The Netherlands (Holland to most of us) is known the world over for its open and tolerant society. The Dutch philosophy of life “Live and let live” is synonymous to its culture of permissiveness (“gedoogcultuur”) earning Amsterdam, the capital and most populous city, the title as the “most liberal city in the world”.
Holland is the first country in the world to legalise euthanasia – the practice of intentionally ending a life to relieve pain and suffering. Holland is also the first country to have same-sex marriage legalised since 01 April 2001. Prostitution, the oldest profession, has been legal in the Netherlands for a very long time since 1830 dating back to the days when this city was Europe’s major seaport where sailors sought amusement along the canals surrounding the port.
Popping into the famous “Red Light” District, the Ouderkerksplein, is actually like moving out of your comfort zones taking you into amazing experiences just to say you’ve been there! The Red Light District, the oldest district in the city with its network of narrow roads and alleys where an old church, sex workers (prostitutes) in their locked glass doorways, windows typically illuminated with red lights, curtains tightly closed, and a kindergarten school co-exist, shows how bold liberalism is in the city.
But beware: no photos of the red light district are allowed! Dutch authorities treat sex workers as independent entrepeneurs and are obligated to submit income tax declarations and pay taxes. There is a prostitution information centre, a charitable foundation, to inform society about prostitution. It sells books and organizes lectures on prostitution and conducts guided tour around the area.
In Amsterdam the sale of marijuana buds and hash (hard drugs not allowed) is legal in coffeeshops (cannabis shops), not to be confused with a regular coffee shop. A licensed seller of cannabis products like weed, marijuana or hash, is known as a “coffeeshop” as distinguished from a “koffiehuis” (coffee house) which sells coffee and light meals and has a green and white sticker in the window.
The Dutch is known not only for its culture of liberalism but also for its historical struggle of survival with water. Tracts of the lowland of the Netherlands have been reclaimed (known as “polder”) for agricultural, industrial, recreational, and residential purposes from the water because a large part of the country is lower than the level of the sea. We spend more than an hour drive through the beautiful lowlands north of Amsterdam, known as The “Beemsterpolder”, registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its creative planning, a reclaimed land from a lake with the water extracted out by the use of windmills.
The windmills are characteristic of the Dutch landscapes. Historically the windmills fitted with diesel and electric engines play a big role in the development of the country: pumping water out of the lowlands or performing industrial functions for the production of oil, paper and sawing logs or timber.
While in Amsterdam you’ll find it irresistible to stroll through a canal district or meander through the waterways on a canal boat passing elegant merchants’ mansions, gabled houses, churches, and warehouses dating back to the 16 and 17th century.
It’s really hard not to love Amsterdam.