Meet the Fokkens: Amsterdam's oldest prostitutes
- 2 October 2012
- From the section Europe
Amsterdam's oldest prostitutes have been thrust into the spotlight with the release of their memoirs and a documentary film about their lives. The film, Meet the Fokkens, follows 70-year-old identical twins Louise and Martine Fokken as they share secrets of selling sex in the city's famous red light district.
Louise and Martine shuffle round their cluttered two-bedroom apartment in Ijmuiden, just west of Amsterdam.
One in slippers, the other in sandals, they fetch foaming mugs of coffee and their favourite cream cakes.
There is an absent-minded synchronicity to their movements.
Martine hums as Louise breaks into an old lament about families forced to flee during World War II. Their mum was part Jewish, something they managed to hide from occupying Nazi forces while remaining in the Netherlands. Louise's song dwells on the joy of living and the sadness of leaving.
"We were very little during the war. When the sirens started our mum would take us down into the basement. We didn't have any helmets so we used frying pans to cover our heads. We all looked so funny. And we had fun there."
I ask, when she looks back at her life in Amsterdam, was there more laughter or tears?
"Oh laughter, definitely laughter. You have to laugh even if you are sad because it is your life and you can't change it, but it is always better if you are smiling."
The sisters nod in unison.
But their expertly applied scarlet smiles do not detract from the shimmer of sadness in their eyes.
"Of course when we were 14 or 15 we never thought we would be working as hookers one day. We were creative and we had dreams," Martine says.
Louise adds: "I always say that my husband beat me into it. He was violent and said he would leave me if I didn't sell sex to make us more money.
"He was the love of my life…" she says.
Louise's children were taken into foster care. She holds one of the photographs, showing their small smiling faces, that sits on the shelves of an antique bookshelf.
Speaking from experience
Martine still sells sex. She says the Dutch state pension alone is not enough to live on. Louise quit because of arthritis.
Martine says she would like to retire but cannot afford to. The documentary shows her at work - perched on a stool in stockings, suspenders and patent leather stilettos.
Young men who pass by, some of them on stag parties from abroad, mock her for being old. She laughs it off (like she does with everything) and says she does not care.
She says times have changed: "The boys are different now, they drink too much, they're fat and they don't respect you. They should be on their bikes like Dutch boys, not just drinking all the time."
Despite younger competition next door, there is still a market for Martine's services.
She appears to specialise in bondage for older men. Targeting them with things they like to dress up in. Tempting them into her brothel with an array of dangerous looking whips and high-heeled shoes. It seems she has found a niche in the fetish market.
"We know the tricks, we know what they want. We know how to talk to them and we know how to make them laugh too."
"Honeybee come to me," they chorus in English with a strong Dutch accent.
Martine says they are lucky to be alive: "Once there was a man and there was something I didn't like about him. So I made him take off all his clothes. Then I sat on the bed and I felt under the pillow he'd hidden a huge knife."
"There are always ups and downs," Louise adds. "Ups and downs, ups and downs..." the twins sing-song, before falling into each other in fits of laughter.
They have a century's worth of experience between them. And now their story is going global.
The twins' memoirs topped the Dutch bestsellers list, and now an English translation is being printed and is due to be released later this year.
The twins say that Meet the Fokkens has helped to change attitudes; some of the abuse has been replaced by respect.
And as Martine tucks into the remains of Louise's cream cake, sharing a forkful with one of their three Chihuahuas, balancing on her shoulder, she swears they would not have done it any other way.
"This is what we know. If we didn't do hooking then what would we do? This is our life.
"And," she glances again at her sister, "we are still having fun".