FOLSOM, that’s what!

FOLSOM, that’s what!

Last weekend was a truly magical experience I cannot wait to repeat next year. I finally got my arse over to Berlin for Folsom Europe and boy am I glad I did. My relationship with Folsom Berlin actually traces back to my first event ever, which I had intended to be Folsom last year. However, nevermind this being the height of the pandemic and the fact I’m not one for big crowds and was by myself, I also booked my flights for the weekend of Folsom San Francisco, meaning I arrived in Berlin at completely the wrong time. That’s the story of how I ended up attending Quälgeist’s ABDL weekend as my first ever event, which kicked off my career change and led me to PlayTyme. This is the story of what happened when my prophesized arrival at the pearly gates of Folsom finally took place.

Arriving with ample time to get settled, I was fortunate enough to stay with a friend near Nollendorfplatz in Schöneberg; the district where the street fair takes place and the hub of Berlin’s queer culture. I was surprised to see many leather and rubber clad people casually walking around at lunchtime. The street fair wasn’t until Saturday. This was Wednesday. Yet, the odd pup hood was a common enough sight in this part of the city on this particular Wednesday afternoon. I felt immediately at home. Berlin has that effect on me. In fact, the smell of the freshly-opened FFP2 mask I wore on the U-Bahn took me right back to my very first time in the city and I couldn’t help smiling as I felt its embrace.

What was interesting to note was the casualness of the locals. Berlin is famously sex-casual and as the kink capital of the world, it houses some of the most prominent fetish stores alongside a myriad of smaller independent businesses. I saw a leather shop selling wares designed specifically for fetish gear, as well as actual dog collars. The shop window, standing on a street corner opposite a pizza place where families dined whilst the sunset colours radiated against its glass, was adorned with a slogan advertising this specific dual purpose. The Western continent may be rather casual when it comes to sexuality and nudity, but Berlin really seems to take this in stride on a whole new level, with kink and fetish on full display and proudly honoured by the community.

It was amazing to see the fetishists come out in full force. I met a friend for a drink at Prinzknecht (the social epicentre of Folsom) in the afternoon and we were the first customers. By the time I returned to the pub in the evening, a sea of kinksters had flooded the bar and spilled out across the street. By Friday, I had met up with some friends for an exploration of the local fetish shops, at which point the streets were teeming with kinksters fully clad in their chosen attire. Broad daylight reflected against motocross gear and intricately-bound rope as we ventured from shop to shop, stopping for some free drinks outside Boxer before heading to Woof bar.

On Saturday morning I decided to explore the street fair early by myself, a decision my anxious procrastination indicated was the right one. That was a lesson I’d learnt the first time I arrived in Berlin. The nervousness over how something might be is never a reason not to find out how it will actually be. Excitement and anxiety are the same physiological reaction, and it is the things we don’t do that we regret, not the things we do. Feeling particularly brave, I adorned my pup gear and headed out by myself. The morning sun felt cold on me. The paranoia of what people might think or say froze it against my skin. Until a kid passed me on the street who said my mask was cool and suddenly I felt like I’d been handed a small plate of confidence to get me through until I found the kinksters. Which, naturally, took about two more minutes of walking.

The nerves continued, though. I was now entering a crowded area alone. I forgot what to do with my hands. In a panic, I paid the full suggested €10 donation for fear I’d be frowned upon, only to then need to take out more cash. Feeling awkward but rapidly approaching comfortability, I made small talk with the first few faces I recognised and watched a rope demonstration that really helped me relax. I started to have fun. I forgot about meeting up with people for a little while and just let myself be a bit awkward. I took part in the puppy photo and later the ABDL one as the faces of friends old and new started gathering amongst the crowd. The crowd never felt overwhelming, though. There was always room on the pavement to avoid it and everyone seemed to have a very respectful attitude towards each other’s personal space. No one was pushing, nowhere did I feel trapped. Simply standing in the middle of it all and looking around at everyone being themselves was just so beautiful.

Tourists and locals alike arrived at the fair, but they weren’t on safari. This wasn’t a zoo for them to gawk at the weirdos. They got involved, they had fun, their attitude to everyone’s attire was so nonchalant. My bare arse was hanging out of my leather jockstrap the whole time and I practically forgot it was. The number of people I bumped into that I’d only interacted with online was even more staggering. I even got to meet the former Recon admin who had first reached out to ask if I’d write about my clown fetish, only to have left Recon by the time I was finally ready to. The number of padded diaper butts in onesies and other ABDL paraphernalia was also mind-blowing. What I thought was so brave and daring had become something accepted and normalised.

Thanks to support from my friend, I was prepared to change into clown gear at the street fair. It took a lot of encouragement to get me there, but the response was overwhelming. I felt like myself. I felt like people could finally see me. No one snickered or leered. No one made fun of me or was afraid of me. Every person I interacted with was welcoming and supportive. The high fives, thumbs up and even the laughs were all so encouraging and I finally felt like I really belonged, even if I was bringing a lot of colour to an otherwise largely black sartorial aesthetic. So many people asked to take pictures with me - I even got interviewed for a German podcast right there in the street just because they liked my outfit (more info to be announced at a later date). I was so comfortable being a clown in public by the end of the day that I went for dinner at a restaurant like that. A handful of us showing up in all sorts of fetish gear and not even the one guy dressed as a sex clown caused so much as a blink.

I’m not one for clubbing, so my Saturday evening was mostly spent outside Prinzknecht (the idea of people fucking on the dance floor to club music is for me a level of hell I’d rather not visit). The amount of beer alone I’d been drinking just out and about each day would start to slow me down enough by the time the evening rolled around that I was ready for a reasonably sensible bedtime most nights anyway. That night I went to bed with such a full heart. The new experiences I’d had compounded into the most wholesome feeling (and yes, that includes pissing in someone’s mouth for the first time). On Sunday I even had my first spreader pants experience, which was awesome!

Overall, I think that the welcoming atmosphere, the chilled out environment and the casualness of the locals made this one of my happiest kink experiences yet. Parents and elders alike, going about minding their own business, not worried that their kids are going to be somehow damaged or corrupted by witnessing people being their authentic selves. That they’re not afraid to explain sex or self-expression to them, nor are they threatened by the simple freedom of someone just wanting to wear a harness. This felt like a true acknowledgement and embracing of the fact we’re all more than what society tells us we can or should be. In the days after Folsom, the streets remained littered with kinksters. There was no washing away of these parts of our lives. Everyone was welcome to continue being themselves.

Good thing I’ll be heading back next week for Quälgeist’s ABDL weekend again. I can’t wait!

Barney

Barney

London, England