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Berlin brothel leads the way to a greener world

Posted on 14 July 2009 | 10:07am

I don’t think I have ever been in a brothel. I say ‘don’t think’ because I did wander into a somewhat sexually charged bar with a photographer colleague in Nairobi once which, he informed me the next day, was in fact a front for all manner of stuff going on upstairs.

The hero of my novel, All In The Mind, regularly uses prostitutes, and there was a part of me that felt I ought to visit some of the seedy looking ‘pleasure parlours’  not far from where we live, to get a proper feel for what goes on inside.

But this was where the curiousity of the novelist clashed with the overhang from having worked for the government, and the knowledge that even if ‘Campbell spotted in brothel’ is not quite as newsworthy as it might have been between 1994 and 2003, it might still make a piece here or there, and my Mum wouldn’t like it.

I asked Fiona at one point whether she minded if I went to take a look inside the pink-fronted place down near Regent’s Park canal in Camden, and she said ‘No, not at all’ in that way women do, which means ‘I think it might be quite hard to explain if someone sees you, and so even if I say I don’t mind, I wouldn’t if I were you.’ So I never did, though I picked a few brains of those who had and otherwise relied on my imagination. I was very pleased when rape and prostitution campaigners (there are also two rape victims in the novel) said that they felt I had really understood these issues from women’s point of view, and equally pleased at the reaction of a few ‘phwoar’ type men, who did not believe I had never been inside a brothel.

So what has brought all this on, ask those who have managed to stay with me thus far? The answer is climate change.

Come again? Yes, climate change. Because as Ed Miliband prepares to present the government’s renewable energy strategy tomorrow, with a big interview in today’s Guardian, illustrated by a very nice photograph of the Climate Change Secretary in a wind farm, I was also interested in a single paragraph at the bottom of page 31 in The Times, under the headline ‘Brothel goes green.’

‘Berlin: Clients at a brothel are being offered a 5 Euro discount (£4.30) from the usual 70 Euro fee if they arrive by bicycle or public transport. The Maison d’Envie brothel said that the scheme would help the environment and alleviate congestion. (Reuters)’

Of course, you have to take your hat off to the madam in marketing who thought of that one. But what it also shows is that while governments in the run up to the Copenhagen climate change Summit in December have to do the really big stuff, it is also down to businesses and individuals to make what difference they can.

And the brothel story made me think maybe it is happening more than sometimes we think as we sit in traffic jams, or wait to get on planes, or forget to put that tin can in the right recycling bin.

Interesting to see the Guardian lead their coverage on Ed’s line that we can meet future commitments without reversing the cheap flights phenomenon that has been so much a part of the last decade, and which surely has contributed to the problems Ed and his colleagues are having to address in Denmark. He rightly says air travel should not revert to becoming something only the rich can afford, and suggests greater use of wind and clean fuels will get us towards the ambitious reduced emissions targets that are being set. But we are all, surely, going to have to buy into some difficult choices down the track.

Meanwhile, inspired by the Berlin brothel, I have just cancelled the cab I had booked to take me to a meeting in town. I will switch off the computer rather than leave it on standy. I will walk to the tube, use public transport, and feel all virtuous, like I did when I walked out of that Nairobi ‘bar.’

  • Colin Morley

    Sounds like a great marketing idea, getting a discount for cycling to the brothel. I always worried about my wife finding my loyalty card!

  • Ann


    Brilliant blog, like your diverse ways, think I would have answered like Fiona, and have just started your book, again brilliant, purchased and signed by you last week.

    Regards, Ann

  • gary Enefer

    I wonder if i can get a discount kerb crawling on my new Trek Bike?!

  • Em

    Fiona is better woman than I am.

  • gwyneth marichi

    Perhps i ve been sleeping but will now get this book.Having attended a seminar on sexual abuse many end up in prostitution.A vulnerable rich friend of mine married one in true Richard Gere fashion and we are trying to find out what happened to him.He was in love n wouldn t listen…read an interesting novel about a brothel set up to cater for women s needs!!Abuse rape human trafficking sexual perversion under age girls…lap dancing clubs..all to cater for mens so called needs..the eternal double standard and nice girls dont if you want the wedding ring..which in my mind is prostitution on the cheap.won t go away so proper regulation and women s safety must be paramount.Thank God you didn t do that personal research..the papers would have had a field day.

