Amsterdam Exposed: An American's Journey Into the Red Light District

Amsterdam Exposed: An American's Journey Into the Red Light District

by David Wienir


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"A provocative, enlightening, humorous, and impressively executed guide to Amsterdam’s twilight world." -- Kirkus Reviews

Amsterdam Exposed tells the true one-of-a-kind story of an innocent exchange student who moves to Amsterdam hoping to write a book about the red light district and everything that follows. It’s an American abroad story, and also a love story; it’s an uplifting tragedy, full of humor from beginning to end; it’s an Amsterdam survival guide; a sympathetic look at a societal problem; a little piece of policy; a sweet farewell to a world just about gone; and, ultimately, as close as you can come to a free trip to Amsterdam without leaving your couch. In sum, Amsterdam Exposed takes readers deep into the district on a journey never before possible, forever reshaping their understanding of one of the most famous tourist attractions in the world, and the women who work there. If you’ve ever spent time in Amsterdam, or dreamed of doing so, this book’s for you.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780999355909
Publisher: De Wallen Press
Publication date: 05/01/2018
Pages: 264
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

David Wienir is a business affairs executive at United Talent Agency and entertainment law instructor at UCLA Extension. Before UTA, he practiced law at two of the top entertainment law firms where he represented clients such as Steven Spielberg and Madonna. This is his fourth book.

Before becoming a lawyer, he was a professional river rafting guide, a speechwriter in the British House of Commons, and a host of Estonia Today on Estonia National Radio. He is also a founder and the first musical director of the Oxford Alternotives, Oxford University's oldest a cappella close harmony group.

He was educated at Columbia, Oxford, The LSE, Berkeley Law, and the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and is married to Dr. Dina, a pioneer of the medical cannabis movement and the inspiration for the Nancy Botwin character in the show Weeds. They live in West Hollywood with their teacup Brazilian Yorkie named Lola.

Read an Excerpt


"AMSTERDAM IS IN my heart," she said as she clutched the purple nylon shirt that clung tightly to her chest. "Amsterdam, it is life."

Inga had only lived in Holland for two months and had already been bewitched by the infamous Dutch town. As we walked down Haarlemmerstraat in the direction of the central station, I had not much to add to the conversation. Not yet. I had only been in Amsterdam for a few hours. The city had yet to make its impression.

That said, this wasn't my first time in town, though it had been a while. Like so many Americans, I had backpacked through Amsterdam while an undergrad during a year abroad. I visited the Van Gogh Museum, the Anne Frank House, and a live sex show, all must-see attractions.

Back then my trip was an innocent one. At the time, I had never even tried weed. I grew up on a cul-de-sac in the San Fernando Valley, went to an all-boys high school, and had very little contact with anything having to do with drugs. It was not a part of my upbringing, or something I was interested in. I even remember reprimanding one of my friends for smoking weed before going into the Van Gogh Museum. As for sex, well, I grew up in the height of the AIDS epidemic. We were taught to associate sex with death. It was terrifying, and I got off to a late start. When walking through the red light district during that first trip, I walked fast. I tried to not make eye contact with anyone, and wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. I never imagined living in Amsterdam, or even returning. Six years after my first visit, the forces of my life were taking me back.

I was entering my third year of law school at Berkeley and about to begin a career in international law. The school agreed to give me a full semester of credit to study in Amsterdam. Many thought I was crazy for leaving Berkeley for even a semester. This was not the normal path. As Holland is an important center of international law, I tried but couldn't think of a good reason not to go.

Also, I definitely needed a break from Berkeley. My second book decrying the lack of intellectual diversity at the law school had just been published — during my second year. Essentially, the book was about the inherent worth of the individual, a theme that runs through this one as well. It created controversy and attracted national attention. The premise was simple. In the name of diversity, you shouldn't shout down people who disagree with you. Especially regarding controversial issues, and especially at a top law school. This was a lot for Berkeley to handle. After a tumultuous book release, I looked forward to some time away.

