When Berlin's mayor described the city as "poor but sexy," he certainly wasn't talking about the women standing on Oranienburger Street. Still, prostitution in Berlin is as colorful as the metropolis itself.
The heavy steps of white over-knee boots rushing towards me suddenly interrupted my thoughts. It was about 9 pm as I walked down Oranienburger Street to the next subway station. "Take me home baby," she whispered, "50 euros - a special price for you."
I instinctively looked back over my shoulder. She must have been talking to somebody behind me. But there was no one there. Yes, she was talking to me - and I'm a woman.
I'd never received such an offer before and it took me quite a while to kindly convince her that I wasn't interested.
It gets cold on the streets of Berlin
She was a beautiful woman: perfect figure, pretty face, like most prostitutes I've seen on Oranienburger Street. They're quite different from the girls on the legendary Reeperbahn in Hamburg, or in Amsterdam's red-light district.
Later, I read that the prices of these practically-luxury-prostitutes in Berlin start at 80 euros and are negotiable. "In Germany, you can buy sex for the price of groceries," a colleague once told me. Maybe that's why you can find almost as many German men in brothels as in supermarkets. Statistics show that about a million gentlemen pay for pleasure every day in this country.
Most of the women on Oranienburger Street could get jobs as classy call girls, so I'm perplexed as to they choose to work on the street instead. I get goose bumps, when I pass by in winter and see them wearing next to nothing.
There are plenty of others, though, who opt for better conditions and more concealment. I was at a conference in Berlin when I met Jasmine (not her real name), a smart woman in her 40's; we had a very inspiring chat about political philosophy. I found out later that she used to work as a luxury prostitute to finance her PhD. It all started with an "indecent proposal" by a millionaire while she was on vacation. And the (accepted) proposals continued until she got her doctorate.
You can leave your hat on
I once read about a luxury escort service that only employs women who look like top models but have at least one university degree. Their fees start at 1,000 euros (about $1,400) a night - much more than a teacher or doctor would earn - but is money the real motivation? It takes quite a bit of nerve and tolerance to go to bed with someone you're not even attracted to.
On the streets of Berlin, tolerance of this kind is probably of secondary concern. For prostitutes in Charlottenburg or Schöneberg, 1,000 euros are the equivalent of many nights spent with strange men. They have other issues - for example, the free market economy. Prostitution is not restricted to a particular red-district in Berlin; unfortunately for some, the city is very big, and so is the competition.
With Eastern European countries joining the EU, the market - if not the demand - has changed. Dumping prices of 15 or 20 euros disturb the daily business.
Brothel on every corner
Since the legalization of prostitution in Germany, in 2002, the business has been flourishing in the capital. There are a few hundreds of registered brothels in Berlin, 30 alone in the centrally located Mitte district. Those who are lucky enough to get work permits at least have the option of taking their business indoors.
Those paying for sex have many settings to choose from
Special deals get more and more creative to cater to customers: flat-rates, two-for-the-price-of-one, or one minute for one euro. Spa offers, theme rooms and erotic parties also spice up the offer.
Despite all that competition, the beautiful girls on Oranienburger Street keep showing off their high-heeled leather boots and tight corsets. I haven't seen the one who offered me a special price again. Maybe she is busy with customers. Or maybe she has finished her PhD in the meantime.
Author: Lavinia Pitu
Editor: Kate Bowen