10 Thursday August 1, 2019
athed in red neon light, hun-
dreds of prostitutes ply their
trade from behind windows
in the narrow canal-side streets of
Amsterdam – and that’s how they want
it to stay.
The Dutch capital’s first female
mayor has vowed to clean up the
notorious red light district and possibly
even close some of the famed window
booths, but sex workers say they won’t
“I have one thing to say to all these
people who call us vulnerable, and
that is that they don’t know us at all,”
said Felicia Anna, chairwoman of Red
Light United, a newly formed union for
window-frame sex workers.
“All it shows to me and to all my
colleagues here is that these people
who talk about us this way, really don’t
know us,” said the 33-year-old, who
declined to give her real name.
The area is one of the biggest tourist
draws in a city that attracted around 18
million visitors last year.
But rising crime and the sheer
number of visitors have contributed
to huge problems in the area, once
called a “square kilometer of misery”
Mayor Femke Halsema listed
“ disruptive behavior and a disrespectful
attitude to the sex workers in the
windows” as key problems, along with
a “major increase in unlicensed, under-
The green-left mayor has put
forward four options to change the red
light district, in what she says is a bid to
curb crime and human trafficking, and
to make life more pleasant for people
who live there.
The first is to literally draw curtains
over the window booths so people
cannot see the sex workers from the
The second option is to move some
window booths to other areas of the
city, while the more radical option three
is to close down and move all of them.
However the fourth option is
to actually increase the number of
window brothels in the red light district
from the current level of 330, and
possibly also create a “sex hotel,” on the
grounds that it will help sex workers
trapped in the unlicensed sector to
move to the licensed industry.
People who live in the area broadly
back the changes.
One resident of the Wallen
neighborhood, more commonly known
as the Red Light district, said “the
women are treated worse than circus
“Many residents would rather see
the window frames closed and moved
elsewhere,” he said.
‘Creates a stigma’
But those in the industry are not so
“Our research among 170 sex work-
ers behind the windows showed clearly
that 93 percent of them do not want to
move away from the red light district,”
said Romanian-born Anna.
“From the four scenarios for sex
workers, only number four is in our
benefit,” she said. “We don’t support
the first three.”
She disputed the mayor’s claims that
many women working in the red light
district are vulnerable.
“Calling us victims and vulnerable
to trafficking is not in our benefit. This
creates a stigma around us ... stop
talking about us this way.”
People involved in the sex trade
admit there are problems, particularly
with the sheer number of tourists, but
say that shutting the red light district
windows or moving are not the answer.
“Of the scenarios, we think the
fourth one is of course the best,” said
Masten Stavast, who owns some 27 of
the windows and rooms which he rents
out to sex workers.
“Amsterdam is a small place and
lately it has been way too busy here
in the streets,” his son and business
partner Dave Kroeke agreed.
“Something has to change,” he said.
Recently, residents, business own-
ers and off-duty sex workers met city
officials, including Halsema, to discuss
and exchange ideas on her proposals,
which are slated for further talks in the
city council in September.
Most said that a previous plan by the
council to concentrate window prostitu-
tion in a small area around the Wallen’s
two canals failed.
But residents also said that mass
tourism in the Wallen caused great in-
convenience – and in at least one case,
In a scene all too familiar with
locals, Gijs, a 47-year-old academic who
asked to be identified only by his first
name, said he was assaulted by a Brit-
ish tourist near his front door.
“The guy stumbled in front of my
bicycle and I crashed into his leg,” after
which he was surrounded by a group of
drunken tourists on a canal bridge.
“The last thing I saw was the man
wrapping a jersey around his fist like
a boxing glove, before punching me in
the jaw,” he said.
“I’m still traumatized.”
give red light to
to test ancient
Were the ancient Egyptians
able to use reed boats to travel
as far as the Black Sea thou-
sands of years ago?
A group of adventurers be-
lieves so, and will try to prove
their theory by embarking on a
similar journey in reverse.
In mid-August the team of
two dozen researchers and vol-
unteers from eight countries
will set off from the Bulgarian
port of Varna, hoping their Ab-
ora IV reed boat will take them
the 700 nautical miles through
the Bosphorus, the Aegean and
the island of Crete.
The team is specifically
seeking to prove a hypothesis
lent credence by Herodotus,
the expedition’s German leader
Dominique Goerlitz said. The
ancient Greek historian wrote,
“Egyptians sailed through the
Black Sea to get materials that
they could not have from the
Goerlitz, 53, and his team
say they drew inspiration for
the design of the 14-meter boat
from ancient rock drawings
from upper Egypt and the
Caucasus. The construction
was carried out with the help
of volunteers and two mem-
bers of the Aymara indigenous
community from Bolivia’s Lake
Titicaca, Fermin Limachi and
his son Yuri.
It is no accident that the
Abora IV bears a striking
resemblance to the famous Ra
II reed boat that Norwegian ad-
venturer Thor Heyerdahl used
in his 1970 attempt to cross
the Atlantic – Limachi’s father
helped build that vessel too.
Large bundles of totora
reed were lashed together
with ropes to form the main
body of the vessel before it was
equipped with a wooden mast
and two reed compartments
for sleeping. In all, 12 tons of
totora reed and 2km of rope
went into making the boat,
which will have two sails, mea-
suring 62 square meters and
40 square meters, Fermin said.
“The main question of all
is whether this boat is able
to cross the difficult island
shelves of the Aegean Sea,”
Reaching the Cyclades
islands and then Crete will be
crucial for proving his initial
hypothesis, he added, as the
Minoan civilization which
flourished there from 2,700 to
1,200 BC was long proven to
have traded with Egypt.
Tourists crowd the narrow
canal-side streets in
Amsterdam’s red light district,
the Netherlands on March 29.