Opinions & Editorials

Why Amsterdam is the Liberal Dream

Prostitutes, marijuana and sex shows, oh my! Amsterdam can sound a crazy capital city initially, but it’s actually a place that is rather ahead of its time. It is an essential part of a very liberal country, the Netherlands.

Walking around the city and seeing just how free you are to live life was a liberating experience for me. The locals are friendly and there are many tourists, especially in the Red Light District. Nearly everyone spoke English. To complete the experience, my friends and I stayed at a hostel that turned out to be one of the best bars around later on in the evening.

Tourists lounge in Vondelpart. Photo by Amber Calabro

Tourists lounge in Vondelpart. Photo by Amber Calabro

Amsterdam is an absolutely fascinating place. The city draws more than 3.66 million international visitors annually. From my personal experience, I can tell you that the place is young for the most part. Most visitors looked about late teens to mid thirties.

Not only can one go into one of the city’s many coffee shops to sit down with a cap-puccino and smoke some marijuana, but the place has a decent amount of history to add to its culture as well. Visiting the Anne Frank museum was definitely an excellent experience, especially for a WWII nerd like myself. Amsterdam is also home to the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum (dedicated to arts and history), and Stedelijk Museum (modern and con-temporary art) just to name a few other hot spots.

Or if you’re more into drinking beer than art, the Heineken Experience is in Amster-dam, as well. There are also smaller museums dedicated to prostitution, cheese and canna-bis culture among other things. Vondelpark is also quite nice, essentially the Central Park of Amsterdam although it is not centrally located.

To talk politics, the Netherlands was one of the first countries in the world to have an elected parliament. Since 1848 it has operated as a unitary parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy, so it is a kingdom and there is a royal family.

The Netherlands was a founding country for some international organizations such as the EU (European Union), NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), and the WTO (World Trade Organization). The country is known for it’s extensive history of social toler-ance. Abortion, prostitution and euthanasia is all legal. The prostitutes quite literally stand behind clear glass windows with a red light over the window down the alley ways of the Red Light District. Sometimes they are scantily clad in lingerie, but others are dressed more conservatively. The women were generally smoking a cigarette, on their phones or drinking coffee. It was a bizarre sight to see, however a completely legal one.

Their drugs policy is rather progressive. I was personally told by the bartender at my hostel that the only thing you cannot smoke in the streets is heroin. The four major objectives of the drug policy of the Netherlands as per the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction is to 1) prevent recreational drug use and treat and rehabilitate recreational drug users 2) reduce harm to users 3) to diminish public nuisance by drug users 4) To combat the production and trafficking of recreational drugs. This has obviously caused friction between the Netherlands and other countries, however I think this tolerant view of drug use is realistic and down-to-earth.

In 2001, the Netherlands became the world’s first country to legalize same-sex marriage. The Netherlands is also ranked the fourth happiest country in the world by the United Nations World Happiness Report. Needless to say, the United States among others should be looking to the Netherlands in regards to social issues.

Overall, Amsterdam was overwhelming impressive and I am glad I could cross it off my bucket list this summer. I will be returning to the city for sure.

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