Prostitution In East Germany: New Film Pulls Back The Curtain

Prostitution was officially a crime in German Democratic Republic. But documentary filmmaker Axel Nixdorf discovers how widely it was tolerated, and even encouraged,

Berlin in the 1970s
Berlin in the 1970s
Florian Stark

BERLIN — The German Democratic Republic (East Germany) is "a clean state," its then leader, Socialist Unity Party head Erich Honecker once said. "It has unshakeable ethical standards of decency and morality."

Honecker was talking, in this case, about prostitution. The practice was was outlawed in 1968 under Paragraph 249 of the penal code, which referred to it as a "criminal refusal to take part in socialist life." And to enforce the crackdown, the party looked to the Stasi, East Germany's secret police force, which had 91,000 full-time staff and twice as many unofficial informants.

And yet, even in this state that took so much pride in its moral integrity, prostitution still existed. It took place everywhere, all the time, with the knowledge, tacit agreement and even encouragement of the state and party leadership. And as Axel Nixdorf reveals in his new documentary, Prostitution in the GDR: Socialism, Stasi, Sex, it not only brought in foreign currency, but also knowledge and power that could be used against individual citizens.

A complaint received by the Stasi in 1989, from two West German visitors to the Leipzig spring fair, sheds light on the reality of prostitution in the GDR. They said they were, to put it mildly, "shocked at the prevalence of prostitution."

Prostitution not only brought in foreign currency, but also knowledge and power.

During the fair, certain hotels were an absolute market for sex — if you were paying with foreign currency, that is. The Merkur Hotel, for example, was openly advertising as a "meeting place where lonely travelers can live out their fantasies," the visitors said.

In the harbor town of Rostock, the Free German Federation of Trade Unions ran the International Sailors' Club, which was well known as a platform for this kind of activity. In the 1970s, the authorities decided that from then on only sailors with a valid shore pass — and women, of course — would be allowed entry to the establishment. For Rostock historian Steffi Brüning, that is a clear sign that the state knew exactly what was going on at the club.

In East Berlin, police officers were surprised to see "cars with the same license plates returning again and again" to a particular address that was under surveillance. The cars were from a fleet belonging to the Socialist Unity Party. The question of whether the visitors were officials or drivers was never resolved.

Leipzig, Germany in 1980 — Photo: Dietmar Rabich

But it was not only clients with access to foreign currency or friends in high places who allowed prostitution to flourish in the GDR. Everyday citizens could also find sex for sale at certain cafés, clubs and street corners. Nixdorf quotes a Stasi report that details how a husband forced his wife to work as a prostitute on Nordstraße while he drove her colleagues around town for 10 (East German) marks each. Sex in the car cost 50, while in a flat it was 100. A pensioner who rented out his back room made 10 marks, while hotel employees could earn very generous tips.

As the Stasi noted, "financial difficulties' forced the couple in Leipzig to turn to prostitution. In the mid-1970s, a receptionist earned around 800 marks a month. She could earn around the same amount in a single night working in bars or hotel rooms. This could be seen as an unintended consequence of the gender roles promoted by the state: women in the GDR were supposed to be equal and free from the demands of capitalist family structures.

The state's tolerance of prostitution is a typical example of its double standards. Ideology was important, but so were foreign currency and information. To persuade them to work as unofficial informants for the Stasi, prostitutes were threatened with imprisonment or having their children taken away. This meant they had to pump Western clients for information and, even more importantly, report GDR citizens who may be planning to flee to the West or commit other offenses.

To a great extent, the state gave women free rein to gather information. Sex worker Monika from Karl-Marx-Stadt (now renamed Chemnitz) sometimes earned 5,000 East German marks per job, which she then exchanged for Deutschmarks on the black market, at a ratio of 12:1.

The state's tolerance of prostitution is a typical example of its double standards.

"I kept the money in various hiding places," she told Focus magazine after German reunification. "I must have been really good. The men came back regularly for years."

To protect herself, she went directly to the Stasi and registered as unofficial informant Petra Meyer. At the same time, she serviced high-level officials and was under surveillance herself. She received a Mercedes as a reward for her hard work, as well as denunciations from envious neighbors.

Not everyone was lucky enough to have such success. Many prostitutes ended up in prison, or were sent to so-called closed hospitals — "clap houses," as they were known on the street — to be treated for sexually transmitted diseases or "antisocial behavior." If you compare the official statistics on gonorrhoea and syphilis, the proportion of infections among women in the GDR was higher than in New York, according to a former employee at the establishment in Leipzig.

The fall of the Berlin Wall brought an end to this atmosphere of surveillance, blackmail, and sex. Hotel lobbies began welcoming an international clientele. Suddenly, class enemies were everywhere, as was their currency, says historian Steffi Brüning, who wrote her dissertation on prostitution in the GDR.

But it was not all good news. The struggles of the post-reunification years saw many women return to a life of prostitution. Regimes come and go. The world's "oldest profession," on the other hand, has a way of surviving no matter the circumstances.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

— Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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