Our Cities

Amsterdam dims the Red Light in the Wallen district

Article by: Free Walking Tours Amsterdam

Last April, Amsterdam’s council banned red light tours in the medieval district. The measures were taken in an effort to decrease the nuisance caused by mass tourism. Currently, Amsterdam council is taking it a step further with a plan to entirely close the Red Light District and move it away from the city center. How has this affected the area and what is the future prospective for Amsterdam’s oldest neighbourhood?

Beginning of the Red Light

Prostitutes in 1912 on the streets of Amsterdam
Prostitutes advertising in the Oudekennissteeg before the ban on demonstrable catering in the sixties (anno 1912)

Written record of the area being employed by ladies of the night and their aficionados, dates all the back to the late Middle Ages. The oldest profession of the world was already practiced as early as the 15th century in the Dutch capital. Sailors that set their anchor in Amsterdam’s harbour would visit the neighbourhood, where women solicited from their doorways. Centuries later, in the 1960’s, the police stepped in and made it illegal to ‘sell at the door’. Sitting behind the window was tolerated, on the condition that the curtains were nearly closed. By burning a red light through the chink, it was clear to the men that they could lay their hat here for an hour or two.

The influence of mass tourism on the district

Crowds line up at Red Light District live shows
Massive crowds line up at Red Light District live shows

Today, the red light still glows welcomingly in the district. The beaconing light caters to both locals and to no less than 18 million visitors from across the world annually. Although the area is heavily surveilled and restricts photography and other disrespectful activity, there has been a count of disturbances in recent years. Stag parties and camera-clung tour groups kept invading the hard-working dames of pleasure repeatedly. A heavy debate started, towed by Amsterdam’s first female mayor Femke Halsema. After months of discussing back and forth, Amsterdam officials banned all guided tours in the Wallen neighbourhood. As of April 1st 2020, the Red Light District could only be visited individually.

The Red Light District during Corona

Before the ban could even take effect, the coronavirus pandemic caused all legally operating brothels in the Netherlands to shut down. Police were sent out with an emergency closing order, causing some customers in the heat of the act. When the question arose how brothels and individual workers would earn their bread through lockdown, another red-hot discussion started in the country’s government. The parliamentary discussion shed a lot of light on the supposed shady business, causing conservative parties to suggest new restrictions. Ironically, this would only result in taking away jobs from the women that they claim to offer protection.

Up and humping again

July 2020, closing orders were lifted and Dutch brothels were once again up and humping. Amsterdam tourism had faced a heavy decrease during lockdown, taking away the focus from the Red Light debate. As the world is slowly turning back to normal, tourism in the city is now a necessity instead of a nuisance. New plans for the district arise, making sure that this quintessentially Dutch neighbourhood can tell its story to visitors from around the world. With its multicultural allure and historic relevance, it is clear that the Red Light District hasn’t burnt its last candle yet.

Free Walking Tours Amsterdam is currently developing a Red Light District Audio Tour, that can be done individually with a cellphone and earphones. Keep an eye out for our website to check opening dates.

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