Zagreb’s Interesting Red Light District History

Total Croatia News

Did you know Zagreb was the first city in Europe with an official brothel ordinance?

Forget De Wallen district in Amsterdam, in the early 1900s, Zagreb was the “go-to” destination in Europe when it came to the so-called “houses of love” according to a very insightful article published by which I stumbled upon on MArch 15, 2016 after hearing a story about this rather unusual part of Zagreb’s past.

Not only was this legal, it was actually well regulated with City Brothel Ordinance back in 1899 according to which the city administration was issuing craft permits for brothel owners, and, with this document, they were able to work in the oldest trade in the world.

Back then, if you wanted to open a brothel, you had to go to the City hall and wait for your application to be approved or denied since you were not able to register your „house of love“ as they called them back then without valid crafts permit. Furthermore, all owners had to pay taxes and all „working girls“ had to have medical protection and paid health insurance.  The doctor would make house calls twice a week, and no one under the age of 17 was allowed near since back then, 17 was the legal age.

Ladies of the night, all 46 of them that were officially licensed to perform this particular job, were not allowed to go outside and advertise, they were not allowed to have a sign stating which business they’re in but every legal „love house“ had its own little tell-tale signs such as a light or garden gnome on the window. If the gnome was lying down, the lady was „occupied“.

Ivan Hrs wrote:

“An entire block of houses in Tkalčićeva ulica was a string of brothels, four houses in total. Each one had its own light colour. The most expensive one was „By the green lantern“ where a pianist was playing in the lobby. It was a place for officers and men that were well off. Ordinary soldiers were not allowed in“.

But ladies of the night also „operated“ in bars. „Pick“ was the most popular one, at first, it was located in Draškovićeva and then it moved on Ban Jelačić square on the mezzanine on number 6. It had the best and the most expensive program. All other merry bars also had quite popular cabaret shows every night until 10 PM followed by live music and dancing until the wee hours of the morning. All bars were opened all night long (guess they didn’t have inspections like today), they sold wine by the glass and offered various types of live music from classical violins to mandoline bands.

All of those bars had their own „working girls“ and guests would take them to their own booths to negotiate terms over a bottle of champagne.

Today, if you walk along Tkalča (Tkalčićeva ulica) you can still see the sculpture „Lady in the window“ by sculptor Vera Drajh Kralj which symbolises the „ladies of the night“ waiting for their customers.

Tkalčićeva today, don’t look for lanterns in the windows, though (Photo by TZ Zagreb)

In the beginning of the last century, Zagreb was the city with most brothels in Europe and it stayed that way until the beginning of WWII.  It was all legal and very much in the spirit of those times. And yes, it was a very long time ago. 


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