Posts Tagged ‘germany’
Over the years, I have encountered a disturbing number of truly depressing behaviors from various German companies, both privately and in my professional and business life, be it stemming from incompetence, from blatant disregard for the customer’s rights, or from an inability to understand that both parties have to keep up their end of the bargain. I intend to discuss some of them over time, starting with the events around the business account I until very recently held with the Postbank (a banking subsidiary of Deutsche Post, the German “Post Office”). I recommend all readers to without exception have no dealings whatsoever with this grossly incompetent and customer hostile institution.
In an incomplete account:
- The account was supposed to come with a credit card, barring a vague disclaimer about credit worthiness. This disclaimer is fairly standard in Germany and something someone in good standing should be able to ignore—and I* earned well, had a bit of money put aside, and had never failed to pay a correct and undisputed bill. Still, I was refused a credit card, with the claim that these were not available to businesses* younger than, in my recollection, two years—something not mentioned with one word in advance.
*Note that I work in a legal form that does not require the explicit founding of a company, implying that my credit worthiness as a business entity is (or at least should be) the same as my credit worthiness as a private person. This also makes the time limit applied harder to defend.
No alternatives were presented (e.g. a debit or pre-paid card or a deposit).
My request, about a year later, to look at the amount* of money in the account instead of the age of my business went without a reaction.
*I will not discuss details of that kind here, for reasons of privacy. However, it was considerably more than I could realistically spend with the types of limits that apply to most German credit cards—and it had a history of rapid growth over the year that had passed.
*This credit card, as well as my private bank account, are with another bank.
- The account was supposed to come with a fully functioning Internet banking (and is anything else even conceivable in the years 2015 and 2016?!?). This did not turn out to be the case: In order to take actions within the online banking, including executing money transfers, I needed mTans*. In a first step, this required entry of a cell-phone number, to which a text message would be sent as verification, after which everything would work. However, despite several attempts on several days and despite a fully functioning cell phone**, I never received this text message.
*I.e. Tans sent to a mobile phone. Frankly, the technical problems aside, it is very weak of a bank to force some specific technology on the users in that manner. What if someone does not have a cell phone?
**Including the ability to receive text messages, something I verified carefully through copy-and-pasting the phone number from the online-banking page to an SMS-sending tool.
My requests that the Postbank fix the problem went unheeded. Alternative means to activate mTans or do online banking were not provided.
With this, the remaining benefits of a business account were gone and, again, I would certainly never have opened the account, had I expected such problems.
- As time went by, money accumulated on my business account from bills paid by my customers while my private account grew thinner and thinner, seeing that I had to pay all my costs, private and business, from my private account.
I now wanted to transfer money to my private account and used one of the provided (paper) forms for an inconvenient and fee requiring* transfer. This transfer was never executed and I never received any notification as to the the “that” and “why”.
*Whereas transfers through online banking, had they been possible, were free of charge.
- A little later, I finally bought a suitable apartment (cf. earlier posts) and needed to pay the seller. This time I went directly to the bank/post office, bringing a number of documents, including identification papers, with me, so that this could be done directly in the office, with no possibility of a hick-up. At the same time I wanted to transfer the lion’s part of the remainder to my private account.
What happens? The clerk hands me several forms and asks me to complete them—apparently unable to do anything of what I had expected. Well, if filling in forms was the only thing available, I could have saved myself the walk and the almost half-hour (!) long wait in the queue, and just done this at home with the forms I already had.
I filled in the forms, double-checked them, had the clerk double-check them (comparing against the known amounts and papers with printed versions of the relevant account numbers). This while explicitly mentioning the earlier unexecuted transfer and having emphasized how important it was that nothing went wrong. The clerk had no objections whatsoever to the form contents and claimed that the money would be transferred in no more than three* days.
*Considerably slower than with online banking. (But in all fairness, I likely would not have been able to transfer so large a sum in one sitting per online banking anyway. The transfers to my private account are different, because I could easily just have made a monthly transfer for a smaller amount.)
I waited four (!) days and still found no trace of a transfer.
- Come the next banking day, I went to another office, further away from my living quarters, where I expected a more bank- and less post-centric support from the external presentation, in order to terminate my account, ensure that the apartment seller received his money, and that every last cent of the remainder were transferred to my private account.
