May 6, 2013 7:33 pm
Updated: May 6, 2013 7:40 pm

Amsterdam turns out the red lights in famed district


Amsterdam is one of those European cities on many tourists “must see” list.

For some, it’s to take in the amazing art galleries and beautiful canals. For others, there are some less family-friendly attractions.

The world’s most renowned location for dirty vacations is trying to change its image.

Amsterdam is closing many of the legal brothels and so-called cannabis cafes, while spending large amounts of money to revitalize some of the more highbrow attractions.

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“It’s an extremely exciting time,” says Axel Ruger, the director of the Van Gough Museum. “All the institutions around us have invested a lot of money.”

The Rijksmuseum, for example, just completed a massive 10-year refurbishment, while the Stedlijk has a vast new white and glass extension for its modern art.

All told, the Dutch have splurged more than $1 billion for their homes of high culture.

“The city is certainly changing. I think there are lots of efforts to make the city attractive,” Ruger said.

Of course, people come to Amsterdam for more than the Van Goghs and the Rembrandts. They also come for the prostitutes and the pot on offer in the famed red-light district.

But, that part of the city is also getting a makeover.

Project 1012 — named for the district’s postal code — proposes to close almost half of Amsterdam’s window-front brothels.

The famously tolerant Dutch say they need to crack down because organized crime has been taking over.

“It’s a safety issue. It’s a vision issue. We think the historical city centre has to be open and accessible for everyone,” Amsterdam’s dputy mayor Carolien Gehrels says.

But Metje Blaak, who worked in the sex trade for 25 years before turning to film making, says closing legal brothels will push women out onto the streets.

“In the window is safe, open. You can see your clients. You can see everything,” she says.

Coffee shop owner Michael Meling also disagrees with Amsterdam’s rebirth. “It’s one of the main reasons Amsterdam enjoys more tourists that it could possibly expect of a few museums,” he says.

Because of Project 1012, almost half of the famous coffee houses will lose their licenses to sell cannabis.

“I think it’s unfair,” Meling said.

How do you feel about Amsterdam cleaning up the red-light district? 

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