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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Prostitutes No Draw for World Cup Fans

BERLIN -- On the night before Germany was to play Argentina in the quarterfinals of the World Cup, the prostitutes who work at the Artemis Sauna Club were putting on their game faces.

With tens of thousands of soccer fans piling into Berlin for the game on Friday, this was going to be one of the last big chances for the women during the tournament. The mood in the club, however, was as subdued as the lighting.

"The last time Germany played, not that many men came here," said Luna, 33, a Serbian woman who came from Bavaria to work during the four-week tournament. "Maybe they went out to a pub and drank instead."

To the list of pernicious things that have not happened at this World Cup, add one more: a spike in the sex trade. While clubs like Artemis have been busier than usual after games, the tournament has generated nowhere near the surge in demand for prostitution -- or the influx of temporary prostitutes from Eastern Europe and Asia -- that many experts had predicted.

"Our business is OK, but it's not great," said Egbert Krumeich, the public relations manager for Artemis. "We get 250 to 260 customers on a game day. We'd be happier getting 600 a day."

Soccer and sex, it appears, do not mix very well -- even in Germany, where prostitution is legal and the World Cup organizers have pushed the slogan "A Time to Make Friends." There are plenty of friendly fans here, most of them male and many pie-eyed by alcohol. The bad news for the sex trade is that they would rather guzzle another beer than go looking for a prostitute.

Artemis, which claims to be the most luxurious sex club in Germany, opened last September in anticipation of a bordello bonanza during the World Cup. It is strategically located next to one of the main highways into Berlin, and only 20 minutes by foot from the Olympic Stadium.

While the club has had lots of publicity -- Krumeich spends much of his time escorting poker-faced reporters past the nudist bar and Finnish sauna -- the hype has not translated into hordes of paying customers.

All the talk before the World Cup about mobile "sex garages," multi-story brothels and rampant cross-border sex trafficking may have kept a lid on the high jinks, people in the sex business say. It may even have scared away some of the regular clientele.

"The police carried out a lot of searches to look for forced prostitutes or women without legal papers," said Stephanie Klee, a prostitute who leads a group that lobbies for the rights of sex workers. "When clients see police at the brothels, they think that sex work is linked to crime."

In fact, prostitution is well regulated in Germany, where about 400,000 people work in the sex trade. Since 2002, prostitutes have been guaranteed the same rights as those in other industries. They must register with the authorities and pay taxes, and they receive health insurance.

Critics say this legal status emboldens traffickers to send prostitutes to Germany, often against their will. In its annual report on forced labor and trafficking in persons, issued just before the World Cup, the U.S. State Department described Germany as a "source, transit, and destination country" for prostitutes.

While crediting Germany's efforts to prosecute trafficking, the report said, "due to the sheer size of the event, the potential for increased human trafficking surrounding the games remains a concern."

Human rights groups estimated that 40,000 women, most from Eastern Europe, would travel to Germany to work as prostitutes during the World Cup. The German government did not release its own estimate.

Officials say privately they believe the number is a fraction of that, though they acknowledge that the shadowy nature of sex trafficking makes it hard to be precise.

The German Federal Bureau of Criminal Investigation said it had "no knowledge or information" about any cases of forced prostitution during the tournament, a spokeswoman said.

"It looks as if the fears that were mentioned -- that the World Cup would lead to a rise in cases of forced prostitution and sex trafficking -- have fortunately not been the case," said Christian Sachs, a spokesman for the German Interior Ministry, which oversees security issues.

Tatiana, a cheerful, 32-year-old Croatian who works at a sex club in Cologne, relocated to Berlin for the World Cup because Croatia played Brazil here. On that day, she said, she did a brisk business with her countrymen. There were far fewer Brazilian customers, however.

Luna, her friend, described Artemis as a "neutral ground," where politics and national rivalries were left at the door.

The customers remain passionate about soccer, however, as do the women. Whenever a game is on, Luna said, they stop what they are doing to watch it. The club shows the games live in a theater normally used for pornographic films.

"I cried when Serbia lost 6-0 to Argentina," Luna said, stubbing out a cigarette and heading back to work.