Teen Dream: Student Apprentices in Mom's Berlin Sex Shop
Leslie Pumm is most likely Germany's only sex shop apprentice. The 18-year-old, who is learning the business at his mother's store, finds that being gay gives him an advantage at work. At the same time, he has his sights set on bigger ambitions and is already active in local politics.
Accessories made out of rubber and leather such as masks, whips and tight costumes are piled up in the fetish corner of the tube shaped erotic store. This is the part of the shop where Leslie Pumm, 18, has to turn off his imagination. "Otherwise it hurts me inside," he says with a shudder.
Since March, Pumm has been working as a retail sales apprentice in an erotic shop in Berlin's Wedding district, just north of the city center. Students who don't attend university in Germany often complete apprenticeships at salons, shops and other businesses. But according to the local chamber of commerce, there is no other apprentice working in this particular field. It's quite possible that Pumm is the only sex shop apprentice in the entire country.
Previously he worked at a large electronics retail chain, but it soon became clear, as he puts it in his Berlin dialect, "that it was not for me." Instead, he began working in the sex shop that his mother has been running since the beginning of the year.
The transition took some adjustment, but he feels much more comfortable now, Pumm says. Things were hectic in the department store where he sold computers, mobile phones and mp3 players, and the noise drowned him out when he was trying to advise customers. The erotic store is much quieter, and above all, discreet. His mother told him from the beginning not to loudly discuss the impotency problems of customers who buy penis pumps, for example.
Pumm prefers advising customers on condoms and lubricants because he has tested them out himself. He finds it more difficult to discuss films that show penises and breasts on their covers. Pumm, who is openly gay, says the films are too explicit for him and he has no interest in them.
To make proper recommendations, he would actually have to watch most of the films on the shelves, but he finds them too disgusting. His mother tests films at random. She recently saw a porn film based on the movie "Avatar," with lots of blue penises, so that she could sell the 3D version for 70 ($90) in good conscience.
Pumm finds that being gay is an advantage in his work. Women often open up the dressing room curtain to get his opinion on whether or not the erotic outfits they are trying on suit them. He can give a sober assessment.
Young, handsome men are more of a rarity in the store, though occasionally groups come in looking for a birthday gift for a friend. "In these cases Mama stays out of it, Pumm says. "I advise on matters of rubber dolls." He grins and points to a shiny box of the model "Jenna," which comes with a vibrating tongue for 300.
Most of the customers are old enough to be his grandfather, Pumm says, musing that while it used to be frowned upon, now the elderly happily browse the store. One of his regular customers, who Pumm estimates to be about 80, rarely leaves the store with about 500 to 600 in merchandise. "I have a feeling that older people are much more willing to experiment," says Pumm.
Since he's started his apprenticeship, friends are particularly glad to pick him up from work. But he's also working on building his prominence beyond his small circle. An eager Twitter user, Pumm is also an active member of pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) and on the board of the party's Brandenburg chapter.
In May he came in third place in the German television show, "Ich kann Kanzler!" where contestants represent their political position for cash prizes.
Pumm grabs a shiny black and pink costume that he recently wore to a Lady Gaga concert. It doesn't bother him that he fulfills some stereotypes when he meets up with his two best gay friends at a café to drink prosecco and check out other men.
An elderly couple walks into the store and the woman is wearing a headscarf. They stop in front of the dildos. He briefly advises them that a lot can go wrong with dildos. He usually recommends those made with medical-grade silicon. "Soft, skin-friendly, not cold -- I'm almost in love with it," he says.
There are also more adventurous models on the shelf. He takes down one of the cartons containing a dildo that measures a startling 37 centimeters and gives off an unpleasant odor when unpacked. "The beginner's model," he and his mother call it. The model has only been purchased once at a price of 51.
It's important to his mother that the store doesn't appear sleazy. There are no video booths and the shop is brightly lit. Pop music plays over the loud speakers. Still, because of child protection laws the inside of the store can't be seen from the street. Mothers with young children must also be sent out.
But Pumm thinks that the age limit of 18 should be relaxed to help out teen customers. "Buying condoms in a drugstore is super embarrassing to a 16-year-old," he says.
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