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P aradise is a brothel in Stuttgart. In Bangkok aged 19 I checked in to a place called Mango Inn with two school friends. But that scuzzy little concern, with its scarlet-haired manager and beery tourist crowd, was seriously small fry compared to this. Paradise is a chain, like Primark or Pizza Hut, with five branches and three more on the way. So business is booming, I say to Michael Beretin, a partner in the company.
Each of its six floors is picked out with a thick stripe of burgundy cladding making it look from the outside like a very tall, stale slice of red velvet cake. One is cuddling up to a pot-bellied man on a day bed. Several are clustered together, looking bored in their black glitter basques and hot pink fishnets, waiting for it to get busier. People think Amsterdam is the prostitution capital of Europe but Germany has more prostitutes per capita than any other country in the continent, more even than Thailand: , at the last count, serving 1.
Those figures were released a decade ago, soon after Germany made buying sex, selling sex, pimping and brothel-keeping legal in Two years later, prostitution in Germany was thought to be worth 6 billion euros — roughly the same as Porsche or Adidas that year.
Quite a few people agree with Beretin — and not all of them are brothel owners grumbling about their tax bills. Sex workers could now enter into employment contracts, sue for payment and register for health insurance, pension plans and other benefits. Exploiting prostitutes was still criminal but everything else was now above board. Two female politicians and a Berlin madam were pictured clinking their champagne glasses in celebration.
None of the authorities I spoke to had ever heard of a prostitute suing for payment, either. And only 44 prostitutes have registered for benefits. The Netherlands legalised prostitution two years before Germany, just after Sweden had gone the other way and made the purchase of sex a criminal offence. Norway adopted the Swedish model - in which selling sex is permitted but anyone caught buying it is fined or imprisoned - in Iceland has followed suit, and France and Ireland look set to do the same.