We arrived at New Action, a fetish cruising bar in Berlin, but they weren’t going to let me in. I was wearing a Levis, sherpa-lined jacket, black acid wash jeans and a “Straight to Hell” tee — in short, an outfit that wasn’t going to cut it in a place like that. “You guys go in without,” I finally said to my new friends who’d brought me there (I couldn’t remember any of their names). We’d met at Prinzknecht, a gay bar not far from there and they’d invited me to join them. It was Easter fetish week and I knew that I was under dressed so I didn’t want to hold them back. I urged them to go on without me but they refused .
The cruising night at New Action followed a cigar and boot event held there a few hours before, which was hosted by BLUF (“The breeches and leather uniform fan club”). BLUF’s dress code was strict, and they encourage members to wear full leather uniform: tall boots, a leather shirt, breeches (fabric ones were okay), a Sam Browne belt, gloves, cap and jacket. I’m into BDSM, but not really into leather fashion. I knew that I simply wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing that uniform.
They did accept fantasy leather uniforms too, so long as they’re not taken from a period too far back — no Renaissance military uniforms, I presume. Or Nazi symbols.
My new friends had come to Berlin from Brighton specifically for the leather week. Two of the guys were wearing the uniforms and the other sported a leather vest and garrison cap. I’d originally hit on one of the beefier guys in the uniform back at Prinzknecht, a bar nearby. I assumed he was a master because of his officers’ cap — I’d been told that that’s the sign of a master. The guy in the garrison cap quickly introduced himself as the husband. Despite his abrupt introduction, he had a great sense of humour and we hit it off. He was actually the one who invited me to join them at New Action.
“Can I just take off some clothes or something?” I said to the guy manning the door of New Action.
He was hesitant. “Take your shirt off,” he finally said, looking over at my friends.
“No problem.” I removed it right there.
“No need to do it here.”
We entered into the long bar, which was dimly lit, smoky, and carried the scent of leather. You could hear smacking, moaning, laughing and begging coming from the backroom. There were at least 100 men in full uniform, though you couldn’t tell one from the next. The brims of their caps were low, and lights even lower, so that all individuality was lost; they became one piece of this collaborative fantasy being created in the bar..
Leather gear isn’t mandatory to get into the leather bars in North America, or even to attend an event like Folsom in San Francisco. It’s obviously encouraged, but so is comfort and inclusion, regardless of fashion choices. Tonight was a stark reminder that I’d have to change my tune if I wanted to join the leather scene in Berlin.
As I got to know my new friends I learned that they actually weren’t kinky at all. When the topic of watersports came up, the guy in the garrison cap was squeamish at the thought. I asked his husband, flat out, whether he was a master. No, he wasn’t. Neither was his friend. They just liked to wear leather, which made me question whether the rest of the guys in the bar were wearing their uniforms as a form of dress-up.
The busier the bar became, the more I stood out. At one point I started a conversation with a leather daddy who asked me why I wasn’t dressed up. I explained that I was traveling and had to be smart about what I brought with me. I told him that I had a slave collar, but it was in storage along with my leather shirt. He was uninterested in my explanation. Mid-conversation, he turned his head and ignored me.
“We’re going to the back room,” one of my new friends announced.
. . .