Prostitution in Germany

Prostitution in Germany is legal and widespread. In 2002, the government changed the law in an effort to improve the legal situation of prostitutes. However, the social stigmatization of prostitutes persists, forcing most prostitutes to lead a double life. Authorities consider the common exploitation of women from Eastern Europe to be the main problem associated with the occupation.

Forms and extent of prostitution

Studies in the early 1990s estimated that about 50,000 - 200,000 women and some men worked as prostitutes in Germany. The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality, published in 1997, reports that "over 100,000 women" work in prostitution. The prostitutes' organization HYDRA puts the number at 400,000, and this is the number typically quoted in the press today.

From other studies, it is estimated that between 10% and 30% of the male adult population have had experiences with prostitutes. Of those 17-year-old males in West Germany with experience of intercourse, 8% have had sex with a prostitute.

Prostitution for the procurement of narcotics. In every major German city there are prostitutes who offer their services to procure drugs. This often takes place near the main railway stations, while the act usually takes place in the customer's car or in a nearby rented room. These prostitutes are the most desperate, often underage, and their services are generally the cheapest. Pimps and brothel owners try to avoid drug-addicted prostitutes, as they are inclined to spend their earnings solely or primarily on drugs. Other prostitutes tend to look down on them as well, because they are considered as lowering the market prices.

In a unique effort to move drug-addicted streetwalkers out of the city center and reduce violence against these women, the city of Cologne in 2001 created a special area for tolerated street prostitution in Geestemünder Straße. Dealers and pimps are not tolerated, the parking places have alarm buttons, and the women are provided with a cafeteria, showers, clean needles and counseling. The project, modeled on the Dutch tippelzones, is supervised by an organization of Catholic women. A positive scientific evaluation was published in 2004.

Street prostitution. (Straßenstrich) Regular street prostitution is often quite well organized and controlled by pimps. Some prostitutes have a nearby caravan, others use the customer's car, still others use hotel rooms. With recent economic problems, in some large cities "wild" street prostitution has started to appear: areas where women work temporarily out of short-term financial need.

Eros centers. (Bordell, Laufhaus) An eros center is a house or street (Laufstraße) where women can rent small one-room apartments for some 80-150 Euro per day. They then solicit customers from the open door or from behind a window. Prices are normally set by the prostitutes; they start at 30-50 Euros for short-time sex. The money is not shared with the brothel owner. Security and meals are provided by the owner. The women may even live in their rooms, but most do not. Minors, and women not working in the eros center are not allowed to enter. Eros centers exist in almost all larger German cities. The most famous is the Herbertstraße near the Reeperbahn in Hamburg. The largest brothel in Europe is the eros center Pascha in Cologne, a 12 story building with some 120 rooms for rent and several bars.

Escort services. (Begleitagenturen) Escort services, where the customer calls to have a woman meet him at home or at a hotel for sexual services, exist in Germany as well, but are not nearly as prevalent as in the U.S.

Bars. In bars, women try to induce men to buy expensive drinks along with the sexual services. Sex usually takes place in a separate but attached building. Prices are mostly set by the bar owner, and the money is shared between the owner and the prostitute.

Apartment prostitution. (Wohnungspuffs) There are many of these advertised in the daily newspapers. Sometime run by a single woman, sometimes by a group of roommates and sometimes as safehouses for traffickers, with the women being moved around on a weekly basis.

Partytreffs and Pauschalclubs are a variation on partner-swapping swing clubs with (sometimes, but not always) paid prostitutes in attendance, as well as 'amateur' women and couples. Single men pay a flat-rate entrance charge of about 80 to 120 euros, which includes food, drink and unlimited sex sessions, with the added twist that these are performed in the open in full view of all the guests. Women normally pay a low or zero entrance charge.

