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Putting The XXX In X-Mas At Hamburg's Holiday Market Of Sex And Sin

Jingle ALL the way with Olivia Jones and Eve
Jingle ALL the way with Olivia Jones and Eve
Carsten Eberts

HAMBURG – A chocolate penis – with bite marks – hangs around an angel’s neck. Olivia Jones breaks out in a loud, naughty laugh at the sight of it and declares it awesome. Hamburg’s most famous drag queen is wearing a Dalmatian coat and enough red glitter to deck out a whole Christmas tree.

"I wish you a hot and erotic Christmas!” she roars.

Welcome to the St. Pauli Christmas Market. The "Santa Pauli" market, as it is known, is open every day until December 23 in the heart of Hamburg’s St. Pauli red light district. Instead of beeswax candles and wooly hats, here you will find dildos and vibrators. And instead of Christmas carols -- strip shows.

The angel wearing the chocolate penis is called Eve. Eve Champagne. An erotic dancer, she is scantily clad with heart-shaped pasties covering her nipples. "It’s a good thing it’s not so cold this year," she says at the official opening ceremony – although she’s not saying no to two glasses of nice mulled wine to warm her breasts ("Mäuschen" and "Hopsy") for the TV cameras.

Does any of this cause a sensation? Not in St. Pauli. No other German city has a district where sex is flaunted quite so openly. Sex workers can solicit openly on the street, even opposite the police station. Nobody around here is going to get upset about a sex-themed Christmas market.

"Eve, ring your bells," Olivia Jones calls out, and Eve obediently puts down the glasses of Glühwein and shakes her breasts energetically. Ding-dong! It sure is tacky, but it’s part of the fun and the public loves it.

Jochen Bohnsack, 38, organized the first erotic Christmas market seven years ago and it has since become an institution. With around 40 stands this year, it’s bigger than ever – and not all the items are erotic: The local soccer club, FC St. Pauli, is selling its fan merchandise here.

Hand-carved vibrators

Other Hamburg Christmas markets such as the big one in front of the town hall are hopelessly overcrowded – one of the reasons people say they prefer coming to the less-crowded St. Pauli market instead, although Bohnsack doesn’t have any actual visitor statistics. He draws thousands on weekends, he says, and this year he estimates he’s getting about 20% more visitors – locals and tourists both -- than last year. The Glühwein costs 3 euros, a little more mit Schuss (with a shot of brandy). The same as in any other large German city.

Anybody who wants to rent a stand at the "Santa Pauli" market is carefully checked out before Bohnsack gives his agreement: Not everybody is suitable, he says, for various reasons. He had to tell one man, who really was going to sell beeswax candles, that it wouldn’t work out. On the other hand, he also refuses big names in the sex toy industry. "Small but select," is his motto.

He means stands like "WaldMichlsHoldi," right across from the striptease tent, where wooden vibrators, “hand-carved in a family manufactory,” as the WaldMichlsHoldi website boasts, are sold. Stand holder Elmar Thüry says he normally displays his wares at the big sex fairs or at Christopher Street Days (a German and Swiss equivalent to gay pride parades). The first time he came to the “Santa Pauli” market was five years ago, and since then he’s been a regular, staying for the whole four weeks.

Thüry doesn’t want to talk sales figures: He prefers to explain the virtues of his sex toys that cost between 39 and 109 euros. His best-selling item is the “double bumble bee” at 125.90 euros, a vibrator with “two balls on the top” that is guaranteed to leave users “flying high.”

Many people, he says, come to the stand for advice, then order via the shop on his website. Sales are good, enough to support his family well.

This year, there are two novelties at the market. One is a New York burlesque show – “very trashy,” says Bohnsack, "but not hardcore,” adding that “hardcore is not something we want to tax our visitors with.”

The second novelty is porno karaoke that takes place in a tent where porn movies – “quality” films as well as downright “terrible” ones – are shown with the sound off. The audience is asked to provide commentary to the scenes on the screen. It’s a howl, Bohnsack says, the laughter doesn’t stop.

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Economy

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.


Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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