Standing in provocative underwear and cropped winter jackets, sex workers along the west end of Kurfürstendamm wait patiently for punters. While the industrial area is a far cry from Amsterdam’s well-known red light district, the border between the two Berlin neighbourhoods, Schöneberg and Tiergarten, has been a self-proclaimed red light district for over a decade. It might seem like a craze contained to sexually liberated Berlin, but it’s a familiar sight across Germany, as the country has been dubbed “Europe’s Biggest Brothel.”
Sex work in Germany saw a dramatic increase after its legalization in 2002. Germany’s sex trade law is considered one of the most liberal in the world. It was passed by the former coalition government of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Greens in an effort to strengthen the rights of sex workers and give them access to health insurance and benefits.
Since then, the sex trade industry has become more common in major German cities including Berlin, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, and Hamburg. Here, notorious red light districts and brothels – like the Reeperbahn in Hamburg, an entertainment district – with a strong focus on the sex trade industry, are becoming a part of daily life. The demand for such establishments is strong, and according to a documentary, Sex – Made in Germany, more than one million men pay for sex every day in Germany.
This has seen a rise of “mega-brothels” and sex tourism across the country. Paradise, in Stuttgart, is one of the largest brothels in Europe. Costing more than six million euros to build, it houses a restaurant, a cinema, a spa, and 31 private rooms with hundreds of male customers frequenting the complex every day. The reforms allowed for such large brothels to entice patrons with low fees and flat rates. Now, the country’s “mega-brothels” and low-priced offerings are so popular that specialist holiday companies are now offering tailored “sex-holiday” tours for groups of men from Asia, the Middle East, North America, and within Europe. They are given tours of the country’s large brothels for six straight days of seedy fun.
However, these brothels have not been without controversy, and one in Berlin was subject to raids by the German police. Critics of Germany’s liberal sex trade laws and these brothels say such establishments are encouraging human trafficking and exploiting women by cutting the prices of sex work dramatically. Causing many to rally and lobby for Germany to rethink its liberal sex trade laws, saying the government’s social experiment with liberalizing prostitution has failed spectacularly. Despite this, decriminalization of sex work in Germany hasn’t changed, and the country remains a sex paradise for foreigners and locals alike.