Sauna clubs or FKK clubs. Typically, these are houses with swimming pool and sauna in the basement, a large meeting room on the first floor and bedrooms on the second floor. Women are typically nude or topless, men wear robes or towels. Men and women often pay the same entrance fee, from 35 to 65 euros, including use of all facilities, food and drinks. The women keep all money they receive from customers; prices are set by the club's owner, typically from 25 to 100 euro for a 20 to 60 minute session. In some clubs, the money is shared between prostitute and owner. This form of prostitution, which was mentioned in the rationale of the recent prostitution law as providing good working conditions for the women, exists sporadically all over Germany, but mainly in the Ruhrgebiet and in the area around Frankfurt am Main. Among the largest clubs of this type was Atlantis, located north of Frankfurt and closed after a police raid in 2004, and Artemis in Berlin, opened in the fall of 2005. (Most public saunas in Germany have nothing to do with sex work of any kind, and customers that mistake them for sex clubs can get in serious trouble.)

Sexual services for the disabled. The agency Sensis in Wiesbaden connects prostitutes with disabled customers. Nina de Vries somewhat controversially provides sexual services to severely mentally disabled men and has been repeatedly covered in the media.

Male prostitutes. A comparatively small number of males offer sexual services to females, usually in the form of escort services, meeting in hotels. The vast majority of male prostitutes serve male clients.

Brothels of all kinds advertise for sex workers in the weekly female-orientated magazine Heim und Welt.

Legal situation

Prostitution is legal in Germany. Prostitutes may work as regular employees with contract, though most work independently.

Prostitutes have to pay income taxes and even have to charge VAT for their services, to be paid to the tax office. In practice, prostitution is a cash business and taxes are not always paid, though enforcement has recently been strengthened. The Länder North Rhine-Westfalia, Baden Württemberg and Berlin have initiated a system where prostitutes have to pay their taxes in advance, a set amount per day, to be collected and submitted by the brothel owners. North Rhine-Westfalia charges 25 Euros per day per prostitute, while Berlin charges 30 Euros. In May 2007 authorities were considering plans for a uniform country-wide system charging 25 Euros per day.

The first city in Germany to introduce an explicit prostitution tax was Cologne. The tax was initiated early in 2004 by the city council led by a coalition of the conservative CDU and the leftist Greens. This tax applies to striptease, peep shows, porn cinemas, sex fairs, massage parlors, and prostitution. In the case of prostitution, the tax amounts to 150 euros per month and working prostitute, to be paid by brothel owners or by privately working prostitutes. (The area Geestemünder Straße mentioned above is exempt.) Containment of prostitution was one explicitly stated goal of the tax. In 2006 the city took in 828,000 Euros through this tax. Several other jurisdictions have since initiated similar taxes; in April 2007 Berlin initiated a 30 euro per day tax for every prostitute.

Until 2006, prostitutes and brothels were technically not allowed to advertise but that prohibition was not enforced. Many newspapers carry daily ads for brothels and for women working out of apartments. Many prostitutes and brothels have websites on the Internet. In addition, sex shops and newsstands sell magazines specializing in advertisements of prostitutes ("Happy Weekend", "St Pauli Nachrichten", "Sexy" and many more). The Bundesgerichtshof ruled in July 2006 that, as a consequence of the new prostitution law, advertising of sexual services is no longer illegal.

Every city has the right to zone off certain areas where prostitution is not allowed (Sperrbezirk). The various cities handle this very differently. In Munich, street prostitution is forbidden almost everywhere within the city limits, in Berlin it is allowed everywhere, and Hamburg allows street prostitution near the Reeperbahn during certain times of the day. In most smaller cities, the immediate city center as well as residential areas are declared off-limits.

Foreign women from European Union countries are allowed to work as prostitutes in Germany. Women from many other countries can obtain three-month tourist visas for Germany without problems. Many of them then work in prostitution; this is technically illegal, as the tourist visa does not include a work permit.

