The Torygraph Comes Through, or

The Return of the ?berpimp?

In things German, I usually check the Daily Telegraph several times before believing what they write, much less quoting them. But this story falls into a particular category, known in journalistic jargon as “too good to check.” (Thanks, Atrios.)

Update: I think this is fiction, or at the very least “sexed up.” That hasn’t stopped the discussion from spreading. See notes at the end of the posting.

It goes like this: Back in 2002, the German government legalized prostitution as a normal business. The idea was that bringing women out of a gray legal zone would make them less vulnerable to exploitation, and the whole of the oldest profession less influenced by organized crime. This has had some unintendended consequences.

Now, we all know that unemployment in Germany is scandalously high. Over the years, a regular feature of the tabloid press has been people taking advantage of the welfare system. One of the staple stories in the genre has been tales of folks turning down perfectly good jobs for no very good reason. Too long a commute, don’t like the new location, not sufficiently high in the hierarchy, incommensurate with personal self-actualization, whatever.

So the latest batch of labor-reform laws, colloquially known as Hartz IV, has tightened the loopholes. People who turn down legitimate jobs for which they are qualified without a good reason can have their unemployment benefits cut.

It’s a reasonable enough expectation, but you can see where this is going, can’t you?

Indeed. The Telegraph reports:

A 25-year-old waitress who turned down a job providing “sexual services” at a brothel in Berlin faces possible cuts to her unemployment benefit under laws introduced this year. …

The waitress, an unemployed information technology professional, had said that she was willing to work in a bar at night and had worked in a cafe.

She received a letter from the job centre telling her that an employer was interested in her “profile” and that she should ring them. Only on doing so did the woman, who has not been identified for legal reasons, realise that she was calling a brothel. …

When the waitress looked into suing the job centre, she found out that it had not broken the law. Job centres that refuse to penalise people who turn down a job by cutting their benefits face legal action from the potential employer. …

Tatiana Ulyanova, who owns a brothel in central Berlin, has been searching the online database of her local job centre for recruits.

“Why shouldn’t I look for employees through the job centre when I pay my taxes just like anybody else?” said Miss Ulyanova.

Oh my.

Update: Well. According to comments, Snopes is on the case, and they are sceptical. As am I.

There is no Tatiana Ulyanova in the Berlin phone book. Nor Tatyana Ulianova. Nor any other variation I could think of. None of the TU’s (in various spellings) known to Google has anything to do with Berlin. The “brothel in central Berlin” is unnamed. If Ms TU pays her taxes, why not name the brothel? If the establishment exists, it certainly advertises, and what better publicity than being broadcast around the world?

Mechthild Garweg, the lawyer quoted (though the name is spelled wrong), does exist, and works in a law firm on Ehrenbergstrasse in Hamburg. She’s quoted here on the legal question. The author of the German article writes that she gives the example “provocatively,” along with examples such as a Muslim butcher working in a swine slaughterhouse, a young man as a naked cleaners and a former call-center working in a phone-sex business.

The supposed case is also dubious. Unemployment among IT professionals is very low; long-term unemployment even lower. If the alleged person has a university degree, then she had the energy to finish a degree several years faster than the German average but insufficient initiative to find a job for more than a year. This seems extremely unlikely.

The story about Ulrich Kueperkoch, the alleged prospective brothel-owner, was reported in the German media. In 2003.

And according to those reports, the job center withdrew the offer, saying that the job as prostitute was unzumutbar, or unreasonable. (Legally, this would also mean that the job center was of the opinion that no one could be compelled to take such a job. It seems reasonable that there is a large number of jobs that are not immoral, sittenswidrig, but are nonetheless unzumutbar.) The story des pointed out in comments also features reasonable quotes from people at job centers.

Clare Chapman also appears to exist. For the Telegraph, she has a bit of a specialty in “strange but true” stories from in and around Germany. There’s the horse milk, the mirrors to brighten an Alpine village in winter, the Roman truck stop, and so on. (Telegraph links are a little cranky, but just search the site for her name.) Some of the stories have also appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald. She has written for web sites such as Expatica and newspapers such as the Scotsman.

My guess would be a freelance writer, based somewhere in southern Germany or Austria, who let an interestingn legal question get way out of hand.

Anybody know more?

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Germany and tagged , , , , , , by Doug Merrill. Bookmark the permalink.

About Doug Merrill

Freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, following stints in Atlanta, Budapest, Munich, Warsaw and Washington. Worked for a German think tank, discovered it was incompatible with repaying US student loans. Spent two years in financial markets. Bicycled from Vilnius to Tallinn. Climbed highest mountains in two Alpine countries (the easy ones, though). American center-left, with strong yellow dog tendencies. Arrived in the Caucasus two weeks before its latest war.

9 thoughts on “The Torygraph Comes Through, or

  1. Though it does occur to me that the line about the putative 25-year-old woman, whose identity is not being revealed for legal reasons, might be technically true. That is, if she doesn’t exist, then the Telegraph could get in legal trouble, which is a legal reason for not revealing her non-existence.

    Maybe we could talk about the war instead?

    Or TrackBack spam. AFOE seems to be having a little infestation. We’d like it to go away.

  2. ?Why shouldn?t I look for employees through the job centre when I pay my taxes just like anybody else?? said Miss Ulyanova.

    Google news, it say: “Es wurden keine mit Ihrer Suchanfrage – Ulyanova”.

    Does the Torygraph even pretend to have a source?

  3. It’s this [paywalled] story in Der Standard, whose source for the strictly hypothetical possibility is “die Hamburger Fachanw?ltin f?r Familien- und Sozialrecht”.

    If they had an example, they’d surely be shouting it from the rooftops.

  4. Yes, story’s bunk. I made the same mistake you did, trusting the Daily Torygraph not such a good idea. Made a retraction this afternoon, quoting Xrlq. Oh, we bloggers could be such pathetic creatures *sigh*

  5. Calling something “too good to check” is pretty close to calling it fiction from the start (the snarky headline was a pointer, too), but I am still glad to have added the clarification. And I’m doubly happy that the going term in UK English for such factual enhancement is “sexed up.”

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