Michelle Felder / www.youthmedia.eu

Amsterdam Windows

It's early evening. In a dark alley, three boys (jeans, sneakers and modern hairdos) are standing close together, pushing each other and slapping each other's shoulders. Their loud, exaggerated way of talking, overly self-assured, shows that they are in the first stages of drunkenness. They speak English, must be tourists.

They're standing in front of a window, pointing at it and having a laugh over what they can see in there.

Behind the window is a little space, not wider than the window itself and only two meters deep. On the walls are soiled white tiles and there's a little sink in the corner. Leaning against the window is a tall, blonde woman. She's wearing nothing but her panties and is ogling at the three boys.

We find ourselves on the so-called "walls", the Amsterdam red-light district. The space behind the window is a brothel room, the tall blonde is a prostitute. The young tourists have come to Amsterdam to look for pleasure in its red-light district. Here, the hookers present themselves behind windows or glass doors, much like they already did to sailors in the 16th century. The inebriated boys, the dirt on the street, the red neon lights above the windows, a junkie passing by: there's nothing romantic about this snapshot. It's not a pretty holiday picture.

Photo:Aileen Lemme/ www.youthmedia.eu
In Amsterdam...

Streets off, another gloomy side street. An older man, 50-ish, is standing around with his hands in his pockets. He looks very ordinary, jeans, moss-green jacket, friendly face with silver glasses. He too is standing in the street, looking at a window. He alternately looks at his feet and at the faded red curtain behind the window. The closed curtain means the prostitute is busy serving a customer. The man walks a few steps back and forth, keeping his eyes fixed on the curtain. It's clear: he is waiting for this particular prostitute. We can imagine this somewhat lonely working man paying a visit to the same lady every month. With her, he has his monthly 20 minutes of paid love, then goes back to his work and his life. Over the last years, he has secretly fallen in love with the prostitute, which is convenient for her, because he treats her courteously and pays her well.

Why is it that this snapshot is tinged with melancholy?

We walk round the corner. A woman in her mid-twenties is staring into a window. Fashionably dressed, she's holding her bicycle in her hands, intrigued by what she sees. As we approach, we can make out what it is that fascinates her. She stares lustfully at an elegant black woollen dress exhibited in this brothel room. The little price tag tells us that the dress costs € 900,-.

Photo: David / www.youthmedia.eu

The local government of Amsterdam indeed bought up a lot of the property in the red-light district, and is temporarily letting it out to young fashion designers in an attempt to push back prostitution. For years, window prostitution had been accepted, legal, in a peculiar way a trademark of the city. But the district kept attracting all sorts of organised criminal activity. Money laundering, girls becoming the victim of loverboys, and even human trafficking were allegedly order of the day, which is why, in 2007, local authorities decided to start cleaning up the "walls."

That's why nowadays, apart from hookers, junkies and randy men, fashion addicts have also become regular visitors to the Amsterdam red-light district. It might be the first step towards a new function for this area, and may even become a new trademark of the city.

Fashionistas: welcome to the "walls" of Amsterdam!

IN -1112 DAYS