  • Christine Higginbottom

    Dear Alastair,

    A note about the efficiency of Blackpool Council to see MP’s. We saw our MP, Gordon Marsden over three weeks ago. Received an email today saying Mr. Marsden has been trying to get an appointment with Blackpool Adult Services, and that hopefully it will take place very shortly.

    What a wonderful Council Blackpool has.

  • Alina Palimaru

    Wow, quite a blog today… Who would have thought that greening initiatives would reach… brothels, of all places? But then, the Germans have always been keen on environmentally friendly policies, so no surprise in this sense.

    Regarding book characters, I agree, the characters are well researched and the accuracy of the described states of mind and routine behavior is startling at times.

    And hats off to you sir for taking these environmentally friendly steps yourself.

  • Charlie

    Well I have been in a brothel. Indeed I am a regular at one in Edinburgh, and having read your novel, I would say you imagine a certain kind of brothel rather well. I have now graduated to something a little more sophisticated but when all is said and done, it is paying for sex. As for the environmental considerations, I always get public transport in case my wife sees my car. I will suggest they follow the Berlin model.

  • Helene Mason

    I don’t know where I stand on prostitution. On the one hand I hate the idea of women being used in this way. On the other hand, there is always going to be a market for sex, and judging by the number of ads you see in the local press, and the obvious brothels you see in London, it is a big market. And maybe being more open about it is the right answer. I just don’t know, but I enjoyed having my mind tickled by your observations on the subject

  • fran

    Although you agree that air travel shouldn’t become something only the rich can afford you seem to qualify this by then saying we are all going to have to buy in to some difficult choices at some stage? What are these difficult choices to be? I sincerely hope that the implication is not that it may be inevitable that air fares should rise out of reach of the people of this country who work hard every day to enable them to occasionally be able to see other parts of the world.

    I believe that Ed Milliband’s approach to this problem is fair and just. The fact that the cheap flights phenomenon has contributed to the problem of climate change only serves to illuminate the fact that there are such glaring inequalities in our society flights have to be cheap to allow most people the opportunity to travel by air; an experience people in earning brackets such as yourself Alistair can take for granted. Anyone who perceives themselves to be egalitarian should see that any attempt to solve the problem of climate change must not involve taking plane travel away from the lower earning sectors of society. Maybe the solution lies somewhere in limiting the amount of flights those who don’t have to partake in the ‘cheap flights phenomenon’ make every year? Or would this be curtailing personal freedom? Something which would undoubtedly happen if cheap flights are eradicated .

  • Katharine T.

    Glad to know the worlds oldest profession is eco-aware, I’m sure that gives the patrons much comfort.

    Off topic: Sir, I’m sure you know this, but some fella by the name of Martin Sixsmith wrote an article in the Times and seems pretty intent on tearing a hole in the back of your britches. I won’t pretend to know who he is, but he sure doesn’t like you very much. Am sure you are quite aware of it, but just in case you didn’t know that someone is hollering “Fi fi, fo fum” in your general direction.

  • Alan Quinn

    I was at a meeting in Manchester with Ed Milliband re climate change but brothels weren’t on the agenda!
    We also had the “Manchester Report” where many weird and wonderful ideas were proposed from dumping lime in the oceans to restore the acidity levels and absorb CO2 to remote controlled sailing ships which fire water droplets into the air to reflect sunlight to massive arrays of mirrors in the Sahara that reflect sunlight to heat water into steam create power.
    I complained to Ed that Britain still has to import wind turbines as we don’t manufacture them, that we could get unemployed engineers into work making them and we needed a speddy process to sort out planning applications in months not years.
    It was also brought up that we need to focus on energy security too and get off our dependence on imported oil and gas. We have 400 yrs of coal underneath us but are still playing around on CCS and as I’ve mentioned on here before, we should give the go ahead to build the Severn Barrage instead of arranging meetings to think about arranging a focus group to discuss whether or not we should hold a initial meeting.

  • Jane A

    You were not the only Campbell to be thinking brothels yesterday. I heard on the very early R5 news about an Olympic hopeful, one Logan Campbell, from New Zealand, who is funding his attempt to get to London 2012 by running a brothel (legal in Auckland, apparently.)

    You’ve got to admire the innovation.