Last month Commerzbank, Germany’s second largest bank, predicted that the country will experience its worst recession in modern memory. German gross domestic product (GDP) is now expected to contract by as much as 4.5 percent this year, double its previous prediction. The troubled car-maker Opel – which is owned by General Motors – may have to shut factories to survive. An Abu Dhabi state investment fund has just agreed to take a nine percent stake in Daimler, the manufacturer of Mercedes Benz cars and the world's biggest truck maker. The recession is tightening its grip on Germany, with unemployment rising to 3.5 million at last count.
Those bald figures only hint at the suffering of individuals and families. People are losing their jobs and businesses, cancelling holidays, delaying plans for sons and daughters to start university. These are difficult times around the world and – in Europe – the crisis has raised the spectre of economic nationalism.
One way to avoid an internal European trade war is to forge more intimate trans-border links, perhaps by learning from the example of the German sex industry.
Prostitution is legal in Germany. Brothels are registered businesses. Some women and men who work as prostitutes are under contract to a specific brothel but the vast majority are self-employed. They pay income tax and charge VAT for their services. They are required to have regular medical checks. As their trade is usually a cash business, some cities – for example Baden Württemberg and Berlin – require sex workers to pay their taxes in advance, a set amount per day, to be collected and submitted by the brothel owners.
Like everyone else, prostitutes across Germany are feeling the pinch, so to speak. Without an ‘artificial stimulus’ programme (call it economic Viagra) such as has been offered to parts of the motor industry, many brothel-owners are introducing their own incentive packages. Berlin’s Pussy Club for example is offering a spring special: €70 for an evening of ‘girls, drinks and food’. The club doesn’t want to go the way of Frankfurt’s oldest brothel, the FKK Sudfass, which was forced to close a few months ago after 37 years in the business.
The situation is similar at the Pascha, a twelve floor, 9,000 square metre brothel in Cologne. With its 120 prostitutes, 80 employees and as many as one thousand customers a day, Pascha is the largest brothel in Europe and business there – according to a particularly unreliable source -- is down by 20%.
Not so long ago – and in time to confront the challenge of the credit crunch -- the Pascha announced an innovative programme to expand its client base. As Der Spiegel reported, ‘If you have to get old, Germany isn’t a bad place to do so. As well as generous state pensions, German senior citizens enjoy a host of benefits during their twilight years. Now, in addition to discounted rail travel, cut-price cinema tickets and cheap museum entry, Germany’s old folk have a new perk to take advantage of: a fifty percent discount at Germany's largest brothel.’ Every weekday afternoon senior citizens above the age of 66 receive a half price ‘normal session’. Not to be left behind, a bordello in Dresden has now introduced a twenty percent discount for the long-term unemployed.
To help Europeans to work together during this crisis, British tourists could be encouraged to pop over to Germany with their pension book or UB40 in hand. Irish widowers could be flown into Cologne on special Ryanair flights. The long-term unemployed of Milan and Turin could be bussed over the Alps to Dresden. Perhaps British Prime Minister Gordon Brown should set an example, venturing to the Pascha, lying back and thinking of England – sorry Scotland (though without a pensioner’s discount as he’s a sprightly 58 years old). Then Chancellor Merkel could return the favour, so to speak, by supporting the British trade (suggestions welcomed as to how she might best do this).
All joking aside, many women and men are finding it desperately difficult to make ends meet in the present crisis – whatever their profession.