Amsterdam's famous brothels and cannabis cafés could disappear under new rules

Amsterdam is famous for its red light district and its cannabis cafés, which together attract up to 20million tourists to the Netherlands capital every year.

The city, like so many others around the world, has been under lockdown in a bid to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

When the lockdown ends, many locals are hoping that a different Amsterdam will be revealed. One without scantily-clad girls in window brothels or coffee-shops selling ready-made cannabis joints.

Mascha ten Bruggencate, who is the chairperson of Amsterdam’s central district council, says that hardly any native Amsterdammers live in the city centre any more.

She said the lockdown “painfully showed how few people actually live in the centre and how little it has to offer locals.”

“My dream is that the city centre will continue to be a vibrant place,” she said, “but one where visitors are visitors, and not the main event.”

She said she hoped “it should be a place where locals live, work and do their thing.”

Over recent years the Netherlands capital has become increasingly geared to catering to tourists’ needs, leaving little for the locals.

Things got so bad, some residents took to sticking photos of themselves in their windows with a sign that said, “I Live Here.”

The City’s Mayor Femke Halsema has outlined a plan to limit the number of souvenir shops and cannabis cafés and make it easier for community-based businesses to gain a foothold.

Amsterdam's famous brothels and cannabis cafés could disappear under new rules

Not everyone’s happy with the planned changes.

While many of the prostitutes who work in the 330 or so window brothels have returned home to Eastern Europe while the lockdown has cut off the flow of tourists, those that remain see the brightly-lit red light area, with its plentiful CCTV cameras, as a safe place to work.

The city’s legal brothels have taken a major financial hit during the pandemic, and owners fear new city rules could be the last straw. Masten Stavast, the head of a company that rents out some of the window brothels told Bloomberg: “Things are not going well with us.

Amsterdam's famous brothels and cannabis cafés could disappear under new rules

“Let’s face it,” Stavast added, “prostitutes need tourists, and the tourists want to see Amsterdam, and what else is Amsterdam other than old Amsterdam?”

Warning that severe restrictions on cannabis cafes and brothels ran the risk of driving them underground, he continued: “A tourist might be initially attracted by the coffee shops, but these people also book a hotel, visit a restaurant and will go on a round-trip boat ride in the canals.”

He said that tourist money was the lifeblood of the local economy, and with tough economic times ahead it was important to be pragmatic.

81-year-old pensioner Jan Dorreboom, who has lived in the red-light district for 45 years, agreed with him: “Joints and window prostitution are a part of Amsterdam; just live with it,” he said.