Despite the exterior giving a “banky” impression, including having signs advertising various bank services, this office turned out to know nothing about banking, being virtually dedicated to postal matters. Not only that, the clerk I talked to this time was extremely rude and aggressive, from the first word on, apparently considering me an idiot for coming to them for a bank matter—never mind their own signs… In the end I was sent to a central office several kilometers away, where I eventual managed to find someone who was a dedicated bank employee.
- This visit took half-an eternity, with time spent waiting for service, with explanations, research of what had happened to the earlier transfers, the filling out and signing of form after form, …
As it turns out, the first transfer had been rejected due to deviations in the signature. That might have been acceptable (I certainly do not want others transferring my money) had I been informed—but I was not. (As an aside, pen-and-paper signatures are an idiocy, being far to easy to forge, and suffering from considerable variations when written by the same person on different occasions. However, that is not a problem with the Postbank but with the overall system.)
The other two had been filtered out because the scanner had been uncertain about the amounts. This sound more like an excuse than a reason, but is not entirely implausible, with standard German and Swedish digits being somewhat different. However, what followed later is under no circumstances acceptable: Firstly, such ambiguity should have been easily handled by a human reader (remember that the original clerk had verified the correctness and, by implication, readability)—and they had explicitly mentioned the amounts involved during the phone call, without prompting, which proves that they had no problems reading the numbers. Secondly, again they had failed to notify me.
For the money transfer to the apartment seller, the situation was now urgent, and the clerk recommended an “express transfer”—for which I would have to pay another 15 Euro. This despite the only reason the express transfer was needed was the incompetence of the Postbank… Having no other choice, not wanting to risk the seller backing out, I consented, but clearly stated that I would demand these 15 Euros back. As promised, the money was transferred the same day.
However, the money transfer for the remainder was not executed at all. This despite there being no room for error, the forms having been filled out by the clerk this time, and again without my receiving any type of notification as to the “that” and the “why”.
Instead, the amount from the second of my earlier transfers to the private account suddenly turned up a few days after this visit. In combination, this is an obvious, obviously deliberate, and gross violation of my expressed will.
To boot, despite my account being unambiguously terminated, with the additional unambiguous demand that any remainders of my money be transferred to my private account, this remainder has still not been transferred—almost two weeks after the visit. (And despite the clerk’s claim that money from an account termination should be available within roughly one week, even when not otherwise transferred.)
As a result, the Postbank is currently sitting on a significant amount of money that they have no right whatsoever to sit on, while I find myself short the same amount of money.
I have no idea whether they intend to return it, let alone when—but I do know that I will file criminal charges, contact the German Bank Inspection (Bafin) with a detailed complaint, and instruct a lawyer to take steps to retrieve my money against any and all further obstructions by the Postbank.
As an excursion, I originally picked the Postbank for my business account due to the, so it was presented, large net of bank offices, virtually every post office also being a bank office. In reality, as I have come to understand over the last few weeks, most of the post offices are useless when it comes to banking matters—even when their signs claim otherwise. In reality, the number of offices to take seriously is quite limited and the service network is far weaker, not stronger, than that of the main competitors (e.g. Commerzbank, Deutsche Bank, and, locally, various Sparkassen). Mostly, everything that can be done is to fill out a form that is then mailed to a more central office.
In the mean time, I have “read” through the rest of GQ, finding there to be so little content that I spent about the same time turning unread pages as I did reading. The already discussed problems, with extreme amounts of advertising, an embarrassing picture-to-text ratio, poor writing, …, consisted through-out. I also got through roughly half of Wired, before giving up: Shallow, uninsightful, and very obviously written for those with only a fleeting knowledge of IT and related areas—very, very different from its image*. Better than the GQ, no doubt, but nothing that an IT professional, a hacker, a computer enthusiast, or similar should waste his time on. (Especially in Germany, where C’t, the likely best general computer magazine in the world, is available at every news stand.)
*It is possible, however, that this give-away was not representative for the normal edition, conceivably having been tailored towards GQ readers. (I am uncertain whether I have ever read Wired on another occasion.)
Not only do I see my opinion that GQ* is useless cemented, but I am forced to conclude that its main purpose is to sell products for third parties—even when we look at the officially non-advertising parts of the magazine. Now, that a magazine has some degree of “crypto-advertising” or is too kind to products for fear of losing official advertising is quite common. Here, however, the scope is so extensive as to erase the line between content and advertising.
