In the 1970s, Amsterdam was a destination for hippies and wannabe hippies from around the world. Easy drugs, easy girls, easy just about anything your heart desired. Any form of sin was available for a price and sometimes for free.
But such licentiousness comes with a cost. Today, Amsterdam’s ombudsman is referring to the city as a “lawless jungle” where the police have given up trying to keep order after dark.
“The city centre becomes an urban jungle at night,” Amsterdam’s official ombudsman Arre Zuurmond told Dutch daily Trouw, warning of illegal car and bike races zooming through the streets, open drugs sales and general mayhem.
“Criminal money flourishes, there is no authority and the police can no longer handle the situation,” he warned.
Some 18 million tourists flock to Amsterdam every year — more than the entire population of the Netherlands.
Over the past year, the city has sought to take major steps to push back against unruly visitors instituting stiff fines and penalties for breaking public disturbance laws.
But enticed by cheap travel, groups mostly of young men — mainly from elsewhere in the Netherlands or Britain — frequently roam the inner city’s canal-lined streets at weekends, on pub crawls or to celebrate stag parties drawn by easy access to drugs and the notorious Red Light district.
Zuurmond paints a painful picture of the city centre’s nightlife after previously setting up three cameras in the busy Leidseplein square ringed by bars and clubs.
“One night we counted 900 offences, mainly between the hours of 2:00am and 4:00am. The atmosphere is grim, and there is an air of lawlessness,” he said.
“Scooters race through the pedestrian areas. There is a lot of shouting. Drugs are being bought. There is stealing. People pee and even poop on the streets,” he said.
“There is violence but no action. You can even pee on the van of a mobile (police) unit and the driver won’t say anything.”
The drug problem is so bad that some are referring to the Netherlands as a “narco-state.” They tried giving out clean needles in hopes of stopping the spread of disease. It worked. It also worsened the addiction problem.
When “anything goes” you can be pretty sure that, well, anything will go. The normal moral constraints are loosened and the result is entirely predictable.
So the question is: why is this a surprise to anyone? Most of us like a good time as much as the next person but we still expect certain self-imposed restrictions on behavior. In Amsterdam, this appears to be absent, leading to a situation where Dodge City in the 1870s on a Saturday night looks tame by comparison.