21 February 2014 Last updated at 01:35
Mega-brothels: Has Germany become 'bordello of Europe'?
By Jim Reed
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Paradise Stuttgart was opened in 2008, six years after Germany legalised such facilities
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A group of men in red and white robes stroll through the reception area. Women in high heels sit at the bar in a haze of cigarette smoke, chatting to clients and laughing.
This is Paradise, in Stuttgart, Germany - one of the largest brothels in Europe.
And it's legal.
Built at a cost of more than 6m euros (£4.9m), and opened in 2008, it boasts a restaurant, a cinema, a spa and 31 private rooms for the hundreds of male customers it attracts each day.
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You feel safe and you have security. It's not like the street where you don't know what happens with a man”
Germany legalised prostitution in 2002, creating an industry now thought to be worth 16bn euros a year.
By treating prostitution as a job like any other, the idea was to prise women away from the pimps that often run the sex trade.
Sex workers in Germany can now pay into a pension and demand health insurance.
"You feel safe and you have security. It's not like the street where you don't know what happens with a man," said 22-year-old Hannah, who arrived in Stuttgart after two years working in a brothel in Berlin.
But critics say Germany's liberal approach with its sex laws has spectacularly failed, normalising prostitution and turning the country into what they are now calling the "bordello of Europe".
The number of prostitutes in Germany is thought to have doubled to 400,000 over the last 20 years.
A room at Paradise
Paradise Stuttgart has 31 private rooms, a cinema and a restaurant
The market is now dominated by "mega-brothels", which offer sex on an almost industrial scale, often to tourists, many of them bussed in from abroad.
Many of the women working at Paradise Stuttgart are from Eastern European countries such as Romania and Bulgaria.
The feminist Alice Schwarzer has led a campaign for Germany to reverse course on its prostitution laws and copy the approach in Sweden, where it is illegal to buy sexual services but not to sell them.
This means a man caught with a prostitute faces a heavy fine or prosecution, but the woman does not.
That model has slowly been gaining ground across Europe and is now being seriously considered in seven countries, most notably France.
A two-year UK parliamentary inquiry into the sex trade, to be published next month, is expected to recommend the same Swedish model for England and Wales, although any change in the law is extremely unlikely before the 2015 general election.
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Prostitution has existed for many years in Germany, and we have brothels in the city centre which are more or less accepted, but it's now simply become too much”
Mayor of Saarbrucken
As things stand, buying and selling sex is technically legal across the whole of the UK, but a number of related activities, from running a brothel to kerb crawling and solicitation, are all criminal offences.
The problem is that tightening regulation in one part of Europe often has a knock-on effect on another.
German brothel owners near the French border are already gearing up for an increase in customers as soon as stricter laws come into force in France.
Paradise Island Entertainment, the chain that owns Stuttgart's mega-brothel and four others across central Europe, is about to open its next outlet a few hundred metres from the French border in the German city of Saarbrucken.
"The change of the law in France, which will punish the buyers of sex, is practically like winning the lottery for us because we'll get even more French customers. That's why the location is absolutely perfect," said the company's marketing chief Michael Beretin.
"It's just not possible to ban prostitution. What's happening in France is nonsense - you can't prosecute a man for something a woman wants to do."
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Prostitution in the UK
Buying and selling sex are both technically legal across the UK
But related activities, from soliciting in a public place to kerb crawling and owning a brothel, are all crimes
Trafficking for sexual exploitation or paying for sex with someone who has been trafficked are both against the law in England and Wales
In Northern Ireland, a private member's bill currently being brought by Lord Morrow would see prostitution laws along Swedish lines, although the NI Department of Justice currently looks unlikely to support the measure
In Saarbrucken itself there is concern about the growth of the cross-border sex trade, with critics claiming street prostitution has increased despite the rise of regulated brothels.
The socialist mayor of the city, Charlotte Britz, supported the new prostitution laws when they were introduced in 2002, but now thinks liberalisation has gone too far.
"Prostitution has existed for many years in Germany, and we have brothels in the city centre which are more or less accepted, but it's now simply become too much," she said.
"It should not be about every country offering a different solution. Instead we should agree rules on a Europe-wide basis and then we wouldn't have sex tourism from one country to another."
The idea of a cross-border deal could be given a boost on Tuesday when the European Parliament votes on whether to officially back the stricter Swedish model.
Any decision will not be binding on individual EU states, but if the vote passes it could increase pressure on national governments to look again at the wider issue of regulating the sex trade.
Germany plans changes to Prostitution Act
Prostitution is legal in Germany, but sex workers are still stigmatized or viewed as victims even if they are prostitutes by choice. A draft law is set to give them more legal protections, but even it has detractors.
red light district in Frankfurt
"For a while, I was really proud of my sex work," Nadine said.
