Schöneberg 30 is notorious for being a high crime area, a heißes Pflaster, literally: hot pavement, as Berliners would call it. First it was the dealers. Today it’s sprawling prostitution – two local rappers and other concerned Ausländer are fighting the pimps.
This all has to go. The whores, the pimps. It’s getting too much. They are even standing in front of my door fighting over turf.” The person complaining is not some old Spießer, but 20-year-old Schöneberg rapper Nasip Yazıcıoğlu, referring to the un-gentrified intersection of Potsdamer Straße and Kurfürstenstraße, a few hundred metres south of Gallery Row. The son of Turkish immigrants grew up here, in the infamous Pallas building on the corner of Pallasstraße and Potsdamer Straße. With 514 apartments and home to 1500 individuals from 25 nations, for decades the place was known as an urban disaster. Most of the residents were on the dole. Drug dealers plied their trade in dark corridors which dripped water from exposed pipes. There were junkies, and sometimes at night you could hear gunshots. Dead babies were found in dumpsters. Graffiti was everywhere. When Yazıcıoğlu thinks of his childhood, he recalls finding needles everywhere in the playground and how traumatising it was when junkies across the corridor from where he lived with his mother doused their apartment with petrol and set fire to it. If anyone knows the dark, ghetto side of the area between Kleistpark and Kurfürstenstraße, Yorkstraße and Pallas, it’s this born-Schöneberger, with his wispy beard and dark piercing eyes. When he is not rapping and hanging out in the hood, he is working as a security guard at Mediamarkt in Tempelhof.
Times have changed: the Bezirksamt has stepped in, and Pallas is now Sozialpalast. There are waiting lists instead of vacancies. No more graffiti and leaky pipes. No more junkies and drug dealers. The crime has moved further north, as have Yazıcıoğlu and his mother, who are now living on Kurfürstenstraße. “Children can’t stay out long here,” he says, “mothers start panicking. I was standing right here when I saw a couple of guys running from a man with a gun. That is the kind of thing you see here at night.” He isn’t shocked easily but as he walks past LSD (Love, Sex, Dreams) the sprawling sex shop on the bottom floor of what was designed to be a multi-storey bordello on the corner of his street, he complains: “The whores fight each other every day. But no one talks about these things.”
It used to be that the Strich – the streetwalkers’ district – was limited to Kurfürstenstraße and mostly German. But with the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU, there has been an influx of cheap sex workers from the Balkans, and now the red-light district has expanded as far down as Bülowstraße, where prostitutes – many underage and with HIV according to NGO reports – and pimps importune passers-by and residents around the clock. In recent years the situation has worsened dramatically.
“They always ask if you would like to go with them,” Yazıcıoğlu says, as he passes a couple of prostitutes talking in Bulgarian. “Blow job: €20, a fuck: €30. It’s like that every day when I walk by here. It doesn’t bother one after a while.” Around the block on Frobenstraße, where the transvestites stand at night, he points out the “Steh Café Froben”, where the pimps hang out. “The politicians are letting everything go,” he says. “They don’t give a damn and it’s not getting any better, that’s for sure. Summer is when it’s worst. Whores everywhere. Someone has to do something. Because children are playing here. And the whores go to the park and you see condoms everywhere.”
In the spring angry locals decided to take action and cornered the girls until the pimps came. There was a major brawl and the pimps beat a hasty retreat. Since then there has been an uneasy truce between pimps and residents. Among those present when the face-off happened was “King” Ali, a local Palestinian who grew up on Steinmetzstraße and now lives a couple blocks away off of Frobenstraße.
King Ali – heavyset, verging on obese and with a penchant for gold chains and Mercedes cars – is a Kiezlegende, as they say here: a neighborhood legend. It’s not quite clear just how King Ali makes his money these days, but as a youth he rapped and break-danced and co-founded a local gang called the “30 Kings”. He hung out with rappers Sido and Bushido and has appeared in the rap videos of Alpa Gun and Big Baba, two local rappers who have gone on to national fame.
“I don’t understand it,” says King Ali. “The police are all over us foreigners. But the whores and everything, no one has anything against that. We’ve tried everything. The police is working with them, man. The state is working with them, gets money from them, or… no idea what. I don’t understand the whole business myself.”
The police are all over us foreigners. But the whores and everything, no one has anything against that. We’ve tried everything…”
King Ali and his mates have a history of ‘taking matters into their own hands’. Over 10 years ago they roughed up junkies, who in turn called the cops. “We were in the B.Z. and Bild,” says King Ali. “The headline was: ‘Vigilantes with manager’.” We’d hired a manager. He was a guy from the pub, an old guy. We wanted him to talk to the newspapers so the police would leave us alone.” In fact the police did arrest them. “They said: ‘You beat them up.’ But what can you do if they are selling drugs in front of my brother, my father, my cousin? Heroin. And people die on the streets from that,” pleads Ali, adding “What can we do? We have to keep our streets clean.” Today the pimps have replaced the dealers, but it’s the same fight. “There are new tousles every week,” he says almost matter-of-factly.
Yazıcıoğlu and King Ali’s fight against crime in their Kiez found unlikely allies in the radical right-wingers of the AfD. Last August the party even organised a protest against what they called “forced prostitution” on Kurfürstenstraße. “I was walking by when by chance I saw the demo,” says Yazıcıoğlu. “I don’t know much about politics, but I know these guys are racists. I can’t support racists.” In fact the AfD were quickly outnumbered by counter-demonstrators holding banners with “Sex work is work” and “No room for right-wing agitation”. Politics are messy. So are things in Schöneberg 30.
I was born here and I am going to die here. Schöneberg’s my kingdom. One has to fight for one’s kingdom.”
As grim and gritty as things sometimes might feel, both he and King Ali claim a strong attachment to their neighborhood, as all their friends here, mostly second- and third-generation “Ausländer”. “Everyone knows each other. You have to come in the summer, 50, 60 people, families, everyone is sitting on the streets, and the elderly and the parents, everyone is sitting here… We are eight brothers. We all live here. Everyone in one building,” explains King Ali. And emphatically: “At some point I wanted to leave, but my mother wouldn’t let me. I was born here and I am going to die here. Schöneberg’s my kingdom. One has to fight for one’s kingdom.”
SNAPSHOT: IVANA from the block
On the corner of Steinmetzstraße and Bülowstraße a Turkish lady in a headscarf runs a Spätkauf selling fresh börek and lahmacun. In a backroom locals drink tea or beer. This is where Ivana keeps her things. Ivana is a Bulgarian sex worker who hangs out day and night outside the Commerzbank just opposite. She comes here to freshen up, put on make-up and sometimes chill with a cigarette. “Got to give my Muschi a rest,” she says lighting a smoke. The slender brunette with Balkan good looks has been in Berlin two years and speaks English and German. English she learned in school for 12 years, German she picked up here. Her work is crap, but “the money is mine and doesn’t go to the Puff (the bordello)”. Eventually she wants to study.