Set to enjoy its fourth outing in Berlin this May, the German Fetish Ball weekend has quickly established itself as the dominant international fetish fest in Continental Europe.
Organising an entire pervy weekend has been quite a step-up for promoters Xklusiv Events from their previous well-regarded but small-scale castle parties. And Xklusiv’s René de Parade, being a perfectionist, is the first to admit that it has sometimes been a bit of a struggle to get all the elements to work together exactly the way he wants, to deliver the experience that he knows a big weekend like this is capable of.
But each year has been an improvement on the previous one, and my impression is that there is an enormous amount of goodwill towards the event, not only from the German scene but from fetishists all across Europe and from much further afield.
Part of this is surely because the idea of a big fetish event in Berlin, of all places, is in itself enormously attractive. There are of course obvious resonances with the city’s decadent nightlife of times gone by. But added to those, the newly reconstituted German capital is now one of the most vibrant cities in Europe, with an enviable reputation for fostering the arts and all manner of cultural expression both traditional and cutting edge. And yet, while offering all the diverse delights of a major western city, Berlin somehow retains an attractive human scale and, not least in the considerations of the international traveller, boasts good, relatively inexpensive accommodation, dining and public transport.
Such factors have undoubtedly played a part in the Berlin fetish fest’s ability to attract performers from America, designers from England and serious party people from Australia. At the beginning of June last year, all of these and many more came together in the city to help make the third of these annual events another weekend to remember.
A look at the 2006 party schedule reveals a daunting programme of no less than ten separate events spread over four days, a quantity made possible by the franchising of many of the parties to other promoters. Xklusiv themselves concentrate on the core events — Saturday’s Fetish Dinner, Sunday’s headlining Fetish Ball and the two-day Fetish Fair — while co-opting the likes of Fetish Guerilla, Insomnia and DarkSide Club to run the supporting attractions.
This provides a choice of several different perving styles each evening, although it does also tend to mean, on the Saturday night particularly, that you may be forced to choose between competing events that all look interesting in their different ways, because it can be impractical (even if you can afford it) to do them all. But then, better to have the choice than not to have it. At least there is a serious attempt to offer events that will appeal to different tastes and age groups.
‘What it lacked in size it made up for in friendliness, and its reputation as Kumi’s favourite cocktail bar seemed well deserved’
The first event of the weekend, Fetish Guerilla’s Kinky Cocktails, was well under way by the time I’d made my way from the airport to my hotel, changed and grabbed a cab to Grand Hotel Kaffehausklub. Despite the impressive name, this turned out to be a small bar in a side street, albeit one that was rammed full of pervs. What it lacked in size it made up for in friendliness, and its reputation as Kumi’s favourite cocktail bar seemed well deserved. In theory we could all have gone on later to the first of the weekend’s ‘proper’ fetish parties, Friday’s Fetish Finest at Insomnia, but quite a few of Friday’s fetish finest seemed content enough downing their kinky cocktails right here.
Saturday meant getting camera-ready for the first day of the German Fetish Fair, which had moved from its previous location to Arena Magazine, a reconditioned warehouse whose slightly shabby exterior belied a light and spacious, if somewhat spartan, interior with what seemed like a greater variety of exhibitors than before. Alongside the increasingly familiar German brands offering everything from stainless steel restraints to Lycra zentai suits were to be found UK labels such as Torture Garden. And, to my considerable surprise, here too were DeMask, who had overcome their usual antipathy to such events and mounted an impressively large display. There was also a performance area and a big art zone with paintings and photographs donated by numerous well known fetish talents.
The German Fetish Ball is always held on Whitsun weekend to take full advantage of the following Monday being a German public holiday. The downside of this in 2005 was that because of Whit Sunday closures, the Fetish Fair had to be staged on Friday and Saturday. So, not only was 2006’s venue better, but it allowed the fair to be held on Saturday and Sunday, which seemed to be much better for business. My only concern is that if you’re relying on the Fair to provide you with your first meal of the day, your idea of a hearty breakfast better be chicken curry and pretzels or you’re in big trouble.
Saturday night provided a choice of entertainment that bordered on the bewildering. For those who fancy the idea of decadent dining, there was once again the Xklusiv Fetish Dinner at the atmospheric h h muller. The 100 euro-a-head price tends to divide the weekend’s revellers into two distinct camps: those who think it’s outrageous to spend 100 euros on food, ever, and those who can see the attraction of just once in a while being able to go out to a posh restaurant in their kinkiest clobber without feeling like a freak.
‘Pulp Mansion turned out to be a very interesting venue with institution-style tiled walls, lots of interesting nooks and crannies, and a dungeon’
Later, you could have chosen between Fetish Guerilla’s Revolution Party at Pulp Mansion, or DarkSide Club’s Rubber Play Party, co-sponsored by Marquis. I opted for Pulp Mansion, which turned out to be a very interesting venue with institution-style tiled walls, lots of interesting nooks and crannies, and a dungeon. In a basement area that might once have been a swimming pool there were fashion shows by Fräulein Ehrhardt and Savage Wear and performances by The Teaserettes, Lydia Morgan and Morrigan Hel. If you were wearing latex (and a lot of people were), you could of course have gone on later to the Play Party, but then again there was quite a lot of latex play to be had without moving away from the Pulp Mansion bar.
The now legendary Matrix club, with its multiple industrial arches of beautifully renovated brick, once again played host to the German Fetish Ball on Sunday evening — an arrangement greatly enhanced by Monday being a public holiday. Licensing laws make Sunday all-nighters like this a non-starter in the UK, and it is strangely liberating to be able to enjoy a weekend that feels to a Londoner like you’re having three Saturday nights in a row — yet without the prospect of the police turning up to catch you doing something illegal.
Matrix shares the problem of other arched venues like London’s SeOne in that there is no single space that is large enough to put on shows that can be watched by a full house. However, Xklusiv do not allow this to deter them from making shows a major feature of the evening, and the night’s fashion extravaganza included contributions from Breathless, NoPainNoGain, Pretty Pervy, TO.mTO Berlin and Torture Garden Clothing as well as some pervy performances. It was all compered with consummate skill by Rubberella, aka Jean Bardot, who also treated the audience to her one-woman ‘girl in a weather balloon’ show.
While this was all happening in the main space, there was plenty of action of different kinds in the other arches and bars, not least in the ‘club within a club’ dedicated to Torture Garden’s own brand of aural fixation.
When it all eventually got too much, there was at least one surprise still to come: that of stumbling into the murky dawn and actually being able to get into a cab after just a couple of minutes’ wait. Yes, this was definitely not London. And needless to say, if you didn’t want to go back to your hotel, you could head off to the second DarkSide play party of the weekend, or opt for chilling out at Insomnia’s Lazy Monday Love, the final event of all.
A lot of people who do this Berlin weekend head off home later on the Monday. But if you’ve travelled a fair way to get to this big bash, I really do recommend staying on a few days if you can, and just being a tourist. Much like the German Fetish Ball Weekend itself, though in a rather different way, it can be remarkably good for the soul.