★★★★ | Rent Boys

For well over the past four decades, Berlin’s Zoo Railway Station has been the main stomping ground for the city’s rent boys.

Using archive footage from 1965 this fascinating documentary from gay activist filmmaker Rosa Van Praunheim paints the scene there as it has evolved until the present day. It is a desperately sad tale of the squalid and dangerous lives these boys lead in an occupation that at best leaves them scarred for life, and at worse cost them their lives.

In the early days, in particular, most of the boys that hustled sex for money were victims of sexual abuse themselves and were plying for trade in their very early teens, and some even younger. Their tales were particularly harrowing especially when they were continuously exploited by paedophiles, and were completely unaware of all the inherent dangers of life on the street.

Nowadays very few of the boys are German and are heterosexual immigrants from neighbouring ex-Eastern bloc countries who, discovering that they can make more money from one encounter with a ‘john’ than they could laborfor a month back home, are prepared to become ‘gay for pay’ for the financial rewards. They take the same risks, plus the possibility of being deported too.

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Van Praunheim profiled a few of the boys who had been working Zoo Station and the environs for some years now, and despite all the risks, still appeared reluctant to give it up. He went to the hustler bars and talked to the barkeepers who related about the abuse, the violence, the crime and the drug taking in a resigned almost complacent manner. He also followed the workers of SUB/WAY a support group who try their best to help the boys particularly to prevent the spread of AIDS & HIV, and dedicated and hardworking as they are, seemed to be making little headway in getting them off the streets.

The boys’ stories are heart-rending and there isn’t one that has a happy ending. As they eventually drop out/leave fresher naive young boys take their places and the supply chain never seems to be broken. As Van Praunheim’s film shows, the price the pay for their seedy unhappy lives is far too high.

Fascinating, but extremely disturbing to watch.