Photos from One of Berlin's Oldest Red Light Districts


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Photos from One of Berlin's Oldest Red Light Districts

Kurfürstenstrasse​ has been one of Berlin's hotspots for prostitution for about 130 years.

I met Sabine when she was sitting on the stairs next to my house. It took all my courage to ask her if I could take a picture. Before that evening I'd never thought to take pictures of anything involving prostitution. As a woman living around the red light district in Berlin, hardly any of the sex workers on the street looked me in the eye. But the barrier that had always been there between me and that world, blew open through my encounter with Sabine.


I wasn't interested in capturing portraits of sex workers; it was more about showing the character of the district. Hoping to learn more, I ended up stepping into OLGA, a counseling center in the district for sex workers from the area. The center has the atmosphere of a living room and offers all kinds of assistance for everyday life, such as beds, showers, and clean injecting equipment. There's a strict 'No Men' policy that allows sex workers to take a break from the stress of the street. I started volunteering at OLGA one day a week and at the same time worked on a photo project with the women frequenting the shelter, where they were given cameras to show their reality in a new way.

Besides the challenges that come with working the street every day, the women I met often have to deal with homelessness, drug addiction, gambling, a lack of social benefits, and being the sole provider for their family. Most of them are from Germany, Bulgaria, and Hungary, but a part of them are also of Sinti Roma backgrounds. Some of the sex workers are trans.

A street named Kurfürstenstrasse has been one of Berlin's hotspots for prostitution for about 130 years, but the sex work is becoming increasingly marginalized. Before, the women could freely work in places like the local parks or abandoned spaces but luxury apartments are being build in those spots, radically changing the character of the area. For many sex workers, working in brothels isn't an attractive option because it makes them less flexible—and the cost for a room can be high. There are two hot-sheet hotels in the area, with only a few rooms each. The girls say that one of them is filthy, but I was denied access to it twice. The other hotel is The Stockholm, which is the oldest establishment in Berlin. It's well run, but there aren't many punters who are willing to pay £11 [$16] extra for a room.


Getting to know these women, walking around the area with them, I got a deeper insight into their day-to-day struggles. It opened up my neighborhood for me, and changed the way I photographed it—it turned me off of needlessly loud pictures. Working on this series, I was looking to recreate the mood that lingers in the area without being explicit.

See more of Kathrin's work here. Scroll down for more photos: