National Geographic : 1974 May
~zp r Moving day means rigging the roof beam to lower mattress and furniture too bulky for steep, narrow stairways. Most house facades on Thorbeckeplein and other Amsterdam streets tilt slightly outward, which makes hoisting easier. In this district students often live above cafes and night spots. Famed Neighborhood Offers Sin and Salvation Wide open is the phrase for Amsterdam's notorious red light district, where the girls pose in picture windows in the lovely old canal houses of the Oude Zijds Voorburgwal, now garish with neon signs. In the midst of this neighborhood stands the headquarters of the Salvation Army. Here, in a typical old Dutch interior with an Oriental rug on the table and with mullioned windows casting a mosaic of pale-green and amethyst light on the tile floor, I had tea with Lt. Col. A. M. Bosshardt. A strong-minded woman, she wore a badge that summed up her quality in a word: GOODWILL. Colo nel Bosshardt has been ministering for 40 years to the sick, the homeless, the dispirited, the lonely, and the lost. "There are about 3,000 girls in this district, selling love," she said. "What a delusion! Who can buy love? We know them all. They accept us, we accept them, they come to us for help. Most of the people who patronize these places are from out of town, provincials and tourists having a fling." "Does it offend you that it's so blatant?" "No. It's far better to have things out in the open. If you drive it underground, you can't control it. This way we can reach out to the girls. Tolerance is the best way." A few yards from the Salvation Army I passed one of Am sterdam's 80 sex shops, where a handful of patrons with bored expressions leafed through pornographic magazines. By con trast there were 65,000 football fans that night at the Olympic Stadium. In Amsterdam, I concluded, pornography cannot compete with soccer. The game, introduced from England in 1879, is a national mania, actively involving more than a third of the male popu lation of the Netherlands. During my visit the Ajax team of Amsterdam held the championship not only of the Nether lands but also of Europe. That night Ajax defended its title against an old enemy, Ma drid. It was a resumption of the Eighty Years' War: The short, swarthy Spaniards in royal blue with close-cropped black hair; the Dutchmen, big and rangy in red-and-white-striped uni forms with their long blond locks floating in the breeze. I sat squeezed in between an English film maker and an 702 C "The Dutch don't like to wear diamonds," Asscher told me, "because they don't like to show off, but they do like to buy them as an investment." Benno Premsela, descendant of a Polish-Jewish family that found refuge in Amsterdam in the 17th century, survived the Nazi persecution by hiding out in his native city for four years. Now a noted interior and industrial designer and successful businessman, he is a utopian socialist who seeks to integrate all minorities, sexual, racial, and political. "We are a progressive city," he told me. "We are experiment ing, changing. Catholic priests are renouncing celibacy. I wish our rabbis were that open to change. Our TV stations are privately owned and very educational, the freest in Europe. Everything has been seen on TV in this country, even an abor tion. Now we have just had a program on relations outside of marriage. The situation is wide open."