BERLIN—Luna is keenly aware that play begins next month in the World Cup soccer championship tournament here, but she doesn't have a favorite team. "How the games go has nothing to do with me," she said, sitting in the bedroom where she does her work. "But I'll be ready to make money during the halftime breaks."
Luna, who uses only one name professionally, is one of an estimated 400,000 female sex workers in a country that legalized prostitution in 2002.
But that won't be enough to fulfill the demands of the millions of fans who'll flock to Germany during the tournament, experts think. Another 40,000 are expected to come from outside Germany during the month-long tournament, at least some of whom, advocates worry, will have been forced into the sex trade against their will.
Stopping human trafficking was one of the reasons that Germany legalized prostitution. The logic was that by legitimizing the trade, it would become safer and healthier.
But a United Nations report on human trafficking released last month still rated Germany "very high" as a destination for women forced into sex work, and some of those who supported legalization are reconsidering.
"I was with my party, the Greens, when we pushed for legalization," said Hiltrud Breyer, a German member of the European Parliament. "We really believed it would bring the profession out of the shadows and improve lives. I'm rethinking that position."
In Germany, as in the rest of the world, prostitution is big business, with annual revenues estimated at 14.5 billion euro, or $18 billion—slightly more than those of Karstadt, the nation's largest department-store chain.
Under German law, prostitutes must be at least 18 years old, but registration isn't mandatory and the official government service-workers union, which represents them, says only a few have signed up. There's no health screening because prostitutes are eligible for the national health system. Some cities have limited where they can work, but Berlin allows them to work anywhere.
German officials hope to persuade more prostitutes to register by pointing out that it makes them eligible for state pensions, unemployment payments when they aren't working and even career-retraining benefits.
But those benefits may be outweighed by costs such as paying taxes on their earnings, one possible reason that the number of registered prostitutes is so low.
Breyer said that when she checked national statistics recently only 300 to 600 taxpayers listed their jobs as prostitute. But union officials say they work with tens of thousands of prostitutes and that they think the government estimate of 400,000 is about right.
It's not just missing tax revenue that's worrisome, Breyer said. Because prostitution is legal, police don't investigate it as aggressively as they once did, and that's allowed forced prostitution to thrive, she thinks.
Anne Fitzgerald, who works with Solidarity With Women in Distress, agrees. That's why her group began preparing an information campaign last year.
The group flooded Eastern Europe and the Middle East with fliers warning young women against "accepting lucrative job offers in Germany," saying such jobs "may turn out to be jobs in brothels."
For those who don't heed or hear the warning, they've established a hot line to counsel women who find themselves trapped here.
"The idea behind the change in legislation was, I believe, that prostitutes should be able to leave the `gray zone' of semi-illegality and be registered and have social insurance like other professions," Fitzgerald said. "Reality has since shown that very few prostitutes are officially registered and the police have practically no way of justifying brothel raids, so that now fewer victims of trafficking are actually discovered."
The stigma apparently hasn't vanished either. Of all the prostitutes approached in researching this article, only Luna would agree to be photographed and then only if her face weren't shown.
Standing, nude and out of her work outfit only because she's removed her stiletto heels, Luna can't imagine why anyone would think she'd been forced into her job.
The 33-year-old says that when she arrived in Germany from Serbia six years ago she saw a choice: either hang out in her new nation's numerous swingers clubs and have sex with strangers for free, or hook up with a brothel and get paid.
Despite the fact that prostitution was illegal when she started, she chose the money. The job only got better when prostitution was legalized. Now she works at Artemis, Berlin's newest high-profile brothel, a mere three subway stops from Olympic Stadium, where the World Cup final will be played July 9.
Like the other women at Artemis, she pays rent for her space: 50 euros, about $70, for every 24 hours. For that, she gets two meals and a place to sleep.
"It's better now," she said. "It's safer, and I'm able to control my finances, instead of relying on a pimp."
Vanessa Rahn, Artemis' manager, pauses between rooms labeled Safari and Blue. She points to the tissue boxes and rolls of paper towels scattered throughout her club and notes that "sex is allowed everywhere, except in the restaurant and the swimming pool."
"This is a good place to see just what prostitution can be in Germany," she said. "People from around the world will visit us during the World Cup, and they'll leave convinced they've seen the future."
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): GERMANY-PROSTITUTION
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