Draped in a fluffy black coat, the 30-year-old with the curly blond hair said she was proud of her regulars. "You get 150 euros ($169) for a quickie, and you think: Wow! That is so cool."
Nadine enjoyed the power she had over men and at the same time, she suffered from having to deaden her feelings. But for 10 years, prostitution was the best way she saw to earn her living.
The profit margins be huge: a customer is likely to pay from several hundred euros for a high-priced escort to 20 or 30 euros for street hookers and sex workers in walk-in brothels.
In 2002, the Prostitution Act came into effect in Germany, making the voluntary sale of sex legal.Before then, it was seen as an immoral act and brothel operators could be prosecuted for promoting prostitution. Today, a brothel is a regular, legal business. Sex workers pay taxes, and prostitutes have access to health insurance and social security benefits.
Kerstin Berghäuser runs a brothel in Berlin
In order to pay off debts, Kerstin Berghäuser was a sex worker for eight years. When the Prostitution Act came into effect, she opened her own brothel in Berlin. "I was sure then that I wasn't doing anything illegal," the woman in her mid-forties says. "I wanted to offer the women good working conditions."
A fine line
Germany's prostitution legislation is one of the most liberal in the world.
In the United States, for instance, prostitution is illegal in all but a few counties; in Sweden and France, buying sex is banned and customers are penalized. That is exactly what Germany's anti-prostitution movement demands, pointing out an increase in human trafficking and arguing that many women are forced into sex work. There are, however, no reliable figures for the number of sex workers or for the number of victims of human trafficking.
Social scientist Barbara Kavemann rejected the claim that the Prostitution Act is responsible for human trafficking. "If human trafficking is allegedly on the rise, that's mostly due to the EU's eastward expansion," she said.
In 2004, 13 states, mainly in eastern Europe, joined the European Union. It's legal for people from those countries to travel to and live in Germany. Some anti-prostitution groups have argued prostitution's legal status in Germany attracts both sex workers looking for legal employment as well as human traffickers who force women into the sex trade.
Prostitutes at a bar
Waiting for customers in Cologne's Pascha brothel
Not a job like other jobs
Paula was expecting to work in a kitchen when she came to Germany. The slender Bulgarian women with long dark hair spoke no German, had no money, and didn't know where to go when she was dropped off at the doorstep of a brothel in what is a clear case of human trafficking.
Paula wept. She said she didn't want to sell her body - but ended up doing it all the same, for five years from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. The woman who ran the brothel pocketed half of her earnings. Paula flew home and returned to Germany more than once, and always ended up in a brothel again. German laws at the time only permitted Bulgarians to work for themselves and prohibited them from employment in other companies. She has worked as a prostitute for five years and said she found many of the men disgusting and hated her work. She also said she has never had a pimp and was ready to stick up for herself and her rights.
Flyer that reads sex work is work
"Sex work is work"
Sex work is not a job like any other. Prostitutes are still scorned and only few women have the courage to say how they make a living. Yet, sex workers in Germany have the right to demand proper work conditions and work safety guidelines.
The German government is currently debating an amendment to the Prostitution Act that would focus on the protection of sex workers, including the obligation for brothel managers to hold a license, compulsory medical examinations and raising the minimum age for sex workers to 21. The law already prohibits forcing people into the sex trade or exploiting them or their work and the German Family Ministry, which is responsible for the draft amendment, said it wants to improve sex workers' ability to steer their own lives and fight crime related to prostitution.
"Not your rescue project"
But experts from the German Aids Service Organization, the German Women's Council and the German Women Lawyers Association (DJB) warn the amendment could enhance the stigma of prostitution, and push sex workers into illegality.
Plans to penalize customers who intentionally target human trafficking victims have met with criticism. Instead, the DJB urges stepping up the protection of victims of human trafficking, such as granting them the residence permits.
Sex workers say they don't want to be patronized and criticize people who talk about them without talking to them.
"It's like the story of the boy scout who helps an old lady cross the road only to find out that it wasn't where she was headed at all," said Johanna Weber of Germany's Federation of Erotic and Sexual Services (BesD). "We keep on saying, No, we don't want to be saved!"
Germany's mega-brothel left me cold
A few months ago Nisha Lilia Diu visited Paradise, one of Germany's 'mega brothels', to investigate the impact of legalised prostitution. Now the subject of a new Channel 4 documentary, she reflects on what she learned
Welcome to Paradise: inside the world of legalised prostitution
Image 1 of 2
Photo: Albrecht Fuchs
Nisha Lilia Diu By Nisha Lilia Diu10:00PM GMT 29 Jan 2015Comments163 Comments
The "mega brothel" in tonight's Channel 4 documentary of the same name isn't that big, by German standards. Paradise is six stories high - half the size of Pascha in Cologne.
