Music & clubs

Dirty Thirty: Celebrating 30 years of KitKatClub

Berlin's most famous sex club, KitKat, is turning 30. We caught up with founder Simon Thaur to reflect on three decades of pioneering sex positivity.

Photo: Makar Artemev

Simon Thaur wants you to get naked. Or rather, he wants you to want to get naked. For the 63-year-old owner and founder of Berlin’s most famous fetish sex venue, to be naked has its own energy – one that’s proved enduring, as KitKatClub turns 30 this year.

“My initial idea was not fetish. I always wanted as much nudity as possible,” Thaur explains, thinking back to the club’s origins, when he and longtime partner Kirsten Krüger threw their first sex party in a now-defunct Kreuzberg club in March 1994.

Today, the club’s no-street-clothes door policy is infamous, but back then, things were more lenient. “It was a bit of a mess back then because people came in just normal clothes. I guess they thought there would be a performance or a show, it was not such a clear thing.”

“We started to offer things like body paint to get people more comfortable being naked,” Thaur says. He also got in on the sexual action himself, modelling the fun he hoped to see around the club, and quickly realised that his own participation changed the night for the better. The more he pushed the boundaries himself, the further people would feel comfortable following.

From Gavin Evans’ Playground series. Photo: Gavin Evans

This foundation of liberation on which KitKat was built – which has since provided the same for millions – is rooted in Thaur’s own curiosity. Back in the 1980s, then in his twenties, he spent years feeling lost. Thaur left his home in Austria with plans to become a musician and ended up travelling for 14 years, spending time in India before ending up in Munich.

He began exploring “free love”, forming a kind of commune for people who didn’t quite want to sleep with different partners every night but also didn’t want to settle down. “I was interested in the kind of stillness, the deep trust and common exchange of personality that you find with a long term partner, but I didn’t like how sticky these relationships ended up becoming after a while,” Thaur reflects.

“And while fucking around was an adventure, it never felt complete. It can become very empty… I tried to marry these two sides in an ultra-mystical relationship between an entire community of people. It was an experiment.” Thaur pauses for a moment. “It didn’t exactly work out. There was no real way to make this work with a community, and in the end, I didn’t want to do something like this again, but I also didn’t want to have a normal relationship.” He met Krüger not long after, and the two have been together ever since.

Photo: Makar Artemev

It was by complete chance that we were able to make the party into something more.

“Our relationship took time, because back then, I was very freaky, and she was very normal,” says Thaur, laughing. “But it worked, because she understood me and my ideas.” By the 1990s, they moved to Berlin together and – like so many of the club’s current patrons – began exploring as many of their combined sexual fantasies as possible: public sex, exhibitionism (“We would sometimes go to dinner with Kirsten wearing only pantyhose!”), nudity, kinkplay. The pair also started attending fetish clubs and frequenting Rotkreuzclub, the only existing fetish bar at the time, Thaur recalls.

The first party

After a year or so attending parties at the now-defunct Turbine club in Kreuzberg every week, they approached the owner with the idea to make their own event, a place of true sexual freedom, where sex, nudity and kink weren’t just tolerated but embraced. Thaur explains his philosophy like this: “We wanted to get rid of the conventional stuffy and unnecessary rules of club culture. Our aim was to give freedom to our guests, pairing it with responsibility and self-control so that this freedom was always two-sided, for everyone.”

Turbine’s owner only had Tuesdays available. “We thought, well, we can make Tuesday the new night!” Thaur continues, “But no one was really coming to those nights. Maybe 25 people showed up to our first couple nights, until eventually the promoters of a different party asked to swap nights with us, so we changed to a Wednesday. I invited everyone, anyone off the street. I would just hand out flyers.”

Photo: Makar Artemev

The 1990s were an era when sexuality and sexual freedom were burgeoning through television and theatre; Thaur says that it felt like a revolution. There was interest in what they were doing, but it still took a while before the party evolved into the kind of event that Thaur wanted.

At first, people were hesitant, or arrived with a misunderstanding about what the event was meant to be, but Thaur’s self-described pornographic presence and willingness to participate helped bring his vision of sexual freedom to life. “​​For the first one and a half years, both Kirsten and I were at the party every weekend, doing lots of sexual stuff,” Thaur says. “We didn’t want it to be a performance, but we hoped that we might influence people.” As people became more comfortable, and guests began spreading the word, the event grew. And then, there was an opportunity to make it permanent.

KitKat became my second living room.

“It was by complete chance that we were able to turn the party into something more,” says Thaur. “The owner we were working with lost his [contract] for the club, so they agreed to sell it to us for very cheap.” Thaur and Krüger went from hosting a weekly event to owning a club, located on Glogauer Straße and now open multiple nights a week. It was the first iteration of KitKat – a name inspired by the Berlin burlesque club featured in the musical Cabaret. As the club became increasingly known for openness and a unique erotic ambiance, more and more Berliners made their way to Thaur’s playground.

Photo: Makar Artemev

“For me, KitKat was an absolutely unique space, it’s one of the reasons that I kept returning,” explains Vigor Calma, an artist and painter who has been frequenting KitKat since 1995. “KitKat became my second living room. I loved being around people like Simon Thaur, who at the time was a very active sexual activist. I was overwhelmed by his sexual presence, and decided to make a drawing of him. When I gave him the drawing, he liked it and asked me to contribute some blacklight paintings to the club.”

