God, I love this city. As I walk out of the SBahn station at Warschauerstrasse the first thing I see is the Fernsehturm, the iconic TV tower, over across town, lighting up the night sky. It’s 11pm and the air is so cold that my lungs hurt, and the streets are gritted- every now and again I have to stop to dislodge a chunk of gravel from the heel of my boot. Passersby are wrapped in scarves and bobble hats, walking briskly, on their way to somewhere or something. I have headphones on, and throughout the journey I’ve been listening to Robert Hood’s DJ Kicks: heavy techno kickdrums and snares like a heartbeat, propelling me across country on train and travelator. As the plane soared along the runway into the sky I turned the volume up and- heads down, here we go– chairdanced to the 4/4 beat, my hips bumping in my seat, restrained only slightly by my seatbelt.
Last time I was in Berlin was for my birthday three years ago, with family and vanilla friends. We ate a lot of food, particularly breakfast, went to restaurants and museums, did a lot of second- hand clothes shopping. Berlin is notorious for the decadence of its BDSM and sex club scene, but in 2016 I was at the very beginning of my kink career. I had done nothing more than read a lot of articles on Fet, write kinky sex at people and follow the odd slapdash, unnegotiated order from some dude 3000 miles away who in retrospect knew no more about what he was doing than I did. I didn’t know it at the time, but after more than a decade of solitude and celibacy I was barreling towards my first real life, face to face, D/s relationship, and crikey, did I have a wild ride in store for me.
Now? My tendency to run at things shouting (aka good old- fashioned sub frenzy) means I’ve packed enough experience under my belt that people are surprised when they find out what a newb I still am. So here I am, back in notoriously kinky Berlin, brave enough to go to munches and events in a foreign city on my own if needs be. I’ve got money in the bank and a suitcase full of latex, corsets and God knows what (almost no civilian clothing, for that matter) and, most all, I have a very deep need to have an enormous amount of fun. So- that’s the plan. I love having a fucking plan.
Munches are the same everywhere, I guess- kinky people, mostly talking about unkinky things, drinking beer and eating food. This one is in a smart bar in Prenzlauerberg and it’s for English speaking international kinksters, mostly from Europe. I speak to a young man from Eastern Europe who has come to Berlin to work on a startup, and a man who has been on the BDSM scene in this city for years and who expounds happily about science fiction and politics. We talk about politics a lot; about gentrification and globalisation and the rise of populism, and I shake my head with speechless embarrassment about Brexit several times. People say they’re sure we’ll sort it all out somehow, but I’m not sure. I joke about stockpiling food for when we crash out without a deal, and people say again, they’ll sort it all out, it won’t happen. But I’m not sure; I’m used to feeling like Cassandra about this stuff, like with Brexit and Trump, telling people that the worst is probably going to happen and being proven right. I’m just not sure.
It’s a shitshow, I say. Maybe I’ll just move to Berlin instead. It’s only half a joke.
The woman sitting next to me is small, dark and kinetic and we fall into conversation easily. She talks at pace about working out, disavowing relationships, how much she loves rope, being a brat. She asks how I identify kink- wise, and I am reminded how much less loaded this question always feels coming from another woman than from a cishet man. I tell her I’m submissive and a masochist and she laughs and points to her friend, a large Italian man with a beard and intense but smiling eyes.
‘He’s a sadist’. I nod, and smile, in that way you do when you’re given information which is intriguing but which you’re nonetheless not quite sure what to do with. She pronounces ‘sadist’ with a long ‘a’, the same way she does ‘latex’: LAH-tex. When I hear myself ‘lay-tex’ afterwards I think I sound more Home Counties than I have done in my entire life.
The Italian sadist and I end up sitting on a sofa so we can hear each over the sound of the hum of mildly drunken Friday conversation going on around us. He’s funny, engaging, passionate about rope. We talk about the Berlin kink and sex scene, and he tells me about a thing he’s going to on Sunday night at a sex club on the other side of town- a Schokosauna. It’s pretty much as the name would suggest: naked people in a sauna, in a sex club, being covered in melted chocolate. There are only so many ways a thing like that can go, and we laugh at how far removed this is from own experiences in our respective sexually conservative homes in Italy and England.
At some point I notice he is touching my arm every now and again for emphasis. I guess we’re flirting. Okay, we’re definitely flirting. A conversation about consent turns into a discussion of porn, in some degree of explicit detail, and I have by now learnt that talking about sex in explicit detail, even in the most apparently detached way, is something I almost never do with straight men if I don’t on some level want to fuck them.
It’s getting late. We add each other on Fet, and hug goodbye. I walk to the UBahn station grinning. It was a fun night. On the train back to my hostel I read his fetish list: it is, as they say, extremely relevant to my interests. The next morning I send him a DM saying ‘if your friend can’t make it to the chocolate sauna for any reason let me know- it sounds intriguing’. It’s the sort of thing I’m still surprised to find I’m brave enough to do.
On Saturday I go to the most highly recommended LAH- tex shop in Berlin. I’m going out and haven’t anything to wear on my lower half in the event that, having eaten too many delicious German breakfasts, my pencil skirt is too tight. The shop is in a warehouse in a residential area and is 3/4 full of stuff for men, with a much smaller section at the back for women. There isn’t much I like, and I’d forgotten what a faff it is trying on latex: painting the talc on with a little brush, praying not to bust through the seams with a fingernail as you pull things on. I buy a pair of black knickers which only kind of fit, and then head off to meet a fellow blogger off Twitter at a bar in Kreuzberg. We talk for hours, about gender and feminism and queerness and the scene in Berlin, about privilege, blogging, ADHD and relationships. I eat lentil soup, and drink tea, and have a really marvellous time.
I get dressed up and go to a club. It’s a weird evening. I put on my latex knickers and halterneck under my civvies, and as I walk through the quite underground tunnels of the UBahn station I get used to the unfamiliar feeling of rubber against my cunt. Sitting on the train I send a text to someone I’ve been flirting with which says ‘I’m wearing latex knickers on the UBahn and noone knows but you and me’. It’s a moment.
The club is in a very polite residential area, and has a main room with a dancefloor, ringed bar and beds and a sex swing. There is a lot of gold paint and dark red walls and I seem to remember a statue of a golden lion. My shitty Primark holdups won’t stay up, so I can’t just wear the knickers and a halterneck, but I’ve forgotten my talc so my skirt doesn’t sit right. I feel bulgy and as if I’m playing dressup in the latex which ordinarily makes me feel so unstoppable. The music is not the quality techno I’d hoped for so I could dance if I felt awkward, there on my own in a Berlin sex club. Instead I sit on one of the beds drinking a 4 Euro Diet Coke, watching tanned women with areobicised bellies criss- crossed by leather harnesses, flailing sexy-ishly to this awful boshing trance, while on the bed next to me a man vigorously fingerfucks his partner to a wailing orgasm.
Two men come and sit next to me in turn: both touch me without asking, their hands on my neck and bare knee after just a couple of minutes. I tell the second that I’m used to people asking before they touch me. The conversation, already not exactly flowing, grinds to a halt. He smiles politely, wishes me a good evening and walks off. After an hour I get changed back into my civvies and head for the train. Sometimes going to these things on your own works, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s no biggie.
I had a message earlier that day, anyway: Schokosauna invite has been unlocked…