Dana lives in Seattle, and Tracie lives in Germany. We are businesswomen, writers and humorists. We write about life, dating, and today's modern women.
Amsterdam’s Red Light District is out of this world.
That is because it is a world unto itself. I could not wait to take the tour of this infamous part of Amsterdam with Felicia, a young woman from Romania who herself has been a sex worker here for 10 years. If anybody would know anything about this life, it would be her.
I was intrigued with what she shared and what I saw completely and utterly blew me away.
To keep the tour intimate there were altogether only 4 of us, including Felicia, an unimposing, unexceptional (i.e. not voluptuous or overtly sensual by any means) kind of woman; probably about 5’2 and petite. But don’t let that exterior fool you: Felicia is about as tough as they come– a no-nonsense kind of woman in every sense of the word. In her business, you would have to be.
Our group met at 7 P.M. at Beursplein, a huge square in the very heart of the city. Our first and only instruction was that we were not allowed to take any pictures of the women.
I had planned on capturing images not only of the women but of the red velvet curtains, the bay windows, the neon lights, and any backdrops. Well, I could just forget about that.
The no picture taking rule is strictly enforced–either by the signs posted everywhere which are a constant reminder or by the women themselves who will step outside and confront you, maybe strike you and definitely snatch your cell phone or camera away from you and trash it. Very messy potential.
Now, there is a good reason for this. Many of these women come from poor religious countries. They send money home to their families, but their families do not know what kind of work they are engaged in. It has happened that pictures of some women have sprung up on social media, resulting in their families actually shunning them. So, for this and various other imaginable reasons, picture taking is a no-go.
The first stop on our excursion was to the Condomerie–the world’s first condom store. The idea came to life in the ’80s with the onset of HIV. General sexual hygiene and the use of condoms became essential and safe sex was the maxim of the day. Of course, condoms could be purchased from sex shops and pharmacies, but there was neither good information nor choice in selection. To fill that need, Condomerie was born: a specialty condom store with expert information offering a large variety of products.
At this point, Felicia told me that the pictures of the Condomerie were the last I could take as we crossed the invisible threshold to the heart of the Red Light District.
Interestingly enough, the oldest building in Amsterdam, The Old Church, stands directly across from a row of several of the brothels. It is said that this is the only place in the world where religion meets prostitution. Across from the church, in between two sex houses is a white door. Behind this white door is a daycare center that the church owns. Felicia said that the Dutch are not that religious–I don’t know how true that is–but she said that the Old Church was vandalized many, many years ago. Statues were stolen and the church desecrated. Well, the church came back, reopening with new mores. For example, during Pride Week the church raises the rainbow-colored flag as they welcome all LGBTQ people. No matter your profession, race, nationality, age, no matter your whatever–there are no defining factors that will prohibit the church from welcoming you. And isn’t that a beautiful thing. That is church!
Dusk began to fall. The red velvet curtains began to slide open. It was showtime.
The women, all of whom must be 21 or older to work, must charge at least €50 per every 15 to 20 minutes. That is the minimum. Everyone charges at least that amount. They themselves are charged by the landlord a daily fee because otherwise, it would just be too much to pay monthly. The landlord must have a permit to operate. All the rooms have panic buttons. The cardinal rule: all transactions must be paid upfront. Most men come in for oral sex and are in and out the door within six minutes. (If my sister and co-blogger Dana were writing this, she would say that “they come and go” and technically she would be right!) Sex workers pay taxes on their income–oh! And condoms are a must!
We continue walking across a canal bridge where the lights are just as bright, the streets just as full. I was amazed at how big this area is, almost like a maze, and even though it was a Wednesday night, what with the throngs of people drinking in the windowless bars, smoking pot on the street, and folks just wandering about, it looked like a Friday night.
*It’s illegal to drink outside–the fine is €95,00 or about $112,00–this is to deter belligerent behavior; cannabis is allowed because you toke and just get mellow.)
Now about the bars: there are peep shows, there are live sex shows; there are shows where you can watch women having sex with bananas on the bar–I could not make this up–and there’s another bar that’s called the hospital because all of the women have on nurses uniforms. In one of the live sex bars, there are real married couples performing sex acts in front of people. You must be 18 to enter any of these establishments and 21 to work in any of them.
A few houses on the main street are illuminated with green lights. This is to indicate that they are selling $40 and $50 tickets which allow you entrance into different venues, enjoy the shows, and have two drinks. The lights are lit because that is how the businesses talk to each other– instead of being bogged down with phone calls and questions and or emails, this is a convenient way to say, “Get your tickets here!”
Felicia told us about the fetishes of several of her customers. She said that one of them, a yoga teacher’s thing was for her to kick him in his family jewels (my term–hers was much more direct) and each time he couldn’t take the pain and told her to stop he would pay her $100. Mind you he had already paid the regular fee upfront. When his pain subsided, she would carry on. Oftentimes he would tell her to alternate kicking and punching him there. Said she made a lot of money that night. Hmmm…Urinating, defecating–all those kinds of things are not unusual requests she said. She also shared that some men just like to talk.
When the curtains are drawn open, the women are visible in a dark window that looks to be lit with ultraviolet light which lends a sort of mysterious effect to the scenario. They wear thongs and bras or some sort of sexy lingerie. Some stare right out the window at you, some entertain themselves with their cell phones. If the curtains are closed that means they’re busy, come back later.
It was the strangest sensation to watch some of these men just hanging back and staring at these women. They looked like lechers and perverts. For me personally, it was just appalling to see this. This is not fun and games for these women–this is how they survive–literally. Though they are their own bosses, this is nonetheless such a hard gig. Definitely not easy money.
Our tour had come to an end. I tipped Felicia. The other woman followed my lead and did the same. The man in our group didn’t. Tips help support these tour guides. At that very moment, his cheapness radiated from him like one of those neon signs. Shameful. Felicia bid us all farewell and lit a cigarette as she walked away.
I really am my father’s daughter and there was no way I was leaving the District without my very own picture. I certainly wasn’t going to risk any stupidity, but just a sly little side picture. Nothing ventured nothing gained.
You can of course google more about the Red Light District. It is a fascinating place indeed.
I enjoyed four days in Amsterdam and I loved EVERYTHING about it: the international culture, the food, the canals, the friendliness of the people, the cafes, bohemian shops, museums…So much more to see, can’t wait to go back
Tot de volgende keer Amsterdam!!