Konstanz: City of Shattered Dreams?

In the two years just passed and in the two years that follow, multitudes of people around the globe commemorate the events of World War 1 (1914 – 1918) that involved 70 million soldiers – 9 million of them killed in action, 7 million civilian casualities, and a conflict that lasted 4 years, 3 months and 2 weeks. (Wikipedia)


Konstanz, a mere 15 kms from where I live in Landschlacht, is exceptional.

Konstanz (in English: Constance / in Latin: Constantia), where the Rhine River once again finds its shape as it flows out of the Lake of Constance (in German: Bodensee), hasn´t forgotten the Great War either.

Periodically, the museums of Konstanz have exhibitions focusing on the effects that this global conflict had upon this region.

But Konstanz has its civic planners fixated on more distant past events: the Council of Konstanz (1414 – 1418).

Above: the Council Building, Konstanz, Germany

In 1414, the political and religious situation in Europe was a mess.

The world now had three Popes: Gregory XXII in Rome, Benedict XIII in Avignon and John XXIII in Florence.

It was getting increasingly more difficult to unite behind a Church that was itself split asunder, so critics of ecclesiastic and papal authority were arising.

The Church had offered a cohesiveness of thought and a structure of power that replaced the unity lost when the Roman Empire had fallen.

So the mandate of the Church was clear: reestablish the authority of the Church.

To do so meant ending the division caused by having rival Popes and decisively end any vocal opposition and questioning of the Church´s fallibility.

Above: Bishops debating with the Pope at the Council of Constance

They would succeed in their goals, though not in a fashion that would endure.

The rival Popes were eliminated and a fourth Pope, Martin V, was elected who was deemed acceptable by all.

Czech priest and Church reformer Jan Hus was condemned as a heretic and executed by the Council.

Painting of Jan Hus at the Council of Constance by Vaclav Brozik

It attempted to mediate in politics to prevent a reoccurance of the violent and bloody Polish-Lithuanian Teutonic War that was threatening to explode again over border disputes.

At the entrance of the harbour of Konstanz is a concrete statue, standing 9 metres high, weighing 18 tonnes and revolving on a pedestal that rotates on its axis once every four minutes.

It was created by Peter Lenk, known for the controversial sexual content of his public art.

The Imperia was put up in 1993, clandestinely at night.

Before that, there was a lot of controversy about the sculpture in the Town Council, a lot of criticism about the satiric way the Pope and the King were depicted.

The adminstration of the Bishop of Freiburg stated that the sculpture was “without taste and could disturb the religious peace”.

There were reports in the national media about this local controversy.

The harbour area is owned by the Deutsche Bundesbahn (German National Railways).

The company welcomed the Imperia.

The Imperia shows a woman holding two men on her hands.

The two men represent Pope Martin V and Emperor Sigismund.

Martin V was elected Pope during the Council while Sigismund was the King who called the Council together.

Both are naked except for the crown and papal tiara that they wear as symbols of their power.

Imperia has curves and is not modest about revealing them.

The statue refers to a short story by Honoré Balzac, “La Belle Imperia”.


Above: Honoré Balzac

The story is a harsh satire of the Catholic clergy’s morals, where Imperia seduces cardinals and princes at the Council of Constance and has power over them all.

“The highest and the bravest courted her, one of her movements could cost a life, and even paragons of virtue did everything she wanted.”

Today Imperia is the most photographed attraction in the city.

(A detail from the sculpture, a nude figure of Pope Martin V, was displayed in the Konstanz train station in 2010, but was removed after complaints from the Catholic church and Christian Democratic Union (CDU) politicians.)

(The historical Imperia Cognati – also called Imperia La Divina, Queen of the Courtesans – who served as the source material of Balzac’s story, was a well-educated Italian courtesan, (medieval prostitute, escort or call girl), who died in 1512, nearly 100 years after the Council and never visited Konstanz.)

There is not only a connection to literature in the sculpture, but to history as well.

During the medieval Church Council in Konstanz, many prostitutes were in town.

The attitude of medieval society towards prostitutes is characteristically a dichotomy.

On the one hand, these wenches/whores/pretty women were seamlessly integrated into city life.

It was not uncommon for them to be sent to greet important visitors.

At the Council of Konstanz, there were 1,500 prostitutes in the city of 8,000 inhabitants, but the Council itself attracted many visitors.

