What’s happening behind darkroom doors these days? Walter Crasshole examines the changing rules.
What’s your number? Do you have Whatsapp?” Remy asked in French-accented English as we sweatily emerged from the private cabin of Große Freiheit’s darkroom. I gave it to him and he gave me his, fully well knowing neither of us would follow up. We’d gotten everything we needed from one another under the soft black light in a sticky one-square-metre space. Pleasantry exchange was nice, but was it needed? Had we broken protocol? Is there protocol in these situations?
For the uninitiated, when I say “darkroom”, I’m not talking about photography. Not limited to clubs, these traditionally male-only spaces litter Berlin’s landscape from Prenzlauer Berg to Schöneberg, Friedrichshain to Neukölln – every time you see a bar with no windows and a buzzer for an entrance, it’s probably a darkroom. For the cost of a beer at most, you can enter a maze of intentionally unlit nooks and crannies where testosterone sticks to the wall and something hard is waiting in the shadows. You can get it all back there, without a word if you want. From innocent wanks to industrial-grade gang bangs. Stuff a muffin or suck a petrified hot dog.
Despite accusations of being cold and dehumanising, darkrooms have been a source of gay liberation for decades. For closet cases trapped in undesired marriages, for internalised homophobic machos, for hormone-crazed young people who’re still figuring things out, the darkroom is a down and dirty place of celebration.
Yeah, there are rules, but I’m not here to list them all. Precedent is hard to determine in a place where barely anyone talks and history is hard to come by, even on the interwebs, so why bother? But I will say that darkrooms, particularly in progressive queer Berlin, are in a moment of constant flux. The crux of the matter: should they be limited to men (or to penis owners)? The late club night PORK threw its darkroom doors open (really, it’s just stairs leading to a cellar) to all genders at Ficken3000 in the mythical 2000s, but Ficken has flip-flopped its policy ever since, proving the queer scene’s ambivalence around the discussion. Older cis gay men feel their spaces are being taken over. Younger women and trans men want new areas to explore.
But how does that work out pragmatically? Lecken (German for “lick”) is a female-centric fetish night that takes over various spots around town, including sex club Untertage, where all bodies are welcome. It includes a reputedly “femme-safe” darkroom. The only report I could glean from a friend who attended March’s instalment, though, was that there were far too many menz for a female-centric party. Either we’re not as ready to mix as we’d like, or there’s still one gender overwhelmingly drawn into the dark.
As for the rules and protocols? The darkroom landscape of Berlin is changing so fast that there’s really only one constant: “No means no.” Stick to that, dear reader, and we just might Whatsapp you the next day. But probably not.