City As Brothel, How Berlin Let Prostitution Spread Near Schools

Other cities ban prostitution from residential areas with schools and playgrounds. Not Berlin. Here, it's just part of the city's “poor, but sexy” image.

Prostitutes in the streets of Berlin
Prostitutes in the streets of Berlin
Michael Behrendt

BERLIN â€" Evelin Schütze, born and raised in Berlin, isn’t easily shocked.

This petite woman has been living in Schöneberger Kurfürstenstraße for 45 years. It has always been a difficult neighborhood, with girls on the streets waiting for male clients. Schütze is used to seeing that, she acknowledges.

"But what’s happening now has nothing to do with "normal prostitution.’ It’s unbearable,” she says.

Case in point: she has taken pictures of the local playground, where children see "women doing their job and throwing used condoms in the sandbox once they’re done." Schütze sent the pictures to the mayor â€" to no avail.

The madam’s cozy brothel of yesteryear is but a nostalgic illusion: today, Eastern European gangs rule the business out on the streets. "They dump hundreds of girls out there, there are turf wars," says a businessman. "I could file charges every day, but I don’t, because nobody cares anyway."

Residents and business executives ask for an exclusion zone, or at least a closing time â€" a hopeless fantasy. Politicians in Berlin pride themselves on their liberal attitudes toward sexuality.

Bald pimps in Adidas sweatpants step out of cars with Bulgarian or Romanian license plates. They stand, legs apart, watching over ‘their’ girls, rebuking them if necessary. Sex is a round-the-clock business. Girls who dance on tables by night are found on the streets at any time of the day. Drugs are part of the daily business. There are about 2,000 prostitutes working in Berlin, according to police estimates. Other cities at least rely on restricted zones to keep the industry away from schools and residential areas, but not so the German capital.

In 2013, Senator of the Interior and Sports Frank Henkel proposed the establishment of a restricted area around the Kurfürstenstraße â€" in vain. "No, this would only make prostitution move from one street to another,” objected Mayor Angelika Schöttler. The city already does a lot about prostitution, she claims, with officials going to talk to the women, but there is always a steady stream of newcomers.

Prostitution is part of Berlin’s image and identity; it’s one of the capital’s main attractions. "Poor, but sexy," is not just an easygoing attitude, it’s also a very explicit promise. The huge brothel Artemis recently started advertising on local buses.

Nine hundred policemen raided that establishment in April. During a press conference, the public prosecutor’s office compared the women working there with "slaves in cotton fields” who are not allowed to make their own decisions. There was mention of human trafficking.

If one pays a visit to the Artemis, however, one has a hard time believing these allegations. Slaves look rather different from the women working there, four of whom are sitting around a table in one of the brothel’s suites. "Nobody forces me to do anything. I come and go as I please. Nobody tells me what to do," one of them claims. She doesn’t look like she’s being coerced into saying this.

Another of the women, Simay, is 26 years old and lives in Turkey. She regularly comes to Germany to work for two weeks at a time. Before that, she attended university.

"A lot of what they say about us is wrong. Nobody tells me not to use a condom during oral sex, as the prosecutor claims. I do what I want and if I want to go home early, I simply tell them,” she says.

Does she live in the brothel when she’s in Berlin? "Of course, they put rooms at our disposal for 20 euros a night,” Simay says. “Why should I look for a hotel after work?"

Chanel has been working at the Artemis for 10 years. She, too, is happy with her workplace: "There is even healthcare available to me, if I want to use it. And in every room there’s a panic button, that alerts security in case something goes wrong,” she says.

The Berlin public prosecutor’s office alleges widespread tax evasion at the Artemis. "Nonsense," says Sila, a 29-year-old from Turkey. "I pay an entrance fee of 80 euros, just like each one of my clients. The money I make is mine, and I have to pay taxes."

This might be true, or not â€" but the real question is why Berlin is judging brothels and street prostitution according to different standards. This big brothel is being attacked harshly, whereas when it comes to organized street-prostitution, there’s no hurry at all in bringing charges. Today, more and more police officers are voicing their criticism, seeing far more urgent problems than the Artemis.

Other cities lead by example. Düsseldorf, Essen, Dortmund, Cologne, Frankfurt and Munich all have clear, restricted areas for prostitution. Sure, implementing this in Berlin would lead to the very displacement that the mayor fears, but at least the industry would be kept away from children and families.

The true stumbling block issue is the so-called "blot of Berlin,” the area around the famous Kurfürstenstraße. Day in, day out, Romanian and Bulgarian women click their heels against the pavement.

Kurfürstenstraße â€" Photo:

"These girls are being forced into prostitution by their pimps. Their money is taken from them, they suffer violent attacks," says a police officer. "These are inhumane conditions."

The women approach any man who walks by. They gesticulate a lot. Flat hand on closed hand: normal. Closed hand to mouth: obvious. Three fingers up: 30 euros.

They’d probably also do it for 20.

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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 but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

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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