Historical Figures

How Domenica became the whore of the nation

In the 1980s, Domenica Niehoff was the icon of sex work in Hamburg's Kiez. Later, the "whore of the nation" helps women as a street worker to get out of prostitution.

by Oliver Diedrich, NDR.de

In the 1970s, one "Schoolgirl Report" was shown in cinemas after the other. "Klimbim" is tap-dancing on TV with the half-naked Ingrid Steeger. The "Stern" sells porn as photographic art. The business of sex becomes socially acceptable - prostitution? What's up! A remarkable career began in Hamburg's Kiez:within a decade, Domenica Anita Niehoff went from sex worker to icon, to "whore of the nation". Germany's most well-known prostitute would have turned 75 on August 3rd.

Domenica Niehoff initially received her suitors in the spacious "Palais d'Amour" café on the Reeperbahn. She served a number of customers every night.

"I had everything. All layers. They were whining, begging, demanding, mean. Well-behaved, nice, rich, poor, young, old." Domenica 2008 in a "Welt" interview

She drank and chain smoked. After a few years in the neighborhood she could have been a wreck. How come she was instead invited to talk shows, that artists dubbed her a "muse"? And how did it happen that the "whore of the nation" finally changed sides and became a street worker?

Domenica Niehoff - A child from Cologne

Domenica Niehoff was born on August 3, 1945 in Cologne. Her mother separates after two more children from her father - he is violent. The mother is considered a pathological player and often has to do with the police. Domenica is four years old when she and her siblings move to a home. She was a quiet girl, "always helpful and agreeable," says her file at the time. But she is melancholy and is happy about each of the few letters from home. At school she is good to very good. Decades later, in an interview, Domenica says that she was simply afraid at the time - of life and of her mother.

A life in the lap of luxury with the brothel operator

Domenica Niehoff was born in Cologne in 1945. She grew up in the home.

In 1960 the girl begins an apprenticeship in an office. At the carnival, when she was 17, she met a man who was 25 years her senior. He has a lot of money - and runs a large brothel. The couple lives in the lap of luxury. Domenica does not have to "buy" for her husband. However, his depression and his addiction to pills are a heavy burden. When he loses his fortune in the early 1970s due to the bankruptcy of a private bank, he shoots himself in the apartment they share. And Domenica is left without a husband and protector and without money.

"I drink myself into a coma every day"

She is 27 years old when she decides to go into prostitution herself. First she works in Munich, then she follows her new partner - again a large-scale pimp - to St. Pauli. It makes a lot of sales and accepts a lot. In her memoirs, Domenica later describes her everyday life. Even after work she was still pushed:

"'Get another, get another!' In between, still in the 'crack':make sales with clients or take one away because there was nothing going on in the underground car park without heating."Domenica in her memoirs

Her husband, the well-known landlord of the "Ritze" restaurant, secretly watched her at work and enjoyed it. "And he even collected the wages." She did it "to prove my love to him." And:"I drank myself into a coma every day during and after work." In 1980 Domenica separates and becomes self-employed.

Photos by Günter Zint make them well known

The photos of her friend Günter Zint make Domenica famous. This recording later became the hook for the NDR documentary "A photo tells a story:Domenica".

From now on she sits in a shop window in the notorious Herbertstraße and goes about her business. And it's slowly becoming famous:as the favorite motif of the Hamburg photographer and co-founder of the "St. Pauli Nachrichten", Günter Zint. His pictures of the voluptuous Domenica and her colleagues spread "Kiez romance". It's the early 1980s:Boom time in the red-light district, just before the war begins in the neighborhood, the big murders among competitors for women, drugs and weapons - and before AIDS becomes a big issue.

From the streets to movies and talk shows

Photo shoot with the trio in 1983:Domenica's face will not be seen much later on the record cover of "Bum Bum".

Above all, people from show business find it chic to show up with St. Pauli celebrities. Domenica plays along:photos are taken with her and Karl Lagerfeld, Jörg Immendorff, Udo Lindenberg, Achim Reichel, Jan Fedder and many others. Domenica poses for the album cover of the trio's hit "Bum Bum" – significantly, only her cleavage and mouth can be seen there, not her eyes. She is engaged for several films and plays - prostitutes, of course. Domenica is now even on TV talk shows. There she speaks out for the legalization of sex work. Your business is booming.

"When is a normal human coming?"

In an NDR documentary about Domenica that was made after her death, Günter Zint raves about this time:"There was always something going on in the whorehouse. It was a family atmosphere, where friends socialized, not just clients, but friends who just came to have a chat with her."

Overinspirateuse Domenica, washed down with all the whiskeys and double grains. I played my first songs for her on her out of tune piano back there - and then we went straight away and drank the royalties."Udo Lindenberg in an obituary

But someone has to pay for the liquor too. And Domenica continues to do that with her body. In fact, she's a step further. She endures her work only with alcohol and pills. "I just switch off when I work. I only see his thing. Fat, thin, limp, small, large, huge, fat balls, small balls, no balls ... I shake myself and think:When is it finally coming normal person?"

Domenica - no dominatrix

Zint later reports, "There was a great misunderstanding among suitors." Because of her name, many would have believed that Domenica would satisfy sado-masochistic needs as a dominatrix. But her name comes from the Italian word for Sunday - Domenica. "And she couldn't hit at all. She always had a maid who brought her in. She then had to swing the whip for her." Nevertheless, Domenica poses in photos with paint, leather and torture room accessories. Apparently it's good for business. "People were queuing outside their windows," says Zint.

After leaving, street worker - with too much heart?

In 1990 Domenica gave up sex work. "Actually, I should have stopped five years earlier," she says later. But what job should she have done otherwise:"Who would have taken me?" Domenica sees only one way out:she changes sides. She becomes a street worker and also wants to help other women get out. For 2,500 marks a month, as an employee at the social welfare office. Many women on the street trust her because she knows the milieu. This being needed in turn helped her, Niehoff sums up later. But she also offends. Colleged colleagues accuse her of behaving unprofessionally:Domenica cannot distinguish herself. She takes drug addicts and the seriously ill home to alleviate their plight.

"I just have a speech impediment. I can't say no. It comes from my old job."Domenica

Some take advantage of their kindness - Domenica's savings go to waste. And in the neighborhood she is insulted by some as a "nest polluter".

Failure as a pub owner and escape to the Eifel

In 1998 Domenica opened a pub at the harbour. "It wasn't good for her," says companion Zint. She drank more again. "Preferably tea with rum, hot - it pops better," writes Domenica in her memoirs. The pub is only profitable at the beginning, then it loses track. After two years, the eviction comes because of open bills. Domenica is apparently so embarrassed that she is slowly getting back on her feet. Her brother's inheritance helps her:he leaves her a house in the Eifel. There Domenica moves to a place with 600 inhabitants. She opens a small pension. At first things are going well. But then even their celebrities hardly attract any guests to the Eifel. She suffers from loneliness.

Domenica dies in 2009 - "La Paloma" is played as a farewell

Funeral march 2009 for Domenica Niehoff - above all the photographer Günter Zint (middle) and the publicist Peggy Parnass (right).

In the end, Domenica returned to Hamburg in 2008 and rented social housing in the neighborhood. When old companions see them again, they are horrified:Domenica has gained enormous weight and is diabetic. "She had eaten a real shell, the beautiful face was gone," recalled an acquaintance. Domenica died on February 12, 2009 as a result of chronic bronchitis. Friends throw money together, organize a big funeral procession in St. Pauli and organize the burial in the Ohlsdorf cemetery. Hundreds of people attend the memorial service. As a farewell, Domenica's favorite song is played:"La Paloma".

In 2016, the city of Hamburg named a street in Altona after the "whore of the nation".