Three decades after it vanished, West Berlin is portrayed in a new report not just as an anything-goes playground for artists, drop-outs and draft-dodgers – but also for paedophiles.
A study of child abuse in West Berlin between 1970 and 2000 searched state and private archives, finding that paedophile groups targeted children who had run away from home or were neglected.
Ingo Fock grew up neglected in the West Berlin neighbourhood of Kreuzberg. His young mother worked and, after school, the 10-year-old spent the afternoons in a neighbour’s photography shop.
After building up trust, the man took naked pictures of the boy, which he then used to blackmail him into meeting his “friends” in a private apartment. There Ingo and other children were passed around to other men: a dentist who liked role play and a judge who told Ingo that he could make any complaints he made to the police disappear.
Soon, one of the men began selling Ingo to other men behind West Berlin’s Zoo Station, a place infamous due to the book and film about teenage drug addict and prostitute Christiane F.
“The police were always going along there but they never did anything,” said Ingo. “What would have happened if they had intervened and asked: ‘What, exactly, is going on here?’ ”
Kevin from East Berlin was just 13 when a school caretaker began abusing him. When the wall fell he, too, found himself selling sex at the train station and remembers the light touch of police: “Sometimes they gathered us up and drove us to the suburbs, saying ‘We don’t want to see you at the station for a while’.”
The study’s authors say paedophilia was accepted – or at least tolerated – by many in West Berlin liberal circles.
“The liberation of sexuality had a positive connotation,” said Sabine Andresen, head of Germany’s independent state commission into child abuse. “That’s why it was difficult for the victims when it came to the darker side of this development.”
Pro-paedophile networks were active in West Berlin’s squatter and commune scene, where residents “wanted to distance [themselves] from the tradition of authoritarianism and the violent education system of the postwar period”.
A former commune resident told the report that “many ‘sniffer’ kids lived in the occupied houses. Self-confessed adult paedophiles were also there.”
A major focus of the report is on how West Berlin’s paedophile organisations demanded decriminalisation of adult-child sex as part of the gay community’s battle for its rights. The paedophiles’ motto: “Solidarity with a minority of the minority.”
The contacts were uncomfortable for some, archives show, but others viewed accepting paedophilia as part of the rejection of conventional sexual norms.
A 1981 gay travel guide to West Berlin names bars where visitors could buy “fresh meat, offered here, clean and tasty, to take away”.
Paedosexual literature was sold in gay bookstores in the 1990s and, in 1997, a city Aids centre sublet rooms to a paedophilia working group.
In 1991 Berlin’s Gay Museum exhibited “collages and poems by a boy-lover who, on account of these passions, was suspended from his position”. The artist in question was a pastor who abused and flogged boys.
Paedophilia was not a man-only domain in West Berlin, the report suggests. During West Berlin’s Lesbian Week in 1987, a women’s group called the Sewer Rats held a workshop on “Sexuality and Paedophilia” and accused “uptight” older lesbians of trying to “murder” their sexual preferences for children.
For Ingo Fock, this preliminary study is “the tip of an iceberg” about the darker side of life in West Berlin.
In particular, he said, “the gay movement has to ask itself what responsibility it has for the past”.
The subject of child sex abuse is seeping into the German mainstream. After a series of trials involving paedophile rings at campsites last year, attention will turn in April to the trial of ex-footballer Christoph Metzelder, who is accused of possession and dissemination of child pornography.
Separately, survivors of clerical sexual abuse are demanding a parliamentary truth-and-reconciliation commission to explore child abuse and paedophilia more fully. Bishop Georg Bätzing, head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said this week that any such body should explore the “entire spectrum” of sexual violence in society.
“If that happens,” he said, “then I’m in favour.”