Amsterdam: The city of paradoxes

Free love and sexual exploitation, diversity and racism, walks in the park and walks to the drug shops; with its liberal laws and multiculturalism, Amsterdam‘s reputation as the city of tolerance has blossomed in recent years, but is it perhaps rather more fittingly the city of neverending antitheses?

If you’re interested in tolerance issues in Amsterdam then you can find out more about the inside story on coffee shop culture, kidnapped women and sex trafficking in Amsterdam and read some of the arguments on tolerancelack of tolerance and the decline of tolerance to drug culture in Amsterdam.

Dorchan Leidholdt views prostitution as ‘slavery’ and the ‘domination and control of an individual’ whilst Guardian journalist Julie Bindel when interviewing former prostitutes Louise and Martine Fokkens aged 70 from Amsterdam concludes ‘it is almost impossible to get a sense of whether the twins regret their lives in prostitution underneath the joie-de-vivre attitude both have adopted’. 

Can prostitution be defined in absolutes? Have a look and see what you think of the lives of the oldest prostitutes in the world and of prostitution as a  modern form of slavery.

With it's vast imposing lake, fountains, greenery, comedy shows, street skaters and operatic performances- like flies to honey- the huge Vondel Park attracts a multiculturally diverse crowd that includes children, parents, teenagers, tourists, locals, the elderly and bucketfuls of the most charismatic characters Amsterdam has to offer.

With its vast imposing lake, fountains, greenery, comedy shows, street skaters and operatic performances- like flies to honey- the huge Vondel Park attracts a multiculturally diverse crowd that includes children, parents, teenagers, tourists, locals, the elderly and bucketfuls of the most charismatic characters Amsterdam has to offer.

Whatever its nature- be it everlasting, fleeting, hippie, free, or commercial- thousands continue to flock to Amsterdam's concrete pavements each year in search of love.

Whatever its nature- be it fleeting, everlasting, hippie, free or commercial- thousands continue to flock to Amsterdam’s concrete pavements each year in search of love.

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Pluk de Nacht, the annual film festival that's never short of quirkiness takes place in a former harbour on the outskirts of Amsterdam in August. Offering handmade food, deck-chairs, live bands and outdoor cinema it is a firm favourite with tourists and film lovers looking to take a quiet break from the animated energy of the red light district and experience more of what this many-sided city has to offer.

Pluk de Nacht, the annual film festival that’s never short of quirkiness takes place in a former harbour on the outskirts of Amsterdam in August. Offering handmade food, deck-chairs, live bands and outdoor cinema it is a firm favourite with tourists and film lovers looking to take a quiet break from the animated energy of the Red Light District and experience more of what this many-sided city has to offer.

Performers during Pluk de Nacht film festival 2008

Performers during Pluk de Nacht film festival 2008 

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With coffee shops at every twist and turn offering more than enough in the way of enchanted chocolatey treats to make frequenters escape to their own unique hallucinated world of magic, sadly the currency they use is not as fairytale as the services they offer.

With coffee shops at every twist and turn offering more than enough in the way of enchanted chocolatey treats to make frequenters escape to their own unique hallucinated world of magic, sadly the currency they use is not as fairytale as the services they offer.

With calm Christian retreats neighbouring vibrant graffiti-filled shacks; the eclectic mix of accommodation in the Red Light District epitomises Amsterdam, the city of endless paradoxes.

Calm Christian retreats back onto vibrant graffiti-filled shacks; the eclectic mix of accommodation in the Red Light District epitomises Amsterdam and its endless paradoxes.

When taking a trip to Amsterdam the city of freedom, remember to expect accommodation staff to be as friendly as the art-work they display.

When taking a trip to Amsterdam the city of freedom, remember to expect the accommodation staff to be as friendly as the artwork they display.

For cheese lovers, cheese-laden emporiums spill out over the streets of Amsterdam like glistening golden beacons awaiting entry, yet, for those less fond of the yellow delicacy, the mere sight of them is perhaps just enough to make you nauseous.

For cheese lovers, cheese-laden emporiums spill out over the streets of Amsterdam like glistening golden beacons, yet, for those less fond of the yellow delicacy, the mere sight of them is perhaps just enough to make you nauseous.

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Amsterdam's enchanting maze of bike-lined canals provides the ultimate daytime escapade, yet, with it's uncannily similar scenes on every corner this midnight labyrinth is no picnic for the directionally challenged and should only be ventured by the more intrepid of explorers.

Amsterdam’s enchanting maze of bike-lined canals makes for the ultimate daytime escapade, however, with its uncannily similar scenes on every corner, this midnight labyrinth is no picnic for the directionally challenged and beyond dusk should only be ventured by the more intrepid of explorers.

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Thankfully for passers by awaiting devilishly decadent pancakes that leave you wanting more, Amsterdam's Pancake Bakery does exactly what it says on the tin.

Thankfully for open-mouthed passers by awaiting devilishly decadent pancakes, Amsterdam’s Pancake Bakery does exactly what it says on the tin.

Although drugs are freely available in coffee shops, if you’re planning a trip to Amsterdam then perhaps you might like to familiarise yourself briefly with some of the lesser-known laws of which travellers should be aware.

These blogs are also excellent ways to find out more about the multi-sided city that is Amsterdam: Cheese Cycling in Amsterdam, The unwritten Amsterdam cycling rulesAmsterdammingLatest Quest to Tame Prostitution, What you should know about legalized prostitution, Guide to Amsterdam, Hear the World’s sound, Seize the Night and An Amsterdam Adventure.

 

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24 thoughts on “Amsterdam: The city of paradoxes

  1. It intrigues me how much this post is like what I might have written after my first visit to Amsterdam about 30 years ago. Times change, but we may not change with them as much as we think we do. I’ve been back a few times since and know that while these over-arching characteristics of a complex city do seem unchanged over time, the details always keep it from being predictable! Great post!

  2. An excellent post! A very concise and thorough guide to the city.. and great photos too. I am Dutch, but I was born in America, and have never been to The Netherlands. Maybe someday.

  3. Interesting post! I like the way you juxtapose Amsterdam’s contradictory elements: pancakes and prostitution; canals and coffee shops. Clearly a complex, nuanced place to visit.

  4. Thanks for a great blog, loved it and the pictures. Amsterdam is a fun place and always worth a visit no matter how old you are or what time of year you go.

  5. I have been struggling for years on wether or not prostitution should be legal. I feel that it depends on every individual and should be taken on case by case basis. When I was 21 I visited Berlin for 3 months. One day after leaving a bar on Oranienburger Strasse I saw over a dozen prostitutes soliciting work. I was shocked! Not because I had never seen prostitutes before but because they all looked like models. On Oranienburger Strasse they looked healthy and well groomed.Here in the USA they appear terminally ill or addicted to drugs. Ever since then the issue has perplexed me I see good and I see bad coming from it. I have yet to take a stance. Thank you for titillating my mind. Also, I have been wanting to visit Amsterdam for about 3 years. Maybe this will be my lucky year.

  6. This is a very insightful post. I have made two short trips to Amsterdam and I had an ejoyable experience both times. The industrious and entrepreneual spirit of the Dutch coupled with a cityscape maze of old and new European style makes it unique aside the more obvious reasons.

    The coffeshop experience is meaningful to me both as a traveler and an advocate of liberty. It puts the substance debate into perspective by contrasting how hostile some regimes are toward voluntary and peaceful users of cannabis. As with the prostitution issue the substance issue is about people voluntarily making choices about their lives. To involve the state in regulating these sorts of activities is not only to degrade the liberties of people choosing to participate in prostitution or substance use but also to degrade the liberties of the majority of people as capital is forcefully extracted to fund the regulation program itself.

    Spending time in Amsterdam can yield a fresh perspective on these issues.

  7. interesting take on the city and its more controversial ideas. I’ve been there a few times and always had a great time. I think both issues (prostitution and drugs) should be legal and up to the individual to decide wether they want to get involved or not. Of course, these people should be totally free to decide, not get coerced in any way. They should also be held responsible for their decisions. I wish it was as free here in the USA.

  8. This is a very interesting post. I have lived in the Netherlands for quite some time now, and when I moved here I knew of the tolerant nature of the Netherlands. My first assumption was that since drugs are legal, everyone must be doing it. That’s what we have been brought up to think in other countries, that by legalizing drugs you will send people especially the young teenagers in a downward spiral. However, in my experience here I can only name 2 of my acquaintances who smoke marijuana, and only on occasion. It took some time but Netherlands has definitely shifted my opinion on drugs and prostitution legalization over the past few years. I’d rather have the Dutch approach to these issues where it is controlled and monitored by the government, rather than being run by black market dealers. Yet I realize even this is not perfect, and I wonder if there will ever be a perfect way of approach.

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