I visited both a few months ago while investigating what 12 years of legalised prostitution had done to Germany's sex industry. The answer? It had ballooned into a €15 billion a year business - three or four times its size before the law changed in 2002. I met people running escort apps, online virgin auctions and outdoor "sex boxes" where men queued up in their lunch breaks.
It’s not what Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s Social Democrat-Green coalition had in mind when they celebrated their liberal new law. They were hoping for employment contracts, health insurance, pension plans – not motorway stops crammed with grubby caravans whose red lights flash, all day, every day, at anyone stopping for a loo break.
Paradise is more or less at the top end of the market. The Stuttgart flagship, like all seven branches in the chain, has a vaguely Moroccan theme - think brass lanterns, swirly carpets and low sofas draped in naked women and men in red bathrobes. Sex goes for around €50. Prices are low and falling. There are at least 400,000 sex workers in Germany, and the market is saturated.
I saw enough pale and hairy middle-aged man flesh in Paradise to last me a lifetime. But, after the initial shock of the nudity, the scene quickly became banal. What stayed with me throughout my week-long trip to Germany’s brothels and red-light districts, was a sense of my own good fortune at not being faced with the same decisions as these women.
Welcome to Paradise: inside the world of legalised prostitution
Welcome to Paradise: inside the world of legalised prostitution 28 Jan 2015
Legalise it: a former sex worker's view of prostitution 03 Apr 2014
When journalists interview sex workers they tend to expect an extraordinary story – either an exotic woman who feels “empowered” by selling her sexuality or a horrific tale of abuse and coercion.
Though both of those scenarios exist (sadly, the latter is more common than the former), the reality tends to be both messier and more prosaic. The vast majority of sex workers in Germany are immigrants. Some have taken the plunge with gritted teeth, knowing they’ll make more money in a month than they would in years back home. Several have been pressured into it by hard-up family members. Many have pimps, who are sometimes their boyfriends. The women I spoke to hadn’t selected sex work from a buffet of tempting options. Almost all had underestimated how unpleasant the work would be.
A sex worker's caravan at the truck stop on Am Eifeltor near Cologne, Germany (Albrecht Fuchs)
By the time I went home, it was clear to me that the German experiment has not been successful. It’s boosted tax takings, sure, but it’s also provided cover for the unscrupulous; it’s almost impossible to prosecute sex traffickers or abusive pimps there, thanks to the blurry line between managing sex workers (legal) and exploiting them (illegal).
Employment contracts have failed to materialise. “Nobody employs prostitutes in Germany,” Paradise’s manager, Michael Beretin, told me. Instead, the brothels rent rooms to sex workers by the day. “Pascha’s main income is the rent we get from the girls,” explained Hermann Müller, the manager of Pascha. (Women pay €175 for 24 hours’ use of a room at Pascha. They need to sleep with at least four men to break even.)
The Frankfurt-based expert in prostitution law Guntram Knop told me: “Both the brothel owner and the prostitute don’t want to have an employment contract. They want to save the social security contribution.” Health insurance and pension contributions are pointless extras for women coming to Germany for a few weeks, with no permanent base in the country. As for the brothel owners, if they’re just renting rooms, not only do they save on social security contributions, they also wash their hands of any responsibility for the sex workers’ wellbeing.
Europe's biggest brothel, the 12-storey Pascha in Cologne, Germany (Albrecht Fuchs)
The idea that clients might act as the eyes and ears of the police in spotting signs of forced prostitution has proved a complete fantasy, too. As Barbara Birkhold in the Stuttgart Police Department put it: “They are often more scared that it will become known that they used prostitutes.”
Public attitudes are changing in Germany - as well they might when a small city like the 180,000 population Saarbrücken can boast 100 brothels and a sprawling branch of Paradise. There have been petitions and demonstrations demanding changes to the law. While Channel 4 was filming its documentary, police raided the entire Paradise chain and Michael Beretin is currently in remand, arrested on suspicion of pimping.
Lately, there’s been a lot of support for the “Nordic model”, which decriminalises the selling of sex but makes buying sex a criminal offence. Sweden adopted it in 1999, and Norway and Iceland have followed suit. But, as the former sex worker, now writer, Melissa Gira Grant, commented to me a few months ago: “It’s kind of a legal fiction to think we can only criminalise one part of a transaction”. Under this model, sex workers exists in a legal limbo. And they could hesitate to reach out to the authorities if it means putting their only source of income at risk.
Melissa Gira Grant, author of Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work (Photo: Noah Kalina)
I prefer our own fudgy laws - though they could be vastly improved. In Britain, where there are around 80,000 sex workers, the buying and selling of sex is permitted but all the surrounding activities are criminal: soliciting, brothel-keeping, kerb-crawling and so on. I think we should listen to Chris Armitt, the national police lead on prostitution for England and Wales. His force has pioneered what’s become known as the “Merseyside model”. Instead of arresting sex workers for soliciting, the police work with them to find and prosecute violent pimps, punters and sex traffickers. When sex workers are attacked, the Merseyside police treat the matter as a hate crime.
