Dr. Dot: Building an empire one massage at a time
Shannon Smith · 9 Mar 2010, 16:24
Published: 09 Mar 2010 16:24 GMT+01:00
Since arriving in Berlin in 1989, the Connecticut native Dot Stein has turned her passion for massage into a globe-spanning business catering to high-profile politicians (Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili), celebrities (American Idol’s Simon Cowell) and rock stars (Sting). As Dr. Dot she also offers advice to the lovelorn and sexually challenged.
Dot Stein a.k.a. Dr. Dot
Where do you live now?
I split my time between Berlin and New York. I lived in Berlin non-stop from October 1989 to 2002. That's when I decided to start going back and forth.
What were you doing before you came to Germany?
I was massaging the Grateful Dead. But I also did odd jobs. I was a photographer. I sold bracelets I made at Grateful Dead shows. My family definitely got me started on going to Dead shows at a very young age: I started going to concerts when I was two years old.
What brought you here in the first place?
I met a German at a Grateful Dead show in Hartford, Connecticut and fell in love. We followed the Grateful Dead together for another eight months. Then I got pregnant, we had the baby there and then moved here. So I came for love pretty much.
What was your very first job in Germany?
I had a whole bunch of stupid jobs because I couldn't speak German. I worked at the Europa Center Irish Pub as a waitress, I was a cleaning lady for a couple weeks. I hated it all. I was a Madonna doppelgänger. I worked at the American PX in the shoe department, and the army wives complained every single day about my clothes. So I finally got fired, they just hated me. I was also doing the Madonna shows at the time, so I looked like her with the hair and the eyebrows. Then I finally studied some German and got a job at a massage clinic where I worked for six years. It's not like I got big overnight.
How did you find those first jobs when you came?
Many people who come to Germany can't speak German, so they try to work in Irish pubs. I got the Madonna job selling some of those leftover bracelets from the Grateful Dead on the Ku'damm... on rollerskates no less! This guy came up to me one night and offered me a job. I thought he was trying to chat me up, so I told him to piss off, but he said "No, no... really". So then I had to learn Madonna's music and lyrics and all this stuff. I wasn't really a fan back then like I am now. I'm more of a Hippie, so it was really hard, but it was fun.
How did you decide to become a masseuse?
Well, I really became a masseuse when I was five years old massaging my parents. So this is really a hobby that turned into a career. It was something I'd been doing my whole life. And at this point, I'm more of a dispatcher than a masseuse: I've got about 300 people working for me. People get fired and hired every single day. It's just like a revolving door. They're not employees, they're more like independent contractors. I'm just a dispatcher. I still massage big stars, it's not like I'm too lazy to massage. But most of the time, it's being on the computer answering a thousand emails a day. I also write a sex column for Penthouse magazine, and I've written one for Exberliner magazine for eight years now.
Do you personally train the masseuses?
No, they all have to be certified. They have to have their own insurance, their own diplomas. I don't have a school or anything. But they all have to audition by giving a free massage. It used to be that they all had to come to me in Berlin, to pass this audition. These days, we just require that they make it to the nearest "DotBot," as we call them. Half of them I haven't even met, not because I don't want to, but just because I don't have the time. I'm very fair, I take a very small commission. They're basically renting my contacts from me. And they get their hands on some really big stars. Some of my girls have gotten to massage Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney. So it's good for people who like music. Some of the people on my team only want to do rich businesspeople in hotels.
You speak German now?
Ich muss aber deutsch sprechen. Na, klar!
What was the most difficult part of adjusting to life in Germany?
There's so much hostility in Berlin. I don't really know much about Germany. I know about Berlin. Goethe had a quote: "There’s a bold breed of people that live together in Berlin for which delicacy is of hardly any use. One must have hair on one’s teeth and be a little rough sometimes in order to keep one’s head above water." This quote still holds true today. And he said it like a million years ago. He's talking about how incredibly bitchy the Berliners are. It's just insane. Even Goethe noticed it, and he hit the nail right on the head. I totally understand what he means. I really can't speak for all of Germany because I keep hearing that they're friendlier everywhere else. But in Berlin, they're only friendly when the sun shines. And we know how often that is.
What's the toughest situation you ever found yourself in here?
I've been knocked out when I was jogging. I was attacked. I've been attacked twice by German men, and they got away with it. I don't like that nobody has respect for, or fear of, the law. The law is afraid of the people, so you can basically get murdered, and the person's going to get off in a year or two anyway.
What's been your favourite thing about Germany?
I think it's positive that Germany is very liberal and Berlin is very inexpensive. The rent is very, very cheap. And you feel more free here. Nudity and hookers are legal, and you can drink on the streets. But on the other hand it's sometimes too liberal. Like when I get attacked, beat up when I'm jogging, and the guy gets away with it.
How much time do you split between German and English when you're in Berlin? I speak about 90 percent English and 10 percent German these days. When I order food I speak German, when I take a cab, I speak German. I mean, I'm not one of these people who comes here and forgets they're American. I can speak German quite well, but if I hang out with Germans, they always insist on practicing their English with me. I try! I'll speak German, and they'll just answer me in English. They refuse to speak German with me, and it really pisses me off, because when I had a baby with a big stroller, nobody would help me up and down the stairs to the U-Bahn or up onto the bus. But you're damned if you do, you're damned if you don't. If you ask them in English they assume you're not trying, and if you ask them in German, they answer you in English anyway because they want to practice their English.
What fascinates you most about Berlin?
I'd say the architecture. Like... wow. The men are definitely hot. That's the superficial side. And as far as architecture goes, I'm not talking about the shitty buildings that went up after the war. I'm talking about Gendarmenmarkt and its beautiful buildings. It's just majestic. And there's a lot of water in Berlin. There's a lot of green and a lot of water. Germany is generally extremely clean, and I really like that. The people are also more honest than they are in America. Dependable. But they're slow. And arrogant. I mean you can't win, there's no perfect place. I can't decide, which is why I live in two places.
Do you feel Germany has changed you as a person?
I became tougher. And more efficient. More punctual. I was late for everything when I moved here. I was a hippie thinking: "Whatever!" Now I'm really punctual. I'm very dependable. So, some parts of me are quite German. But I still have that New Yorker drive.
Do you ever feel especially embraced by Berlin?
Some people love me and some people hate me. I'm alone a lot. I don't go out very much because I don't smoke, I barely ever drink, and if I do it's one glass of wine a month. When you run your own show, you can't go out and hang out like a bunch of losers in a bar all the time. But people who read my column, I think they embrace me, they love me. The more popular you become, the more successful you become, the more fans you'll have and the more enemies you'll have.
What would be your advice to someone trying to "make it" in Germany?
You have to learn German right away. I learned by watching Sesame Street in German. You have to learn German. Because you don't want others having the upper hand. I actually think it's pretty easy to make it here because no one else wants to work. If you're a hard worker, you'll be successful. But then again if you're lazy and just want to collect money from the government, you can also get by just fine. It's just really easy to make it here if you're driven and you're ambitious. But Berlin is a bit like an amazing ex-lover. You can't live with them and you can't live without them.
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