Although this post isn’t explicit, it concerns the theme of prostitution, so young readers should seek approval before reading on. Germans think very differently from Americans about this trade (and about human sexuality) both socially and legally, which brings some thought-provoking consequences.
It’s not limited to Germans, but they do have a tendency to be extreme examples of these kinds of things. Prostitution is actually legal in many parts of Europe – a tradition that goes back well before Rome and into the earliest parts of European history.
Why am I writing about this?
When I was taking my photo tour last weekend, I came across the street pictured above, which is indeed a bona fide window-shopping red-light district. It was just sitting there out in the open, right next to the main train station on an otherwise normal, open, safe, family-friendly street. In fact, I even saw a couple in their late thirties turn down this street to take their two black labs for a walk.
This map, on the other hand, denotes where the street prostitutes were waiting. It was directly across from a big police station. The women stood out on the sidewalk while fancy cars drove slowly down the lane, occasionally picking one up. One of the women called me Schatzi (basically equivalent to “sweetheart”) as I walked by but didn’t harass me any more than that (thank goodness, because I sure didn’t like the harassment I experienced walking late at night through Tokyo).
What is so striking about this?
I’ve never been to a part of town in the US that housed brothels or was a gathering-ground for sex workers – not that I’m aware of at least. Sure there’s the so-called “adult” shops that you can see driving along the Interstate highways, but I’m pretty sure they don’t cross the line of openly offering prostitution (and I’ve never been to one). To my knowledge, such places are hidden in the cover of darkness, secrecy, and often crime. A police station is probably last on the list of places most sex workers in the US would want to hang out, yet here they seem to have flocked there. Nothing is hidden, nothing taboo.
There’s one underlying view behind the drastically different approaches these countries have taken with regards to the sex industry. In the United States, we have out-right outlawed prostitution in hopes of eliminating it and its associated problems. In Germany and much of Europe, they have regulated prostitution, acknowledging the futility of eradicating it in hopes of protecting those involved.
They believe that by legitimizing the act they can better protect the sex workers and more easily control the limits of the trade, such as where it may occur and under what circumstances. Although pimping is illegal here in Germany, were it to happen and involve beating or abusing the workers, they could call the police without fear of reprisal for incriminating themselves; also sex workers can seek protection from abusive or threatening customers.
How does this impact society?
It’s not worth going into too much detail here because information on this subject is widely available online. In brief, however, Germany probably sees more prostitution than the United States but it’s also probably much safer for everyone involved.
Children become aware of these things at a much younger age. It wouldn’t be shocking for them to pass by some form of it on their way to school or to see one of the many explicit advertisements in the free paper on the McDonald’s counter.
Prostitution isn’t so common as is naturalism, and people tend to be reserved about it, but it’s definitely not something that would ruin someone’s life by its confession.
What’s the big deal, then?
It’s a hot topic – one I was confronted with as I strolled around the city innocently looking for creative photography subjects – and it’s definitely not case-closed solved. While there are some major issues with the prohibition in the US (especially hard-hitting on the sex workers themselves) that legalization makes up for, Germany and its friends get slammed with critiques from others who claim that such liberalization is a human rights violation that encourages sex slavery even among minors. This debate has been occurring since before Abraham left Ur and has often taken place between groups with passionately opposing stances who both agree that prostitution should eliminated.
It’s a good example of a subject whose discussion requires mutual respect and decency. Jim might call Rolf a pervert for wanting to open up the world to licentiousness while Ingrid smears Jane for turning a blind eye to abuse; in doing so these parties destroy their hopes of working together for their common cause. They are too quick to judge each other and too stubborn to really listen to the different perspectives. Even faithful Christians have found no agreement on this issue over the last two thousand years.
If talking about prostitution or seeing a brothel makes you snap, you might want to avoid Germany or the Netherlands. In fact, you would have definitely wanted to avoid just about everywhere mentioned in the New Testament as it was even more prevalent back then (though shrouded in even stranger customs).
More broadly, however, if you find that you are unable to calmly discuss a controversial matter with a friend or that you flare up in anger whenever they try to share why they think you are wrong, you may be noticing the effects of blinding prejudice or stubborn pride. Things are almost always more complicated than we want them to be while black-and-white solutions to long-standing problems rarely work.
We can learn quite a bit from each other by listening, watching, and pondering our differences. I admit that I let out a little sneer in my head when I saw the women in the windows (which in itself is even a little hypocritical as I’m not immune to the desires of the flesh, so why the attitude?), but there’s so much more to the story than meets the eye (okay, sorry, it’s late and this post so-far has lacked any puns). When someone disagrees, when something is different, when our stances are challenged, there’s a history of experiences and reasons sitting behind that wall and we can only benefit by trying to understand them.