Holland is famous all over the world for some of the weirdest facts. Not all of the crazy facts are true however. Here are some of the myths about Amsterdam that are popular. Find out if they are true or not in this list of Myths about Holland.
1. Prostitution is legal in Holland
Since 2000 prostitution is officially legal in The Netherlands. Discussions, plans and ideas to regulate prostitution had been going around since the 1950s. The law states that only women (and men) who voluntarily choose the profession and are 18 years or older may sell their body and services for money. The women need to have a work permit and pay taxes.
The law was instated to protect the prostitutes and fight forced prostitution. The law also made it easier to control the amount of brothels and window prostitution by giving out licenses. This license system made it possible for Amsterdam to close many prostitution windows in the Red Light District and brothels in recent years by simply not renewing more licences.
In Holland, sex with a prostitute younger than 18 years is an criminal offence. In 2013 the Dutch government wants to lift the age to 21 years.
2. Holland is below sea level
The western parts of The Netherlands (the provinces Noord-Holland, Zuid-Holland and Zeeland) are below sea level. That’s more than half the land.
For example Airport Schiphol is 1 meter under sea level. Parts of Amsterdam are 4 meters below sea levels, other parts are 2 meters above sea level. The lowest part in Holland is 6 meters below sea level!
Still, the Dutch aren’t worried about flooding because they have a innovative system of dykes, dunes, canals and barrages to break the water. The elaborate system is maintained and coordinated by 26 so called ‘Waterschappen (water boards)’. They continually check the level of water and adjust by pumping out water to the higher canals and rivers that run to the sea.
The Dutch are already anticipating the rising of sea levels due to climate change. Many of the dykes and dunes have been enforced in recent years. This will continue in the coming years.
You can find out more about sea levels at the interactive exhibition of the NAP at Waterlooplein, Amsterdam.
3. A little boy stopped a flooding in Holland by putting his finger in a dyke.
Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates is a children’s book about all kinds of adventures that take place in Holland. It was written in 1865 by the American author Mary Mapes Dodges.
In one of the adventures a little boy living near Haarlem finds out that the dyke that protects the land from the sea is leaking water. By putting his finger in the dyke, a potential disaster is avoided. Unfortunately, nobody is aware of the heroic act and so the boy stays there, in the cold winter night all the time keeping his finger in place. Only the next the day a clergy finds the little boy.
Interestingly, that little boy is not really named Hans Brinker, but the story is remembered that way. Also, the author had never even been to Holland and so many historic facts from the book are incorrect. The book however was a big hit in the United States and made people very interested in Holland.
The story was also translated into Dutch and published in The Netherlands, but the story about the little boys who put his finger in the dyke is not as well known in Holland as it is in America.
4. The Dutch invented slavery
Slavery has been known to exist in all times and in all civilizations. The Romans famously enslaved entire populations, using them for fun (gladiators, sex slaves) and labour. In the Middle Ages, slave trade was big business, with Arabs, Greek and Jewish merchants all involved in buying and selling slaves. In North-Africa slavery was very common from the 11th to the 14th century. White Christians were captures during raids in Europe and black people were purchased or captures in Africa and transported to major slave markets in Algeria and Morocco.
In many parts of Africa, it was common to enslave a large part of the population. Upon conquering a tribe, the population would be enslaved to the other tribe. The Ashanti for example are known to have captured many slaves.
When the Europeans showed an interest in the African slaves, the hunt for slaves became even more lucrative. Arab traders would take the captured slaves to the coastal cities and sell them to the Portuguese and Spanish from the 15th century onwards.
When the Dutch conquered Brazil from the Portuguese in 1630, the Dutch needed strong men to work on the sugar plants and started with the large scale shipping of African slaves. The Dutch transported over 500.000 Africans to the Americas. This is about 5 % of the total amount of the Atlantic slave trade.
Read more about Slavery in Amsterdam
5. The Dutch wear wooden shoes
Dutch farmers wear clogs made of out of wood. The benefits of wooden shoes are great. They protect the foot against falling objects or the treading of animal hoofs. They also have great isolation qualities: your feet stay warm in winter and cool in summer.
Wooden shoes date back to the Middle-ages when clogs were popular all over Europe. In the 15th century the clog was made out of one piece of wood. The wooden shoes were strong and kept the feet dry while walking in the muddy streets and in marshy lands, like in Holland. Clog making is a real skill that’s still practised by professional clog makers in Holland.
Nowadays, clogs and clog makers have become a tourist attraction and are mostly produced as a souvenir, but I can recommend you wearing your Dutch wooden shoes at home.
It takes some getting used to (wear thick socks!) but then you have a pair of shoes that’ll last you a lifetime.
6. When a cop stops you in Amsterdam, they have no right to search you
Like they said in the film Pulp Fiction, a cop in Amsterdam does not have the right to search you if he doesn’t have specific reason to suspect you of doing anything illegal. In the same way, a police officer in Amsterdam cannot search your bag, your car or your house without permission from you or from a judge.
However, since 2011 it’s possible for a mayor to name a specific area as a ‘safety risk areas’. The centre of Amsterdam is considered a ‘safety risk area’. This means in the centre of Amsterdam, a cop can actually search you and your bag without your permission. The police will specifically look for any arms you might carry.
In 2013 a new law was approved that allows a city mayor to appoint a certain area temporarily as a ‘safety risk area’ within a couple of hours. This means the police can search everyone for as long as 24 hours.