The Whitewashing of the Red Light

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Quartier Putain is just one of the many examples of how Amsterdam is trying to essentially erase its status as Europe’s Sin City. Recent city initiatives like Project 1012 have shuttered several of its iconic prostitute windows and continue to lead to the closure of several “coffee shops.” De Wallen, the area better known as the Red Light District, is quickly becoming more associated with quirky record shops than weed and sleaze.

There’s even maps available these days that guide tourists to De Wallen’s more family-friendly businesses and away from those that made the district world famous. Residents seem divided when it comes to the changing face of their neighborhood. After years of putting up with poorly behaved visitors, drug addicts and organized crime, many are welcoming the shift with open arms. Others, meanwhile, lament the changes and fret that De Wallen is becoming as gentrified, overpriced and downright banal as a million other districts across Europe.

I visited¬†Quartier Putain a few weeks ago. It’s a great little place smack dab in the heart of the Red Light; just across the street from the Oude Kerk. Their coffee is great, the atmosphere is great and their jukebox is, you guessed it, great. Still, I’m conflicted when it comes to supporting the business. Should I frequent a place that, for better or worse, is contributing to the whitewashing of one of the world’s most notorious locales?

Have a look at the photo above. Just beyond the right side of the frame, a few feet from the gentleman with the cane, there’s a row of Red Light windows. When I arrived, a group of 20-somethings were sitting at the tables outside staring at their iPhones while ignoring the ladies nearby (who were also killing time between customers by looking at their own smartphones).

It was a scene that perfectly encapsulated what’s happening with the district. Alas, I didn’t think to take a photo until it was too late.

The times they are a-changin’. And fast.

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