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Where do you go when the fetish clubs are closed?

We find out how those with kinky desires are coping after a year without their safe spaces, and what it means for relationships around the city.

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The empty rooms of gay fetish club Böse Buben in Schöneberg, January 2021. Photo: IMAGO / Emmanuele Contini

Stefano’s Friday night routine used to go according to the same ritualised plan. He’d start off with a couple beers with friends, and maybe even something else to loosen up the mood. Then he’d switch into his PVC gear and head to his destination of choice, Lab.Oratory, Berghain’s own sex club, where Stefano has been a regular for years. It’s where he’d kick off his weekend, the place to live out his fantasy.

Stefano is into pee. “It just makes me extremely horny and happy – to get golden showers, to be a wet mess, to receive and give. It’s a thing of pleasure for me, and it’s good to know that Berlin is the place I can easily get what I want and, I’d say, really need after years of practice.” The late-twenty-something Italian, who came to Berlin four years ago for work, doesn’t consider his kink to be particularly outlandish. Not in a city like Berlin, not in Berlin’s famous, vibrant and often quite extreme gay scene.

From the fetish bars in Schöneberg to Lab in Berghain, from heavy, often drug-fuelled orgies in private to casual sex in Ficken 3000 at Hermannplatz, there is hardly another place like the Hauptstadt when it comes to fulfilling sexual desires of any kind. Well, at least usually. Corona has been a bummer for people with fetishes just as much as it has for anybody else. However, the difference is that, while you can have your standard one-on-one missionary sex basically anywhere, some of the wilder practices require a slightly more special environment. In addition, the clubs play an important role as a kind of home for the scene. In short, the community feeling is strong.

Corona has led to the cancellation of massive fetish events like Berghain’s annual Snax party on Easter weekend, generally a time when men from all over the world fly to Berlin to partake in dissolute sex parties. Folsom weekend in Schöneberg, a fetish street party with a strong S&M and leather vibe, was also a no-show in 2020, as were the accompanying parties. KitKat Club is closed, while across the city countless slings and gynaecological chairs lead a lonely and deserted existence in special-interest bars.

Stefano was lucky enough to catch the final Lab weekend before everything closed, not knowing this would be his last chance in a while to really express his sexuality. While Berghain regulars may have met that one guy who waits next to the urinals in the club for some generous donors, Lab steps it up to the next level – and this is what Stefano misses. Why wait patiently next to the urinal when you could stand underneath a grid? Chances are, somebody from the upper level will pee on you from above. This is just one of many examples of how pee friends will find their spot in the dungeon-like facility.

“Obviously it was a hard cut for people who centre their weekends around special interests. It was a reset, because the places we needed to get what we want were suddenly closed,” Stefano says. He explains that the intense meet-ups on special nights – for example, Lab celebrates a piss-filled Yellow Facts party – can barely be recreated in private. “I mean, I love urine but I really don’t need it everywhere in my place. It’s not impossible, but way easier in places that are built for it.” Considering there are even “heavier” parties like Scat (motto: Smear it, Smell it, Break a Rule), he sees a big problem for the scene: “We can’t get the release we need so easily.”

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Illustration: Felix Scheinberger

The biggest taboo: defying lockdown

While the breaking of superficial moral rules is easier among people sharing the same kinks, breaking Covid regulations was a completely different question. In fact, Stefano says it divided the scene somewhat. “Some are willing to get together in different places that are under the radar, while others are not – and they’re missing the sexual fulfilment they seek.”

This sexual fulfilment is something Daniel has tried, but ultimately failed to find, seeing how his favourite places have been closed for a year. Daniel calls himself a “bottom slut”, a cum junkie who loves bareback anal sex, being penetrated by as many men as possible in a night. He loves gangbangs, being treated like a piece of meat and sometimes even has marker lines on his back to tally the number of dicks he’s had in one night. Daniel, in his early thirties, spends his days working for an insurance company in a boring “nine to five and then some” office job.

His weekends, however, are dramatically different. Quite the regular in Lab, too, some of his other favourite haunts include Scheune, which has words like “Piss” and “Fist” sprayed on the walls of its basement action area to help guide any newcomers, and New Action, also in Schöneberg, a famous fetish bar with cruising areas that is basically open to everything that men can legally do to each other. You can have a drink at one of the tables, some of which have cages to keep your own sex slave, while there are toilets that are… let’s just say most likely not fun to clean after a couple of hours.

