By Jochem Meijer
“It’s the sense of freedom,” Jack says, a 40-year old British real estate agent and frequent visitor of the Red Light district, “freedom to do what you want. The people give you the idea that your welcome, and besides: England isn’t that nice anymore.” Sour about his homeland but pleased by the atmosphere of this famous part of Amsterdam, he orders beer and takes another hoist of his joint. The owner of the pub at the Oudezijds Achterburgwal backs him up: “Twenty percent of tourists in the Netherlands are here for the romance of this place.”
Whether it will stay that way is uncertain. The city of Amsterdam wants to boost the image of the city by changing the nature of the Red Light district. “I prefer to lose a tourist attraction above to be accessory to the abuse of women,” Lodewijk Asscher, city councilor of Amsterdam, says. The plan is to gradually replace the red lights of the more then 400 rooms by the white lights of glamorous shops and restaurants but mainly by studios of young designers. “Buy the dress, not the woman,” the slogan of a campaign that should point tourists at the reformation of the Red Light district, sounds. The city council already expressed its support for the plan, but doubts the intentions of the initiative of the Dutch labor party. Is it about driving back criminality or about an ethical cleansing?
Meanwhile, about sixty prostitutes have left their windows. The pub owner notices it. “The romance is gone and fewer tourists are already visiting this area. The Red Light district is part of the Dutch culture and attraction number one. Major Job Cohens statements that the English bigmouths aren’t welcome anymore, caused a decline in tourists. And when there will be less, Amsterdam has no right to exist.” For that reason, the pub owner joined ‘Platform 1012’, an association of entrepreneurs that diverts itself to the stigmatization of the Red Light district as a crime-promoting area. “Of course I am in favor of getting rid of criminality. But that doesn’t mean this area has to change in a rich people’s town.” If the cleanup of the Red Light district really takes place, Jack doesn’t think that he, and many other British, will visit Amsterdam as often as he does now. “Five, six times a year I come to Amsterdam. The city is unique in what it has to offer. But for wine bars and dress shops I can stay in England.”
Photo's by Nicolas Baker
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