Put that noting pen down, because we won’t mention places where you can find these sensitive services in Croatia of today. After all, they are illegal, and searching for such entertainment could turn your sunny vacation into a chit-chat tour of a police station.
But only a century ago, situation was completely different. Ladies of the night were not just allowed to practice their art; they were literally advertised as a tourist feature. Prostitution was legal and regarded as an important economic branch, as bordellos were paying taxes to the state. And in the world without internet and adult magazines, you can only imagine how much money they earned.
The capital of Zagreb was especially popular as a sex-selling destination, as virtually every house of Tkalciceva Street used to be a whorehouse. In order to open a bordello, owner had to register in the town hall and receive a trade license, assuring the quality of services and professional approach to business.
One such document was issued to certain madam Ruza Aranjos in 1898.
Handwritten in almost calligraphic way, the license allowed Ruza Aranjos to run kupleraj (Croatian slang for brothel), described as a place of providing “private satisfaction services”. The house of fornication was situated in baths of Kozarska Street, located in the very center of Zagreb.
The women working in such places had a high level of protection, as their safety was public concern. They received regular health checks by doctor two times a week, and were usually well fed. However, they were forbidden to advertise their services on street. Also, brothels were disallowed to display any logo or sign which would suggest prostitution activity. A discrete lantern light of uncommon color was used instead. Another way of tagging a house with “sexual content” was putting a garden gnome in the window. If the statue was lying, it meant the room was occupied.
Chronologists described Zagreb bordellos as places of singing and leisure. The most expensive one was called Kod Zelene Lampe (Green Lantern’s). It was located in aforementioned Tkalciceva, and had a lobby with a piano player. Another popular place was called Pick, and was providing its services on the very square of Ban Jelacic. Brothel called Klub was in the neighboring street of Ilica, and had a lengthy cabaret program which lasted up to 5 a.m.
The classy Ritz was opened in the thirties. Located in Petrinjska Street, it regularly staged concerts of quite respected violin player Vlahovic. Those who wanted a glimpse of coastal atmosphere could go to Palmoticeva Street and visit Bijela Lada (“White Vessel”), a bordello known for its mandolin music and fine wine offer.
If clients were not met in appropriate beds, small isolated club booths were used. These would come with a free bottle of champagne, while pricing of sexual encounter would depend on client demands. Average price would be around 300 dinars. For comparison, a monthly salary of a school teacher at the time was 1300 dinars. This largely explains while common guests of such places were military officers, but according to some sources, students and even older school children would also pay for Zagreb’s popular enjoyment. Maybe they had a special discount.
The unique culture of prostituting Zagreb ended with beginning of World War II, never to rise again. Needless to say, despite legal prohibition, prostitution is still present in Croatia, usually involving poor and neglected women with no financial stability. Century ago, they would be treated much differently. Only a statue of a woman on window, located in Tkalciceva, reminds people of those times.
Interested in learning more about this sensitive topic? Check out Zagreb’s live tour of old brothels here.