Red-Light District – Amsterdam, Netherlands

A Walk on the Wild Side

What so fascinates visitors to Amsterdam about its red-light district (De Walletjes) that a nocturnal stroll through this medieval heart of downtown ranks on most tourists’ agenda up there with the museum shrines to Rembrandt and van Gogh?

The world’s oldest profession, practiced by the businesswomen (and some men) who give new meaning to the expressions “window dressing” and “window shopping,” is here on display, in an architecturally interesting (and only mar­ginally seamy) warren of quaint gabled build­ings and narrow canals.

Amsterdam has long been known as an “open city” and these deni­zens of the night are registered, regulated, and taxed, and represented by a union since 1984. The proud Dutch housekeeper’s penchant for window display takes a most peculiar twist here.

You won’t see much going on; it’s infrequent that you’ll even get a beckoning “come hither” look from any of the rose-lit windows and their generally impassive inhabitants. But maybe that’s what makes it all the more remarkable, to see these ladies of the night patiently await their next assignation, braiding their hair, doing their nails or the crossword puzzle, reading Dostoyevsky, while showing off their wares to sailors, foreign businessmen, and assorted innocents abroad.

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