This property is condemned.
The façade is aging, peeling. The foundation has rotten parasites eating away at its insides, the once beautiful windows to the soul of the structure are dark and cracked.
No, I speak not of a building gray and bleak but of a woman used and pale.
A woman sold into white slavery.
I encountered Fräulein_____ on a street near the Schlesischer Bahnhof, her black hat with its weeping flower pulled down to hide her face, her red satin dress stained with the residue of sex and despair, her brown woolen stockings ill-fitting. But her black laced-up shoes sparkled with a smooth finish.
Spit-shined, she told me, trying to smile. That was all she had left. Everything else was gone.
I could see she need to talk so I invited her to tea in a small café near the train station. Her eyes lit up. She was more accustomed to a man going up to a room with her for the price of a Schnapps. Sitting at a table and sipping hot tea with an elegance that belied her current state, she told me her story.
Once she was a schoolteacher, she told me, teaching Latin in a private institution. When the mark went into a tailspin, they couldn’t afford to pay their staff. She decided to return home to her small village, but she didn’t have enough money for a train ticket. A man approached her, told her he would help her find a job.
Teaching? she asked. He smiled. You could call it that.
Instead of teaching students Latin, she soon discovered her job was to show men the pleasures of her body in a hotel bordello. She would receive two, maybe three marks for her services.
When she refused, the man told her she would be forced to ingest poison, her body left in a cheap hotel room to make it look like a suicide. That disturbed her, for as a woman of faith if her death was deemed a suicide, she would not be buried with the blessing of the Church.
She was but one of many girls caught up in a notorious white slavery ring.
During the late 1920s and the next decade, this organized ring operated in the heart of Berlin with more than five hundred small hotels run by a man in a high position in the military.
This guaranteed the prostitution trade free rein in its recruitment of girls and women, often against their will, for the flesh mills. Some women were shipped off to decadent sex dens in the Far East and North Africa, where they were rarely heard from again.
The woman thanked me for listening to her story and stood up to leave. Before she left, she pulled back her hat so I could see her face. Fine, pretty features that revealed the toll of her ordeal. Sallow, scaly skin. Deep lines around her mouth painted a tawdry scarlet. Dark-hollowed half-moons under her eyes.
But it was her scarred flesh that made me gasp. A disgruntled customer had burned half her face with hot wax from a lit candle after she passed out drunk. I knew then they had taken her soul as well.
She took my hand in both of hers, clasping it tight, warning me that the white slavery ring was always lurking in the shadows in the city of Berlin, ready to pounce on unsuspecting, innocent girls. It could happen to anyone, she said.
“Even you, Fräulein.”
Lady Eve Marlowe