*With some reservations for international variation. This was the German edition and an at least theoretical probability remains that other editions are better.
An interesting twist is that this alleged men’s magazine has a readership consisting of roughly 21 % women. Had this been a magazine with no ostensible targeting of a male audience, say one dealing with fashion or “lifestyle” in general, this would be unremarkable—if anything the female proportion would have been smaller than expected. For a men’s magazine? Not a good sign…
Knowing what I now know, I would be less embarrassed going up to the same cashier with a porn magazine* than with another GQ. She might or might not disapprove, but at least she will not think me an easily manipulated semi-illiterate with no grasp of good writing.
*Not that I would when the Internet is loaded with free-of-charge porn.
A few days ago, I picked up my first (and very likely last) copy of GQ in the German edition. I was motivated mostly by the combination of a GQ (of which I have long been mildly curious), a watch special (watches being a sometime interest of mine) and a “Wired” special, for the joint price of EUR 6.50.
Frankly, this is the most ridiculous piece of crap I have ever encountered. It is actually considerably worse than what I have always imagined* “Cosmo” to be. Even the infamous German “Bild-Zeitung” has more to offer. “Gentlemen’s Quarterly”? A more apt name would be “Valley Boys’ Quarterly”.
*Never read it, but it has very poor reputation outside of the bimbo community and somehow it has come to symbolize superficiality and lack of intellectual aspirations to me—the type of thing Carrie Bradshaw reads. Still, I honestly doubt that it can be as bad as GQ.
For starters, the amount of advertising is beyond what I had ever imagined. There is actually considerably more advertising than actual content (based on the 130 first pages out of 250). The first non-advertising item is found on page 21 (yes, twenty-one!). However, even this is just the table of contents. Moving on, the first real content is found on page 29…
As for the content it self, it is mostly superficial, poorly thought-through crap, littered with grammatical errors and stylistic disasters. Notably, it appears that the authors are unable to use conjunctions (“and”/“und”, “but”/“aber”, and the like) without terminating the preceding sentence—even when this leads to fragmentation, lack of coherence, and other problems that reduce readability far more than do long sentences. The proportions of images to text are certainly not on an adult level—and most images bring little or no value to the respective article. Many twelve year old children would be intellectually understimulated…
The specific articles featured are possibly not representative of GQ, seeing that this particular issue has the theme of “women”. However, the lack of quality is unlikely to be an exception and there are a number of truly awful examples of lack of knowledge and/or ability to think critically, even by the already low standards of journalists. For instance, four pages are spent on repeating the long-debunked feminist lie of women not receiving equal pay for equal work (see several other posts of mine)—those who think critically and look at the actual facts at hand know that any difference in pay arises from UNequal work, including differences in full-time and part-time work, years of experience, education level, relative prioritization of work and family, etc.
Another good example is a brief piece on vasectomies vs. tubal litigations: For some reason, the authors consider it “sexist” that more* tubal litigations are made than vasectomies. Looking at the cited factors like costs, the proportions could conceivably be irrational, but to call them “sexist” is to apply the type of mindless assumption of evil that drive the modern feminist movement. Too boot, the discussion consists of cherry-picking and overlooks two extremely strong arguments for why it is more rational to go with a tubal litigation: Firstly, a vasectomy performed at a typical age affects a far greater part of a man’s fertile period than does a tubal litigation of a woman’s. Secondly, about half of all marriages end in a divorce. If a man with a vasectomy remarries, going by typical preferences, he will be the one having to explain to the new wife that children are off the table, while a woman with a tubal litigation will have it far easier with her husband. The effects of the choice will be more with the chooser and less with an “innocent” third-party when a tubal litigation is chosen.
*Allegedly: I have not checked the numbers in independent sources, but would be entirely unsurprised if they were incorrect.
The woman-centric part stretches to roughly page 92*. The following 38 pages consists mostly of advertising (duh), including a 10-page block dealing exclusively with “Olymp” shirts. The rest includes a piece on Helgoland that is poor enough to have featured in an airplane magazine, and weird arrangements of images with minimal alibi texts.
*Within the parts that I have read/skimmed-in-despair. There is more to come, according to the table of contents.
For those who wonder: The watch special was OK, but not on par with the specialist magazines. I have not yet started on “Wired”.
