Louise and Martine Fokkens are two-of-a-kind, down to their near-identical flamboyant outfits, expertly-applied neon lipstick, and an ongoing playful banter that seems eerily synchronized. Born to a Jewish mother and Roman Catholic father in war-torn Holland, the twins hid from the Nazis in their family’s Amsterdam basement while others like the Franks were hauled away to concentration camps. Today they’re best known as Amsterdam’s oldest prostitutes, a distinction they hold with pride.
The Fokkens’ story is documented in Sundance Now’s Meet the Fokkens, as well as Meet the Fokkens in the Red Light District, a book that’s topped the Dutch bestsellers list. It now forms a bittersweet chapter in the history of one of Amsterdam’s oldest, most beautiful yet notorious neighborhoods.
After a brief stint as a lampshade designer, Louise was driven into prostitution as a teen by her abusive first husband and pimp. In the ’70s, she left him to open her own brothel. Martine followed her twin into man’s oldest profession, launching her career as head window cleaner of her sister’s successful establishment. After customers repeatedly confused her with Louise, she fell into the sex trade fold.
Together, the twins have championed hookers’ rights through the first independent union for prostitutes, created to uphold their rights and sow seeds for a sense of community among Red Light District prostitutes. These days, after a collective century of pleasuring countless men, they bear neither grudges nor shame, waxing nostalgic about the good times they had across decades spent strolling the streets of de Wallen, flirting with suitors, and sitting in adjacent red-lit windows clad in sexy corsets, garters, silk stockings and patent leather stilettos.
“Everything’s plastic today,” Louise tells me in her thick Dutch accent. With a twinkle in her eye, she adds, “But we’re the real thing, honey. We know the tricks and how to make the customers laugh, too.”
At 75, the ladies have all but given up their careers as sex workers and are struggling to survive on state pensions and royalties from their movie and book. They’re also transitioning into a new life chapter as vloggers and tour guides of the Amsterdam neighborhood they know best.
Louise and Martine were the guests of honor at a recent Internations dinner party at which they answered questions about prostitution in Amsterdam and regaled expats from America, Canada, Egypt, Germany, Romania, South Africa and the Ukraine (plus a few Dutchies who helped with translation) with stories of walking the streets of De Wallen and pleasuring men in their own brothel. Watch this site for updates about future dinner parties and Red Light District Tours.