Good men and brave women

They were fresh meat, sometimes sold by their own fathers. As the worker's daughter Marie Koenig (played by Alice Prosser), she leaves her parents' home at 16, is approached on Bratterstrasse and lured to the brothel of Regine Reil (Maria Hofstätter). Instead of the promised self-determined wealth, a life of physical and psychological violence awaited them. And her father? He collected 20 crowns a month from Riehl in “rental income” for his daughter. Eventually he too will have to be convicted in court.

By 1900 Vienna was a center for goods and people. A large influx into the Habsburg metropolis, especially from the eastern regions, caused overpopulation, causing the city's slums to grow rapidly. It was an excellent breeding ground for the fin de siècle, human engineers who lured young women to countless brothels, especially young Jewish women from Galicia or Bukovina. When one of the women rebels and, once connected with the right people, the well-established system of slavery, exploitation and corruption is thrown out of balance: Marie Koenig and several other young women testify against Ryle in a sensational trial. .

This language exposes the clamor of the contemporary press, which gleefully took up the court case: the accused Reel is praised as a “matchmaker”, the witnesses in court are “slim” and “beautiful”, one can sometimes read about this. “Nice toilet.” Media reports – Karl Krauss also wrote about them – together with the detailed court file, confirm that the “History of the Universe” documentary can rely on excellent source material.

The documentary doesn't deliberately serve up the expected virulence: “It was very exciting for us to say political things,” insists director Stefan Ludwig. For Caroline Heidecher, head of the “Universe History” editorial board, it's about the fundamental understanding that history is written not only by the powerful, but also by so-called ordinary people. The problem: Compared to the “history of the regime”, the sources available to ordinary people are usually considerably thinner.

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The new documentary, made as part of a collaboration between ORF, Geyrhalter Film and NDR-Arte, is not limited to the Riehl case, but takes it as a starting point for global human trafficking at the turn of the century. For example, Buenos Aires was a popular migration destination for men seeking work and pleasure at the time. The resulting surplus not only attracted brothel operators to the Argentine capital, but women also voluntarily decided to take up the profession to escape poverty. The “Universe History” production also congenially portrays this voluntary form of prostitution.

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