BERLIN: The combination of nail-biting soccer matches and crowds of beer-swilling males could mean hefty profits for Germany's sex industry.
It is deploying an army of prostitutes to satisfy the needs of libidinous fans during the month-long 2006 World Cup. Some one million foreign visitors are expected to flood into Germany from June 9 and many expect large numbers of male spectators to wind down after a match in the arms of a prostitute or in the red light districts of the 12 host cities.
Hamburg's St Pauli quarter, the country's largest and most famous red light district, is bubbling with optimism that it could be a bumper season for the legal sex industry. But others have raised concerns that vulnerable women could be forced into prostitution to meet the expected demand.
"Football and prostitution are a great match," says Hans-Henning Schneidereit, owner of the St Pauli's Safari Cabaret, renowned for its sex shows. "You get lots of men at the right biological age and all fired up by a football match. What else could you hope for?"
Schneidereit says he expected 30 percent more customers during the tournament, adding that his forecast was conservative compared to those made by some of his rivals.
Police estimates tend to support his claim. "Extrapolating from our experiences with big events like the Oktoberfest or trade fairs, it is fair to assume that a lot more ladies will hit the town during that time to cash in on the rising demand," says Gottfried Schlicht, police spokesman in the southern city of Munich, set to host six games.
More than 2,000 prostitutes work in greater Munich, and Schlicht predicts that he expected this number to rise by around a third when the 'beautiful game' comes to the Bavarian city.
Fears of trafficking
Red light employers in Hamburg are already busy recruiting extra prostitutes and Berlin, which will host six of the 64 games, is also preparing to cash in. Last autumn, a giant brothel decorated with tiger prints and red curtains opened in the city, close to the soccer stadium.
Prostitution is legal in Germany and sex workers can get health insurance, join the services union Verdi and pay into a pension plan. Surveys put the number of those working as full or part-time prostitutes at around 400,000.
But thousands of women are also forced to work in the sex industry, and authorities are keen to crack down on this practice during the tournament.
More than 20 campaigns, using posters, flyers and cinema spots, will be launched across Germany this year to boost awareness of the problem of forced prostitution. It is hard to establish how many women are forced to work as prostitutes — most do not report it as they are afraid of retribution from their pimps or of being forced to return to a life of poverty at home — but many of the known cases have come from eastern or central Europe.
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), some 15,000 victims of trafficking work in Germany at any given time. ILO researcher Norbert Cyrus estimates that two-thirds of these are women of whom 90 percent end up as prostitutes.
The head of the German soccer federation, Theo Zwanziger, said this week that he had initially underestimated the problem of forced prostitution but was now throwing the group's weight behind efforts to raise awareness.
The European Union's justice commissioner said on Wednesday that he would propose to EU states in April that they introduce visas for travellers from countries that currently do not need them during the World Cup, as part of the fight against forced prostitution.
German media had reported in recent months that up to 40,000 women would be smuggled into the country to work as sex slaves during the World Cup, but experts and outreach groups like Ban Ying have dismissed this number as exaggerated.
Ban Ying, which offers help to victims of forced prostitution, and other such groups say with so many police guarding the borders, the influx is not likely to be that large.
Some say other prostitutes will travel to Germany willingly.
Mariska Majoor, a former prostitute and founder of a support centre in Amsterdam's red light district, said women working in the Netherlands, which has one of Europe's most successful sex industries, would be sure to travel over the border.
"If they hear about good money to be made there and see colleagues coming back from Germany with high earnings, I am sure they will go," says Majoor. "After all, they are self-employed and can decide when and where to work."
But some sex workers, like Sindy in Berlin, wonder what the fuss is about and are actually thinking of getting off the streets when the soccer circus comes to town.
"If you ask me, I don't know what they are all talking about," Sindy says, as she waits for customers on a Berlin street and wiped slush off her pink platform boots.
"I can tell you that most men who watch a soccer game also have quite a few beers and that's not exactly boosting their standing power, quite literally, which makes them serious cheapskates. Actually, I think this might be the right time for me to take a holiday."