Sunday, March 22, 2009
Germany: no sex please we're in recession
Times are difficult down at Berlin's Pussy Club where a new all-in service is on offer: 70 euros for girls, drinks and food.
Like many of its counterparts, the brothel has been hit by the credit crunch and has had to come up with its own stimulus package for a trade that was legalised in Germany seven years ago.
The Belle Escort, another Berlin brothel, has never before faced problems, but the current financial crisis has triggered a sharp decline in clientele, said its owner Isabelle, without giving her surname.
Isabelle rejected the idea of "special deal prostitution" as offered by the Pussy Club but admitted: "We're in trouble.
"I'd estimate that we have at least 20 percent less people coming here," she sighed.
Monika Heitmann works for a support network for prostitutes in Bremen and can only confirm the problems the industry is facing.
"If customers can't even afford to spend money on housing, food and cars, then how can we expect them to spend money on sex?" she asked.
Heitmann has worked with prostitutes for over 20 years and says that business has been going downhill over that time.
"Thirty years ago prostitutes were really dedicated to their work," she said, adding that desperation was now forcing women into the sex trade.
At the beginning of this year, the owner of Frankfurt's oldest brothel, the FKK Sudfass, was forced to sell up after 37 years.
The building will be converted into a hotel over the next year.
Since 2001, prostitution in Germany has been legal and is relatively widespread, especially in big cities like Berlin, Munich and Hamburg, where women tout for business in the show windows of the infamous St Pauli district.
But social stigmatisation persists and Heitmann is concerned that prostitutes' trials and tribulations are not being taken seriously.
"There are a lot of women who come here and just don't know how to get on," Heitmann said. "The crisis means that customers want more service for less money. They're becoming pushy and even blackmailing the ladies."
Hoping for more success, many women are driven from the clubs to the kerbs to sell their bodies on their own terms.
An increasing number of men on a tight budget are also picking up prostitutes on street corners rather than in pricey brothels or "Eros Centres."
Some places have been forced to shut their doors and in January, sex-shop owners and porn producers pushed for state aid, taking their lead from the crisis-hit auto and banking industries.
Erotic trade federation official Uwe Kaltenberg, said that "economic aid would be judicious."
Heitmann is now afraid that waning turnover could damage the industry's reputation even more and that back-street prostitution could escalate.
Barbara Kavemann, professor at the Berlin Research Institute for Social Science and Women Studies, said the full impact of the financial crisis could not be determined because there was no concrete data.
"Firstly, prostitutes don't legally have to be registered, and secondly, who defines who is a prostitute?" said Kavemann.
But Isabelle and other brothel owners do not need empirical data or definitions to confirm the impact of the credit crunch on the sex industry has been hard.
"The only thing we can do now is keep our fingers crossed and hope for better times," she said, "and obviously I wouldn't say no to a state-funded cash injection."