(Ulrich Büttner/Egon Schwär, Histories of the Council of Constance)

Now having a 9-metre statue of a prostitute in your harbour does something to a town.

As part of the 600-year commemoration of the Council of Konstanz, 2016 has been declared as the Year of Imperia, and the arthouse cinema Scala currently and proudly presents Horizontal: the Prostitution Film Festival.

Ten films are shown in all their glory and sordidness, all focused on sex workers and the psychology that motivates them to do what they do.

Germany presents Sex Worker, The Girl Rosemarie and Ladies´ Room.

Switzerland offers Dreamland.

France proudly shows Young and Beautiful and The House of Sin.

There is Sweden´s Lilja 4ever, Morocco´s Much Loved, Spain´s Princesas, and finally Britain´s Irina Palm.

These movies are nothing new for German speakers, for who here has not heard of the Wandering Harlot? (in German: Die Wanderhure)


The Whore is a 2010 German television film, adapted from Iny Lorentz´s novel.

The film is set in Konstanz during the Council.

The name of Marie Schäter brings instant recall to today´s generation of German film afficiandos.

The film was also made into a TV series.

One must remember that the mentality behind all these films, including those with Fraulein Schäter, are those created by 20th/21st century people.

Clichés are constantly confirmed and checked off a sort of Hollywood cliché list.

The men are instinct-driven idiots, the women their typical victims.

Now there is no doubt that the medieval world was male-dominated, but women were by no means without rights and simply fair game that could be raped anytime with impunity.

Rapes were harshly punished.

Excepting rapes by the nobility, punishments for rapists were draconian.

Blinding, castration and execution were common, even when prostitutes were raped.

Prostitutes, when registered and working for a civic brothel, were protected.

During the Council, in the spring of 1415, a pimp was sentenced to death and drowned in Lake Constance.

He had forced a 12-year-old girl, a “still foolish child without breasts” into prostitution.

The criminal offered a male client this girl to perform all desired sexual actions.

The girl suffered such agonies that the Town Clerk, who made written notes of the incident, was unable to record the details.

(Ulrich Büttner/Egon Schwär, Histories of the Council of Constance)

Prostitution occurs in a variety of forms.

Brothels are establishments specifically dedicated to prostitution.

In escort prostitution, the act may take place at the client’s residence or hotel room (referred to as an outcall) or at the escort’s residence or a hotel room rented for the occasion by the escort (in-call).

Above: “tart cards” in a British phone box advertising the services of call girls

Another form is street prostitution.

Sex tourism is travel for sexual intercourse with prostitutes or to engage in other sexual activity.

Virtual sex – sexual acts conveyed by messages rather than physically – is also the subject of commercial transactions.

Commercial phone sex services have been available for decades.

The advent of the Internet has made other forms of virtual sex available for money, including computer-mediated cybersex, in which sexual services are provided in text form by way of chatrooms or instant messaging or audiovisually through a webcam.

Although the majority of prostitutes are female with male clients, there are also gay male prostitutes, lesbian prostitutes and heterosexual male prostitutes.

There are about 42 million prostitutes in the world, living all over the world.

In the US and Australia, it has been reported that at least 15% of all males have used the services of a prostitute at least once in their lives.

Prostitution is frequently viewed as a form of violence against women and children, as well as their exploitation, as shown by its intimate connection with human trafficking. (Wikipedia)

This film festival asks the question:

What drives a person to prostitution?

Above: The statue to honor the sex workers of the world, installed March 2007 in Amsterdam’s Oudekerksplein, in front of the Oude Kerk, in the red-light district De Wallen, Belle‘s inscription says: “Respect sex workers all over the world.”

Above: Prostitution Information Centre, Amsterdam

A difficulty facing migrant prostitutes in many developed countries is the illegal residence status of some of these women.

They face potential deportation, and so do not have recourse to the law or to legal employment.

Sometimes a person is driven to prostitution by a need for basic necessities such as food or shelter.

This type of prostitution is common among the homeless and in refugee camps.

Drugs and prostitution have often been documented to have a direct correlation. (Wikipedia)

I have already considered the issue of prostitution in this blog…

(See The Dark Side of the Red Light of this blog.)

…and I still feel unresolved about it.

I cannot pretend to understand either the person driven to become a prostitute or the person compelled to visit one.

But I think I may be safe in surmising that no one dreams of becoming a real prostitute.

(Fantasy is perhaps a different thing.)

I wonder:

What dreams did these sex workers once have?









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