Red Light District - The (in)famous red-light district of Amsterdam called ‘de Wallen’, is one of the city’s major tourist attractions. It is located in the heart of the oldest part of Amsterdam, covering several blocks south of the church Oude Kerk and crossed by several canals.
De Wallen is a network of alleys containing several hundred tiny one-room apartments rented by female prostitutes (and some ladyboys) who offer their services from behind a window or glass door, typically illuminated with red lights. The area also has a number of sex shops, sex theatres, peep shows, a sex museum, a cannabis museum, bars, and a few coffee shops.
The red light district has existed almost as long as the city itself. It formerly contained many distilleries, mainly catering to sailors, and strangely enough, many monasteries were also located here. The name Wallen (walls) refers to the medieval retaining dam walls in the old centre of Amsterdam.
Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands, with the exception of streetwalking. However, only EU citizens can work legally in the sex industry, since no working permits are given for prostitution.
Last year, the city council of Amsterdam, concerned about trafficking and pimping in the area, closed 51 prostitution windows, reducing the total number of windows in de Wallen by a third. Amsterdam authorities ordered 18 properties to be sold to a housing corporation that planned to reinvent them as apartments and shopping malls, and started new development of the area with fashion designers and other up scale, non erotic businesses.
In early 2008, fifteen Dutch designers opened shop, rent-free for a year, in some of the former brothels, with scantily-clad window prostitutes replaced by trendy clothing. The sex workers union protested, claiming that the new businesses would bring the kind of clientele who would not be interested in them and lower their earnings while raising their rents.
Mariska Majoor of the Prostitution Information Centre and representatives of the sex worker rights group De Rode Draad have criticized the decision, claiming it would not reduce crime but would only lead to higher rent and more competition for the remaining windows.
In January 2008 the city council announced plans to close the Casa Rosso live sex theatre and the Banana Bar strip club in the area. Amsterdam sex workers are determined to get back the respect of the community. In the Spring of 2007, they were honoured with their own statue in front of the Oudekerk.