Pimping, admitting prostitutes under the age of eighteen to a brothel, and affecting persons under the age of twenty-one to take up prostitution is illegal. The regular age of consent (sixteen) applies to prostitution (i.e., both client and prostitute must be at least 16 years old, or else the other partner acts illegally). To combat sex tourism, this age of consent applies to all people Germans have sex with, even when these Germans are travelling abroad.


Prostitution in the area of today's Germany has been described since the middle ages. Emperor Sigismund (1368-1437) thanked the city of Konstanz in writing for providing some 1,500 prostitutes for the Council of Constance which took place from 1414 to 1418.

Prostitution was legalised and regulated in Germany in the 1920s to control sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Prostitutes had to be registered with local health authorities and submit to regular STD tests.

During the Nazi era, street prostitutes were seen as degenerate and were often sent to concentration camps. Between 1942 and 1945, ten such camps, including Auschwitz, contained brothels, mainly used to reward cooperative non-Jewish inmates. Not only prostitutes were forced to work there. In the documentary film, Memory of the Camps, a project supervised by the British Ministry of Information and the American Office of War Information during the summer of 1945, camera crews filmed women who they stated were forced into sexual slavery for the use of guards and favored prisoners. The film makers stated that as the women died they were replaced by women from the concentration camp Ravensbrück.

After World War II, the country was divided into East Germany and West Germany. In East Germany, as in all countries of the communist Eastern Block, prostitution was illegal and according to the official position it didn't exist. However there were high-class prostitutes working in the hotels of East Berlin and the other major cities, mainly targeting Western visitors; the Stasi employed some of these for spying purposes. Street walkers and female taxi drivers were available for the pleasure of visiting Westerners, too.

In West Germany, the registration and testing requirements remained in place but were handled quite differently in the various regions of the country. In Bavaria, in addition to scheduled STD check-ups regular HIV tests were required since 1987, but this was an exception. Many prostitutes did not submit to these tests, avoiding the registration. A study in 1992 found that only 2.5% of the tested prostitutes had a disease, a rate much lower than the one among comparable non-prostitutes. The compulsory registration and testing was abandoned in 2001. Since then, anonymous, free and voluntary health testing has been made available to everyone, including illegal immigrants. Many brothel operators require these tests.

In 1967, Europe's largest brothel at the time, the six-floor Eros Center, was opened on the Reeperbahn in Hamburg. An even larger one, the twelve-floor Pascha in Cologne was opened in 1972. The AIDS scare of the late 1980s was bad for business, and the Eros Center as well as several other brothels in Hamburg had to close. The Pascha continued to flourish however, and now has evolved into a chain with additional brothels in Munich and Salzburg.

Law of 2002

Anything done in the "furtherance of prostitution" (Förderung der Prostitution) remained a crime until 2001, even after the extensive criminal law reforms of 1973. This put the operators of brothels in constant legal danger. Most brothels were therefore run as a bar with an attached but legally separate room rental. However, many municipalies built, ran and profited from high rise or townhouse-style high-rent Dirnenwohnheime (above described under "eros centers"), to keep street prostitution and pimping under control. These are now mostly privatized and operate as Eros Centers.

The highest courts of Germany repeatedly ruled that prostitution offends good moral order (verstößt gegen die guten Sitten), with several legal consequences. Any contract that is considered immoral is null and void, so a prostitute could not sue for payment. Prostitutes working out of their apartment could lose their lease. Prostitutes had difficulties entering the German system of health care and social security because of their "immoral" occupation. Finally, bars and inns could be denied a license if prostitution took place on their premises.

In 1999, Felicitas Weigmann lost the license for her Berlin cafe Psst! which was being used to initiate contacts between customers and prostitutes and had an attached room-rental also owned by Weigmann. She sued the city, arguing that society's position had changed and prostitution no longer qualified as offending the moral order. The judge conducted an extensive investigation and solicited a large number of opinions; eventually he agreed with Weigmann's claim. The prostitution law of 2002 reaffirmed this position.

