Domenica Niehoff: Prostitute and social activist who campaigned for the legalisation of her profession

Known to her clients and her many fans as "Hamburg Domenica", Germany's best-known prostitute, Domenica Niehoff, has died at the age of 63. Niehoff, who retired from prostitution in the 1990s, campaigned for the legalisation of well-regulated prostitution and turned her attention to a number of social causes. In some ways she was Germany's Cynthia Payne; perhaps surprisingly, some even likened her to Christine Keeler.

Niehoff was born in Cologne in 1945. Her mother, Anna, fled with her children from an abusive Italian husband and fed her children through practising fortune-telling and petty fraud. Given the chaotic conditions in Germany at the end of the Second World War, she had some success, but before long she was arrested. Niehoff and her brother, Amando, spent their childhood in a Catholic orphanage.

At 14, Niehoff took up an apprenticeship as an accounts clerk, but three years later she got involved with a 42-year-old brothel keeper, whom she later married. When she was 27, in 1972, her husband of 10 years shot himself in front of her. In the same year she began to work as a prostitute in Palais d'Amour, a bordello in Hamburg's St Paul red light district. She later set up her own studio as a dominatrix.

With changing attitudes towards sex and prostitution in the 1970s and 1980s, Niehoff became a familiar figure on TV talk shows. She was always instantly recognisable for her 48-inch bust and outrageously revealing outfits. She gradually found herself moving in celebrity circles, with Tomi Ungerer, known for his children's books and anti-war posters, the artist Horst Janssen and the aristocrats Johannes and Gloria von Thurn und Taxis among others.

Niehoff appeared in several feature films and television plays, including Messalina – Kaiserin und Hure (Messalina – Empress and Harlot, 1977), Desperado City (1981), Taxi nach Kairo (Taxi to Cairo, 1987) and Der Hurenstreik – Eine Liebe auf St Pauli (The Whores' Strike – a Love Story in St Pauli, 1998). In 1993, Peter Kern directed a documentary about her life. Her autobiography, Körper mit Seele – Mein Leben [Body and Soul – My Life] appeared in 1994.

Niehoff left prostitution in the 1990s to open a bar in Hamburg's red light district. From 1998 to 2000 she owned a bar at the Fischmarkt in St Pauli, but this was closed down when she had difficulties with the tax authorities. She also turned her attention to a number of social causes: in 1991 she co-founded Ragazza e.V., a project which helped young prostitutes, and she could often be found on the streets helping drug addicts with hot drinks and even money.

During the visit of Pope John Paul II to Berlin in 1996, she caused a stir when she spoke at a demonstration of transvestites. Dressed in religious vestments, she called the controversial transvestite Charlotte von Mahlsdorf "holy", which led to an outcry from some of Bavaria's Christian Democrats.



Domenica Anita Niehoff, prostitute and social activist: born Cologne, Germany 3 August 1945; married; died Hamburg 12 February 2009.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent