"Old Church in Amsterdam"
Oude Kerk, Amsterdam
Public DomainOude Kerk, Amsterdam

Consecrated in 1306 by the bishop of Utrecht, the Oude Kerk is the oldest parish church in Amsterdam. It includes the largest wooden medieval vault in Europe, made of planks from Estonia that date from 1390 and that contribute to some of the finest acoustics on the continent. Rembrandt was a frequent visitor to this church and all his children were christened there.

The narrator of Unbearable Lightness spends several pages describing the church, and Sabina’s experience of the beauty of a priest’s chant and the congregation’s response in a village church back in Czechoslovakia, but it is not mentioned that many concerts by ensembles such as the BBC Singers and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields take place here as well.

Sex worker statue
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeSex worker statue - Credit: Romeo Reidl
Oude Kerk stands in De Wallen, the city’s red-light district and a major tourist attraction for legal prostitution services (to which the narrator refers in the opening paragraphs of this section) and a cannabis museum.

In the church, Sabina stares at the bare stalls where wealthy burghers worship, and she thinks of “cows tied to the rings” who “gazed dreamily out of the windows” in castles that were nationalized and turned into cow sheds in Bohemia after the Communist coup. It isn’t hard to link that image of the cows to the whores across the street “who look like bored cats” on the preceding page, as well.

Oudekerksplein, the square surrounding the church, has a bronze relief of a hand caressing a female breast that was placed in the cobblestones one night by the unknown artist, and in 2007 a bronze statue named Belle to honor the prostitutes of the world was installed there. The inscription on the statue reads, "Respect sex workers all over the world."