The Sadness of Amsterdam

The moment I stepped inside the Anne Frank House, a shiver shot up my spine and my hair stood on end. As I climbed into the rafters where eight Jews were secreted during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in World War II, a lump rose in my throat and I fought back emotions that threatened to bring on tears. By the time I left the place where Anne Frank hid – the place where her family was betrayed by an unknown collaborator – I was devastated. Questions swirled in my head. How can human beings be so evil, so hateful? How they can so easily decide that a life is not valid because of a chosen religion or an ethnicity? Outside once more, I sat on a curb, unable to move for the longest time.

The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam
The blacked out windows of the two medium brown brick buildings are the telltale sign of the house where Anne Frank and her family were hidden from the Nazis, until betrayed by an unknown person or persons.

Later, despair became sadness. I turned down a narrow side street in Amsterdam’s city center. Buildings of nondescript red brick were punctuated by windows, like an endless row of phone booth cubicles. A rat-tat-tat on a window pane made me stop. I peered into the dark interior from where the knock came. As my eyes adjusted, I saw a man, wearing a wig, black bra, and nylon stockings held up by a black garter belt. His thick body hair curled over the top of his stockings and his cherry lipstick was askew. Our eyes met and before I could avert mine, his huge hands beckoned me inside. I have wandered into Amsterdam’s infamous Red Light District.

The Red Light District of Amsterdam
Male and female prostitutes stand behind cubicle windows in the Red Light District of Amsterdam

A knock from an adjacent window distracted my attention, a woman this time, looking hard-ridden from the top of her bleached blonde hair to the rolls of fat hanging over her garter belt. I moved on quickly, but not before another blonde struck what she thought was a provocative pose. This one had birthed one too many children. From the waist down, everything sagged, and her thong did nothing to hide it.

Every person is beautiful on the inside, but I found myself wondering who would pay for sex with these women/men. I wanted to take a photo, but I hesitated, worried that I would be invading their privacy. How silly, I thought. They stand in windows, nearly naked, and have sex with strangers. Yet when I held my camera up questioningly, a shake of the head was my unequivocal answer.

The Red Light District of Amsterdam
A best man in a Superman costume tries to arrange a liaison for the soon to be married groom in the Red Light District of Amsterdam

Back on the main street, a raucous bachelor party stopped in front of a row of cubicles. Sensing easy prey, one of the prostitutes threw open her glass door. The drunken best man, incongruously dressed in a Superman costume with a built in six-pack, leered at the temptingly close flesh. “He’s not married yet!” he roared. I raised my camera to snap a photo but the woman quickly pulled a curtain, shielding herself from my lens. Surely, this could not be shyness. It must have been my unwillingness to pay. These women give away nothing for free.

I fled to the sanctuary of a Tibetan Restaurant and struck up a conversation with a couple of Dutch young men, visiting the city from a nearby village. “What do you think of Amsterdam‘s Red Light District?” I queried. They shook their heads. “There is a lot of drug use and crime.” Thinking back to the eyes of the prostitutes, I suddenly realized that what I saw was the vacant look that accompanies drug addiction. The two young men add a final epitaph, “It is very, very sad.”

14 thoughts on “The Sadness of Amsterdam”

  1. Every country is different and has good things and bad thing. We should look at the positive aspect and we need to apreciate them because they are a great country overall.

    • Hi Izy: Agreed, and for the world, which seems to have gone crazy of late, especially in the U.S. with all the shootings.

  2. Photography of the women in the windows of the Red Light District is banned. Every guidebook I read said that. These parts of Amsterdam are sad. But, Amsterdam is a beautiful city overall. It is a good city for the solo female traveler to be in. I just spent 5 days there and had a wonderful time.

    • Hi Irene: I never use guide books, preferring instead to just wander and see what I can find. It’s better for my writing – fewer expectations and more surprises make better narratives. Guess I’m lucky I didn’t get chased and have pee thrown on me, as another reader commented.

  3. Visited Anne Frank’s house in my twenties and was really moved. Since have visited Auschwitz where she died.
    Although her untimely death was so sad her spirit was strong and her memory will always live on thanks to her diary.
    We who come after need to ensure her words continue to be read

    • a sad correction on Sharon’s comment; Anne Frank and her sister Margot Frank
      did not die in Auschwitz, however in Bergen-Belsen, Germany.
      Nevertheless, under the same devastating conditions …

  4. I’ve visited the Anne Frank House a few times and it makes me sad everytime.

    And it’s kind of an unwritten rule not to take photos in the RLD, I’ve seen people chased and people thrown pee at them.

  5. Your comments on the Anne Frank house visit really moved me – particularly reading your travel blog in the aftermath of the senseless tragedy in Charleston this week. Thank you for your thoughtful journal, Barbara. I wish there were an answer to your poignant questions on hate and madness.
    Take care, Barbara! Morgan

    • Hi Morgan: Yes, I saw the news about Charleston. It is so sad that this continues to happen in the U.S. As a perpetual traveler, I can honestly say that, as President Obama said, this thing just doesn’t happen with regularity in other developed countries. I am sad to be an American sometimes.


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