I don’t normally write extensive travel reports, but sometimes such things are worth it. If hearing about my Berlin adventures isn’t your thing, please come back in a week or so for something appropriately intellectual—I have another Powerful Pleasures post brewing. On the other hand, if you’re curious about what kink looks like in the coolest city in Germany, do read on…
I arrived in Berlin on Friday early morning at the airport after 13 hours in transit (following a 7-hour bus to Montreal and a work gig the day before…!). Felt surprisingly good. I was to be picked up by a “tall handsome butch top” and indeed she was—six feet or more and wearing a blue leather police shirt, holding a sign with my name on it. She hardly needed the sign. She dropped me off at my hostesses’ flat (see? I’m already speaking European!) where I was greeted by another kinky gal with whom I shared a lovely breakfast before showering, changing and heading off to the opening ceremonies of Colors of Kink, the 11th annual International Women’s SM Conference.
The conference felt like a somewhat bigger version of An Unholy Harvest—somewhat slicker in presentation but still very grassroots, and very much like us in that the vibe was friendly, open, not arrogant or status-oriented, and extremely respectful. Just great energy. There were women and trans people from all over the place—Sweden, Germany, Holland, the UK, Australia (!), Denmark, Portugal and more. I met tons of friendly people, it was amazing. Certainly enough to keep me very busy ever since the conference ended on Monday!
The workshops and daytime activities were held at the Gay Counselling Centre here, a big old building with lots of large, sunny rooms. I enjoyed workshops on ritual foot-washing and advanced topics in polyamory, among others. I think the language barrier had me convinced that things would be really difficult when it came to giving my own two workshops, but I slowed down (A LOT) and it seems the messages got through—people were really enthusiastic, and attendance was excellent at both. Of course now I want to learn to speak German! Yeah, I’ll just add it to the project list…
And the play parties… oh, the play parties. They were held at a place called Residenz Avalon, which is a huge brick building located on a waterfront in a business/industrial area of town a short walk from a U-Bahn station. A long, winding path leads from the road to the building, passing by other attached buildings along the way, but completely invisible from the street – which is one reason why it was easy for them to provide a pony taxi service from the first bend of the path to the building itself. And I’m not talking horses here… One of the women from the conference is a pony trainer, so she dressed her boys up in their gear, attached them to two carriages, and had them ferry leatherdykes from point to point for the first couple of hours of each party. Very fun.
The space itself is like nothing I have ever seen before. Absolutely enormous and gorgeously decorated. There’s a lobby where generous buffet tables were set up (featuring vegan food, yay!), followed by a hall with a string of rooms—a changing room with lockers and mirrors, a huge medical room, a fully tricked-out school room, and a luxurious bedroom with exposed brick walls and a latex-sheeted wrought-iron bed. The hall opens onto a large bar space, nicely lit and filled with little tables and comfy leather chairs and with a wall of windows looking out over the water. After that, there’s another play room, and from there, a door opens into a huge two-storey vaulted warehouse space with concrete floors, brick walls and tons of heavy metal play structures, with a plush lounge area to one side. You could easily park five school buses inside, maybe more.
And it goes on! If you take a short flight of stairs down from there, you head into the basement level, which runs back underneath all the rooms I just described. It’s a classic stone-floored cellar—low ceilings, but otherwise amazing. They’ve used every nook of space to its max: a confession booth, a closet-sized space with eyebolts and a cage door, a horse stall, a lounge with red leather couches, a bunch of jail cells (for those who’ve been, they’re like the ones at the Toronto Women and Trans Bathhouse), five or six large open play spaces flickering with strategically placed candles (and nary a fake brick or cheesy gargoyle in sight), and a fully equipped interrogation room, with bright lights, tables, and heavy orange-painted iron doors. The sheer size of the place is mind-boggling.
On Saturday night, there was no play party, but there was a Mob-themed kinky dinner at a buffet restaurant called Cum Laude. I know, brilliant. The organizers reserved the entire restaurant for the group and closed the doors to outsiders; the gay owner ensured that he scheduled “a bunch of tough lesbians” to staff the floor that night. We were patted down at the door by an acid-blonde leather-clad transdyke sporting bulging biceps, dark glasses and a mock AK-47 strapped to the back of her dress. Everyone was encouraged to dress up as a mobster, to form families with others, and to join in with a huge group role-play scene (like, with a pre-written script and a huge negotiation meeting that afternoon) that played out during the evening. Role play seems to be a really significant kink around these parts—people really got into it! As for me, a huge room packed with hot kinky dykes dressed like 1940s mobsters worked for me regardless of roles, so I was happy.
