Prostitutes doing double shifts to cope with World Cup demand

 

Germany: Germany's working girls are overwhelmed with the demand on their services, writes Derek Scally in Berlin

Such has been the call on the services of Berlin's prostitutes from World Cup fans that they have been forced to work double shifts to cope with the demand.

Less than a week after the football tournament began under the slogan "A time to make friends", Germany's working girls have never worked harder.

"We're a bit overwhelmed to be honest; we don't know where to put them all," said Josephine Conte, the attractive blonde boss of the Bel Ami brothel.

It is located just 300 metres from the imposing Olympic Stadium in a 1920s villa that could house a foreign embassy - but Bel Ami calls itself the "embassy of love".

A discreet brass plate on the gate warns visitors that it is an "Erotic Club" for over-18s only, while a plaster statue of Venus clutching an apple greets guests.

The main reception area is, at first glance, furnished like a private members' bar, but the red leatherette club sofas, the red silk curtains combined with gold plastic fittings and soiled carpet suggest the room looks significantly better in the evening than in daylight.

In the next room is a small pool and on the sound system, Barry White is urging us to Let the Music Play.

A tired-looking cleaning lady in a housecoat drags a bag of bed linen through the bar, leaving a lemon fresh smell behind her.

At the bar, two women are saying their goodbyes to three men in Brazil shirts, the last of the fans from Berlin's first World Cup match on Tuesday night.

"We spotted the place when we were parking the car and the women waved at us," says one happy Brazilian man. "It's €50 for 20 minutes, less than the price of a match ticket and better value than Sao Paolo. We wish there were more blondes, though."

The Brazilians are surprised to hear that prostitution was legalised in Germany in 2002. An estimated 400,000 sex workers service 1.2 million men daily in an industry with a turnover of €14.5 billion annually.

German prostitutes can apply for tax numbers and have the same right to social welfare and union membership as any other employee.

Services union Verdi has even drafted sample work contracts for sex industry workers.

Germany's liberal attitude to prostitution has irritated some other World Cup countries however, with vocal criticism from the US state department and calls in Sweden for the national side to stay at home in protest.

German police have dismissed as highly exaggerated pre- tournament claims that gangs of traffickers were planning to smuggle tens of thousands of women into Germany and force them to work as prostitutes.

Similarly, Berlin prostitutes dismiss the other pre-tournament media hype that Germany would be overrun by prostitutes from eastern Europe.

"All I say to that is, where are they? We're in desperate need of good-looking women who know how to act properly," says Josephine Conte. "No tattoos or piercings or anything like that. Language skills would be a bonus."

She adds: "We had some Irish women who took the trouble to come over and look around. They said they wanted to work here but never came back."

Bel-Ami is almost completely booked up in advance during the World Cup, meaning that walk-in trade may have to wait to be seen.

Usually eight women are on duty here during the day but yesterday afternoon there were just two: all of the others had stayed up the night before with the Brazilian soccer fans.

Around the German capital, where an estimated 8,000 prostitutes work in more than 500 brothels, massage parlours and sex cinemas, business is so far exceeding expectations.

One of the busiest establish- ments is Artemis, a 40-room three-storey "superbrothel" also near the Olympic Stadium.

All entrants pay a €70 fee to enter, allowing visitors to enjoy the sauna and spa area and a free buffet and soft drinks.

If they want, men can then negotiate directly with prostitutes without pimps or police getting in the way.

"I was hoping for 300 people a day, yesterday we had over 500," says manager Egbert Krumeich. "Thankfully most just stay two or three hours because we've reached our limit now. But we should be able to cope, just as long as they don't all come at once."