I am currently considering buying an apartment, especially in the light of the inexcusable and utterly absurd behavior of my current landlord*. This has turned out to be extremely frustrating, even when discounting the predictable complication of attractive locations having high prices and low prices having unattractive locations (or some other problem). Consider:
*The one for my official residence in Düsseldorf. Not the one for my temporary apartment in Köln. I am very likely to write a long post on this at some point—but I am not certain that anyone will actually believe it! (Sometimes reality makes fiction look unimaginative…)
- In the flawed German system, I cannot hire* a realtor to search for me, because they only provide services towards the seller—for which the buyer has to pay.** Ask them to search for the buyer and they may or may not give a listing of the entries they currently have available***, but that is the last ever to be heard from them. If they do any work for the buyer, well, then they have additional work and no additional money…
*In any sense that matters. As a matter of form, a “hiring” is implied at the latest when an agreement to buy is reached with the seller, but for all practical purposes this just means that the buyer acquiesces to pay for the realtor’s services towards the seller. The real hiring is done by the seller—the buyer just pays.
**This used to be the case for rentals too. Fortunately, this idiocy has since been stopped—but only for rentals.
***More likely than not, they will either not respond at all or just tell the prospective buyer to have a look at their website—which is usually border-line unusable and highly uninformative.
- Realtors are highly problematic in other regards to, including that many of them only provide listings through meta-service providers like “Immobilienscout24” (effectively, Craig’s List for real estate), where they upload information provided by the seller, make the disclaimer that they make no guarantees whatsoever (just repeating in good faith), and wait for the prospective buyers to search. (Remember that the buyers are the ones who pay for this farce.)
- The lists of potential objects provided by most realtors and the large meta services often make no clear separation between apartments for buy-for-own-use and apartments for buy-and-rent-to-someone-else. These two use-cases are so different from each other*, however, that at least the buy-for-own-use-er will find half of the entries worthless— and often only finds this out somewhere towards the end of the page… The buy-and-rent-to-someone-else-er, OTOH, will be less than enthusiastic about the other half, because if he does not find a tenant, he is just leaking money.
*In theory, the buyer can get rid of an existing tenant through invoking “Eigenbedarf” (“own need”); however, this brings a considerable risk that the tenant will be uncooperative and possibly requires a costly and time-consuming detour over the courts. To boot, I have considerable problems with the ethics of this, its legality notwithstanding. “Pacta sunt servanda” is otherwise the theoretical cornerstone of German law, as well as of ethical business practices in general.
- Similarly, a very considerable proportion of the objects turn out to be “Zwangsversteigerungen” (court auctions; literally, “forced auctions”) that imply a considerable additional risk and a lot of bureaucracy that many are not willing to take. (However, it can have advantages for those who are willing to take the risk.) Of course, the price listed is then not the actual price but some vague estimate or minimum that could turn out to have nothing to do with the actual price paid by the winner of the auction…
*There appear to hundreds of realtors (be they individuals or companies) who each have just a dozen objects, of which just one or two are relevant to any individual buyer. It would be far better to have a dozen realtors with a few hundreds objects each. This too is likely a result of the flawed German model: The only reason that realtors do not have money effortlessly pouring in, is that the potential profits have lured too many people into this business…
- Due to utterly idiotic and over-killing money-laundering laws, the prospective buyer needs to give up a lot of information, typically including a copy of an ID document, even when just approaching a realtor with the wish for information on an object*. Not when he buys it, not even when he inspects the object in person, but when he makes a simple inquiry!
*Or so a number of realtors claim. I have not checked whether they are telling the truth, but am somewhat skeptical, because not all do require this.
- If everything seems to pan out, the object being really interesting, then the “Hausgeld”* turns out to be 400-something Euro instead of the the 100-something typical for the size of apartment I am looking for—might as well be renting.
*Frankly, I have no idea what this is in the English speaking world, but it amounts to a monthly fee to the apartment owners’ association to cover various costs, including for parts of the house not belonging to the individual apartments.
Preamble: Through my work, I have spent a lot of time in hotels and apartments rented on a monthly basis, in addition to a number of more permanent residences. I intend to write down some of my experiences in a blog series (of which this is the first post), especially with an eye on several recent negative experiences, but also some more general, some (as below) dealing with unusual situations, and one dealing with how to live in hotels in the best manner.
