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Karina, a dancer from Latvia, has been working in Pascha’s ground floor strip club for eight years. Popular acts include the on-stage shower and performances in a giant gold bird cage (Albrecht Fuchs)
“Pascha’s main income is the rent we get from the girls,” says Hermann Müller, the club’s chain-smoking 39-year-old night manager. Müller s office is on the top floor of the brothel with a clean view of the area’s slaughter-houses. There’s a black leather penis-shaped stool – “a present from an artist” – and, weirdly, the skulls of 13 mountain goats mounted on the wall. His dad, who is also called Hermann Müller, is Pascha’s founder.
Müller senior took the building over after legalisation but this tower block covered in blinking lights has been used by prostitutes for 40 years. It was purpose-built by the city of Cologne in 1972 in an attempt to get them off the streets, and its age and institutional beginnings show. It has the blue-and-orange colour scheme of a municipal leisure centre.
At Pascha (which Beretin calls “the shit shop”) women pay 175 euros for 24 hours’ use of a room. They sit on stools outside their open doors in long, dark corridors that smell of cigarettes and air freshener. Rock music is pumping. They will need to sleep with at least four men to break even.
The punters – around 1000 every day – pay 5 euros’ entrance to an enormous security guard who looks like something out of Grand Theft Auto. They might visit the glory hole on the first floor or the transsexuals on the seventh. As at Paradise, the money paid for sex is negotiated directly with the prostitute and not shared with the club.
Also as at Paradise, Pascha has an on-site hairdresser. The prostitutes can get a colour for 40 euros there. “Cheaper than in the city centre,” says Andersson, the camp, sweet-faced Brazilian that rents the space from Pascha’s management. Pascha has a tanning and nail salon, too, as well as a self-service restaurant (run by a former prostitute called Linda) and a boutique selling glittery platform shoes and condoms in packs of 100. German lessons are free and include a one-hour tutorial in sexual practices taught using disturbingly childlike cartoons drawn by a local kindergarten teacher.
The prostitutes are not Pascha’s employees, they are its customers. “In reality the brothel owner and the prostitute don’t want to have an employment contract,” the Frankfurt-based expert in prostitution law Guntram Knop tells me. “They want to save the social security contribution.”
Both parties certainly cut their costs by eliminating health insurance and pension contributions. A lot of the women that Müller (junior) and Beretin welcome to their clubs only come to Germany for eight weeks. Some make several trips a year but few live permanently in the country, so they have little incentive to hand over a chunk of their earnings to social security. For those self-employed prostitutes who do want health insurance, premiums are high – about 500 euros a month – because it’s such a risky job.
Most are in a similar situation to Suzi: her family has no idea what she’s doing and she has no desire to have an official record of her years in prostitution. “This work is not for a long time,” she says. “Very soon I will stop.” Once she’s saved up enough money, she plans to get a job in a hotel or a restaurant. Kristina Marlen, a tantric dominatrix in Berlin and a spokeswoman for Germany’s Trade Association for Erotic and Sexual Services, agrees. “A lot of people just do it for a short period in their lives. They don’t want to have in their CV, ‘I was a whore from 2007 to 2009’.”
The brothel-owner’s rationale isn’t purely financial either. When a journalist asked Paradise’s Jürgen Rudloff if the women at his clubs are working voluntarily, Rudloff, who has four teenage children, answered, “That’s not my business.” Strictly speaking, he was right. As long as they’re just renting rooms, the brothels have no real accountability towards the prostitutes.
“People don’t employ prostitutes in Germany because it’s complicated,” says Beretin, leaning back in his leather desk chair. Beside him is a framed photograph of himself standing by a Harley Davidson (Beretin owns five). On the opposite wall there’s a poster of the logo of the arms manufacturer, Heckler and Koch, right under a blown-up photograph of his youngest child. Beretin is married with three sons aged 20, 18 and 9.
“You can’t give orders to your employees. It’s not allowed,” he says. Actually, says Knop, managing prostitutes is completely legal. The problem is making sure you don’t cross the line between “managing” them and “exploiting” them.
Helmut Sporer, Detective Chief Superintendent of the Crimes Squad in Augsburg, Bavaria, is one of many German policemen frustrated by the law’s greyness in this area. In October, he talked at a seminar in Brussels about a “flat rate” brothel in Augsburg. “Flat rate” places pay the prostitutes for a shift, making their money from the bar and the punters’ entry fees. The women working here were given strict rules: they had to be completely naked at all times and, according to Sporer, were sometimes obliged to offer unprotected sex. If they broke a rule, they had to pay a fine to the brothel. “The court declared all this to be legal,” said Sporer, because the brothel owners had “right of direction” over the women – as they would over any other employee.
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