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It's 8AM on a Saturday. Rafaela is 52 years old, smoking a cigarillo and talking to me about how she believes in true love. Metres away, two rats are rustling around in a car park. Over the last night and day I've spent around her, Rafaela has only had sex with one man, but says that, on a good night, it can be eight or even more.
Sometimes it sounds like she's coughing. She claims to be an optimist, "though that doesn't help you much". By this point, Rafaela and I have known each other for about 24 hours. She has been awake the whole time — keeping herself going with coffee, vodka and beer, while passing her spare hours on slot machines in local bars. Over the course of those hours, I met a woman who has worked here since she was 12; a local parish leader trying to offer sex workers a way out; a year-old who sits on a portable chair all day just to watch the women stroll by; and, of course, Rafaela.
For the past seven years she's worked as a street cleaner in Berlin, which, she told me, was her dream job. But she claimed she then fell in love with an IT specialist, who, as time went on, started asking her for more and more money — for things like a jacket, and then for a full stereo system.
Rafaela eventually moved in with the guy, but after he admitted he didn't actually have a job she soon found herself homeless. Inside Bistro Adler, a woman was throwing coin after coin into the slot machine, while another slept huddled in a chair — her blonde wig had slipped off, exposing her head. He's been a regular here for 20 years — "since I was He works as a waiter by night and sleeps during the day. Toni came to Germany aged 17 on a boat from Algeria.
Prostitution is legal in Germany, but politicians in Berlin are constantly threatening to ban it as more and more local residents complain about people having sex in their gardens and bushes. Where there used to be car parks for sex workers to meet their clients, there are now luxury apartments.