A few days ago, I moved into an (at least by German and Swedish standards) very unusual apartment, roughly a hundred meters above the ground and with one of the most amazing views I have ever seen—better than many dedicated observation decks. This includes a fair bit of the Rhine, most of central (and not so central) Cologne, and a straight line of sight to the world-famous Cologne Cathedral (once the highest building in the world).
It is not quite the proverbial highest room in the tallest tower—but it is the third-highest (24th) floor in the 55th tallest building in Germany (according to Wikipedia; and, yes, the building does have its own Wikipedia page), with a clear majority of the taller buildings being used for offices and the like. By co-incidence, the second highest I have lived was also in Cologne, somewhere in the range 12th–14th floor, in a building clearly visible through my window, despite being several kilometers away.
After living here for just a few days, I cannot give a full evaluation of the house or positive and negative aspects of living so high above the ground; however, a few observations are possible:
- The exposure to the sun is not interrupted by other buildings, trees, and the like. The temperature within the apartment has been considerably higher than would have been expected from the outside temperature (by the standards of an ordinary apartment). While sub-optimal in the summer, this could be an advantage in the winter.
- This is compensated for by air movements being similarly uninterrupted: Open a window* and fresh and cooling air will pour in.
*The windows can all be opened, unlike in many newer buildings. In a building where they cannot, we had better hope for good air conditioning…
- A very unfortunate disadvantage, although I am not certain whether through the building’s tallness or its placement within Cologne, is disturbances through idiotic noise-makers—and that could get old very fast.
For instance, this weekend there was a demonstration of some sort that featured several hours of loud drums and several (or one multi-day) near-by events with third-rate music and hysterically shouting MCs. If such things happen often, they could poison the situation entirely.
Generally, I am of the opinion that such demonstrations and events simply should not be allowed in populated areas. If you want to have an event, an outdoors rock-concert, or similar, find an area outside of town, let those interested come to you, and leave those not interested (likely, a clear majority) in peace. If you have a political message to spread, start a blog or a party, talk to politicians, whatnot. Political demonstrations are only a legitimate tool for people artificially cut-off from otherwise expressing their opinions, e.g. through state censorship, or in situations involving a direct escalation against an unlistening and undemocratic* regime. Even in these cases, it is rarely sensible to demonstrate in general public areas and far better to do so in front of the appropriate government buildings.
*To which I count regimes that were democratically elected, but then ignore the will of the people or the peoples interests, go back on election promises in a large-scale manner, and similar.
- The apartment is a little run-down, but by-and-large well organized and thought through, including the provided furniture.
- An exception is the bath room which is small and has a shower bordering on too small*, a bathroom cabinet that partially blocks the sink, and a “platform toilet”**.
*According to the above Wikipedia page, the building was originally an office building, and it is conceivable that showers were added as an after-thought to existing toilets when converting to apartments, rather than setting up new bathrooms from scratch.
**A regrettable idiocy of the German plumbing are occasional toilets with an artificial platform that collects excrement above the water until the user flushes. Apart from the distasteful optics and increased risk of smell, this virtually guarantees that the user needs to apply the toilet brush after every “number two”, whereas a “normal” toilet is cleaned by the flushing alone possibly two thirds of the time.
- The water pressure is quite OK, contrary to my expectations, but it is hard to get cold water from the taps, probably because the long way from the ground or use of an internal water-tank (to ensure water pressure) gives the water time to grow tepid.
- The house-door uses a weird electronic key that requires a battery while still needing the key to be inserted into the lock and turned. Conceivably, this too is a left-over from the office-building days; likely the technology is a failed pre-cursor to later key readers, where a battery-less object, often a card, is simple held to the reader.
- The elevators have so far come in a timely manner and traveled with very few interruptions on the way. This is a positive surprise, seeing that elevators are often an issue even in buildings with less than a dozen floors. The explanation is possibly that the number of apartments per floor is low (three at “my” floor), while e.g. a hotel often has ten, twenty, or more rooms per floor.
- Did I mention the amazing view? If not: The view is amazing.
Recently, Angela Merkel was named “Person of the Year” by the British news paper “The Times”:
For her central role in preserving European stability at a time of resurgent Russian aggression in eastern Europe, Angela Merkel is named today as The Times Person of the Year.
The German chancellor, who must decide by 2016 whether to stand for a fourth term in office, was chosen principally for taking control of the west’s fraught negotiations with President Putin of Russia after his annexation of Crimea.
