He was Berlin’s red-light king, a larger-than-life character who hobnobbed with celebrities and mobsters, who ultimately died alone and penniless. Robert Rigney recalls his time spent with Steffen Jacob, the “Prince of Stuttgarter Platz”.
Klaus the Mouse from Halensee, who claimed to have been a private detective and had his ear to the ground regarding most West Berlin scandals, called me up in 2010 and said he needed to introduce me to someone. “A Berlin original”, a real “Hackfresse”, a minger all right, but “one-of-a-kind”, whom everyone would recognise on the street in an instant. “It’s imperative that you meet him now, because he isn’t getting any younger, and time is of the essence.”
Only a couple of days later I made my way to Der Floh, a rustic German restaurant and brown bar in Grunewald. There he was, a remarkably ugly man in his sixties with the face of a bullfrog, dressed in a skull t-shirt and designer jeans like a man half his age, holding a silver-topped cane, a bulldog at his feet. Klaus was right. I recognised him at once.
It was Steffen Daniel Jacob, the “Prince of Stuttgarter Platz”, Berlin’s most famous red-light impresario and bordello owner… recently the subject of a Berliner Kurier front-page story with the title “Der Prinz vom Stutti lebt wieder bei Mutti” (“Prince of Stutti lives with his mum again”). This man – who once had thousands of women, who held champagne orgies on Erich Honecker’s yacht, who drove a purple Rolls-Royce Corniche that had belonged to the first president of Cyprus, who had everyone from David Bowie to Bushido as customers, who played soccer with Willy Brandt (who he said was also a john), who was the focus of the 1996 ARD documentary Der Rotlichtprinz and the 2003 made-for-TV movie Hotte im Paradies – now lived out a reclusive existence in Grunewald with his 93-year-old mother. She had once worked at his table-dance bar, Bon Bon, on Stuttgarter Platz.
Jacob immediately disclosed that he wanted to meet with me for two reasons. One was that he had an inside scoop on a corruption scandal involving a Brandenburg SPD politician. This interested me very little. The second thing was that he wanted someone to write his biography.
“Let’s write a book about the underworld,” he said. “Above is below and below is above. I’m in possession of so much knowledge, background knowledge, foreground knowledge. Endless knowledge. I need to tell it all now, or else I’ll take my knowledge to the grave. I don’t need fame. I’ve had enough of that.”
I immediately said I was his man.
Over the course of a month we met five times at various old-school West Berlin bars in Grunewald and Halensee, where Jacob tried to convey something of the luxury and high times he had experienced in the 1970s. Sometimes Jacob’s elderly mother was there and ate duck with dumplings while we spoke. Often Klaus was there too, sucking up to Jacob and cadging drinks from him. Jacob drank little, himself. He was a frail man now and had paid with multiple illnesses for his past excesses.
David Bowie would stand in front of my locale and shout, ‘Petra, come down!’ I said to him‚ ‘Quiet, or I’ll smack you!’
“I always slept late and then I got up and I ate, let’s say like a pig. And then massive quantities of alcohol – two or three bottles of champagne a day, and a lot of the other stuff as well. So, everything that one doesn’t need. Then, heart attack. Voll Kontakt.”
“Tell him how you used to wear this fur coat so that you couldn’t fit through the door,” said Klaus. “I was a huge fat pig once. I had such a huge stomach that I couldn’t even see my dick. I could only screw from behind.”
Jacob showed me his tattoos and his scars. Excess didn’t stop with alcohol and sex – brawls were part of what he described as his “poor lifestyle”.
“Here, my hand, I laid into someone, but because I’m so clumsy I hit a plate of glass… Now I’ll tell you what an idiot I am. Someone shot at me, listen closely, someone shot at me. Missed me, of course, but because I’m a lucky-son-of-a-bitch I caught the ricochet in the head. Here. Boof.”
Jacob loved to boast and was an incessant name-dropper, but he was humble in his way. And he had a fatalistic streak. “I attracted too much in my life,” said Jacob. “I’ve seen so much blood and death, not that I necessarily had something to do with it. But people with whom I had contact: knifed, hanged, shot. Crazy.”
Jacob liked to say he knew everyone in Berlin, and it began with the underworld from the Weimar Republic, particularly the ‘brothers’ of the so-called Ringvereine, the organised crime circles that ran prostitution and black-market rackets until the National Socialists wiped them out in 1934. He’d met some surviving members in the late 1960s – for instance, Heini Möss of the old Sparverein West gang.
“Heini died without a penny in his pocket,” recalled Jacob. “But he would come to the bordello with three taxis. One with his hat, one with his gloves and the third one himself. Once he came to me covered in blood. I said, ‘Heini, what happened to you?’ The Pekinese belonging to one of the whores bit him in the lip. You laugh, but he looked as though he was about to kick it. We had to bring him to the hospital…” He’d jump from anecdote to anecdote in a stream of consciousness, impatient to air all of his knowledge – with this old-man-who’s-lived-too-much tendency to repeat himself, not always remembering what he had said on our previous meeting.
Once he asked me to come closer and showed me his cane, a Nazi relic with a silver handle in the shape of an eagle head, which screwed off into a dagger. “Let me show you something so that you have a little bit of respect. Not everyone has one. This is guaranteed real.” He took off his ring. It had a swastika on it, and inside was a dedication from Heinrich Himmler. “I got it from my family,” he said, but wouldn’t elaborate further.
His father had fought in WWII and returned to Berlin defeated and resigned, “lustlos”. He then went to work for the building company that constructed Gropiusstadt, where Jacob spent most of his youth; he says he met Christiane F. there before she was tall enough to reach a door handle. He was sent by his father to a Lutheran school in Neukölln.
