Oranienburgerstrasse, Berlin. A popular street in Mitte, the city’s centre, packed with bars and restaurants, most of them fairly hip, nothing sleazy. There are maybe forty of them, about five-metres apart – most of them alone, some in pairs. Marie is wearing what seems to be the street’s uniform: very high heels, very short cut-off jeans, tights, a corsage, a top showing a lot of cleavage.
She’s 32, has worked here for 6 years now, and she agrees to talk, not on the street, but in the park across the street or in the apartment where she usually receives her customers, five minutes away. It’s drizzling, so it’s an easy choice.
‘Don’t your clients find this awkward?’ I ask as we pass the crowded terraces. It’s quite obvious what she and the person next to her are up to: it can easily turn into a walk of shame.
‘Some do. They walk ten metres behind me. Most walk with me, that’s good, so we get to know each other better. But I understand it if they’re afraid that friends or family might see them. I don’t want my family to see me either.’
‘Do they know what you do?’
‘No,’ she laughs. She does that a lot, even at things that aren’t particularly funny. ‘They think I work in a bar at night. I’m well brought up, so I don’t want my parents to think that it’s their fault.’
We reach her room, on the first floor in an apartment she shares with a couple of her colleagues. It has a small kitchen, a washing machine, a shower and the door is opened by a man, probably as a safety measure.
‘Will you pay for my drink?’ she asks, after she’s given me one. ‘You don’t have to, but a gentleman would.’ I decide not to pay the twenty Euros for her bottle of water. We sit on the two chairs next to her bed in the dimly lit room with mirrors on the ceiling.
‘Is it okay if I take off my shoes? My feet hurt from standing all night. Even though I have these things.’ She shows me the little cushions glued into her shoes.
‘Do you normally take off everything?’
‘Depends how much you pay. But no matter how much, the tights stay on. Always. They’re hygienic tights with a little hole in the crotch, so the dick can come in.’ I must look very puzzled, so she says: ‘It’s because not all men are shaved down there, you understand?’
I do, but I think it sounds very unsexy.
‘Do you like your job?’ I ask.
‘Yes. Especially with older men. They’re nicer. And if I don’t like a guy, I won’t take him to the apartment. I say: “I’m not the right person for you”. That’s different from working in a club: then I would have to take every man who wanted me. Besides I would also have to pay the club.’
‘You’re not paying anyone now?’
‘No, the girls in this street are independent, we don’t have pimps,’ she says, though I’m not sure if that’s true. The next day I meet a Berlin-based criminal lawyer, who has several pimps as clients. ‘The only person I’m paying now is Angela Merkel. She’s my boss,’ she laughs. Street prostitution in Oranienburgerstrasse has been completely legal for 100 years, it’s a tradition. All the girls are registered, they pay taxes and they see a doctor every three months. That’s why they can work in the open, with the police even keep an eye on them. If a girl doesn’t look good, the police come and check, ask what’s going on. You know the Kurfürstenstrasse? That’s where the Eastern European girls are, the transvestites, the drug users. There the girls have a problem, they can get arrested.’
‘So how much tax do you pay?’
‘That’s a lot.’
‘Yes,’ she laughs again. ‘But I pay it only over the first 80 euro, the basic price.’
Then she explains to me that this includes the room, a drink, a hand or blow job and 25 minutes of her time. ‘If you want more, you have to pay more. Naked, touching and kissing, 150. 250 is breast fuck, 350 is pussy fuck and 450 is anal fuck. And if you pay 500, it’s all included. Escort is 800 for an hour, because you also have to pay for a security man, who makes sure we come back.’
‘Do you make a lot of money?’
‘Yes, because I work a lot. Seven days a week, every night from 9 in the evening till 5 in the morning. Also in winter, you should see us, in moonboots and ski jackets. I’m saving up money to open a boutique, hopefully in a year and a half. My own shop with clothes designed by me and a friend of mine.’
I ask her about Berlin and Europe.
‘Berlin is nice, because the people are open. I can be myself, I don’t have to pretend to be anything I’m not.’
‘Do you vote?’
‘Of course. I’m a normal person. I watch the news. I’m not stupid, I like to learn.’
‘What do you think of Europe?’
‘I don’t see a lot of it. Except that there are fewer clients, because of the crisis.’
She stands up to leave for the bathroom. When she returns after five minutes, she says: ‘Sorry, time’s up, you have to go.’