Mrs Merkel has shown herself to be an indispensable power broker in a year when east-west relations have been tested to breaking point in the most dangerous geopolitical crisis since the Cold
Now, I used to be a fan of Merkel’s, seeing her as one of the few politicians who actually bring some degree of competence to the table, as well as one of the least populist, and a positive counter-example to the many Swedish female politicians who have been promoted upwards just for being women (and have been correspondingly incompetent—consider Mona Sahlin, e.g.). As is, I consider this almost as a travesty, seeing that Merkel has spent 2014 ruining my impression of her—and has just broken the camel’s back by abusing the Charlie Hebdo situation to urge for an increase in “Big Brother”-/GDR-style telecommunications data retentionw of highly disputed effectiveness (according to a reliable German news sourcee).
A far too weak reaction, almost a non-reaction, to the Snowden scandals. A chancellor after my taste would have taken a very clear stand against this intrusion on the citizens.
I must conclude that she is in favour of such idiocies, is too weak to take the stand, or prioritizes international relations above the good of her citizens.
(While the first revelations and Merkel’s lack of reactions date to 2013, there were plenty of opportunity for new reactions in 2014—none of which were taken.)
An extremely populist take on last year’s general election, with many promises made without a word about the costs.
I must conclude that she commits the politician’s deadly sin of prioritizing (re-)election over faithfulness to the ideals of the party and common sense—or, less likely, that she actually has more leftist views than she has hitherto let on.
In the wake of said election (her party, CDU, and its Bavarian sister, CSU, where hailed as winners, but lost the supporting party FDP and with it the absolute majority), she for the second time entered a disputable alliance with the Social-Democrats, accepting many of their populist election promises and then passively letting them dominate the first few months—despite their being the junior partner in terms of members of parliament.
I must conclude in repetition of the previous item, possibly and again, in combination with her being too weak.
As a result of various election promises, we are now heading for (among other things) several ill-advised pension reforms, a too high minimum wage, and true abomination—-a 30% quota for female board members. This quota ignores that equal opportunity leads to unequal outcomes (for reasons including different interests and family/career priorities) and will therefore give women an artificial and unethical leg up at the cost of men, in particular with an eye on the age structure; it will lead to more incompetence in the board rooms (a problem that is large enough as it is); and it can be disputed on ethical grounds for the intrusion on the companies themselves.
(Conclusions as above.)
The motivation given together with the award, on the other hand, fails in at least two regards: Firstly, it does not give a holistic view of her year. Secondly, if Merkel has been meritorious in this regard, it is not public knowledge. She has not gone “above and beyond duty” for a chancellor in her geographic position, she has not had any obvious positive impact beyond what was to be expected from a randomly picked chancellor from Germany history, and she has failed in as far as the Crimean is still in the hands of the Russians, Ukraine is still in a state of civil war, and the Russians are still highly aggressive.
At the end of the day, I cannot shake the suspicion that the award was more in line of a statement anti-Putin than a statement pro-Merkel, with Merkel simply being the candidate best-suited for being the excuse. Similarly, I am convinced that the absurd Nobel Peace Prize award to Obama was thinly veiled anti-Bush prize (with some suspicions for a few earlier prizes, including to the IPC/Al Gore)—as discussed in a previous article.
As an aside, the repeated “great coalitions” in Germany and recent odd agreements between the leading Swedish parties (in effect that the opposition will not oppose the budget suggestions of the ruling party/parties, even when the ruling faction does not have a majority) are leaving me with a fear that politicians are deliberately trying to get rid of their main irritant, those pesky voters, by making their own arrangements, irrespective of election outcomes. The conclusion is premature bordering on the paranoid at this stage; however, the last time I suspected that I was paranoid, well, according to Snowden I was naively optimistic…
To expand on the issue of prostitution from the previous post:
There are strong reactionary forces working against prostitution, and with it both the individual’s right to make his or her own choices and a natural and de-mystified view of sex. To make matters worse, these forces often have a strong misogynist streak in that women are considered incapable of making sexual and life-style choices the way men do. In addition to countries like the USA with its long-standing outdated take on the issues, some countries that once were more enlightened are getting lost. Sweden, in the clutches of gender-feminism and feminist populism has already banned prostitution (however, irrationally and absurdly, only for the customers). The French are currently considering a ban modeled on the Swedish. Germany might be next: Shortly before the current proposal Alice Schwarzer (the hands-down best known feminist in Germany, rather extreme in her opinions) and her magazine “Emma” made head-lines with their call for a ban.
