What to Know About Germany's Legal Prostitution Industry

Woman_lying_on_bed,_looking_at_mirror,_Berlin_2001 | © Julica da Costa/wiki
Dayna Gross

Throughout German history, prostitution was never criminalized and was widely accepted into mainstream culture. German society agreed that legal prostitution would, if not diminish, decrease criminal sex acts such as rape and adultery. In fact, famous prostitutes were often invited to some of the poshest parties of their time.

The legal ladies worked inside what were called, ‘Frauenhäuser’, which literally translates as ‘women houses’. These brothels ran as clean as a brothel could, until the 16th century when syphilis and The Reformation began invading German houses, bodies and minds. No one really wanted to see the brothels go, at least no male German wanted to let go of their sideline hobby, so by the 19th century they began to enforce a little more control over these Frauenhäuser. The local ladies then had to officially register with police and undergo regular health checks.

She May Be… A Bag of Trouble/USA.GOV

Weimer women to the streets and then to the camps

After the First World War, the German economy got hit hard, causing even more women to seek jobs in the brothels. These Weimer women took their pride to the streets and enjoyed a new sense of freedom and privilege. However, all good things must come to an end, sort of. When the Nazi Party came to power they threw the prostitutes into concentration camps, labeling them as degenerates. However, unlike most political parties, the Nazi Party decided there was room for brothels in society, it just had to be under their control and work according to their order.


The economy of sex

So, the Nazis created brothels in concentration camps and military brothels, with boundaries under their strict supervision. By the end of the war, brothels became illegal in East Germany, but remained legal in West Germany. By the end of the 1960s, one of the largest brothels in the world was opened in Hamburg on the Reeperbahn, which is still active today for men’s eyes (and other body parts) only. Cologne wanted their own large brothel and eventually outdid Hamburg in 1972, calling their grand achievement ‘Pascha’. By the 21st century, codes and laws became tighter and prices and profits began to rise.


A sort of social justice

These laws couldn’t last very long, German society overall doesn’t apply conservative disgrace on sex workers like many other religious countries, and finally the law was dropped in 2002. Women were then able to obtain contracts, pay taxes for their work, have employment benefits and receive health insurance. Many of these women work under the supervision of a pimp, some even work under the Hell’s Angels, in cities like Hamburg and Frankfurt.

Today you can order a woman from your phone, find a drive-thru sex outlet, or simply pick up the girl of your choice from the streets of Berlin. With new rights and privileges credited to prostitutes, the German government thought they could reduce, if not eliminate, human trafficking. However, according to many officials the numbers may have only increased. The police have no real control over this sex scene, so are therefore unable to gather accurate statistics. Many of the pimps bring in sex workers from Eastern Europe and force them to work in private homes. It’s hard to imagine their customers asking for proof of citizenship, unless of course they are an undercover cop, which tends not to be the case.


In Berlin, there is certainly no shortage of street workers in and around the city. If you’re curious about the street working scene, take a walk or ride down Kurfürstenstraße to get an insight into today’s prostitutes in Berlin. While many cities have created specific zones where prostitution can operate, Berlin is a boundless playground, uncontrolled by higher authorities. Tourists come from all over the world for the cheap rates in sex clubs, to visit the notorious Artemis brothel, and the most obvious streets and inconspicuous corners of Berlin.

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