Sexual Mores The Ergo-genous Zone

A new museum exhibit about German attitudes toward sex suggests that orgies arranged as compensation for high-performing Ergo insurance salesmen may have been in keeping with modern norms.
Scraping the bottom: An advert for a driving school on display at the "Indecent? Changes in Sexual Morality” exhibition in Leipzig.

Insurers and sex museums rarely go together, but a new exhibition on sexual mores in Leipzig includes a section devoted to the the scandal that unfolded when bosses at Ergo, the life insurance unit of the world’s largest reinsurer, Munich Re, decided to reward their best salesmen with an x-rated trip to Budapest.

The exhibition, called “Indecent? Changes in Sexual Morality” at the Haus der Geschichte (House of History), a museum of contemporary history in Leipzig, includes details of  probably the reinsurance world's only contribution to the sexual revolution.

Alongside displays of Oswalt Kolle, a German sex educator, and Beate Uhse, the German woman entrepreneur who opened the first sex shop in the world, and between the Sexism and Sex Tax displays, the visitor comes to the scalacious world of re-insurance.

A three-man planning committee made several research trips to determine exactly how many women would be needed.

The display outlines how a three-man planning committee at Ergo made several research trips to the Hungarian capital to determine exactly how many women would be needed for the party. The historic Gellért thermal baths were chosen as the venue of the party, and organizers installed four-poster beds and prostitutes were identified by color-coded arm bands.

Normal closing hours were extended from midnight to 4 a.m. to keep the party swinging. In exchange for signing off on the extended hours, the brother of the Budapest police chief was hired as a violinist for another party a few days later. There was sex at that event, too.

The sex trips to Budapest were a huge success in the sales department. A report in the employees’ newsletter for July 2007 said things went on that were "so indescribable, that they almost should not be allowed.”

News of the orgies inevitably leaked out, in a scandal that horrified and facinated the German public.


The scene of the crime: The Gellért thermal baths in Budapest.


The exhibition looks in detail about attitudes to sex, abortion and gay rights, the attitude of the Greens to pedophilia in the former West Germany and the former East German secret police’s use of prostitutes to target suspects.

The business section offers a facinating insight into the accepted morals of the time.

A 60-year-old advertisement by Dr. Oetker, Germany’s leading baking and cooking products company, declares “A woman has two questions in life. What should I wear? What should I cook?” And in 1970, visitors learn, Daimler fired a woman employee because she came to work wearing pants.

In 2014, a Berlin driving school featured a poster of a barely concealed woman’s bottom with the words, “Our firm offer.”

“We decided to put the Ergo case in the exhibition to show that prostitution is not something that just remains in some dirty corner of society,” said Kornelia Lobmeier, a research associate in the Leipzig Forum for Contemporary History of the Foundation.

The fact that reputable companies also supply their employees with prostitutes as a reward, she added, shows the reality of sexual morality in society.

Germans annually spend €14.3 billion ($17.8 billion) on prostitutes, three times as much as they spend at fitness studios.

Sex is big business and prostitution is legal in Germany. Germans annually spend €14.3 billion ($17.8 billion) on prostitutes, three times as much as they spend at fitness studios. Eighteen percent of all men regularly pay for sex. Some cities have been taxing prostitutes for years.

In Bonn, for example, sex workers pay taxes by purchasing a ticket from a modified parking ticket vending machine directly on the street they work.

Nonetheless, Germans were outraged when the Ergo sex trip was made public in 2011.

Ergo filed charges against the organizers of the Budapest trip for breach of trust. Soccer coach Jürgen Klopp cancelled his advertising contract with the company. And Ergo became a permanent fixture on TV satire programs.

Sales employees had to begin every conversation by answering questions about Budapest. Some of the company’s billboards were spray painted over with the words, “porno insurance.” The Kiel Institute for Crisis Research calls the Ergo case an “industry worst case scenario.” There hasn’t been a scandal of this scale to date, it said.

Ergo completely restructured the Hamburg-Mannheimer sales department and gave it a new name: Ergo Pro. Torsten Oletzky, chief executive officer of Ergo, called the trip “unspeakable and inexcusable.”

He continually assures critics it was an isolated case, even though his own audit found trips to a swingers’ club in Jamaica were also part of the sales department’s tactics, though these were not organized by the head office.

A walk through the “Indecent” exhibition gives pause for thought.

Every second, 30,000 porno videos are playing globally on the Internet. One-fourth of all Google searches relate to pornographic subjects. In Germany, 60 percent of men and 10 percent of women are Internet pornography consumers at least once a week. And an amazing 70 percent of pornography watching occurs on workdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

It’s quite possible that Ergo was only reflecting society with its sex trips but the company is not keen to relive the memories. Alexander Becker, an Ergo spokesperson, didn’t want to comment about the Budapest parties.

Is Ergo planning a company outing to the museum? “We haven’t thought about it yet,” Mr. Becker replies.

"Indecent? Changes in Sexual Morality" runs at the Haus der Geschichte in Leipzig until April 6 2015.


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The author is editor in chief of "Handelsblatt Live". To contact the author: [email protected]