Thurs 7th – Tues 12th Sept 2017
Off on our annual trip to Folsom Europe that takes place in Berlin. Think of a more fetishised Pride. Lots of guys strutting around in leather, rubber, uniforms, and sports kit. It’s all a bit peacocks showing off but good fun so long as you don’t take it too seriously. You see God-like beautiful people and you just need to shrug off any unworthy feelings. Painful this time in that the exchange rate has gone so bad after Brexit, basically one for one. This blog tells you about my time at Berlin Folsom 2017. However ‘Folsom’ is a common search term that often brings people to my blog. So there are also general details on my little trip away with helpful hints for others thinking of going to Berlin Folsom (or just Berlin).
The wonder of Berlin
Berlin is a wonderful city. Self-contained and not too up itself – London is getting a bit the opposite these days. Indeed, the view from Berlin is that London and the UK is in decline whilst their city and Europe is on the up. People were asking me ‘why is the scene closing down in London’? It’s not but it is interesting that people think that. Berlin has both an amazing and horrendous history that has made it into the place it is today. Creative anarchism exemplified by things like Folsom plus posters plastered up for clubs and elections all over the place, including in places I am sure they shouldn’t be put. Berlin becomes cool and modern just as the UK (and perhaps London) becomes a theme park to past glory.
Two health warnings
First, weather. There have been years when it is warm and sunny in Sept. This year was chilled and rainy. Not a disaster in itself but it does rule out shorts and creates a need to carry a jacket around. Umbrellas not advised, looks silly. Why spend a fortune on a stern leather, rubber or uniform outfit and then ruin it with an umbrella or, even worse, a multi-coloured umbrella!
Second, you will see some amazing men and some amazing outfits. Not just youngsters though youth brings its own beauty. But people who spend their lives working out and controlling their diets. Indeed, some even make a living from this. Plus people who have spent mega-bucks on their outfits – think leather boots at over 1,000 euros a pair. It can leave me feeling fat, old and ugly. You have to get used to this at Folsom and over-ride it. You will see the golden ones but just admire them and remember that they too will get old, fat and ugly even though they think they won’t. And just enjoy yourself whatever you are or look like. Folsom does have something for everybody if you look for it.
Up at 6am on Thurs and to Heathrow. Checked in fine and chilled. Fast flight, just an hour and a half. Coffee (to be paid for on BA now :(), read, and snooze. Taxi to the hotel, 20 euros and there’s probably a bus but, sod it, I’m on holiday. Slightly delayed getting to the hotel because of police activity. Berlin is a very safe place but has security concerns like everywhere in the world these days. Usual multiple various political posters strung up on lamp-posts. Germans are thoughtful and political plus it always seems like some kind of election going on when I am there. This time is the general election on 24 Sept.
Ideally you should be located not too far from Nollendorfplatz station (pictured). Our hotel is near Wittenbergplatz station and that is fine. We could always see some Folsom people around the gay area and where our hotel was. Folsom does seem to extend every year, starting Wed/Thurs and finishing on Mon. Checked in and had a disco nap before going out for coffee and to soak up the atmosphere. Amazing the way Folsom draws in guys from all over Europe and North America, participants travel thousands of miles.
And all the hotels seem fine with people in kit wandering about. Though tis worth bearing in mind for things not to be too shocking i.e. chaps with no underwear can be upsetting for everybody. It was funny that my partner kept his friend waiting for 15 mins in reception after failing to see the friend’s text specifically asking for this not to happen. The mate’s kit was not shocking though he was head to toe in black rubber; ‘I look like a condom’ was his description.
Prinzknecht and Connection
There are plenty of places to go out to . The centre of it all is the big bar Prinzknecht with drinkers regularly spilling out onto the streets. Next door is the club Connection. There is always something going on if you don’t want to travel far. Indeed, I went to the opening night party there. I arrived around 11pm but it was open till 6am and I think the expectation was that people would not be getting there till at least 2am.
I also went to Connection on Fri night for BioHazard, a good club night for HIV+ people. Very popular and I had to queue to get in. However I didn’t find it as friendly as previous years, I think it’s got quite popular and trendy attracting lots of body beautifuls rather than friendly people. I left after a couple of hours and the streets outside were packed with men dressed in black leather and rubber.
Another fun place to try is The Bull. This is a crazy 24 hour party pub. Dark, chaotic, and risque – everything a good party should be. Some people are very wary of it but it’s great fun to pop to after going out. People are friendly, often pissed and wasted. Some I chatted to included a guy originally from Reykjavik but now living in Helsinki, a man from Glasgow who had been partying for 24 hours, and another London person from Surrey Quays as well as loads of Germans. Some real sights there as people let their hair down – think drunk people dancing around in their pants. Ideally don’t go there with your wallet or phone and be careful of pickpockets.
On Friday and Saturday, there are always special parties at clubs specifically arranged for Folsom. These are normally in other parts of the city. For instance, on Fri last it was Revolver at the famous Kit Kat Club. The parties are good but can be a little bit expensive. If you want a ‘unique’ and more reasonably priced experience then go to The Lab. But be very aware of rules around behaviour (masculine – don’t laugh or talk to people whilst waiting in the queue to get in) and there is a strict dress code. It is not impossible to be denied entrance by the door staff.
Other good bars and clubs
And if you don’t want to go too far then there are loads of other bars and clubs that all open late in the gay area. Scheune opposite Zsa Zsa Burgers is a friendly little bar club. And if you want bigger then check out Mutschmann and New Action.