Looking more in detail at the proposal, it seems fairly innocuous and may well be well-intended; however, as already stated, it could easily be the first step for a ban. Practical problems include that the customers are put in an unduly problematic situation and that the effectivity is disputable with regard to the claimed goal of reducing involuntary prostitution. (Certainly, a better solution would be to increase transparency by changing perceptions around prostitution and making it more like an ordinary occupation in terms of what goes on around it.) Two quotes from a German articlee:
“Es gibt eine Reihe von Indizien, die für Zwangsprostitution sprechen”, sagt Anna Hellmann von der Frauenrechtsorganisation “Terre des Femmes”. Klare Merkmale seien Minderjährigkeit, Anzeichen von Gewalt oder der Aufenthalt der Frauen in verschlossenen Räumen. “Auch die Bitte der Frau, das Handy des Freiers nutzen zu dürfen, ist ein alarmierendes Zeichen dafür, dass sie in erzwungener Isolation lebt.”
(“There are a number of indications for forced prostitution”, says Anna Hellman of the women’s rights organization “Terre des Femmes”. Clear characteristics are under-age[iness], signs of violence or the women’s staying in closed off premises [depending on intent, possibly “rooms”]. “The request of the woman to use the cell phone of the customer is an alarming sign of her living in forced isolation”)
(I note that the proportion of male prostitutes is comparatively high, contrary to the impression given by the quote and common anti-prostitution propaganda. Further, that female customers certainly do occur, even if more rarely. Strictly for simplicity, I match the quote in terms of pronouns below.)
Now, if these are criteria that would make a customer (at least negligibly) liable, a number of problems arise: How does he now that the woman is under-age? There is a great variety in looks of women of various ages and she is highly unlikely to answer even a direct question honestly. (As a case in point, I recently watched the German sit-com “Türkisch für Anfänger”. I originally thought that the main female protagonist was around 13. She turned out to be 16—and played by an actress aged 19…) Detecting that premisses are closed off need not be trivial and there can be other quite plausible explanations, including the natural characteristics of the building or measures for the protection of the women. A request to use a cell-phone is also at best a vague indication (absolutely not “alarming”), e.g. because her own cell-phone batteries could legitimately have run out. This not to mention the fact that there are ways to enforce compliance in non-obvious manners, e.g. by threatening violence, keeping passports hostage, or giving women with a poor knowledge of German and Germany faulty information about legal consequences—and the proposed law would be entirely useless in these cases.
When push comes to shove, the customer is stepping on a mine-field where he cannot have certainty and may make himself criminally liable even when acting entirely in good faith.
Grünen-Fraktionsvize Ekin Deligöz bezeichnete die angestrebten Reformen als unzureichend: “Der Opferschutz fehlt völlig”, sagte sie den “Ruhr Nachrichten”. Wenn man den Zwangsprostituierten wirklich helfen wollte, müsse man ihnen “die Möglichkeit eines Neustarts in Deutschland geben, mit Aufenthaltsrecht und Arbeitserlaubnis”.
([The Green Party’s second-in-command in parliament] Ekin Deligöz called the targetted reforms unsufficent: “There is a complete absense of victim protection”, she told [regional German paper]. To really help those forced to prostitution, it is necessary to give them “the possibility to start over in Germany, with visum [approx.] and working permit”.
Combined with other claims/quotes in the article, I am left with the impression that many already see the proposed reform as swing-and-a-miss in terms of actually bettering the situation of the prostitutes—as do I.
In addition, it pays to bear in mind that increasing what is considered criminal in cases like these often have the effect of increasing the influence of criminals on the business and making transactions take place in greater secrecy—but not actually reducing business to a considerable extent. Many fear that this happened with Sweden and prostitution after the ban; it was definitely the case with the U.S. prohibition.
To somewhat counter-act this nonsense, I am changing my blogroll by adding a link to http://sexwork-deutschland.de/?page_id=85e—a call for a more constructive take on prostitution from a German interest organisation for sex workers. Specific points include a rejection of legal bans/increased government intervention and promotion of the status of prostitutes.