How many of you know the Red Light District? Perhaps you’ve walked past The Windows once, peeking inside with mousy eyes, in disbelief at all these different women in underwear, selling sex from behind a glass. If you’re an Amsterdam resident, you most probably cycled through the area, unnerved at the hordes of tourists. Maybe a friend who had never visited demanded a leisurely walk around the block, and you went along, dragging your feet. Or maybe I’m projecting, because this used to be me. I tried to avoid the area at all costs. Don’t get me wrong, I am in full favor of legal sex work. It’s just that the particular combination of overcrowdedness, stag parties, and female bodies exposed as an attraction didn’t sit right with me. Yet, today I’m taking you on a cultural tour of the famous Rosse Buurt ; in other words, the Red Light District of the locals. Because there’s much to explore beyond the Windows.
Where the Rosse Buurt starts
Then I started working in a proeflokaal at the head of the Warmoestraat and found myself around the Red Light District often. I’d have a coffee at Latei before work, dinner at Bird or Little Saigon, meet up with a friend at Skek. These are on the Zeedijk. Both streets – Warmoesstraat and Zeedijk – encircle the Red Light District, an area also known as De Wallen among locals (or Rosse Buurt.) A proeflokaal is a tasting tavern for local beers or spirits, and they’re a favorite among the natives. There are a few of those around the Red Light. I particularly like De Prael for craft beer and Wijnand Focking for genevers and liqueurs. These places were my opening door to getting to know the neighborhood better. And I found out that there’s so much more to it than I could’ve guessed at first.
Where Amsterdam was born
De Wallen sits in the oldest borough of Amsterdam, dating back to the 13 century when the port of Amsterdam started to gain an increasingly important role in international trade. Prostitution has been the most defining feature of the area ever since. Nowadays, the Red Light District is a place where different worlds merge into each other. Tourist couples taking photos by the canals, creative types rushing to their artsy cribs, groups of friends intoxicated or not (depending on the time of day,) older locals who have been living in the area for years, carrying grocery bags.
Where different worlds merge into each other
There’s a certain weight to the neighborhood, as one might suspect, especially as dawn gets near. But in the morning, the Red Light District is surprisingly light and airy, particularly in the Oudekerksplein, the square where the Old Church sits. For me, this feels a bit like the entrance point to the neighborhood. That’s where I usually start, with a hot beverage from Koffie Schenkerij a stone’s throw away. This cafe occupies the former sacristy of the 13 century-old church. My undying love of cafes makes me sometimes ride my bike all the way to the center for their coffee. I have a proclivity for cozy atmospheres, and Koffie Schenkerij is exquisite in such a way that you want to live there. Plus, they have appeltaart (yes, that’s apple tart,) and good pastel de nata (yes, the Portuguese egg custard.)
From there, the church itself lures you in. I have visited the Oude Kerk many times, but they have a program of contemporary exhibitions and special events that, in a way or another, always dialogues with the solemnity of the building. They call this an inter-historical approach. This quality of interconnection seems to spill onto the streets. In the vicinity of the building’s entrance, on the pavement, you find a sculpture of a hand caressing a breast. In the back of the monument, there is a little bronze statue of a woman. Her name, Belle, can be found in the inscription that also reads: “Respect sex workers all over the world.” All goes hand in hand here: the spiritual, the cultural, and the earthbound.
Here’s our Red Light Culture Itinerary:
+ Koffie Schenkerij for coffee & cake – Oudekerksplein 27
+ Oude Kerk (Old Church) for medievalness & contemporaneity – Oudekerksplein 23
+ Ons Lieve Heer op Zolder for a 17-century church hidden in an attic – Oudezijds Voorburgwal 38
+ 3D mural for a taste of street art by Dopie – Oudezijds Voorburgwal, in an alley between nr 88 & 86
+ 3D bridge for a taste of smart technology by Joris Laarman x MX3D – Stoofsteeg, 1012 EC
xxx pitstop for an act of service xxx
+ Red Light Records for vinyl awesomeness – Oudezijds Achterburgwal 133
+ Hempstory for sustainable souvenirs made of hemp (+ hot drinks!) – Oudezijds Achterburgwal 142
+ Hash, Marijuana & hemp museum for some education – Oudezijds Achterburgwal 148
+ Febo for a veggie snack (Kassoufle) – Oudezijds Voorburgwal 33
Our Red Light Culture tour was kindly sponsored by Hempstory, a concept store in the Red Light District dedicated to hemp products: from clothing and food to souvenirs and beauty products. I’m a big fan of hemp because of how ecological this material is. It can also be used in an array of different industries too, check it out. But we’ll tell you more about it on the vlog.
As usual, share your thoughts with me! Did you know these spots? Did I miss anything? Feel free to add your suggestions down in the comment section. ✵
2 thoughts on “Red Light Culture: a tour of the Red Light beyond the windows”
Been to most of these, thank you for bringing back some very pleasant memories. My wife and I can recommend a tour wth the prostitution information collective.
Ana V. Martins
Yes, I’m booking one of those as soon as things start reopening in Amsterdam. Thank you, Robert!