Sex for sale has long been a staple part of Berlin’s freewheeling nightlife, but amid concerns over the new coronavirus even the world’s supposedly oldest profession is being hit by a sudden slump.
BERLIN — It’s 7 p.m. on a Friday night, a time when Aurel Johannes Marx’s three-room brothel on the edge of Berlin would normally be preparing for its first customers. Sex for sale has long been a staple part of the German capital’s freewheeling nightlife. But amid concerns over the new coronavirus, even the world’s supposedly oldest profession is suffering a sudden slump.
At the “Lankwitzer 7” brothel, with its soft red light and bawdy paintings on the wall, disinfectant dispensers had been installed next to the washbasins. Marx said he ordered staff to hot-wash all towels and sheets, and open the windows more often to let the warm, sticky air escape.
Still, customers just weren’t showing up anymore.
“Over the past week, business has gone down by 50%,” Marx said, blaming the decline on the general drop in nightlife that’s occurred since the virus arrived in Berlin.
By Saturday, authorities had pulled the plug entirely, ordering the temporary closure of all entertainment venues, including brothels. The city has registered 332 confirmed cases of COVID-19 so far. Several dozens infections have been traced to bars and clubs.
Susanne Bleier Wilp, a German former sex worker and spokeswoman for the Association of Erotic and Sexual Services Providers, or BESD, said the virus has caused fear and uncertainty among the estimated 100,000 to 200,000 sex workers in Germany, where prostitution was largely legalized almost 20 years ago.
“There are those who are withdrawing from the business entirely at the moment for safety reasons,” Bleier Wilp told The Associated Press. Others are requiring that customers disinfect themselves, she added — a measure that medical experts say is unlikely to effectively stop the spread of the virus during close physical contact.
For most people the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of those who are infected recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
It wasn’t clear how the closure of brothels would affect independent sex workers, and some have come under criticism for suggesting they will continue working.
Salome Balthus, a sex worker in Berlin, said that most of her colleagues would prefer to stay at home.
“But they know that nobody is going to compensate them for loss of income,” she said on Twitter. “90% of all dates are being canceled anyway. As always, we’re left to fend for ourselves.”