What I’m missing is the randomness. Even in the bigger private orgies I attended recently, you knew the crew. I find it more exciting to get dick I haven’t had.

“I obviously stopped the moment everything closed. I then slowly started meeting guys now and then, and spent time at Hasenheide in the summer when this was the place to be for quick casual sex,” he says. “But besides the feeling of doing something wrong because of the pandemic – and only that; I am pretty confident in my sexual desires – it didn’t give me the kick of being chained to a wall with a dick parade around me.” And even though all that has been possible to find during the pandemic – there is basically always a private sex party going on somewhere across the city – Daniel’s still not satisfied. “What I’m missing is the randomness. Even in the bigger private orgies I attended recently, you knew the crew. I find it more exciting to get dick I haven’t had.”

It might not sound like such a huge problem to have, especially since Daniel himself admits that when “in the zone” (which basically means being close to passing out on GHB, a popular drug in Berlin’s party and club world), a “dick is a dick and I’ll ride it”. But still he feels an emptiness.

Sex outside one household

The emptiness is something that Mascha understands only too well. Nearing 40, she often hosts small sex gatherings for people she knows (“mostly straight but open-minded”) in her Lichtenberg apartment. In particular, she likes the sensation of groups. “I love how you can’t prepare for all the exciting things that could and will happen.” In the overall scheme of things, group sex might not be very high on the scale of extravagant things you could do in Berlin sexually, but it’s still something Mascha says she needs to put her inner balance in check.

“Since we’re a specific group of people, around 25, we can’t just replace those who decide to follow the corona restrictions. We stopped our meetings first, slowly got back into it with time, but still we’re only about half of what we used to be.” She does feel bad about flouting the rules, but her desire is stronger – as is her husband’s, she adds: “We love each other, but sexually, we need more than just us.” And for the both of them, sometimes that expands beyond just private play. “We have a dominatrix, we’re both her bitches,” she laughs. “It turns me on to give control to someone else.” They used to meet in a small dungeon in Kreuzberg, equipped with lots of special tools and toys. They’re not meeting at the moment, though, and aren’t likely to do so anytime soon – the couple’s paid master is taking the Covid rules seriously. “I guess that’s kind of a punishment too,” Mascha jokes.

“The thing is, we don’t have that kind of stuff here at home, so we can’t recreate the experience in our apartment, even if it’s a spacious one. We don’t have a secret extra room for that. That’s what those clubs are really for.” And although she hasn’t sought out anything herself, Mascha has heard of a studio renting out some equipment for those desperately in need of their fix. “It’s a cute thought to get a gyn chair from your favourite dominatrix and drive it home in your rented Sprinter,” she laughs, adding that she knows some people who’ve actually done that. “Love will find a way, but desire will find a way even faster. I know this sounds like some Facebook sharepic shit, but it’s true!”

Maybe you want to get tied up and strangled but your partner’s just not into that. You don’t have a place to get that fix anymore.

All of this leads us back to Stefano, who recently went to a basement sex party in a currently unused building. “It wasn’t too far off a professional club. We had rooms for all kinds of stuff, and the best thing is that no one had to tidy up afterwards.” And just like everybody else, he never tires of mentioning how he obviously knows that doing all this stuff during a pandemic is wrong. “Some of us are just addicted to the rush; the drugs, the sex – we need it. We’re junkies.” But with the pandemic in Germany recently passing its one-year anniversary, he’s even noticed the effects it’s having on the more Covid-cautious around him. “Even my more corona-strict friends started having sex with dates again last fall. Now mix this with minds who demand stronger sexual adventures. It’s really becoming a question of mental health.”

While it might be difficult for those outside the fetish scene to truly understand the effect this is having, Stefano says that for those inside it, the last year has been like a pressure cooker. “There are people who live secret lives because their lifestyle, their religion or their family doesn’t allow specific behaviour. Maybe you want to get tied up and strangled but your partner’s just not into that. You don’t have a place to get that fix anymore. That leads to immense frustration.” In some instances, he says it’s even put relationships under threat.

“I know couples where one person has different needs than the other and they allow themselves to fulfil them separately. Recently, I’ve been witnessing couples having serious trouble because those pressure releases have been taken from them.” While he doesn’t know when the fetish parties and clubs will reopen, there is one thing he is sure of: “If you think the scene in Berlin was crazy before corona, you have no idea how wild it will be after.”

KitKat’s Four Play Zoom Party II takes place on Friday April 9, 20-24.