Nicole Schulze was 24 years old and €40,000 (£36,6616) in debt when she decided to become a prostitute. It was 2004 and she was living in Cologne. Two years earlier prostitution had been legalised across Germany, and the city of Cologne quickly distinguished itself: it made sex work a major part of its urban policy.
For workers like Schulze, this created a unique set of conditions. The city reasoned that if sex work was going to happen, it should be in a safe and clean space. It was decided that sex work would be allowed only in certain parts of the city – and in order to encourage both sex workers and their customers to abide by this rule, in one of the permitted areas the city built a facility specifically for sex.
Located on the edge of town, the result is a kind of sex drive-through. Customers drive down a one-way street, into a roughly two-acre open air-space where sex workers can offer their services. Once hired, the sex worker accompanies the customer into a semi-private parking stall. For safety, each stall allows sex workers to easily flee if necessary – the stall is designed so that the driver’s door can’t be opened, but the passenger one can – and there’s an emergency button to call for help. Social workers are present on site and offer a space to rest, stay warm and access services.
Schulze says she believes the facility works well. “I think every city should have a secure space for sex workers to work, to rest,” she says. “Every city should have that because there’s prostitution in every city.” ...