“If you’re looking for sex in Berlin, you’ll find it,” my tour guide tells me with a wink.
It’s only my second visit to Berlin, a place that seems to exist as a challenge to every other major Western city. More bridges than Venice. More museums than London. You think New York is the city that never sleeps? In Berlin, the bar and club scene is 24/7 — my guide dropped that line on me in a gay bar still going at 10am on a Tuesday.
And when it comes to sex, Berlin is without peer. Berliners revel in their liberated and open approach to sexuality in all its forms.
So it should come as no shock that Berlin is home to the European outpost of the Folsom Fair, San Francisco’s legendary fetish festival. But Berlin isn’t content to simply copy the City by the Bay’s carnival of raunch. Folsom Europe takes the San Fran institution and explodes it into a week-long celebration all things sexy, raunchy and risqué.
The action is centred in Berlin’s Schöneberg district, also home to Europe’s largest gay fetish community, and all of the neighbourhood’s leather and fetish bars and shops take part.
From Sept 11 to 16 there are nightly — and daily — parties at bars like New Action, Woof and Mutschmann’s, with seminars and sales at the fetish shops RoB Berlin and Mr B (leather), RubAddiction (rubber), Gear (uniforms) and SlingKing, and straight-up cruising at the saunas Apollo, Gate and Boiler.
The program lists a whole host of specialized parties: fisting, underwear, naked, rubber, leather, punk, for sports-gear fetishists, skinheads (perhaps shocking in Berlin), poz people and more. The biggest party is the PIG party on Saturday night, featuring multi-dungeon cruising areas and a huge fetish dancefloor.
Lots of events at Folsom Europe are men-only (including PIG), but there are plenty of women’s and trans-friendly events as well, including Honey & Spice and Femme Fatalities.
If you must take a break from dancing during the day, Folsom has several activities to offer tourists, including a fetish boat cruise along the river Spree, a bus tour of the city (in full fetish gear, of course) and the marquis street festival and chill-out zone on the Fuggerstrasse. The street fest features some of Europe’s best performers and DJs, as well as fetish vendors and demonstrations.
When planning your visit to Folsom Europe, you’ll have a wide selection of hotels close to the action to choose from, but for the full experience, choose festival sponsor the Axel Hotel — a centrally located luxury boutique hotel that caters to the gay market (they say it’s “hetero-friendly”), complete with spa, restaurant and rooftop bar.
You can get a similar experience with Tom’s Hotel, a gay hotel with a somewhat more social vibe and a staff that’s eager to help you navigate the city’s huge gay scene. Your hotel pass will get you discounts in several gay bars and shops in Berlin. Tom’s also offers apartment stays, for a more private, independent experience.
Just like the original Folsom, the European edition operates as a fundraiser for local HIV/AIDS and LGBT charities, so you can feel confident that your party money is going toward a good cause.
Folsom Europe may not yet attract the number of visitors that its original does, but in its 10 years, it’s grown into a party befitting one of the globe’s undisputed gay capitals. Put this trip on your gay travel bucket list.
The main street fair at Folsom Europe will take place Sat, Sept 14. For more information on Folsom Europe, visit folsomeurope.info.
Folsom Street Fair in San Franciso will take place Sun, Sept 29; visit folsomstreetfair.com.