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Most people don’t visit Amsterdam for the tulips. The city is famous for its tolerance towards all kinds of shady business. Nowhere else in Western Europe can you wander into a coffee shop and order weed from a menu, even select the special of the day, share a space cake or pot brownies with a friend, get slightly high by just walking down the streets and breathing in the fumes and indulge in such an alternative culture without fears of being arrested.
In recent years, a lot of laws have popped up in the Netherlands surrounding the cannabis culture. For example, coffee shops aren’t allowed within a certain proximity to schools, and it is now officially illegal to smoke in public. Although the capital of the Netherlands has often been the exception to the rules, the city of Amsterdam now seems to be clamping down on the shady businesses in town. According to Eric, our gracious host at the Amsterdam Cribs B&B, the city is even trying to shut down coffee shops and brothels on certain roads and tries to limit them to selected canals.
All in all, a lot of changes are going on in Amsterdam, restricting and shrinking the famous pot and red-light culture, that has been drawing tourists to the city for decades. The stunning city centre is as famous for the sex industry and the coffeeshops as it is for the beautiful buildings and fascinating canals.
Amsterdam’s project 1012, which Eric was talking about, aims to turn that city centre into more of a residential- and office area, aiming to reduce the red-light district and the coffee shop culture by up to 50%. This includes many sex shops, shady cinemas, trashy souvenir shops and massage parlours, which will be shut down as well. Also, the venues that are allowed to remain open have to expect to be regulated much more heavily.
However, many tourists visit Amsterdam specifically with the intention of engaging with the cities dirty underbelly and most controversial activities in the city have been tolerated so far. Visitors specifically seek out the low-quality businesses, trashy coffee shops and come into town to look at hookers in windows. Unarguably, pumping tourist revenue into such shady business has its downsides, but the danger persists, that project 1012 will cause grave damage to Amsterdam’s tourist industry.
Due to a law banning coffee shops from selling alcohol, back in 2007, coffee shops in Amsterdam also had to decide if they wanted to become a bar or remain a coffee shop. A lot of the establishments that decided to sell alcohol remain smoker-friendly though, which means that you can bring and smoke your own weed, but can’t buy it in the bar.
Most of the venues, like the”Hill Street Blues“, have adapted and now have signs at the bar, pointing you to the closest coffee shop, where you can purchase your joint. Hill Street Blues, which happens to be next to a police station, was one of my favourite places in Amsterdam. Everything, and I really mean everything – from walls, furniture and the bar – is covered in layers upon layers of graffiti. Some people have even managed to scrawl on the ceilings. It’s a beautiful place and a reminder of Amsterdam’s alternative culture.
But Amsterdam is changing and if you want a taste of the famously tolerant city, and what remains of the weed and red-light culture, you better visit soon.