In The Hinterhof - The Past & Future of Schwelle7
Tucked away in the hinterhof of a quiet Berlin neighborhood there is a big studio with big glass windows. Some days, if you look in the windows you will see a group of people sitting in a circle discussing something intently. Other days you might look in the windows and see a bunch of people playing with piles of ropes, trying to figure out how to elegantly coil them around a person standing in front of them like an overly complicated puzzle. On some evenings, you might look in those big windows and see a middle aged man in a leather harness spanking a woman until her ass cheeks are cherries while couples and groups of people are sprouting around them engaging in all different levels and stages of sexual connection. All of these people are a part of the Schwelle7 community, a large and diverse group of people who value their sexuality, their ability to explore, and their ability to engage, discuss and play with people who are congruently as open as they are.
Schwelle7 is not only one of Berlin’s largest and longest-standing workshop and event spaces for kink, BDSM and sex positive, but it is also a private theater for founder and creator, Felix Ruckert. Some performances are open and public while others are held close and intimately private. It is where he gets to be the choreographer, the performer, or the audience, depending on how he wants to interact at that time. After nine years of providing this community to so many people in Berlin, Schwelle7 is forced to pack up everything—their suspension points which have supported hundreds of people through weekly bondage jams, their floggers which have seen all different sizes and strength of users and receivers, and their collection of stilettos which have made countless women feel sexy and powerful across different workshops—and find a new place to call home. The lights are going down and the curtains drawing closed, at least for now.
Like many places in Berlin, the continuous influx of new people wanting to be a part of the “Berlin Experience™” has pushed property owners, like the one who owns the Wedding building which houses Schwelle7, to negate old contracts and make way for new, more profitable apartments. This change has forced Ruckert to look for a new location and undertake a huge crowd funding campaign which is slowly getting them to their goal: staying afloat and hopefully finding a new space with similar sense of community people have come to love and expect from Schwelle7 and from Ruckert personally.
“What I hear from people is that Schwelle7 is really very safe,” says Ruckert. “They feel very much respected, and I think that part of this is because it has this kind of private mood to it. People don’t feel so much in a public space but in a private space. I take care that it has this kind of living room feeling. That also means people have to take responsibilities more than in other spaces. There is no one serving you. If you spill a glass and you don’t clean it up yourself, it’s not tolerated here like it is in a club. It is these little details.”
Part of the difficulty of moving to a new location is trying to keep that comfortable, living room feeling. A lot of what makes Schwelle7 stand out from other sex positive clubs and dungeons in Berlin is that it is not a dark and seedy place. It is a well-lit, open space where people can be found chatting and laughing and playing. There is nothing threatening about it. For many, Schwelle7 makes BDSM accessible and less scary, more about exploring than conforming to a specific “dungeon” look. Attitude is much more important than physical space and the Schwelle7 attitude is going to be what allows them to thrive no matter the location.
Obviously property prices factor into how and where Schwelle7 is going to continue. In a bid for more location security, members are trying to buy a building this time. Last month wrapped up the end of a crowd funding campaign that raised €90,047 of their €150,000 goal over the span of a month. Part of the reason for this campaign’s success was that they offered “rewards” (such as massages, counseling, bondage sessions, professional domination sessions) that people can book in exchange for a certain level of support. All of the packages were donated to the cause by members and supporters of Schwelle7 who wanted to do their part. Once they find a building that meets their needs, they still have to apply for a bank loan of approximately €950,000. While the fundraising campaign came up approximately €60,000 under goal, there are no plans for other fundraisers. Instead Ruckert thinks their time is better spent thanking the people who have already given so much.
The forced move has left Ruckert thinking about new directions and possibilities. One idea would be to relocate a bit further out into the suburbs or countryside. The move might not be convenient for their monthly Full Moon Parties, but the seclusion would allow Schwelle7 to provide a more close-knit and communal feel. With the funds collected thus far, it is likely they could purchase a space outright without needing a bank loan. Despite a number of benefits stemming from this idea, it might not be the right move at this time.
One of Ruckert’s main goals is to establish a space where Schwelle7 can grow and evolve, while also maintaining visibility. To him, putting BDSM and kink into the public eye is a way to use it as a political force—something which would be almost impossible should they relocate too far out from the visible Berlin city center. One idea would be to set up the new location with an assortment of cameras streaming live Internet broadcast of what goes on behind no longer closed doors (of course with the awareness and consent of every participant—after all, in BDSM consent is key). To Ruckert this would be a strong way to bring sexuality and kink out on the political stage.
While this type of voyeurism might be exactly the thing that really gets some people off, this step would also dramatically change the community. After all, many patrons are business professionals, who, even in liberal and open Berlin, might not necessarily want their face (let along other parts) broadcast on the web.
A possible middle ground would be a bit more political as well as public but without having to force patrons to “out” themselves in a big way: Schwelle7 could set up in a location where they not only host the workshops and events which they’ve become known for, but also a performance space and café where people can wander and explore.
Considering that they have to be out of their current location by the end of the year, there is by now a good chance that, at least for a while, Berlin might be without Schwelle7. Ruckert says he is hoping to go out with a bang. He is considering holding a month long party in order to thank all the people who have supported them over the last nine years, as well as maybe having a party for everyone—a goodbye until they are all able to reunite in a new location.
By Shauna Blackmon
Photos by Felix Ruckert