come down to the dark room...

As a massive brick cube rising up from the ground in an industrial area of Berlin, Berghain can seem intimidating, and even more so once you meet the stony-faced bouncers at the entrance. But this building hosts more than just a scene for the techno-loving crowd. In fact, developing from a gay fetish club, Berghain is a landmark on the sexual landscape of Berlin. 

Photo: Alice Huber
Nothing is too kinky for Berghain

Ever been to Berlin? Did you stop by Berghain? Curious as I am, after hearing so much about it, I went to see for myself whether all the rumours I had heard, about non-stop partying, the erotic atmosphere and one-of-a-kind experience were true. So here is a snapshot from my first visit to Berghain, a time when I when my curiosity lead me down to the infamous "dark rooms", a basement entirely dedicated to sex.

As I entered this club I had heard so much about, it felt like stepping in to a different - and very bizarre - world. Firstly, we got in at 3am, which is around the time I normally grab a taxi home. Secondly, the woman in the security check found some drugs in the pocket of the guys in front of me in the line, and pretended she hadn't seen it, but roared at the sight of a camera in one of their bags. Photography STRICTLY forbidden. When I left the club 7 hours later, I understood why that rule makes perfect sense.

At the beginning, when I explored the different dancefloors and bar areas, Berghain came across as a standard, albeit massive, techno club, apart from a few particularly sexually explicit paintings on the walls. But after taking a step down into the basement, the so-called "dark room", it was soon evident that it is anything but "standard". The dark room is a huge hall, a labyrinth of smaller rooms, staircases and nooks, and was a common feature in gay bars in the USA during the 60s and 70s, providing a space for sexual activity. I had only heard about it before, and now here I was, about to walk into an actual dark room.


"I don't watch porn, so for me, this was exhibitionism overload. But it was also a fascinating experience to see people indulging so liberally in bodily pleasures"
Photo: superflow (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Thousands of people just come for the music, but for some, Berghain is more than that

My curiousity led me into the labyrinth, and as I fumbled my way through the darkness, a world of voyeurism and exhibitionsm unveiled itself. I cannot count how many people's genitalia I saw that night, nor can I count how many condoms I saw scattered on the floor, or how many people I saw openly having sex in all kinds of positions; straight sex, gay sex, group sex, standing up, sitting down, bent in all kinds of positions, some participating in the intercourse, others actively participating as voyeurs.

Coyly glancing at all the sexual activity around me, I was certain that I could actually smell it (although in retrospect, I wonder what sex actually smells like).  It was like a scene taken from a bizarre dream. I don't watch porn, so for me, this was exhibitionism overload. But it was also a very fascinating experience to see people indulging so liberally in bodily pleasures. 

Berghain is included on several rankings of the best clubs in the world and attracts thousands of visitors every year for that reason only. But in addition to that, it has also become a symbol for decadence, hedonism and fetishism, where nothing is too kinky, too wild or too obscene. For most, this might be too much and perhaps a bit extreme, but for others, it offers a space for satisfying bodily lusts and fetishes and this sensation of extreme sexual liberalism was in some ways quite refreshing.

I went back to Berghain once after that night, but the stony-faced bouncer wouldn't let me in. Apparently, I didn't look hardcore enough.


Cover photo: s.alt (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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