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(They look like stables and are known as “verrichtungsboxen” - “getting things done boxes”.) The Netherlands legalised prostitution two years before Germany, just after Sweden had gone the other way and made the purchase of sex a criminal offence.Norway adopted the Swedish model - in which selling sex is permitted but anyone caught buying it is fined or imprisoned - in 2009.Each of its six floors is picked out with a thick stripe of burgundy cladding making it look from the outside like a very tall, stale slice of red velvet cake. People think Amsterdam is the prostitution capital of Europe but Germany has more prostitutes per capita than any other country in the continent, more even than Thailand: 400,000 at the last count, serving 1.2 million men every day.Those figures were released a decade ago, soon after Germany made buying sex, selling sex, pimping and brothel-keeping legal in 2002.Beretin, a shamelessly flirtatious man with a grin like Jack Nicholson’s Joker and a habit of slipping between English and German mid-sentence, is about to open the 15,000 square foot, 4.5 million-euro Paradise Saarbrücken. It’s six o’clock in the evening at Paradise and about thirty men are padding about the swirly red carpet in wine-coloured towelling robes and green plastic slippers. One is cuddling up to a pot-bellied man on a day bed.It’s modelled on the Stuttgart flagship, which he invites us to visit on a day blighted by icy, spitty rain. Several are clustered together, looking bored in their black glitter basques and hot pink fishnets, waiting for it to get busier.But that isn’t how the legalisation argument was won 12 years ago.The idea of the law, passed by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s Social Democrat-Green coalition, was to recognise prostitution as a job like any other.
Exploiting prostitutes was still criminal but everything else was now above board.
Not to mention a rash of FKK, or “naked”, clubs where men can spend the evening drifting between the sauna, the bar and the bedrooms.
Bargain-hunters might try the “flat rate” brothels, where an entry fee of between 50-100 euros buys you unlimited sex with as many women as you want, or cruise the caravans at motorway truck stops, or the drive-through “sex boxes” in the street-walking zones.
Two years later, prostitution in Germany was thought to be worth 6 billion euros – roughly the same as Porsche or Adidas that year. Prostitution was legalised “for the government to make a lot of money,” Beretin says, strolling past a woman in a lime green lycra shrug (and nothing else) while another woman, nude except for black hold-up stockings, leans against the bar.
Quite a few people agree with Beretin – and not all of them are brothel owners grumbling about their tax bills.
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