In 2002 a one page law sponsored by the Green Party was passed by parliament. It removed the general prohibition on furthering prostitution and allowed prostitutes to obtain regular work contracts. The law's rationale stated that prostitution should not be considered as immoral anymore. The law has been criticized as half-hearted and not very effective. The German government prepared a report on the law's impact in January 2007, concluding that few prostitutes had taken advantage of regular work contracts and that work conditions had improved only slightly, if at all.

Early in 2005, English media reported that a woman refusing to take a job as a prostitute might have her unemployment benefits reduced or removed altogether. A similar story appeared in mid-2003; a woman received a job offer through a private employment agency. In this case however, the agency apologized for the mistake, stating that a request for a prostitute would normally have been rejected, but the client mislead them, describing the position as "a female barkeeper". To date, there have been no reported cases of women actually losing benefits in such a case, and the employment agencies have stated that women would not be made to work in prostitution.

The large FKK-brothel Colosseum opened in Augsburg in 2004, and police believed there to be a connection to a Turkish organized crime gang from Cologne which owned several similar establishments and was supposedly directed from prison by its convicted leader Necati Arabaci. After several raids, police determined that the managers of the brothel dictated the prices that the women had to charge, prohibited them from sitting in groups or using cell phones during work, set the work hours, searched rooms and handbags, and made them work completely nude (charging a penalty of 10 Euros per infraction). In April 2006, five men were charged with pimping. The court quashed the charges, arguing that the prostitution law of 2002 created a regular employer-employee relationship and thus gave the employer certain rights to direct the working conditions.

In 2007, authorities in Berlin began to close several apartment brothels that had existed for years. They cited a 1983 court decision that found that the inevitable disturbances caused by brothels were incompatible with residential areas. Prostitute's organizations and brothel owners fought these efforts. They commissioned a study that concluded that apartment brothels in general neither promote criminality nor disturb neighbors.

Football World Cup 2006

Officials speculated that up to 40,000 illegal prostitutes, mainly from Eastern European countries, would enter Germany for the Football (Soccer) World Cup, held in Germany in the summer of 2006. Women and church groups were planning a "Red card to forced prostitution" campaign with the aim of alerting World Cup visitors to the existence of forced prostitution. They asked for support from the national football team and the national football organization but were initially rebuffed. Invasion of the body pleasers - In March 2006 the president of the German football federation turned around and agreed to support a campaign named "Final Whistle -- Stop Forced Prostitution". The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the Nordic Council and Amnesty International also expressed concern over an increase in the trafficking of women and forced prostitution up to and during the World Cup. Council of Europe Parliamentary AssemblyWorld Cup concerns Nordic CouncilIndependent Catholic News

Also in March 2006 the unrelated campaign "Responsible John. Prostitution without compulsion and violence" Ban Ying - Für Prostitution ohne Zwang und Gewalt was started by the government of Berlin. (Landespressestelle) Start der Kampagne "Verantwortlicher Freier" gegen Zwangsprostitution: Verantwortung kann man nicht in Zentimetern messen It provides a list of signs of forced prostitution and urges prostitutes' customers to call a hotline if they spot one of those signs.

In April 2006, an advertisement for the Pascha brothel in Cologne that featured a several storey image of a half-naked woman with the flags of FIFA World Cup countries sparked outrage after Muslims were offended by the inclusion of the Saudi Arabian and Iranian flags. The Pascha brothel's owner, Armin Lobscheid, said a group of Muslims had threatened violence over the advert, and he blacked out the two flags. However, the Tunisian flag that features the Muslim crescent remained on the advert.

On June 30, 2006, the New York Times reported that the expected increase in prostitution activity had not taken place.

