basic service. In Holland, you can get your car the same basic service for 60 euros, which is a little more once you do the exchange rate at its best. But as we learnt at the Prostitution Information Service at the beginning of the tour, a basic service in the Red Light District will just set you back 30 to 50 euros, which for a personal lube and oil change could well be the best value you’ll get without having to give some stranger your car keys.