German Xploration, Part 1

In which Tristan journeys to Berlin to present at a sex-positive weekend

Berlin—Everything I know about the world I learned from musicals. Chalk it up to being the daughter of a show-tune-loving gay dad, but my vision of the French Revolution includes radical students breaking into song, and Che Guevara sounds an awful lot like Mandy Patinkin in my head. So when I think of Berlin, naturally I think of Liza Minnelli. That would be Liza circa 1972 and Berlin in the 1930s, as mediated through Cabaret—a city where characters attempt to forget their troubles and forge connections as the world changes around them.

No matter how hot the erotic, decadent atmosphere of the Kit Kat Klub, or how fabulous the Bob Fosse dance moves, I know it's a limited view. When well-known German choreographer Felix Ruckert invited me to Berlin, I was ready to pack my fishnets based solely on the city's allure; when he asked me to teach at a new event he had conceived, I was on the plane. Xplore 04: Extreme Sensuality, Sensual Extremes (xplore04.de) was a weekend of classes on creative sexuality, spirituality, and BDSM. It's a combination rarely seen in the United States, where being into tantra and bondage tends to leave one with split loyalties: Community events are increasingly less inclusive and more niche-oriented. I wanted to see how they mixed things up in a city known for being artist-friendly, queer, and very progressive.

Felix arrived at the airport to greet me, my boy, and the obscene amount of luggage we brought, which included a record 48 sex toys. He escorted us to the East Berlin apartment where we'd be staying, a cute one-bedroom in a very bohemian, East Village-y neighborhood called Prenzlauer Berg. We headed to the performance space where the event was scheduled to take place, to check it out and mingle with our fellow presenters. We chatted with co-producer Caprice Dilba, who told us she met her partner and fellow presenter Delta RA'i at one of Felix's performances, Secret Service, which he described as challenging the boundaries between dancer and viewer. Audience members were blindfolded and brought into a room in small groups. During the first section, the performers touched and moved them, grabbed and lifted them. Caprice met Delta during the second portion of the evening (which participants could opt out of), where the intimate interactions took on a more sadomasochistic flavor. He flogged her while she was blindfolded, and they've been together ever since. If that's not a story to tell the grandkids, I don't know what is.

During the formal meeting, I announced that I needed demo bottoms for three of my classes and would appreciate volunteers. Afterward, an adorable girl named Paula (who was presenting on play piercing and s/m and feminism) approached me; she wore her cute blond hair in a bob and had the kind of pale complexion that blushes easily. She told me she was an exhibitionist, although not very anally experienced, but she was game for the demonstration. Her cheeks got pink, and I immediately had a crush on her.

The other Berliner I knew before arriving was a woman named Birgit, who organizes SchMact!, the annual women's s/m event there, and she generously invited us out to what she called "the best s/m club in the world." We arrived at the Darkside ready to be impressed, and we were not disappointed. It's a spectacular place, with several different rooms full of cool equipment, a full bar, and bizarre erotic art throughout. One room looks like a stable, with ancient leather bridles adorning the walls and old-fashioned stalls—perfect for stabling human ponies, confining bad boys, or putting that riding crop to good use. The Darkside manages to create the intimacy of a pro-domme house along with the expansiveness of a sex club; not only is the place itself perfectly legal, but unlike American play spaces nothing is off-limits there. Nudity, penetration, sex—anything goes. It's a pansexual club. Birgit had organized a dyke night out, and it was crawling with cute queer women, mostly of the butch and androgynous variety, with shaved heads, tattoos, leather uniforms, and good manners. I was in heaven.

There's certainly no shortage of sex in Berlin. Before the conference, we managed to squeeze in a brief trip to the Schwuz Museum for an exhibit honoring French philosopher Michel Foucault, who died 20 years ago; in one small room, black-and-white erotic gay-male sexual photos were projected on a large screen, while video images—from pre-Stonewall gay New York to golden-age fag porn—played on two smaller screens. The stimulation continued as we shopped at the coolest store in town, Lustwandel, an erotic book and art store; I spied the German version of one of my books (which, according to people who've read both versions, is a lot less kinky than the original), scooped up photo books that aren't available in the U.S., and got myself a limited edition Dildoll: a black-leather and bright-fuchsia plush cock named Damian, wearing a gold lamé corset, designed by two guys in Switzerland.

Speaking of Swiss cock, Xplore 04 drew participants not just from Berlin, but from all over Germany, Switzerland, France, and Italy. I was one of only two American presenters (the other was Janet Hardy, author of The Ethical Slut), and I was excited to see how my classes would go over in a decidedly different environment.

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