While most of my class remained in California for the summer, I took a job in New York at Coudert Brothers, the oldest international law firm in America. Back in the day, being a summer associate was like going to adult summer camp. Very little work was done or expected, and days were spent being wined and dined. There were about 30 of us in the program, mostly from top law schools. We were constantly told how great we were, despite having accomplished very little, if anything, in the real world. We would go on scavenger hunts, river cruises, country club retreats, and whatever else they could think of, all to get us to sell our souls after graduation. It was a scary time. After all, once you sell your soul, you can never get it back. You could feel it in the air, and see it in the faces around us. There was something soulless about the place.

What was most frightening was that, for many of us, our lives had taken us to this place without ever making a single career decision. We were told if we worked hard, we would have opportunities down the road. We believed them. We made sacrifices in high school to get into an elite college, and then even more to get into a top law school. We pursued all this with the understanding law school opens doors and creates opportunities. Suddenly, there we were, saddled with monstrous debt and being led into a life most of us would never escape, and many would deeply regret.

I called this the opportunity myth. It is real, devastating, and fueled by law schools that care more about their endowments than the well-being of their students. After three months of wearing Brooks Brothers suits, the other summer associates went back to their respective law schools. My decision to go to Amsterdam was about much more than international law, or getting away from Berkeley. It was about breaking free.

With the summer program over, on a brisk September morning, I put on a pair of blue jeans and a white T-shirt and boarded a plane to Amsterdam. I traveled light. If necessary, I could do some shopping in town.

Money was an issue, and the cheapest flight I could find was on Iceland Air. This allowed for a three-day layover in Reykjavik. I had always dreamed of visiting Iceland and decided to spend a few days there. With a copy of Let's Go Europe serving as my bible, I found a bed in the Salvation Army Guesthouse. Back then, there were two travel guides in play, Let's Go Europe and the Lonely Planet. Let's Go Europe was the guide of choice for students, effectively funneling everyone into the same hostels, restaurants, landmarks, and clubs. Within minutes, I connected with a group of international students. We spent the next three days touring waterfalls, enjoying the local cuisine, and bonding.

On our final day, we visited the waters of the Blue Lagoon. There were six of us, from six different countries. Submerged to our shoulders, we floated in silence, looking into each other's eyes and carving out the moment. After a night partying in Reykjavik, we said our goodbyes, knowing we would never see each other again. That was OK. This was just a layover. I continued on my journey refreshed, feeling as if I had visited the moon.

I arrived in Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport knowing three things, more or less. First, I knew I would be studying law at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, one of the two major universities in town. Second, I knew the address of my apartment. Third, I knew I would be there for four months. Then, I would have to return to Berkeley for my final semester.

After clearing customs, I hopped on a train to Amsterdam's central station, making sure to steer clear of the gypsies and pickpockets who notoriously preyed on that stretch of rail. I had been warned to never stand by the doors, the prime spot where thieves would snatch and run, so I tightly wedged myself into a pack of tall Dutchmen. I arrived exhausted and blanketed with Dutch B.O., but without incident. I then hailed myself a cab. To get a good exchange rate, I bought a few hundred guilders back home. In 1999 the US economy was strong, with one dollar worth roughly two guilders. For an American stepping foot in Holland, everything was half price.

As I entered the cab, I reached into my pocket and pulled out a piece of paper with the address of my new home. It read Planciusstraat 13. I knew it was nearby, but that's all. I looked at the paper and did my best to pronounce the name. I'm not sure what came out of my mouth, but it was ugly, and it wasn't Dutch. The driver looked at me blankly, shaking his head. I gave it another try, changing it up a bit, and again, the same response. I had butchered it once more. After one more attempt, I surrendered and handed the crumpled piece of paper to the driver.

"Ah, Planciusstraat," he said with a smile and began driving west.

