One of the biggest surprises on my recent tour of the red light district wasn't the live peep show I witnessed (!) or the unexpected opportunity to climb to the top of Oude Kerk, but it was stepping inside a museum full of dolls. One of Amsterdam's newest museums - it only opened a few months ago - Maria's Dolls claims to be "the house with 10,000 eyes" and it's not a far off description. As soon as you step inside the old canal house on one of the RLD's busiest streets, the Oudezijdsachterburgwal, you are being watched. Their eyes are everywhere, hollow and fixed, some appear as startled as you, while others seem more conniving, knowing, yet they continued to multiply as I climbed up and down a small number of stairs revealing small nooks where hundreds of these dolls sat waiting for me.
Originally the lifelong collection of a German woman - Maria, of course - the museum owner, a Red Light District resident for over fifteen years, bought the dolls from her when old age stopped her from being able to manage the visits by curious strangers who she opened her doors to for a small donation. Bringing the dolls to Amsterdam, he promised to continue her tradition of showing her collection "of plastic orphans" off to the world, and so Maria's Dolls was born.
As quirky and creepy as I found my time inside Maria's Dolls, I also found it oddly comforting that they have a safe and comfortable home - indeed the real estate they occupy is a much desired postcode. In fact, I left Maria's Dolls, stumbling out into the quiet chaos of the RLD as afternoon began to turn into evening, thinking they're couldn't be a better place for these 5000 ladies and gentleman than the peculiar, honest, unique beating heart of Amsterdam's Red Light District.
Entry to Maria's Dolls costs just €2.50 and it's open from 12.00 - 18.00 Wednesday to Sunday. More information is available on the website.
Frances M. Thompson
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