“I wasn’t the worse for it,” said Jacob. “They conveyed to me a certain system of values. Look, there is not a single place in the Bible that says anything against prostitution. I’ve met with priests, und, und, und. I’ve had discussions and I said the House of Israel was saved by a prostitute.” Towards the end of his life, Jacob had developed a religious sense of his own.
Jacob’s first contact with the “milieu”, as he calls it, was in 1965, when he was 18. He had a friend whose father owned a chain of perfume shops. Jacob and his friend stole the perfume and took it around to sell to prostitutes.
In his twenties he opened up a bar called Domino on Charlottenburg’s Augsburger Straße, then a red light area. Jacob attributed its immediate success to its atmosphere. “Prostitution is not, for me, a dick in a cunt,” he’d explain emphatically. “I don’t like totally nude girls. The allure is missing. There should be music, champagne, laughing, the whole thing. I’m an old man, but that’s my opinion.”
His bordello became a celebrity destination. “David Bowie fucked around with transvestites,” said Jacob. “He would stand in front of my locale and shout, ‘Petra, come down!’ I said to him‚ ‘Quiet, or I’ll smack you!’ He was an English singer. Nothing special.”
Chuck Berry offered him a thousand marks for a girl. “Said he wouldn’t perform if he didn’t get a fuck. I had 300, 400 bitches. No one would fuck him. That was in the 1970s. Today the girls stand in lines for a nigger.”
Not only stars frequented his bordello, but also drug lords – like Colombian kingpin Carlos Lehder, whom he claims brought cocaine to Germany. “He did a tour of Germany. You know Mercedes 600 limos? He drove around in one of those and he was looking for models to accompany him. I provided him with the broads.”
Jacob was successful in the business. “Per day I had around 200 guests. 72,000 per year. In 10 years, 720,000. You do the math… I made €15 million in 20 years.”
With his position in the milieu, Jacob had insider’s access to most West Berlin scandals. He dropped names like Eberhard “Ebby” Thust, who blackmailed Steffi Graf’s father in the 1990s. “Drove a white Rolls-Royce, it was a geile Nummer. Yugo mafia guy killed outside his house. Known as the fastest dentist in the world. Got in a tussle with someone. Shot him in the face, blasting out his back teeth.”
In 1990 Jacob moved to his last address: Bon Bon Bar, a table-dance joint at Stuttgarter Platz 7. “Stuttgarter Platz had always been a red-light destination because of the bus station. Everyone who was arriving in Berlin used to go through Stutti.” One of the bar owners there had decided to retire and ceded his place to Jacob, free of charge. Jacob built a platform over the whole bar and had girls dance on top of it.
But starting in the mid-1990s, Jacob began to have problems with the Albanian mafia. They tried to muscle in on the business at Stutti, “nibbling from a cake that didn’t belong to them,” as Jacob put it. “They started robbing the girls on the street, stealing their handbags, slapping them around. Listen, I had a lot to do with Albanians, and, as they say, when you have problems with an Albanian you have to shoot him immediately in the head or run away. Call it cultural, but you can’t have a discussion. All they know is: boof. That’s why I always say that Albanians are like Coca-Cola. They are only good cold.”
I don’t like totally nude girls. The allure is missing. There should be music, champagne, laughing, the whole thing.
It all came to a head with a shoot-out in front of Bon Bon. “I was in bed, had my dick in a pussy, I get a call, tralala tralala, the Olle [“my old lady”, in Berlin slang] says, ‘Don’t go’. Women are always right in those moments. But idiot that I am, I drive over. Today I wouldn’t do it. I would roll over and go to sleep.”
Following an altercation, his bodyguard shot at one of the Albanians and nailed him in the back. “Three bullets hit him. He falls to the ground, but he doesn’t stay there, he starts rolling. And because he’s rolling you can’t shoot with accuracy and the next shot he gets in the back.” Jacob’s bodyguard received a four-year sentence for attempted murder.
The incident proved to be a turning point in Jacob’s life. Afterwards he chose to keep a lower profile. In 1999 he had a son, Fabian, with his longtime girlfriend, Bon Bon worker Sabina Draxler; he married Draxler in 2003. Three years later, they split up. It dawned on him that the kind of business he was in only made sense when one was young. With Stuttgarter Platz largely in the hands of the Russian mafia, he moved in with his mother in Grunewald in 2009.
During one of our last meetings, Jacob was digging into a hefty Kohlroulade when all of a sudden he turned white as paper and began to wheeze and snort and drool, his tongue lolling about in his mouth and eyes turned upwards. By the time we asked for an ambulance, he was already back to his old self.
I pitched Jacob’s biography to some publishers, but there were no takers. In 2012, I went to Istanbul. When I came back the next year Klaus called me up and said they were organising a party for Jacob’s birthday. I didn’t go.
Then, in August of last year, I caught sight of the BZ front page: The Prinz vom Stutti was dead at 67, after a series of strokes. He’d lived out his last moments in a Charlottenburg convalescent home, living off a €200 pension with no health insurance and not a cent in savings; the only luxury he still allowed himself was his favourite Toffifee chocolates. After his mother died in 2013, Jacob’s one-room apartment in Grunewald was taken over to pay for back payments, leaving only a few mementos: photo albums, newspaper clippings, a small leather armchair.
As of my plan to write the story of his life, all that’s left are 35 pages of transcribed notes, the result of long hours of conversation with a man who, faced with the imminence of death, wanted to leave something behind.
Originally published in issue #134, January 2015