Ask most people returning from Europe what museums they visited and they are likely to say The Louvre, the British Museum, the Museo Nacional del Prado, the Nationalmuseet or one of the other renowned buildings filled with objects of art, science or history. Somehow, prostitution museums are not up there with the usual European tourist sites to see, but Amsterdam is hoping to change that with the opening of Red Lights Secrets Museum.
Amsterdam has museums for everyone’s taste from the Van Gogh Museum to the Rijksmuseum to Anne Frank’s house to the Heineken Experience. Now, celebrating the city’s infamous Red Light District, there is a new attraction: the Red Light Secrets Museum.
Located in one of the oldest parts of the city with narrow cobbled street and 14th century architecture, the museum is nestled between two functioning brothels in a house that once was an operating brothel too. The new exhibits celebrate the oldest profession with displays to show what life is really like behind the red-lighted windows where lingerie-clad women beckoned to potential customers. There is even a red-lit window behind which museum visitors can sit like the prostitutes do, be ogled by people outside and take selfies to commemorate scenic Amsterdam. (Note: it is actually illegal to take pictures of the real prostitutes.).
Other sites in the museum give a glimpse into the world of sex workers. Beside the “working rooms,” there is also video footage documenting the role of prostitutes in society and another interviewing the ladies to discuss their families and daily lives. The idea for the museum is to educate people about prostitutes without actually hiring some.
The Red Light District is a tourist hot spot, with thousands strolling by on a nice evening. The prostitution museum organizers hope it, too, will become a routine tourist stop in the area, along with the usual gawking at the working women, the live sex shows and the Condomerie, a shop devoted to condoms of all colors, shapes, flavor and decoration.
Other attractions in the area include the Sex Museum, the Erotic Museum and the Hash, Marijuana and Hemp Museum. The Sex Museum exhibits tend to be cultural rather than bawdy. There are displays celebrating the history of sex from the early Greco-Roman days to legends like Casanova and Catherine the Great of Russia. The Erotic Museum features a whole floor dedicated to sadomasochism. The pot and hemp museum educates about the plants’ uses and offers a special vaporizing room.
For those who cannot make it to Amsterdam in the near future, there are several other museums in the world honoring famous prostitutes and houses of ill repute. There are a few, which unlike their Amsterdam peer are all in towns famous for mining operations. Langtrees is a working brothel/museum in Kalgoorlie, Australia; its rooms are dual-purpose, being used for tours by day and business by night. There is the Red Onion Saloon and Brothel Museum in Skagway, Alaska, and the Julia Bulette Red Light Museum in Virginia City, Nevada. Some of the more renowned brothels in Nevada in recent years, like The Mustang Ranch, have indicated they plan to open tourist exhibits soon. One long-time American house of ill repute,the Dumas Brothel in Butte, Montana, operated illegally from 1890 to 1982, and became a museum for a while; it closed in 2006 because the dilapidated building was unsafe.
While not the first, the new Red Light Secrets Museum is the only prostitution museum located in a large city. A prostitution museum may not be a usual tourist site to see in Amsterdam, but it is bound to attract a lot of attention.
By Dyanne Weiss