November 11, 2009
Stung by the economic crisis, a brothel in Berlin has leapt on the "green" bandwagon and is offering discounts to clients who can prove they arrived by public transport or bicycle -- with some success.
"Everyone's a winner," explained Regina Goetz, a former prostitute who runs the "Maison d'envie" (House of Desire) brothel in Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg, a district in the former East Berlin, which is a stronghold for the ecologist Green party.
"The environment is a topic on everyone's lips and it's pretty difficult to park around here. So we came up with the idea of an 'eco discount' of five euros (7.40 dollars) to anyone who leaves the car at home," Goetz told AFP.
"The crisis has slashed our turnover in half in the last year," the 56-year-old told AFP over coffee and cakes, flanked by scantily clad prostitutes.
But the green discounts have proved a roaring success and got business back on track, she said.
Fifteen minutes in the brothel costs 25 euros (37 dollars) rather than 30 euros for environmentally-conscious punters, around 10 percent of whom have taken up the offer.
To qualify for the discount, "clients who come by bike show their helmet or their padlock keys," she said. "Others hand in their ticket or monthly pass if they have come on the bus."
The brothel itself is a model of discretion -- only a small brass plaque advertising "the little sexy address" betrays the true purpose of the building, housed in a block with a bike shop, a burger bar and a pub.
Clients pass through a courtyard scattered with rubbish dumps, pushchairs, kids' bikes and buggies before arriving at a corridor where a doormat emblazoned with a red heart indicates the hoped-for destination.
"We have a really nice atmosphere here, the neighbours are great," said one of the prostitutes, a pretty blonde in her thirties with short hair sporting fishnet tights and sexy red lacy undies under her turquoise dressing-gown.
She said she had already welcomed several customers on the eco tariff, like all her colleagues, about a dozen woman aged between 20 and 45, the majority of whom work part-time.
One of them said she was a nurse secretly moonlighting as a prostitute. Another said she was a dietary counsellor in a gym -- "but times are hard". A third said she was a housewife.
As for the clients, they come in all shapes and sizes, from all social classes and all ages, right up to the "doyen", who is 86 years old, said Goetz.
All the employees of the "Maison d'envie" wholeheartedly approve of the eco tariff. "Regina is full of good ideas," said one.
The establishment also offers special "weekend rates" with Jacuzzi options and a "two-for-one" rate.
For Goetz, the brothel is "a business like any other" and prostitution is a legal sector in Germany with around 400,000 employees.
"In these tight times, we are cutting costs. We've binned the tax advisor, reduced the hours of the cleaning lady and I only buy low-cost cleaning products," she said.
And like any other head of industry, she is careful to appear bullish on the sector's prospects.
"In a business like ours, there are always ups and downs. But we want the recovery to come quickly. I check the stock market prices every day," she revealed.