It‘s essential, when you wake up the next morning that you look back on the experience with joy.

Using bright colours and UV paint, Calma’s work adds to the fantastical, otherworldly ambience that revellers seek out in the club. “For me, the paintings are mirrors, expressing all the secrets and fantasies that we have and showing that they’re welcome here,” he says. His blacklight work is still among the art that decorates the walls of KitKat, though the club has moved three times since its inception: first to Nollendorfplatz and later to a warehouse space in Tempelhof before finally settling in its Mitte location, tucked away near an entrance to the Heinrich-Heine-Straße U-Bahn station. In addition to Calma’s paintings, the club now sports multiple floors, a stage, a cocktail bar and even a swimming pool, all bathed in a colourful neon glow.

There is also, surprisingly and unlike many other Berlin clubs, a photo policy. Personal photos taken by guests are still prohibited, but longtime club photographer Gili Shani, who has been working with KitKat since 2016, attends almost every weekend to shoot. “At first, Simon and Kirsten were hesitant for me to take photos. The camera changes things, you know? It makes people feel vulnerable,” explains Shani. “But we established some ground rules early on, and one of them is that every person who appears in a photo must give me permission, and anyone in the background has their face blurred. Once someone says no, the moment is over. I don’t try to convince them of anything.”

Hottie de Paris, a regular performer at KitKat. Photo: Gili Shani

That sense of trust is at the heart of what has made KitKatClub successful. It’s the foundation of every facet of the club, from its staff to its DJs, performers and especially its guests. “Without trust, I could never have created this world and these experiences,” explains Thaur. “The basic atmosphere at KitKat is of course that you feel free, that you don’t feel judged in the moment, that you feel safe and that nothing bad will happen – but it’s also very important that that feeling extends into the next day. It’s essential that when you wake up the next morning, you look back on the experience with joy, not regret.” Thaur likewise attends every weekend, with Krüger and others manning the door, all working together to ensure that the club fills up with the people it’s designed for.

The club also “polices” itself, Thaur says. Regulars keep an eye out for any shady behaviour, and promoters and bar staff are vigilant. Behind the scenes, too, there’s a deep connection amongst all the staff and promoters, a unique sense of togetherness and camaraderie. Most of the key players who work with Thaur and Krüger started out as patrons or people from the BDSM and burlesque scenes, all of whom found a home at KitKat.

From Gavin Evans’ Playground series. Photo: Gavin Evans

“I remember my first time coming to KitKat several years ago. I was wearing too much clothing, and the bouncer asked me to take something off,” recalls Hottie de Paris, a burlesque performer who has been appearing at KitKat since 2017. “I started performing there as part of the Apokalipstick series. I remember my first show, I was topless with nipple pasties in the shape of nuclear signs. I did a pole dance on the main floor, and since then I’ve performed in every room of the club.” A veteran now, de Paris knows the staff, is friendly with the regulars and attends as a partygoer as well, supporting the various events run by her friends. “KitKat for me is friends and family,” she continues. “There’s a special confidence I have as a performer at this venue that allows magic to happen. I can perform my more risqué acts, for example. But it’s also a place where I can feel sexy, where I can behave how I want without any judgement. It’s a place where I can be myself.”

Reaching a Peak

Back when the club first opened, they played only trance music – a nod to Thaur’s time spent in Goa, India – but their sonic palette has since expanded into every musical realm. These days, KitKat plays host to queer techno nights like Gegen, the self-proclaimed “kinkteractive” experience Four Play and a bodypaint-meets-burlesque party called Human Colours.

There is also the famed techno-fetish event series Symbiotikka, which runs on Wednesday nights and has hosted DJs like Stella Bossi, Space 92, Dirty Doering, Township Rebellion and Alle Farben. Christopher Steinweg, who founded Symbiotikka with DJ Jordan in 2017, says KitKat offered him a platform for something he’d yet to see in the Berlin club space. “Although KitKat is well-known, it didn’t offer much for a younger audience that’s more into techno,” explains Steinweg, who had roots at the club and hoped to curate a space he felt was missing in the ever-growing sex-positive scene in Berlin.

Photo: Makar Artemev

“It’s become one of the most important events during the week for a younger crowd who wants to slowly get into the scene.” Steinweg considers their most special project to be the Goddess Special, which he runs in tandem with his partner Charlotte Lion. “This is where we celebrate the divine femininity in all of us, with only female DJs and performers,” he says, “Those nights are ones that really stayed with me.” 

As the club’s event roster has grown, so too has the audience; nowadays, weekend parties can gather thousands. After 30 years, KitKat is almost overexposed, the gathering that Thaur originally handed out flyers for having risen to a level of name recognition that requires little marketing. It’s not uncommon for KitKat to appear on lists for tourists on what to do in Berlin, or to discover a TikTok captioned, “How to Dress to Get Into KitKat”.

But Thaur isn’t fazed: “Underground or above ground, it doesn’t really mean anything to me. I’m happy that the club is successful, but it has never been and will never be a commercial idea for me,” he says. “We keep the same level of trust that we always have, it’s still the most important thing. We still want this to be a place for freedom of expression and sexuality. Our selection process at the door is still the same, the energy we create here is still the same. KitKatClub will always be KitKatClub.”