Within ten minutes, we arrived. The building was located about a mile northwest of the central station in a district called Westelijke Eilanden. This was one of the up-and-coming areas in the city, full of art galleries and lofts. While home to some of the most picturesque and traditional buildings in Amsterdam, boasting rows of painted shutters and geometric roofs, Planciusstraat 13 was humble. Basically, it was a nondescript, six-story, brick building just down the street from a herring stand.

Not yet realizing the Dutch rarely, if ever, tip, I gave the driver a few extra guilders. He accepted the money with a look of surprise and helped me to the door. After getting the keys from the landlord and signing a two-page lease, which thankfully had been translated into English, I was directed to a room on the third floor. Rent was cheap at 600 guilders a month, roughly $300.

The room was small and barely fit a bed, mini fridge, and sink. A balcony looked out onto a canal. It was the classic Amsterdam view, like something you might see on a postcard. I gazed out the window as a boat floated by. It was packed with tourists sipping wine, eating cheese squares, and taking pictures of the historic buildings huddled around my apartment. I waved as they passed. Someone snapped a picture. I felt connected. Amsterdam felt right. The apartment was perfect. Well, except for one thing. Every few minutes, the No. 3 tram roared down the street, rattling the building. The sound was intense, like an earthquake.

By the time I unpacked my belongings, the room looked about as barren as when I arrived. Exhausted from the long day of travel, I stretched out on my bed like a starfish and wondered about the life I would soon create for myself.

Just as I closed my eyes, I was awoken by the sounds of a French horn from across the hall. It was loud, and the musician was a beginner trying to play the theme song from Rocky. Over and over, the same song played, again and again. Every time, wrong. Combined with the sounds of the No. 3 tram, I was about to lose my mind. I stumbled across the hall and knocked on the door, hoping to make an introduction, possibly a friend, and most importantly, stop the music. I needed sleep.

The music stopped and the door swung open. In front of me stood a 21-year-old Dutchman, slightly bewildered, his hair a mess.

"Hi, I'm David," I began.

"Hi," he replied, and nothing more. I waited to see if he was going to continue, maybe say his name or something. He didn't. He just stood there, gazing at me like a deer in headlights.

"I just moved here from America," I continued. "Nice pyg."

"Thanks," he said, embarrassed but flattered. "You could hear?"

"Uh, yeah," I said, laughing. "I think all Amsterdam could."

"Oh, man, sorry," he said, dropping his head. "My name's Oliver. Want to come in?"

"Sure," I said, making my way through a pile of schoolbooks, pizza boxes, and dirty socks to the only chair in the room. Oliver sat on the corner of his bed as The A-Team played in the background. The show was popular in Holland at the time, albeit 16 years after its American release.

"See," Oliver said, "it's in English."

Unlike most of Europe, American television isn't dubbed in the Netherlands. It's subtitled. The English voice remains. People wonder why the Dutch speak English so well compared to the French, Spanish, and so many others. It's simple. They were raised watching The A-Team and other quality US programming. In many respects, the Netherlands is bilingual because of it.

Consequently, the need for me to learn Dutch was more of a novelty than necessity. Nevertheless, when in a foreign country, it's always good to pick up a thing or two. It's a show of respect, and can open doors. I've always made it a rule to do so, and learned the basics upon my arrival. My first words were doei, dank u wel, alstublieft, and je bent zo mooi. Meaning "goodbye," "thank you," "please," and, "you're so beautiful." The essentials.

After a few minutes of The A-Team and some small talk, Oliver asked, "What brings you to Amsterdam?"

"I'm studying law at the Vrije Universiteit."

"Where?" Oliver asked.

"The Vrije Universiteit," I repeated, doing my best with the pronunciation.

"Huh?" Oliver said, lost.

"The Free University," I said, switching to English.

"Ah, the VU," he said enthusiastically, pronouncing it like "vew." "I'm at UVA, the other university in town."

"Cool," I replied, thrilled we got past that. "But really," I continued, "I'm here to write a book."

