“When Germany legalized prostitution just over a decade ago, politicians hoped that it would create better conditions and more autonomy for sex workers. It hasn’t worked out that way, though. Exploitation and human trafficking remain significant problems.
Sânandrei is a poor village in Romania with run-down houses and muddy paths. Some 80 percent of its younger residents are unemployed, and a family can count itself lucky if it owns a garden to grow potatoes and vegetables.
Alina is standing in front of her parents’ house, one of the oldest in Sânandrei, wearing fur boots and jeans. She talks about why she wanted to get away from home four years ago, just after she had turned 22. She talks about her father, who drank and beat his wife, and sometimes abused his daughter, too. Alina had no job and no money.
Through a friend’s new boyfriend, she heard about the possibilities available in Germany. She learned that a prostitute could easily earn €900 ($1,170) a month there.
Alina began thinking about the idea. Anything seemed better than Sânandrei. “I thought I’d have my own room, a bathroom and not too many customers,” she says. In the summer of 2009, she and her friend got into the boyfriend’s car and drove through Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic until they reached the German capital — not the trendy Mitte neighborhood in the heart of the city, but near Schönefeld airport, where the name of the establishment alone said something about the owner: Airport Muschis (“Airport Pussies”). The brothel specialized in flat-rate sex. For €100 ($129), a customer could have sex for as long and as often as he wanted.
It all went very quickly, says Alina. There were other Romanians there who knew the man who had brought them there. She was told to hand over her clothes and was given revealing lingerie to wear instead. Only a few hours after her arrival, she was expected to greet her first customers. She says that when she wasn’t nice enough to the clients, the Romanians reduced her wages.
The Berlin customers paid their fee at the entrance. Many took drugs to improve sexual performance and could last all night. A line often formed outside Alina’s room. She says that she eventually stopped counting how many men got into her bed. “I blocked it out,” she says. “There were so many, every day.””
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