I’m picking up my 11-year-old son Leo and his best friend Frederik from judo lessons
A residential area in West Berlin. The car is parked on a side street. Black-clad windows discolored yellowed photos of scantily clad women; neon headlines have remained from a once flourishing red light district that moved to the East a few years ago.
A framed poster, on it a bulging female bottom, squeezed into a leather thong, advertises for the erotic fair in Berlin 2019: “Sex in the city.”
“In-ter-na-ti-o-na-l Ero-tic-fair,” Frederik spells out, and then for a while there is nothing left to be heard of from the children, just a little while ago giggling and practicing judo fingerings. In the rearview mirror, I see two pairs of eyes torn open, the female bottom seems bigger than the two cubs together.
We are the generation of parents for whom there is no taboo in child raising.
Boldly and with big steps we measure the world and universe with them. In a relaxed chat, we talk to our youngest about sexuality like the first swimming attempts or rare species threatened with extinction.
But how does a mother talk to her eleven-year-old son about pornography and love for sale? With “young men,” as Leo recently explained to me the difference between a childish boy and an adult man.
So I begin a bit awkwardly a conversation about prostitutes (better to say whores or hookers?), glad that we now turn into a remote side street; about us lovely green foliage, next to us Wilhelminian facades, no advertising wall, no double message in the form of exposed popos or other soft parts.
Whew, where were we? The prostitutes … “So there go the men who …”
“Men? Women don’t?” asks Frederik.
I’m garbling around: “Yes, women, sometimes even the women go…”
“They aren’t gay, man,” Leo corrects.
Giggling and snorting. How do I proceed now? After all, the conversation has already begun once. “So, the women,” I’m trying a new push. “Women say lesbian, and women say…”
“Eighty percent of men go to these women, to the prostitutes,” says Frederik.
How interesting, how does the boy know?
“Read,” he replies bored and with a stretched voice.
Before I can ask, he says categorically, “My dad’s not going there.”
“Not mine either, a mama?” says Leo.
“No, no, no, no. He doesn’t have to, he …”
“…is loved enough by us,” Leo concludes my sentence.
At the next traffic light, we stop next to an advertising pillar: Wicki, the Viking. The new film, yes, that’s where they want to go, absolutely, best on the following weekend and exchange now about scenes, which they have already seen on commercial television from it. I don’t know who’s relieved more about this change of topic, the two boys or me?
Finally, I drop Frederik off in front of his front door, wait until the door is opened and do not leave until it has closed behind him.
I was born in the late ’50s, a time of restrictive sexual morality. For me, the “Reeperbahn” was a synonym for love for sale, and this was a part of adult sexuality. So, I imagined a road whose access was controlled by a barrier, like a border crossing. And it was also a border, dark land of secrets and prohibitions, one where children were not allowed in. Men like my father, of course! In my imagination the street was populated by rocking, drunken sailors, whom I would never meet anyway in my life, because they would set off with the next ship to Hong Kong or Bali, would just be swallowed up by the big sea, which, as is well known, begins at the port of Hamburg …
Furthermore, the Reeperbahn was far away from our place of residence, and even when I was on holiday in Hamburg with my parents for a week, I didn’t see this strange street.
For our children, the Reeperbahn is everywhere. Ubiquitous.
In the evening I have a long and extensive conversation with my partner, one of the kinds: worried parents-the-who-know-it-is-no-real-children-life-in-the-wrong. It is not without pride that Dad hears how his son has cleared him of all suspicion. Yes, only the other men go to the forbidden country. We come to a conclusion that, as always, we must endure the contradictions. Accompany the child.
We’ll be vigilant!
A few days later we visit a technical museum. In the foyer we are greeted by two robot dogs, which sniff at each other, wagging their tails and barking around each other.
My partner is surprised: “It looks like they know each other.”
“Sure,” says Leo, “they put something in them. The sense of smell, so they can smell and remember.”
“Well then they will soon be able to replace man,” his father ironically says to me over the head of our son. “And not only for cleaning services but also for comforting, plastering…”
“Yes, saved with a familiar voice,” I now get excited and think of my dummy Bärbel, whose built-in tape I could play at the push of a button: “My name is Bärbel. I love you. I love you. Hold me in your arms.”
“Cool, a love robot,” calls Leo, holding out his hand to one of the dogs for sniffing.” One you can program just as you want.”
We look at him inquisitively.
“Well, if something happens to you now … Or I come from school, both of you are not there, and we would have such a robot, he would be just like you Mama. He… so… she would open the door for me, kiss me, ask me what school was like, make me dinner … And if I had had any trouble at school now, then I didn’t need to talk to you on the phone anymore, the, uh, the roboticist would ask me and comfort me and take me in her arms, just like you did …”
Now the subject is over for him, and he turns to the other dog, kneels down to stroke him. Suddenly something seems to come to his mind, he gets up and says: “Would be much cheaper.”
“Cheaper than what?” we ask like out of one mouth.
“Well, then one could get the money for them, for the prostitu … “he searches for the word.
“Yeah, well, you don’t have to pay for them anymore.” Celebrating triumph.
Since we look disbelieving, he becomes impatient, his parents don’t understand anything. “Man, if I buy a person’s love now, it’s gonna cost a lot of money, right?” Leo looks up at his father. And when he nods, Leo continues: “Well, that would save a lot.”
“Buyable love is now something else my son,” my life companion contradicts and continues us from the crowd of people, which meanwhile listens amused.
“Yes, our son now says annoyed, I wouldn’t… „
“Well, sex and stuff,” he grins, but everything else, cuddling and stuff.
When he looks into my bewildered face, he adds: “Of course, it’s not as beautiful as your’s mama, I wouldn’t like her that much either.” He presses my hand comfortingly and falls into jerky, twitching movements, rolls his eyes to it as angularly as possible: “I love you,” he says digitally hacked to pieces and takes me angularly, but warmly in his arms.
It’s that simple!
Or is there still no clarification?