As France cracks down, German sex trade booms
The French lower house voted last week in favour of penalising the clients of prostitutes with fines starting at 1,500 euros ($2,000)
With her confident French, youthful looks and skintight jeans, Andrea could be mistaken for a university student.
In fact she is a self-employed businesswoman operating in a niche market on the verge of a boom: the cross-border sex trade between France and Germany.
Half-Turkish and half-Romanian, Andrea practises the oldest profession in the world on a quiet wooded road on the outskirts of Saarbruecken, just a few hundred metres (yards) from the border with France.
With a cigarette dangling from her lips and her chin tucked inside her bodywarmer against a biting wind, she confides that her client base is already made up of "not many Germans, lots of French".
And with the French lower house having voted last week in favour of penalising the clients of prostitutes with fines starting at 1,500 euros ($2,000), Andrea's business model is looking pretty solid.
A few kilometres away, Charlotte Britz, the mayor of Saarbruecken, sits in her office in the neo-Gothic town hall, shakes her head and acknowledges as much.
"I am really worried about what this French law is going to mean for us," Britz told AFP.
France's new law is expected to come into force in the second half of next year.
Britz, a Social Democrat, also frets about a possible influx of prostitutes from Bulgaria and Romania after January 1, when workers from two of the poorest countries in the European Union will have the right to work anywhere in the 28-nation bloc.
"We have already seen a marked increased in the level of street prostitution in the town," Britz said, estimating total numbers at 1,000 in the city of 180,000.
The sale of sex has also become more aggressive, she says, citing anecdotal evidence of locals being accosted in car parks, at supermarkets and even, in one celebrated case, during a funeral.
Given that prostitution is legal throughout Germany, Britz cannot ban it but she is planning to restrict it to certain areas and is examining the city of Dortmund's moves to discourage street-walking through a tax.
Germany legalised prostitution in 2002, lawmakers having concluded that attempts to eliminate it through criminalisation were doomed to failure and that it would be better if the women involved were able to make social security payments, enjoy health cover and work in a safer environment.
The law has come under fire recently from critics who argue that legalisation has largely benefited pimps and brothel owners.
According to one former prostitute, who did not want to be identified, many of them fleece the sex workers by requiring them to rent their rooms and overcharging them for products such as tissues and condoms.
"Some of them even apply charges for electricity by reading the meters in every room each day," she said.
A 2007 government report concluded that liberalisation had done nothing to improve the lot of Germany's estimated 700,000 sex workers, and a campaign against the law spearheaded by feminist Alice Schwarzer is gathering steam.
Dozens of politicians, actors and journalists last month signed Schwarzer's appeal for the abolition of a law she says has turned Germany into a "paradise for pimps".
The possibility of a legislative U-turn has not however deterred Michael Beretin, an entrepreneur planning to open a 4,500-square-metre (50,000-square-foot) super brothel in a village near Saarbruecken in the next few months.
The new venue will be capable of hosting 50 to 60 prostitutes, with both the women and the clients required to pay an entry fee of 69 euros.
The women will also be subjected to a further tax of 25 euros in return for the right to charge whatever their client is prepared to pay.
"We are expecting a lot of clients from France, given how close we are and given the changes in the law," Beretin said. Frenchmen already account for 65 percent of the business of a nearby brothel.
The new super brothel has billed itself as a state of the art, "classy" venue, but, according to local resident Armin Beyer, 63, such places will do nothing to improve the lot of pavement walkers.
"There is no way they will be able to pay the entry fees or they will be rejected in the 'casting' sessions when clients have their pick of several girls," he argues.
Beyer has grown tired of seeing dozens of women waiting for kerb crawlers on his way home from work and fears that the human misery that lies behind such scenes will only be accentuated by France's well-intentioned reform.
"When France starts penalising the clients, there is going to be an avalanche here," he predicts.