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Sex Work in Berlin: Perspectives on the City’s Oldest Profession

Illustrations by Peter Wood, audio production by Julia Joubert, interviews by Sara Grossman, video editing by David Labi

This series sought to explore the many sides of sex work in Berlin. We spoke with sex workers, researchers, activists and others who have interacted with the industry, to investigate its role and significance in our city.

Part 1: Kat Rix

Kat Rix has worked as a dominatrix in Berlin for the past five years, guiding clients through the discovery of new “sensual experiences.” We spoke with her about why Berlin is the ideal place to practise sex work, how sex workers can be best supported in the city, and what can be learned about the human psyche from her line of work.

On getting ready for a session:

On working in Berlin:

On legalising sex work:

Part 2: *B

*B, who works in the city’s sex work industry, discusses why activism and protesting are important for her work. Sex workers aren’t always the people we imagine them to be, she said. “They can be anybody.”

We met *B at a protest against the feminist organisation Terre des Femmes, which is calling for the abolition of sex work—but excluding those who practise sex work from the conversation, activists say.

On the importance of protesting

Part 3: *S
Like *B, we spoke to *S at the recent protest against Terre des Femmes. *S, who is also a sex worker, spoke with us about Germany’s controversial new prostitution law, which mandates that sex workers register with the relevant authorities, take part in a health consultation and carry a “Hurenpass,” or “whore pass,” at all times, among other things.

Many sex workers argue that the new law will only lead to further stigmatisation and discrimination against them—not to mention that it will not help those who need support the most—victims of illegal trafficking or immigrants without proper documentation. “It’s just another way to push us down and stop sex work from happening,” *S said.

On carrying a Hurenpass

Part 4: *K

K* has worked in strip clubs across the city and says “you can find more hardcore fetishes at KitKat Club” than in a strip club. At a strip club, K* says, sexuality is vanilla, mainstream, and dictated by the preferences of whoever runs the establishment, which “is super limited and boring.”

On sexuality in a strip club

Part 5: Ursula Probst

Ursula Probst is a Ph.D. candidate at Freie Universität Berlin studying sex work and migration. She spoke with us about the way sex workers are often reduced to their work—a single aspect of their larger, more complicated identity, as well as the importance of media representation in illustrating those who work in the industry. “You have all those crime movies where the sex worker or prostitute is always the murder victim,” she says. “Sex workers are also friends, mothers, students.”

On the stigma of being a sex worker:

On city policy towards sex work:

Part 7: Pia Poppenreiter

Pia Poppenreiter is the CEO of Ohlala, a Berlin-based app that let’s men pay for “dates” with female users—what some sex workers say is helping move their work off the streets and outside of brothels and directly into the palms of their hands. Many use the app to negotiate with potential customers, as well as to maintain personal security through the various verification checks on the app. This is as intended, Pia says.

On “mutual consent”:

We’d like to offer a warm thank you to performance artist and sex worker advocate Liad Hussein Kantorowicz for her invaluable support and advice in getting this project off the ground. We are so grateful for her insights and wisdom. Learn more about Liad’s work here.