From the beginning, I came to Amsterdam hoping to write a book about the red light district. Without question, the district is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Europe, with over two and a half million visitors a year. Most explore Amsterdam for only a few days and leave with questions and misconceptions, like I had in the past. Many are haunted by what they see. I wanted to write a book that would not only answer those questions and dispel those misconceptions, but take readers on a journey deeper into the district than they could ever go before.

Moreover, most who visit the district form opinions about the women without speaking with them. That is their only option, unless they become a customer. Even then, the women keep to themselves. Dutch prostitutes have little interest talking to tourists. They have no interest befriending them. I wanted to introduce readers to women who had worked in the windows for years. I wanted readers to hear about the industry from their perspective. Nothing political, nothing contrived, and from a Dutch point of view.

I became interested in the topic of prostitution after finishing my first semester at Berkeley Law. It was an intense four months of civil procedure, torts, and criminal law. After surviving exams, a group of us decided to unwind by going to Reno, the biggest little city in the world. We shaved off our exam beards, grabbed a slice of pizza at Blondie's, Berkeley's famous pizza joint, and headed east. There were five of us, and it should have been a three-hour drive. Due to a snowstorm, the trip took seven hours. As we drove through the whiteout, we passed the time singing to '80s tunes and complaining about the lack of eligible women in law school.

Not surprisingly, Berkeley attracted a bit of an angry crowd, and dating was bleak. There is a saying that largely holds true: while New Yorkers define themselves by how much money they make, and people in LA define themselves by how they look and whom they know, people in the Bay Area define themselves by how angry they are. The way they see it, if you aren't angry, you don't care. Literally minutes after finishing exams, we were out of there.

It was a slow and twisting drive to Reno, but by nine o'clock we had checked into the Silver Legacy Casino and had been gambling for an hour. Inspired by the movie Swingers, we looked sharp. For the night, we were no longer students. We were dressed to impress. I spent most of my time playing craps and drinking triple gin and tonics. My strategy was solid — play the pass line, place six and eight, and avoid everything else, particularly the Iron Cross. It was all about discipline, and sticking to the plan. By 10 o'clock, I was up $500. The table was rocking. I had a roll that lasted 10 minutes. I was on fire. Feeling lucky, I kept going, betting hard ways and playing the field. I couldn't lose.

By 11 o'clock, I was down $400. Defeated, I retreated from the table and hit the nickel slots with a group of chain-smoking grandmas from Germany. They took a liking to me, mostly due to my suit. I had taken Reno by storm.

We topped off the night at an all-you-can-eat buffet and then a nightclub. By three o'clock, we were ready to call it quits. Exhausted, we went outside in the cold and waited for a cab. After 20 minutes, one arrived.

The driver was a thin man in his fifties with a thick mustache and sun-damaged skin. He wore a plaid suit and seemed to take pride in his job. He got out of the cab and opened the back door. A sea of cigar smoke spilled out as he ushered us in. The car reeked, but we weren't about to wait for another. I sat in front. My friends climbed in back. Once on our way, the driver asked if we wanted to stop off for a snack at the ranch.

"Nah," I said, with the others agreeing. "Just take us to the Silver Legacy, please."

The driver continued, "They have a nice bar. You should check it out."

Other than hanging with the grandmas, the night had been a bust. This was our last chance to make something happen. I looked back at my friends who seemed open to the idea. It had been hours since the buffet, and a late-night snack sounded good. With a nod of my head, the driver began the short drive into the Nevada desert.

"You guys in school?" he asked, keeping the conversation moving.

"Yeah," I quietly replied. "Law school."

"Lawyers, huh?" he said intensely. "Maybe I should do the world a favor and let you out right here." I looked at my friends, worried we were driving into the desert with a sociopath.

After a few seconds, he continued, "Ah, I'm just joking. But, speaking of jokes, here's one. What's the difference between a lawyer and a prostitute?" We all sat in silence.


Excerpted from "Amsterdam Exposed"
by .
Copyright © 2018 David Wienir.
Excerpted by permission of De Wallen Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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