Brothel owners and sex workers gathered in the heart of Hamburg’s Reeperbahn (red-light district) on Tuesday to celebrate the lifting of a months-long ban on prostitution and sex work due to the coronavirus pandemic.
District Chief Falko Droßmann of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) marked the end of the ban on the district’s famous Herbertstraße, revealing a painting by the Dutch Pop art artist Maaike Dirkx.
The work is dedicated to Sexy Aufstand Reeperbahn (Sexy Resistance Red-light district), a group that has spent months campaigning for the reopening of brothels and an easing of restrictions for sex workers.
A welcome decision
The prostitution industry has been one of the hardest hit by the corona crisis, with many workers struggling to survive financially. Famous brothels, such as Pascha in Cologne, have filed for bankruptcy after months of enforced closure.
“I'm very pleased that we’ve been able to allow sex work to resume again,” said Droßmann, but he also warned that “we will continue to monitor the situation closely”.
Everyone involved will have to adhere to strict hygiene requirements. Sexy Aufstand Reeperbahn, which represents prostitutes and brothel owners, had already proposed a plan for safe re-opening in July.
Droßmann added that the pandemic has brought women in the industry closer than he has seen in the last 20 years.
He hopes this new sense of community will remain after the pandemic: “Herbertstraße and the sex workers that work there should no longer be confined to the sidelines.”
As of Tuesday, the so-called “oldest profession in the world” is now allowed resume in Hamburg and Germany’s northernmost state of Schleswig-Holstein – albeit under strict conditions and only in registered prostitution facilities.
This follows a wave of legal victories for sex workers across the country, who took to the courts to overturn the ban imposed on prostitution.
The Higher Administrative courts in North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt have allowed brothels to resume business, months after the ban was introduced in all German states on March 16th.
Brothels adjust to 'new normal'
“Prostitution in vehicles and prostitution events are still prohibited”, added the Hamburg social authority, which is also responsible for health.
To minimise the risk of infection, each brothel must enforce strict hygiene regulations.
Other requirements include wearing a face covering, making appointments in advance, recording customers’ contact details, ensuring rooms are sufficiently ventilated and enforcing an alcohol ban. Prostitutes are also only allowed to work on a one to one basis.
The ban on sex work was partially lifted in Berlin in August. Since September 1st, physical contact has also been permitted. Brothels in many other states remain closed, however.