Surely, this no-tolerance approach is the one to take if we’re serious about minimising harm to those who work in the sex industry. That, and punishments that befit the crime. Too often, convicted sex traffickers – guilty of some of the most appalling crimes known to man – are sentenced to barely a couple of years in prison.
Six months ago, there was jubilation at the tough sentences handed down to a Romanian gang operating in east London. One of the 12 men got 13 years. Most of the others got seven or less – the same penalty our laws dictate for the possession (not supply) of cocaine. And who knows how much time they’ll actually serve.
If we really want to stop sex trafficking and exploitative pimping maybe we should show it - by properly punishing the perpetrators.
The Mega Brothel, Thursday 29 January at 10pm on Channel 4
Germany experiencing brothel boom, but is prostitution safer?
By News.com.auJune 10, 2014 | 5:59pm
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED BY:
There are floors and floors of women; some wear nothing, others very little.
Men in groups can be seen wandering the corridors of mega brothels, some of which offer unlimited sex for a flat rate as little as 99 euros.
Welcome to Germany, where the brothel business is booming and sex is cheap.
More than 400,000 women work in German brothels, some so big they spill over several levels. Described as sex supermarkets, johns are lured with the promise of luxurious surroundings, unlimited alcohol and sex.
Since the Prostitution Act was introduced in 2002, Germany’s sex industry has boomed, making it a magnet for tourists. The Act was designed to improve conditions for prostitutes and to make it possible for them to get health insurance and social security while ensuring a safe workplace.
But has it helped or hindered sex workers?
That’s the question Australian reporter Amos Roberts wanted to answer when he took his “Dateline” camera inside this often secretive world.
In what he called an eye-opening experience, Roberts spoke to sex workers, brothel owners and street workers to find out what life was like for those involved in the sex trade.
In Germany, men may go window-shopping for sex in the spa town of Aachen; they can have unlimited sex with as many women they liked for 99 euros at a “flat-rate” brothel in Berlin; or they can visit Pascha, an eight-story “mega-brothel” in Cologne.
“There are dozens of women in the corridors, sitting on stools where men can walk around checking the women out,” Roberts said. “It does feel very much like a supermarket with groups of men wandering around the aisles, it’s very strange.”
Roberts found the industry generates around $20 billion every year, with an estimated 1.5 million German men using the services of a sex worker every day. Prostitutes all work freelance — instead of being paid a salary, they rent rooms from brothel owners who sometimes still don’t question their health or see proof of insurance.
The city of Stuttgart is home to luxury brothel Paradise, where women were required to be completely naked at all times while men walked around in bath robes.
Michael Beretin, the marketing manager for the Paradise brothel chain, has made a fortune from the brothel boom.
“Prostitution has always been a social need,” he said. “It wasn’t invented by anybody. We need to deal with it and make it manageable.”
But since the Act was passed in Germany, thousands of women had flooded into the country and competition had forced many sex workers to lower their prices, the report says.
“One brothel owner told me it can be hard to make money, and for every woman unwilling to perform something risky (such as not insisting on the man using a condom) there’s another willing to try it,” he said.
The journalist spoke to women who had moved to Germany and chosen the sex industry for various reasons and who claimed they weren’t being exploited, but he also spoke to a social worker in Aachen who had counselled many women trafficked from Eastern Europe and Africa.
“There are no hard figures, but some government estimates say around 90 percent of women are forced into sex work or are trafficked,” he said.
Roberts also said while many Americans and Brits found the concept of legal prostitution shocking, Australians tended to take a more liberal approach to sex workers and brothels.
“Australia has large brothels but nothing quite on this scale,” he said.
Sydney brothel Stilettos attracted headlines in 2011 over plans to build a $12 million, three-storey extension, which would have meant a combined total of 40 sex rooms and 21 waiting rooms. The city council rejected the plans, with Liberal councilor Shayne Mallard arguing it would have been too big and in an area where other brothels already existed. But the NSW Land and Environment Court overturned the council’s decision months later, imposing a limit of 1.5 patrons to every sex worker, limiting its capacity to 60 patrons at one time.
Meanwhile in Germany, some in the government felt things had gone too far in the sex industry.
Silvia Pantel, Member of Parliament for the Christian Democratic Union, said Germany didn’t want to become the world’s brothel capital.
“Nor do we want to create incentives to attract sex tourism to Germany,” she told Dateline.
She referenced the study tagging 90 percent of the country’s sex workers as having been forced into prostitution, and she demanded the government get tougher on the industry.
“At the time it was thought that legalizing prostitution would improve the prostitutes’ situation,” she said. “But that totally failed. We now see that meaning well does not mean doing well.”