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German Culture: The Sex Industry & Prostitution in Germany

Robert Easton

It is estimated that 1.2 million German men use prostitutes each year, and the industry has an annual turnover of US$1.6 billion.

Prostitution was legalised in Germany in 2002. The idea was to remove the industry from criminal hands and thus reduce the illegal trafficking of women, make working conditions safer and reduce stigma.

German Culture: The Sex Industry & Prostitution in Germany

Prostitutes are now able to join unions and get health insurance, but many sex workers prefer not to register with authorities due to discrimination and stigma. The result is that prostitutes are still often forced to work in dark uninhabited industrial areas, which puts them at risk.

The changes to German law do little to help foreign prostitutes, who constitute almost half of the total, because they don’t have the correct work permit. This means they risk deportation if they report ill treatment to the police. Prostitution is already legalised in The Netherlands, and could be legalised very soon in Belgium. Sweden legalised prostitution about 30 years ago, but recriminalised it after about 20 years.

Registered prostitutes are regularly given free mandatory health checks, and it is also possible for customers to write up contracts with sex workers in order to protect them in the case of the desired ‘services’ not being rendered. Unfortunately, a legal loophole means that the prostitutes can’t do anything if the client fails to pay up after they have sex.

Brothels with officially registered prostitutes have to pay a fee of about 15-25 Euros per prostitute per day to local authorities. The city of Cologne receives about 700,000 Euros a month. The Green Party is particularly active in campaigning for the rights of sex workers. There are several prostitute’s unions, (e.g. Berlin’s HYDRA) which campaign for the recognition of prostitution as a regular job. In Berlin there’s even an organisation of prostitute’s customers, call ‘Lust und Prostitution’.

Jobs in the sex trade are sometimes advertised in job centres. Recent articles in several English language news portals told the story of an unemployed 25 year-old IT specialist who was told by her job centre that her benefits would be removed if she did not accept a prostitution job offered to her. There was an outcry at the time, but there is little evidence to support the story, which is considered by some to be an urban myth.

The precise nature of prostitution in Germany varies from place to place. In Munich, street prostitution is not allowed anywhere. In Berlin, almost anything goes. In Hamburg it is allowed at certain times of the day at the train station. Many bars and clubs offer sex services.

In many cities, there is a street known as the ‘Mall’, where brothels are located and prostitutes gather. These streets are usually pedestrianised, so you have to walk there or get dropped of by a taxi, and of course you have to be 18 to go there.

Many cities have an ‘Eros Centre’ where women rent a room by day, sitting in the window to tempt men in. Alternatively, prostitutes can be found via a host of magazines sold in sex shops (some of which include customer reviews), or the telephone directory.

Germany currently has very high unemployment rates, which lead one brothel manager to offer 20% discounts to unemployed clients. The prostitutes’ union gave their approval thinking that it might cheer up unemployed people. The manager of the brothel, a bar in Dresden, said that the sex industry was a very good indicator of the economy as a whole, and that business had dropped about 50% in recent months. The discount applies to snacks and drinks as well, but you have to produce proof of unemployment.

Another brothel had an unprecedented number of visitors when it threw open its doors to raise money for a children’s charity. Tickets were 40 Euros, but sex wasn’t for sale, there was just an art exhibition.

Brothels are expecting a big increase in trade during the World Cup, and about 40,000 prostitutes are expected to travel to Germany to take advantage of the boom.

In Dortmund, where the red light district does not have enough parking space, they plan to install drive-in sex huts to cope with the problem. A local official said that although most men would get used to them because they could protect their identity, ‘there will always be those who want to go behind a bush, under a bridge or into the woods.’

The age of consent in Germany is 14 if the partner is under 21 and 16 if the partner is 21 or older. Pimping is illegal.

  • Baden-Baden
  • Berlin
  • Cologne
  • Dortmund
  • Dusseldorf
  • Frankfurt
  • Freiburg
  • Gelsenkirchen
  • Hamburg
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