1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Prostitutes in Hamburg demand right to work amid coronavirus

July 12, 2020

Sex workers and brothel operators have protested for the right to return to work in Germany. Formally, legal sex work remains outlawed due to the coronavirus despite lifted restrictions for shops and restaurants.

Woman in mask holding placard reading: 'A piece of Hamburg is dying, help save our Kiez'
The placard reads: 'A piece of Hamburg is dying, help save our Kiez'Image: picture-alliance/rtn/F. Bründel

Around 400 prostitutes and brothel operators from around Germany demonstrated in the red light district of Hamburg late Saturday evening to demand that Germany's brothels be allowed to reopen after months of closures due to the coronavirus outbreak. 

In Germany, where prostitution is legal, shops, restaurants and bars have all been allowed to reopen following months of closures. Sex workers say it is unfair for them to be deprived of their livelihoods despite their work allegedly posing no greater health risk.

Herbertstrasse, a street in the red light district, was flooded with red light on Saturday, after being dark since March, when coronavirus restrictions went into effect.

Read more: Coronavirus: A devil's bargain for Dutch sex workers

One woman in a brothel window held a sign that read, "The oldest profession needs your help." Another sign said, "Sex work cannot be allowed to fall into illegality through corona."

A woman plays a violin the window of a brothel in Hamburg. A poster says, 'A brothel room is not mass event.'
A woman plays a violin the window of a brothel in Hamburg. A poster reads, 'A brothel room is not mass event'Image: picture-alliance/rtn/F. Bründel

Some protesters wore theater masks. Another played songs on a violin in the street just around the corner from the Reeperbahn, a street famous for its nightlife.

Brothels reopen in neighboring countries

The protest was organized by the Association of Sex Workers, who said that the continued closure of licensed premises has forced some prostitutes onto the streets, an illegal way of working that is more dangerous and unhygienic.

"The fact that young people are politically involved in this matter is great and it shows the explosive nature of the situation," association member Johanna Weber told news agency dpa.

Sex workers had shown a lot of understanding for the coronavirus restrictions for a very long time, but patience is slowly dwindling, Weber said.

A brothel employee in a theatrical mask holds a poster reading: "The oldest profession needs your help."
A brothel employee in a theatrical mask holds a poster reading: 'The oldest profession needs your help'Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Scholz

Erotic and sexual services are already permitted again in many nearby countries.

"In Switzerland, prostitution has been permitted again for four weeks now and there have been no corona cases in connection with brothel visits there since then," said Weber, who has been working as a prostitute in Hamburg for 27 years

Push for opening with safety measures 

Reliable figures on the number of sex workers in Germany are hard to come by. At the end of 2018, around 32,800 individuals were registered as part of the country's Prostitute Protection Act. But Weber said that only includes those who work in an official capacity at brothels, sauna clubs, or dominatrix studios.

The association said it would be easy for brothels to incorporate coronavirus safety measures similar to other industries, such as requiring the use of face masks, ventilating the rooms, and recording visitors' contact details, the association said.

"Prostitution does not carry a greater risk of infection than other close-to-body services, like massages, cosmetics or even dancing or contact sports," the association claimed in a statement. "Hygiene is part of the business in prostitution."

COVID-19: Let's talk about sex work

kp/ng (dpa, Reuters)

Skip next section DW's Top Story

DW's Top Story

Soldiers ride a Ukrainian tank near Bakhmut, an eastern city in Ukraine where fierce battles against Russian forces have been ongoing since the full-scale war began in February 2022
Skip next section More stories from DW
Go to homepage