In Germany, a Building Debate

By Craig Whitlock and Shannon Smiley
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, June 9, 2006

COLOGNE, Germany -- At the Pascha, a 12-story building that advertises itself as Europe's biggest brothel, the working girls are preparing for what they hope will be a surge in business as more than a million soccer fans flock to Germany for the World Cup, which begins Friday.

At the same time, the Pascha's workforce of about 120 women is bracing for what some fear will be increased competition in the world's oldest profession. Buying and selling sex is entirely legal in Germany, prompting estimates that tens of thousands of foreign prostitutes will enter the country looking for business during the month-long tournament.

"Of course we'll have more customers," said Armin Lobscheid, the managing director of Pascha, a Moorish-theme bordello with whirlpools, beauty salons and an entire floor staffed by transsexuals. "If someone wants to party here, it doesn't matter if their team has won or lost."

The Pascha normally caters to about 1,000 paying clients a day, but Lobscheid said he is expecting a 50 percent increase during the World Cup. He's also reserving 30 rooms for soccer fans who want someplace to stay during the tournament, at the rate of $260 a night, not including the cost of sex.

The prospect of a prostitution boom during the World Cup, however, has stirred almost as many passions as the debate over who will win the 32-team tournament. Anti-prostitution groups are warning about a potential boom in sex trafficking, predicting that as many as 40,000 prostitutes will be forcibly imported into Germany by pimps and smugglers.

Many of the statistics appear to have little basis in fact, but the issue has caused consternation around the world and led to renewed pressure on the German government to reconsider its prostitution-protection law.

In Washington, the State Department on Monday issued an annual report on forced labor that labeled Germany "a source, destination and transit country" for exploited prostitutes and singled out the World Cup as a worry. "Due to the sheer size of the event, the potential for human trafficking surrounding the games remains a concern," the report stated.

Last month, at a congressional hearing on the prostitution and the World Cup, Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.) declared that sex traffickers "have also been working overtime to exploit this opportunity to improve their illicit revenues through the expected rise in demand."

Even in Scandinavia, where public attitudes toward sex are among the most relaxed in the world, some Swedish officials floated the idea of boycotting the World Cup over prostitution concerns. In response, Sweden's soccer federation promised that players on the national team wouldn't be allowed to visit any bordellos while in Germany.

The combination of soccer and sex has led to other controversies. In April, a group of about 30 protesters, including some armed with knives and clubs, gathered outside the Pascha to demand the removal of a huge mural on the side of the building featuring a scantily clad woman and the national flags of all 32 teams participating in the World Cup.

The protesters were Muslims, angry that the flags of Saudi Arabia and Iran were depicted next to an uncovered female. The Pascha removed the offending flags and apologized.

Prostitution has long been tolerated in Germany, but it officially became legal in 2002. Reliable figures on the sex trade are elusive, but some government statistics suggest that there are as many as 400,000 registered workers in the industry.

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