Prostitutes in Germany can now be better informed about their rights at “Federal Organisation of Sexual Services” in Berlin. It is fighting for legal recognition and acceptance of the world’s oldest trade.
Waiting for customers, but knowing what's in store
A "Centre for Breathing Therapy" in the district of Mitte in Berlin sounds like a place for esoteric individuals looking for alternative ways to a healthy life.
But the place couldn’t be further removed from that.
This is where Lady Vera runs a dominatrix studio - complete with whips, black leather and thigh-high boots - offering sexual services under the guise of a respectable health centre.
It’s a practice that should have been done away with at the beginning of this year following a law passed by the German government that conferred official status on bordellos and allowed the some 40,000 prostitutes in Germany to claim social and health insurance and a pension.
But obviously much more needs to be done before prostitutes, brothel owners and other members of the world's oldest profession are regarded as just another professional group in society, without raising eyebrows and murmurs of indecency.
Battling deeply-entrenched prejudices
Help for the sex workers has now arrived in the form of the first "Federal Organisation of Sexual Services" that was founded in Berlin earlier this year.
The nationwide organisation established by free-lance prostitutes and brothel owners plans to fight for more legal rights for sex workers and try to lift the tawdry veil that hangs over the profession.
But that’s easier said than done.
Red-light districts are still referred to by many in hushed whispers and nobody would usually admit to frequenting one. A "hooker" conjures up images of shady dealings and illicit sex.
Getting past fixed prejudices is a tough thing as German prostitutes are discovering. They are still waiting for the German authorities to start implementing the law and for the much-promised "official recognition" of bordellos.
Petra Kartz calls her brothel a "guesthouse" – the official line is that her guests pay for their drinks – feels that the new law has been a big lie till now.
"I’m a person who likes to lay the cards on the table," she said. "After all everyone knows what goes on behind the facade. And I would like to officially say that the girls offer sexual services and not a single bottle is sold".
"The Federal Organisation of Sexual Services" wants to do away with these double standards.
"Everybody goes to a bordello, but nobody wants to have anything to do with it", says Hamburg club owner Stefan Lindner.
Organisation says new legislation not enough
The head of the organisation, Stephanie Klee, welcomes the new law as "a big step towards equality" but says it doesn’t go far enough.
She complains that the new law has no provisions for the thousands of illegal foreign prostitutes that work in Germany. Besides, several districts in cities are still off limits to the sex workers, she says.
Worse, banks refuse to give credits to open bordellos due to "moral" reasons, according to Klee.
Ambitious plans to improve the lot of sex workers
The organisation has big plans to make life easier for the ladies of the night.
A job agency is being discussed to help prostitutes land assignments and there’s even talk of a so-called Green Card for "immigrant colleagues".
Apart from fighting for recognition and acceptance, the organisation also wants to better inform prostitutes about their rights and the ramifications of the new legislation.
Felicitas Weigmann of Berlin's best-known brothel, "Cafe Pssst", says that most prostitutes aren’t aware that the new social insurance coverage is not connected with paying taxes, which most prostitutes don't do.
She says that many women are reluctant to apply for health insurance coverage because they don't want to register themselves with the authorities.
Fear of the taxman
The reason is most prostitutes they can earn more working illegally. And the moment the prostitutes are registered and expected to pay tax, they will charge their customers more – not a very appealing prospect to brothel owners who want to hold on to their customers.
While our costs have rapidly risen in the past years, the prices for sexual services – especially here in Berlin – have always dipped", says Klee.