‘Anything goes in Amsterdam’

If there is one city in the world that throws one into a race of wild imaginations coupled with lots of questions, it is Amsterdam.

Since time immemorial, the Dutch capital has a weird but solid reputation for being an ‘anything goes’ city.

Moneymaker: Tourists to Amsterdam cannot resist the allure of De Wallen, a popular Red Light District

Amsterdam is a relaxed, tolerant and easy-going city, but rather it is the liberal approach to sex and cannabis that makes it legendary.

The city prides itself on embracing the fact that people may be into prostitution and soft drugs. And that it is only human. So instead of criminalising everything, they enjoy the honesty of it all.

As such, tourists to the city will not boast of visiting Amsterdam without experiencing one of those two or even both—at least for the curious ones.

It was the case with some of the delegates attending the World Aids Conference, the city hosted last month.

Who would not want to experience Amsterdam after hours on end of press conferences, discussions and sessions on HIV and Aids scientific researches, among others?

So hitting De Wallen, the famous Red Light District for some was a mental massage. In Dutch, they call it De Wallen because it means the walls.

Cannabis—popularly referred to as Mary and Juana—is currently illegal. However, Dutch lawmakers in 2017 approved a legislation that permits professional cultivation.

No wonder, Amsterdam’s central business district is littered with coffee shops which are allowed to store a certain amount of locally cultivated cannabis on the shelves, at a time.

Sundu (R) with musician Danny Kalima in Amsterdam

Consumers can purchase the drug as raw, or processed into well-packaged cookies, chocolates as well as ingredients for drinks.

Tourists mostly consider coffee shops as a form of entertainment. The coffee shops play a vital role in Dutch tourism.  Latest figures show that between 25 to 30 percent of people who visit Amsterdam spend time in coffee shops sampling cannabis.

Juxtaposed to the coffee shops on De Wallen are multitudes of buildings stretched along the famous red light district.

Sex is sold on De Wallen—Amsterdam’s popular Red Light District—where prostitution thrives. The trade is legal in the Netherlands but not on the streets.

That’s why prostitutes on De Wallen stand up behind a window and have their own room. The name “Red Light District” comes from the red neon lights that highlight where women are working.

Since October 2000, window prostitutes have been allowed to legally offer their services. Today, prostitutes in the Netherlands are also taxpayers.

As of 2014, the Red Light District and coffee shops or to put it frankly, sex and drugs— contributed 2.5 billion euros a year to the national economy, according to Dutch authorities.

Accompanied by a local called Perry, I was curious to visit the Red Light District.

In natural daylight, the area is less attractive as the more sordid aspects do not really reveal themselves. Simply put, it is less lively during the day but the district really comes to life when night falls.

So on this particular late Friday afternoon, Perry—a Dutchman and stranger, I met three days earlier turned friend—played the role of a tour guide around the district.

As we strolled along the street, beautiful women of different shapes and sizes from almost all angles across the globe tapped from the windows beckoning for a sumptuous action.

Almost every woman shares at least an indistinct resemblance with her scantily clad and lace-adorned slender colleague in the next window.

“How many of such windows are in Amsterdam?” I asked Perry as curiosity got the best of me.

He responded, “300.”

As we maneuvered through the historical buildings from which the window rests, the more inquisitive I became.

Sensing the barrel of questions I was about to throw at him, Perry quickly said: “You see, let’s come this evening and see what happens during the night.”

The real macho starts from around 11pm when the district is swelling with crowds, both locals and tourists. The not so- beautiful alleys undergo a total transformation as the red neon lights illuminate them together with the countless inky canals.

The women, each in their small room and behind a window, glow as the red neon lights brighten their skin into silky membranes.

As we walked into one of the pubs, my mind raced to what Perry said earlier on that there is more that happens in the Amsterdam Red Light District other than just prostitution and coffee shops.

“The district offers cultural activities such as the Museum of Prostitution and the Museum of Cannabis. You can also find peep shows, sex shops, sex theatres, and strip clubs, among others,” he told me.

Having parted ways with 25 euros and comfortably seated in the very front row for obvious reasons, it was time for a sex show in one of the theatres.

A large curtain stood still and meaningless in front until it snapped open; two naked bodies; a man and a woman started performing on stage.

I could see that they were enjoying the performance as they slowly responded to the songs playing in the background. The more I watched the couple, the more the act felt like watching choreographed dance, as the dancers changed positions to the beat and sound of the music.

Though a few metres away, it was possible to read the absence of life in their eyes. It was typical work, no play. At intervals, while in the act the man would look out into the crowd, leaving one wondering where his mind is at.

As I flashed my phone out of my bag to check the time Perry sternly warned me: “Remember it is strictly forbidden to take pictures or film women behind their windows. That rule also applies here [theatres], in strip clubs and peep shows.”

At the stage, amid some handclapping and screams, the curtain finally closes. The curtain opened again as more performers come onto the stage for what can best be termed as a variety show.

In another startling act, a performer, arguably the most flamboyant of them all, calls for three volunteers onto the stage. She had them dance and then eat a banana out of snatch!.

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