High profile crimes and scandals

The 1957 murder of the high-class prostitute Rosemarie Nitribitt in Frankfurt drew great media attention in postwar Germany. The circumstances of her death have remained largely obscure to date. Police investigations turned up no substantial leads other than a prime suspect who was later acquitted due to reasonable doubt. Moreover, several high-profile, respectable citizens turned out to have been among her customers, a fact on which the media based insinuations that higher social circles might be covering up and obstructing the search for the real murderer. The scandal inspired two movies.

There was a murder of six persons in a brothel in Frankfurt am Main in 1994. The Hungarian couple managing the place as well as four Russian prostitutes were strangled with electric cables. The case was resolved soon after: it was a robbery gone bad, carried out by the boyfriend of a woman who had worked there.

In 2003, German CDU politician Michel Friedman, popular TV talk show host and then assistant chairman of the German Jewish organization, became embroiled in an investigation of trafficking women. He had been a client of several escort prostitutes from Eastern Europe who testified that he had repeatedly taken and offered cocaine. After receiving a fine for the drug charge, he resigned from all posts.

Also in 2003, well-known artist and art professor Jörg Immendorff was caught in the luxury suite of a Düsseldorf hotel with seven prostitutes (and four more on their way) and some cocaine. He admitted to having staged several such orgies and received 11 months on probation and a fine for the drug charges. He attempted to explain his actions by his "orientalism" and his terminal illness.

These cases were only deemed noteworthy because they involved murder and drug trafficking. Whore-mongering by public figures and celebrities is rarely exposed in the public and largely ignored by the media. Name pop bands have performed at the Cologne Pasha brothel's disco.

Miscellaneous news reports

In March 2007 the brothel "Pascha" in Cologne announced that senior citizens above the age of 66 would receive a discount during afternoons; half of the price of 50 Euros for a "normal session" would be covered by the house. Earlier, in 2004, a 20% discount for long-term unemployed had been announced by a brothel in Dresden.


The coalition of Social Democrats and the Green Party that ruled until late 2005 attempted to improve the legal situation of prostitutes in the years 2000-2003. These efforts have been criticized as inadequate by prostitutes' organizations such as HYDRA, which lobby for full normality of the occupation and the elimination of all mention of prostitution from the legal code. The conservative parties in the Bundestag, while supporting the goal of giving prostitutes access to the social security and health care system, have opposed the new law because they want to retain the "offending good morals" status.

The grand coalition of CDU and SPD that has ruled since 2005 has announced plans to punish customers of forced prostitutes, if the customer could have been aware of the situation.

The churches run several support groups for prostitutes. These generally favor attempts to remove stigmatization and improve the legal situation of prostitutes, but they retain the long term goal of a world without prostitution and encourage all prostitutes to quit.

Alice Schwarzer and her branch of feminism rejects all prostitution as inherently oppressive and abusive; they favor a law like that in Sweden, where in 1999 after heavy feminist lobbying a coalition of Social Democrats, Greens and leftists outlawed the buying but not the selling of sexual services.

Trafficking in women

The trafficking in women from Eastern Europe is often organized by gangs from that same region. (The BKA, the German equivalent to the FBI, reported in 2003 that 60% of the suspects in trafficking cases were foreigners, with another 8% being foreign born Germans.) Most of the women know from the start that they are going to work in prostitution even though they often don't know about the working conditions; some others hope for a job as waitress or au-pair; some are simply abducted. Once in Germany, their passports are taken away and they are informed that they now have to work off the cost of the trip. Sometimes they are sold to pimps or bar owners, who then make them work off the purchase price. They work in bars, apartments or as escorts and have to hand over the better part of their earnings. Some women reconcile themselves with this situation, as they still make much more than they could at home; others rebel and are threatened or abused. They are often told that the police have been paid off and will not help them, which is false. They are also threatened with harm to their families at home.

This illegal slave trade is a major focus of police work in Germany, yet it remains prevalent. Women are often unwilling to testify against their oppressors: the only incentive they have is the permission to remain in the country until the end of the trial (with the hope of finding a husband during that time), rather than being deported immediately.

See also

External links

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