German City Gives New Meaning to 'Feed the Meter'

BONN, Germany—While recent figures are difficult to obtain, it's estimated that out of Germany's population of about 80 million people, about 300,000 of them are prostitutes. In fact, sex work is such an accepted and widespread business that the state even charges streetwalkers a €6 ($8.65) per-evening tax.

But Bonn, a city rarely mentioned in any list of Germany's prostitution hot spots, has taken this income-gathering one step further. As noted in a recent New York Times article, Bonn is "the first to hit upon the idea of a ticket machine that prints out receipts for the nightly flat fee."

The meters were first put into operation on Saturday, August 27, and by the following Monday morning, they'd taken in $382—meaning that at least 44 of the city's estimated 200 filles de joie had paid their fee to walk the Immenburgstrasse, a street in the city's industrial section where the women ply their trade if they don't have a storefront to work out of, as is common in much of Europe.

The new meters are manufactured by Siemens—a multinational corporation involved in everything from electronics manufacturing to communications to healthcare—at a cost of $11,575 each, but at the current rate of use, they should be paid for in just a few months. After all, after one warning, any prostitute caught plying her (or his) trade without a receipt can be fined up to $145, and with prices for services as little as $18-$36 per encounter, few are willing to take the chance of being ticketed.

"It's like rent, food or all the other things everybody has to pay for," Vero, a middle-aged woman who spoke Italian but no German, told the Times.

And Bonn has been more than willing to make the women's work easier for them. The city has built several "performance areas": special wooden garages where customers can pull in and park before engaging in what Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi recently referred to as "bunga-bunga." The Times article notes that the city even spends $116,000 per year to hire private security guards to patrol the area and keep the sex workers safe.

According to an online article published in conjunction with the 2006 World Cup Soccer tournament, one portion of which was held in Munich, an estimated 1.2 million German men use prostitutes annually since the profession was legalized in 2002, and the prostitutes themselves are now able to join unions—for instance, HYDRA in Berlin—and obtain health insurance.

But with Germany still suffering from the current worldwide recession, the government is looking to obtain income from any source legally possible, and Franz-Reinhard Habbel, a spokesman for the German Association of Cities and Municipalities, told the Times that he expected other cities "to follow Bonn's example."

Hmmm... kind of makes one wonder what American cities could do with legalized prostitution and their own Siemens meters?