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Germany’s 12-story brothel a Cup concern

WashPost: Prostitution legal in country, but groups worry about exploitation of women
The flags of Saudi Arabia and the Iran are blacked out on a huge banner at the facade of brothel "Pascha" in Cologne, Germany. The 12-story brothel has been the target of Muslims protets because the flag was depicted next to an uncovered female.
The flags of Saudi Arabia and the Iran are blacked out on a huge banner at the facade of brothel "Pascha" in Cologne, Germany. The 12-story brothel has been the target of Muslims protets because the flag was depicted next to an uncovered female.Hermann J. Knippertz / AP
/ Source: a href="" linktype="External" resizable="true" status="true" scrollbars="true">The Washington Post</a

At the Pascha, a 12-story building that advertises itself as Europe's biggest brothel, the working girls are preparing for what they hope will be a surge in business as more than a million soccer fans flock to Germany for the World Cup, which begins Friday.

At the same time, the Pascha's workforce of about 120 women are bracing for what some fear will be increased competition in the world's oldest profession. Buying and selling sex is entirely legal in Germany, prompting estimates that tens of thousands of foreign prostitutes will enter the country looking for business during the month-long tournament.

"Of course we'll have more customers," said Armin Lobscheid, the managing director of Pascha, a Moorish-theme bordello with whirlpools, beauty salons and an entire floor staffed by transsexuals. "If someone wants to party here, it doesn't matter if their team has won or lost."

The Pascha normally caters to about 1,000 paying clients a day, but Lobscheid said he is expecting a 50 percent increase during the World Cup. He's also reserving 30 rooms for soccer fans who want someplace to stay during the tournament, at the rate of $260 a night, not including the cost of sex.

The prospect of a prostitution boom during the World Cup, however, has stirred almost as many passions as the debate over who will win the 32-team tournament. Anti-prostitution groups are warning about a potential boom in sex trafficking, predicting that as many as 40,000 prostitutes will be forcibly imported into Germany by pimps and smugglers.

Many of the statistics appear to have little basis in fact, but the issue has caused consternation around the world and led to renewed pressure on the German government to reconsider its prostitution-protection law.

In Washington, the State Department on Monday issued an annual report on forced labor that labeled Germany "a source, destination and transit country" for exploited prostitutes and singled out the World Cup as a worry. "Due to the sheer size of the event, the potential for human trafficking surrounding the games remains a concern," the report stated.

Last month, at a congressional hearing on the prostitution and the World Cup, Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.) declared that sex traffickers "have also been working overtime to exploit this opportunity to improve their illicit revenues through the expected rise in demand."

Even in Scandinavia, where public attitudes toward sex are among the most relaxed in the world, some Swedish officials floated the idea of boycotting the World Cup over prostitution concerns. In response, Sweden's soccer federation promised that players on the national team wouldn't be allowed to visit any bordellos while in Germany.

The combination of soccer and sex has led to other controversies. In April, a group of about 30 protesters, including some armed with knives and clubs, gathered outside the Pascha to demand the removal of a huge mural on the side of the building, featuring a scantily clad woman and the national flags of all 32 teams participating in the World Cup.

The protesters were Muslims, angry that the flags of Saudi Arabia and Iran were depicted next to an uncovered female. The Pascha removed the offending flags and apologized.

Prostitution has long been tolerated in Germany, but it became officially legal in 2002. Reliable figures on the sex trade are elusive, but some government statistics suggest that there are as many as 400,000 registered workers in the industry.

Proponents of the law say the measure protects women who otherwise would be discouraged from reporting abuse or other problems to the police. Juanita Henning, a social worker with a prostitution-rights group in Frankfurt, said predictions of forced prostitution during the World Cup are highly exaggerated and a ploy by religious groups to overturn Germany's law.

"If they claim it is a campaign against forced prostitution, it is nothing but a lie," she said. "They are just trying to make it a crime for men to go to prostitutes. They are trying to discredit prostitution."

In Cologne, the fourth-largest city in Germany with about 1 million residents, police and other city officials said they have noticed almost no signs of forced prostitution associated with the World Cup.

Juergen Laggies, a police spokesman, said officers recently inspected 330 places where sex is regularly sold -- from brothels to private apartments. After checking the identification papers of 1,500 women, he said, they found no cases of forced prostitution.

"The women know very well what they are doing and why they are doing it," Laggies said. "This is a business. It is based on legal parameters and in accordance with the principle of supply and demand. If you want to talk about whether they enjoy what they are doing, you need to talk to someone else. But many women clearly see an economic potential in working as prostitutes."

Anti-prostitution groups have assailed German officials for allowing the construction of drive-through "sex shacks" in select cities, as part of a program to encourage prostitutes to get off the streets move to more protected areas. So far, the only sex shack in operation is located in Cologne, although another is under construction in Dortmund; Berlin is considering one as well.

Robert Kilp, a city official who oversees the program in Cologne, said only prostitutes with drug addictions were permitted to work at the site, which consists of several open-bay garages with space for customers to park their cars for a quick encounter. Police regularly patrol the area and social-service counselors try to help the prostitutes with their drug problems. He said about 40 to 50 women sell sex there each night.

Kilp said the program is often misconstrued. He said a U.S. consular official recently visited Cologne to investigate reports that the garages would be a magnet for trouble during the World Cup, but found no problems.

"We don't support drugs and prostitution. We want to get women off drugs and prostitution, so it's really a social service," he said. "Please write in your newspaper that there's absolutely no danger for American boys and girls."