Plus, play was permitted inside the restaurant, so there was much fun to be had—interrogation scenes outside the bathroom, kidnappings in the main restaurant… it was quite the experience to watch the waitresses dodge the occasional mass brawl or flying chair with aplomb. Highlights of the evening also included seeing my six-foot butch chauffeur in full glamour-girl drag, complete with a floor-length gown and two-inch false eyelashes. Yowza! Much respect to the butches who can pull that sort of thing off. I don’t think I could! (False eyelashes… ouch.)
As a short aside, the attitude seems to be much more laissez-faire here than in Canada when it comes to the appropriate locations for sexual and kinky activity. People aren’t particularly worried about the “private” versus “public” distinction in terms of the legality of those activities, or about the cops walking in on their play or making inappropriate judgment calls about the nature of kinky activities. I’ve heard more than one story over the last week about cops showing up to knock on the door to investigate a noise or suspected kidnapping, and then apologizing for having interrupted a good scene. One guy told me about being stopped by the cops when he had his play partner tied up and gagged in the trunk of his car. The cop looked inside, closed the trunk, and handed the driver a ticket for carrying a passenger in the trunk—nothing more. Interesting place, this town…
I didn’t play at all on Friday night, probably because I didn’t know anyone yet, and on Saturday I had a bit of fun with my “Mob family” but nothing highly personal. So I really didn’t expect that at the Sunday night play party I would end up busy the entire night! I knew it would be a good night when I was approached by a group of three bois within moments of entering the party and one of them blurted out, “We have four bottoms for you, if you like. We know you like bois.” Um, wow! A rambunctious evening ensued, as that was one of three scenes I enjoyed. It was very interesting to negotiate a later play date with someone who barely spoke English. I suggested finding someone to help interpret but she insisted we didn’t need one, that our body language would be enough, and she was right. How lovely.
Monday morning there was a closing brunch, also at Cum Laude, and that evening the final play party was held at another play space, this one called L’Équipage (they seem to like equestrian themes in this town too). It’s a basement-level space in a funky area of town, not nearly as huge as the Residenz Avalon but equally well-appointed, with lots of interesting nooks and crannies along with a couple of open spaces perfect for a solid flogging. Like with many closing play parties, there were fewer people but greater intensity. Among other things I got to watch a gorgeous piercing scene with my friend X-Ray Aims from Boston, who also taught at the conference.
My first hostesses are totally sweet. They’re an poly leatherdyke couple that have been together for 16 years, and they still leave little love notes to each other all over the house, written in dry-erase marker on the tiles in the bathroom and kitchen. I have since moved to another leatherdyke’s place, equally sweet and much fun. Since the conference ended and I’m no longer in my first hostesses’ apartment, I’m still seeing them just about every day—we spent some relaxation time in a large public bathhouse yesterday (mmmm warm saltwater pool), had dinner out on the town, and today took a boat tour around the city together. Berlin apparently has as many bridges as Venice. Who knew? We also had drinks at a bar called Drama, so named because the owner broke up with his boyfriend and then opened the bar next door to the restaurant he owns. Very cute.
Tonight I enjoyed dress shopping and dinner with a very charming trans guy who was happy to tell me lots about how trans folks are treated in Germany. He explained that while surgery costs are covered, the cost of a name change is not—and the fees for that run several thousand Euros. Also, trans folks suffer from a similar problem as we do in Canada: uneven health care depending on what province you live in, and even in a small country like Germany, there are 16 such provinces, not to mention the added challenges when living outside the major cities. Some clinics still work with the hopelessly outdated Benjamin Standards, while others are much more easygoing.
Despite the backwardness of all this, the government has a fascinating way of dealing with ID cards that don’t match up with biological gender (or with each other): they issue a trans ID card. The front of it shows a picture, the person’s original legal name, and their name of choice (in much larger type). The back of it, in the case of FTMs, reads as follows (it is somewhat poorly translated from the German that appears on the front):
“The designated person undergoes a sexual development of biologically woman to man. In the context of the laws of the Federal Republic of Germany and caused by the applied medical-psychological treatments it is necessary that the designated person appears in public as a man. This contains among other things also a wearing of manly clothing, as a necessary measure in the context of socialization process. All authorities and organizations within and outside the Federal Republic of Germany are asked to support this treatment within the boundaries of their authority while respecting the desired gender of the bearer. This document is intended as a supplement to existing passports. It is only valid in combination with a valid identity card. It has been issued by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Transidentität und Intersexualität.”
Tomorrow I’m heading off to explore the gay museum in Kreuzberg with another friend, and to see if we can browse a fetish shop or two—they’re all over the place in this town, not confined to a specific area or street. With just over 48 hours to go before I hop on a plane back to Canada, I’m already panicking that I won’t get to see all my new conference friends one last time before I leave. Berlin rocks. I can’t wait to come back.