FEMEN protest in Berlin as prostitution law reforms loom


Five FEMEN members in Berlin chained themselves to the trademark “Berlin Bears” outside the entry to one of the city’s biggest bordellos yesterday. And as EMMA reports, this comes as the Bundestag debates what to do about Germany’s lax and embarrassing prostitution laws:

Five FEMEN demonstrators chained themselves to the two Berlin Bears in front of the entrance to the megabordello “Artemis”. Some johns gave them a wide berth. Others didn’t let that scare them off. The FEMEN message: Prostitutes are living in chains, and not only in this bordello. It’s time to break these chains!

“Even at the reception desk, our lovely ladies will greet you with a smile,” says an ad for “Artemis” in Berlin, just one kilometre away from the Berliner Messe. On Wednesday night, the johns didn’t get such a nice reception. At 8:00 p.m. the FEMEN showed up in cars, and took off their tops. On their skin they had painted slogans like “Don’t cum on human rights!” and “Go rape yourself!” They chained themselves on the woman-sized bear figurines, the trademark of the capital city, in front of the entrance of a so-called FKK-club.

It took half an hour for the police to arrive and sever the chains with bolt-cutters. Meanwhile, there was a scuffle as two (female) workers from Artemis tried to stop the five women’s protest.

Some of the johns turned around in the parking lot at the sight of the FEMEN at the entrance. Others didn’t let either the activists or the police scare them off. They marched into the brothel anyway, according to FEMENstrator Debbie. “That shows one more time that prostitution has arrived in the middle of society.” And: “It’s unbelievable that a world-class city like Berlin should advertise with a bordello, in which women are made into merchandise!” The sexy capital city doesn’t care about that. In Berlin, there have even been public-transit ads for the “wellness brothel”.

Taxi drivers and pensioners pay reduced entry rates to the self-styled “oasis of well-being”. All others, 80 euros — including bathrobe, towel, hairdryer, and breakfast buffet. Now, for the holiday season, there’s even coffee and Christmas cake in the afternoons. Not for the 60 to 70 prostitutes in the bordello, but for the 600 johns for whom there is room.

Whether the guys hanging around in the parking lot in front of Artemis are johns or pimps, is hard to say, says FEMEN’s Theresa. Poor bastards, they obviously aren’t. “The cars that park there cost upwards of 80,000 euros.”

The FEMEN protest is also aimed at the politicians, who are currently looking at a reform of the prostitution law. Their aims don’t go far enough for FEMEN. “It’s not enough for us that only the customers of forced prostitutes get punished, that’s just eyewash,” says Theresa. Because “whether a woman prostitutes because she’s forced to or not, can hardly be verified in practice.”

FEMEN, who are among the 90 first signatories of the EMMA appeal against prostitution, demand the Nordic model for Germany: Punishment for all johns.

Translation mine. Linkage added.

So we can see that sex capitalism, to call so-called “sex work” by its right name, is a very unequal proposition. The “workers” don’t get the perks that the pricey-car “clients” do. For the women, everything is extra. You have to pay extortionate daily room rates just for the “privilege” of working there. Prostitution is neither a charity, nor a social-welfare agency. The German megabordellos are not only unglamorous as a lifestyle choice, they are a shitty way to make a living. And it’s hard to imagine any German woman with a full slate of choices actually wanting to work in one.

And indeed, as I’ve blogged here before, most of the hundred-thousands of women (and girls) in German megabordellos are NOT Germans, nor do they have a whole lot to choose from. Most are imported from the poorest parts of Eastern Europe, often under dodgy circumstances. It’s hard to say exactly how many are slave trafficking victims, since only a police raid can uncover the truth, and the ladies are often coached to smile and say they’re making good money, they want to be there, blah blah. The traffickers have trained them extremely well, and if one of them makes trouble, she’s out, to face an even rougher (and often painfully short) life on the streets.

And since a lot of these women are supporting jobless relatives back home, the pressure to behave properly is overwhelming. It’s seldom, if ever, that a prostitute from a perfectly legal German bordello will drop the hammer on her exploiters. It’s not just her life and livelihood, but that of her entire family back home (who often live under menaces from organized crime) that’s at stake.

The legalization of bordellos in Germany has only made the traffickers’ job easier. Not that of the prostitutes. Never that of the women. Their work is as hard and awful as ever. They have to put up with every kind of shit that the johns see fit to dish out, and contrary to all “libertarian” arguments about “sex workers’ rights”, they have no right of refusal. If you work in a German brothel, you’ve essentially signed away your right to say no to things you don’t want to do. You have to serve all comers, and you have to do it their way. If a “client” wants to have anal sex without a condom, no one in the brothel’s management is going to stop him. It’s not the woman’s “wellness” that matters, after all. She’s only paying for the room…and as long as that money keeps rolling, and fresh women keep getting trafficked in from Romania, Bulgaria, etc. — who the hell cares?

And all this for a flat rate, too. After all, those costs to the john are low for a reason…

This is what’s now at issue in the German parliament: Does Germany want to go on being “Europe’s megabrothel”, attracting criminal elements, sleaze and misery from all over the world, along with the big money? Or does the country want to actually do something for these women beyond lip service — and not just collect taxes from them, like a good state pimp?

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One Response to FEMEN protest in Berlin as prostitution law reforms loom

  1. Brasil66 says:

    Hi Sabina:

    Just got done reading this… I didn’t know Berlin was that awful… I’ve only been to Kassel, München, and Freiburg.

    But that phrase you used so aptly, “no right of refusal,” reminds me of that awesome Brazilian movie, “O Cheiro do ralo,” or as I translated it, “The Smell from the Drain” (2006), awesome critique of capitalism–link here: http://tinyurl.com/kz4ln6o.

    As I was reading the article, I also thought about the “tratta bianca,” an article about the white slave trade from Eastern European countries I read in that Berlusconi publication, Panorama magazine back in 1999, and even an Italian movie (very, very hard to watch), “La Sconosciuta,” (2006): http://tinyurl.com/nuhbxgj.

    Yeah, all the libertarian arguments fall flat on their ass.

    The other thought that occurred to me was how many of those women are minors…

    It’s one thing if you have free will (think of the power of “Lysistrata,” where the women refuse…for a good cause, i.e., to stop war), it’s another when you’re coerced–by economic circumstances.

    That’s where I part company with the libertarians (I’m actually an anarcho-communist à la Piotr Kropotkin…)

    In capitalism, you have no choice, especially if you are poor…

    It’s like some Repiglican trying to tell me those people who work at Wally World or Mickey D’s have a choice… Or like that sorry excuse for a biped, W, telling people they should go back to school and retool, or that other sorry excuse for a hominid, Romney, telling people to “borrow from your parents.”

    I really,really need to try harder drugs… Alcohol and tobacco are just not cutting it for me…

    Great, great, no, superlative post! Keep’em coming!

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