When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Germany

Latex And Leather: Inside A Berlin Bondage Club

When a journalist visits an old horse stable converted into a sado-masochist club, he finds surprisingly normal people who just have a different idea of foreplay.

A bondage collar.
A bondage collar.
Til Biermann

BERLIN — Three men in their forties are standing by an old fireplace repeatedly smacking their wives’ behinds with the flat of their hands. Other couples three meters away are drinking cocktails.

The men lounge in chairs with their legs apart while the women, heads bowed, kneel on the floor. A twisted picture of domination, or so it would seem, but for these couples, it’s simply an evening’s entertainment — they want things to be this way.

These former horse stables in a cellar in the Kreuzberg neighborhood of Berlin have been converted into an S&M club called the DarkSide, one of the best-known such clubs in the city.

A sadist is someone who likes to inflict pain. The word is a reference to the Marquis de Sade, a French aristocrat who in the 1780s wrote an orgy-filled book called The 120 Days of Sodom. A masochist is someone who likes to receive pain, and that word comes from the name of 19th century Austrian writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, who wrote several books describing how much he liked it when women inflicted pain on him.

Sadists and masochists go together like a horse and carriage.

The managing director of the DarkSide goes by the name of "Merlin." He’s 50 years old, dark-haired — a former banker. He’s an achievement-oriented kind of guy who once won the Silbernes Lorbeerblatt (Silver Laurel Leaf), Germany’s highest sports award. Merlin is a sadist. He is suave, friendly, and has a habit of running his tongue over his incisors.

Merlin explains what drives his customers. "People come here to get in the mood for sex they’ll have at home," he says. "It’s rather like going to a disco to dance. The sex happens afterwards in your own home."

In a dressing room equipped with lockers and keys, guests can don their dark S&M gear, and fetishists can put on their leather, patent leather and latex apparel. "A lot of our guests have families, and the babysitter doesn’t need to know where they’re headed for the evening," says Merlin.

Unlike what can be seen in swinger clubs, actual sex acts are unlikely to be observed here. Only a few couples slip off to the old, dark, wooden horse stalls. Mostly what goes on here is bondage and beating.

"There are some women who can only really let go when they’re tied up and can’t defend themselves," Merlin explains. He himself is a master of a Japanese bondage technique.

Shame and pain

Merlin watches an American with some rope staring fixedly at the twenty-something girlfriend of another guest as he hoists her up on a pully. The woman’s boyfriend is seated in an arm chair watching the doings with interest. From his expression it’s impossible to tell if he is enjoying what he’s seeing, if he came here because he wanted to or because she wanted to.

"He’s pretty good already, but just a beginner," Merlin says of the American.

Merlin himself discovered his own inclination to inflict fear and pain on women during sex when he was about 16 years old. But he eventually learned that his friends didn’t have the same fantasies. He felt ashamed and kept his preferences to himself. The Internet, which later helped him find other sado-masochists and bondage fans, didn’t exist at that point. It was only when he was 25, in Berlin, that he found places where people like him met, allowing him to live his preferences more openly. Eventually, he quit his day job at a bank to turn his private preferences into a business pursuit as well.

"I get turned on when I see fear in the eyes of a woman I’m having sex with," he says.

But if the fear should turn to panic, he immediately stops the sadistic play. At the DarkSide there’s a code word that if uttered means that "masters" and "mistresses" must stop whatever they’re doing. Nothing should happen without mutual consent.

In the club, sterile torture instruments that clients may borrow hang on the wall behind the bar. These include bondage devices, whips, canes and batons. Other items such as strap-on dildos are displayed in a showcase and can be purchased.

On weekends, admission to the club costs up to 40 euros. Dark, fancy, even extravagant garb is required, and there are often theme evenings devoted to bondage-only, or women dominating men. Then there is "Casual Thursday," when people can come dressed as they like, do what they want, and admission only costs 5 euros.

"It’s also intended for people who just want to give all this a try," says Merlin, who greets all newcomers personally.

Two such newcomers have apparently agreed via Internet communication to meet at the DarkSide. She is a Dutch woman in her mid-thirties with dreadlocks. He is a powerfully built white-haired man in his mid-fifties with a goatee. They chat with each other as if they were on an afternoon date in some café, but at some point he starts to tie her up.

At the bar, a young man covered in tattoos is sitting reading German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. He’s scowling and drinking non-alcoholic beer. He’s visiting his blonde girlfriend who works behind the bar. After a while he exchanges the Nietzsche book for another one in his backpack — a book of dating tricks.

Meanwhile, a muscular naked man walks into the room with his (dressed) girlfriend. An iron ring hinders blood flow in his lumbar region. The two of them disappear around the corner where the girlfriend proceeds to cane the naked man. This can be heard, as the cane produces a loud thwack. The man’s pain is audible by the way he’s breathing. After about 30 minutes of this, the dominatrix emerges to fetch two glasses of water at the bar, then disappears around the corner again.

In the lounge area, the atmosphere is indeed as Merlin describes: "cozy and informal."

A blind woman of 60 or thereabouts walks into the club leading her husband by the collar around his neck. Around the same time, a half-bald grey-haired man who looks like a postal clerk hands over a riding crop to a staffer and asks him to keep it for him for next time. He says he doesn’t want to be seen carrying it on the street.

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Geopolitics

New Probe Finds Pro-Bolsonaro Fake News Dominated Social Media Through Campaign

Ahead of Brazil's national elections Sunday, the most interacted-with posts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Telegram and WhatsApp contradict trustworthy information about the public’s voting intentions.

Jair Bolsonaro bogus claims perform well online

Cris Faga/ZUMA
Laura Scofield and Matheus Santino

SÂO PAULO — If you only got your news from social media, you might be mistaken for thinking that Jair Bolsonaro is leading the polls for Brazil’s upcoming presidential elections, which will take place this Sunday. Such a view flies in the face of what most of the polling institutes registered with the Superior Electoral Court indicate.

An exclusive investigation by the Brazilian investigative journalism agency Agência Pública has revealed how the most interacted-with and shared posts in Brazil on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Telegram and WhatsApp share data and polls that suggest victory is certain for the incumbent Bolsonaro, as well as propagating conspiracy theories based on false allegations that research institutes carrying out polling have been bribed by Bolsonaro’s main rival, former president Luís Inácio Lula da Silva, or by his party, the Workers’ Party.

Agência Pública’s reporters analyzed the most-shared posts containing the phrase “pesquisa eleitoral” [electoral polls] in the period between the official start of the campaigning period, on August 16, to September 6. The analysis revealed that the most interacted-with and shared posts on social media spread false information or predicted victory for Jair Bolsonaro.

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