Saturday afternoon must is a visit to the Folsom street fair. It is only small filling streets next to the main gay bar Prinzknecht. But amazing sites of people dressed in outlandish fetish. It is not just gay and not just men. If you do go to Folsom and the fair then dress for it – that is the way you will get most out of the experience. But rest assured there is no need to go over the top. Some people wear outfits costing thousands of pounds / euros. But it is easy to get something leather, rubber, uniform or sportswear and be a bit imaginative. Find a space, have a drink (alcohol, soft or coffee), and watch the people go by. There is always the chance that you will bump into one of the crowned ‘misters’ of Folsom from across Europe wearing their sash. We kept bumping into ‘Mr Leather Wales’.
Germany is not famous for its brilliant food but there are some restaurants worth going to within the gay village as part of the Folsom experience. Do remember that this is one of their busiest times of the year so make reservations. It’s not scary, everyone speaks English. Places we go to and would recommend:
- Trattoria á Muntagnola – our Thurs night treat. A cosy and slightly non-standard Italian just up from Prinzknecht. Very gay friendly with a nice selection of Italian food, quite different to the chains. And you can watch the food being prepared on the TV screen.
- Elephant – just across the road from Muntagnola, this is a great place to experience different types of escalopes as well as more traditional German / central European cuisine. Very gay friendly though be warned you can have long waits for food to arrive.
- Zsa Zsa Burgers – closer to Nollendorfplatz and just down the road from the cafe Romeo und Romeo. Busy and gay friendly, try to sit outside if the weather is good enough. Nice burger and chips. Indeed there are lots of upmarket burger places in Berlin, all good but this isn’t a chain and is fun.
Berlin is OK for food so enjoy the different places. There will be nice food at the street fair to try. Also used and recommended is the cheap and cheerful Chinese street food place next to Zsa Zda. And do eat at one of the street Turkish doner stalls. If you want something more ‘German’ then try the brilliant currywurst and chips.
We spent lots of time at coffee shops just chatting, chilling, reading, doing stuff on the pooter, and watching the world go by. My idea of heaven basically. Berlin is packed full of little coffee shops often run by Turkish people (one was right in the heart of the street fair) with lovely cakes, pastries, and little treats like baklava – enjoy! You can’t go to Folsom and lose weight unless you are on drugs for the whole time and then you might as well be anywhere because you ain’t gonna get the full Berlin or Folsom experience. There are a couple of specific gay/ gay-friendly coffee shops to try in the gay area.
Romeo und Romeo
The main gay cafe near Nollendorfplatz. When I first started going to Folsom years ago, it was a real dive: a gay bar but basically a centre for rent boys. What was more interesting was that it had always historically been a gay bar. Apart from when the Nazis were in power and they deliberately turned it into one of their local offices to make a statement. There were pictures in the bar showing it as a Nazi office. Then someone turned it into this lovely cafe. And it’s a great place though it can get very busy. Open 8 – 8 with nice coffee and good wi-fi. Definitely a place to see and be seen.
Brezel Company Cafe
Indeed sometimes Romeo gets so busy that it’s nice to go elsewhere for a change. Just round the corner is this cafe that specialises in pretzels. But it also does a great range of sandwiches and cakes. Its real strength is the great breakfasts it does. Generally busy in the morning, it quietens out later in the day. Good coffee and wi-fi as well.
It would be incredibly sad to go to Folsom and just spend your whole time in Gay Land though it is a severe tempation. Berlin is wonderfully easy to walk around. A wander to some of the tourist sites enables appreciation of the different buildings. The wonderful apartment blocks from the time of the Kaisers that survived being bombed as well as the more modern stuff.
Berlin is also a great mix of urban and green. Berliners are hot on recycling, cycling, and tackling climate change. Look up at some of the wonderful balconies heavy with plants and down at the cultivated patches of land around trees in the street tended to by local residents. A brilliant long green walk is simply to stroll around TierGarten perhaps including the nearby Brandenburger Tor and Reichstag. There’s also a lovely boating lake and cafes.
By the side of the Tiergarten and Brandenburger Tor is the Holocaust memorial. It’s a huge concrete maze that gets deeper and darker. Well worth a visit not least to remember the millions who died. Also do look down to see reminders of the Holocaust and evil Nazi era. Outside many apartment blocks you will find little plaques set into the pavement detailing the people who lived there and died in the Nazi concentration camps.
It sounds a bit naff and stereotypically gay to list a shop as a place to see but KaDeWe is pretty special. It’s the leading independent department store in Berlin and right next to the gay area. A brilliant place to appreciate the latest in German design and fashion. Some great coffee shops and a whole floor is given over to lovely, varied places to eat. Wander and absorb the luxury of it all.
A recommendation of one of my work colleagues and worth going to. We went on Sunday morning and it wasn’t too busy. It’s a photographic gallery like London’s The Photographers’ Gallery and with a nice cafe. Exhibitions vary and we had one by someone who witnessed the destruction of the Prague Spring in 1968 by Russian troops and then spent his life in exile wandering around Europe. Plus there was a good exhibition on the wall being built around the West Bank as well as some modern still-lifes. Not cheap at 10 euros but I think I’ve become too accustomed to the UK’s free museums and galleries. There’s also a gallery showing Helmut Newton’s work nearby but we didn’t go.
We went here on Sun afternoon and it really is a must for any LGBT person going to Berlin. It’s a museum to LGBT life in Berlin over the last few hundred years. I first saw it years ago when it was based in a small, old-fashioned building in Kreuzberg. It has now moved to a purpose built building nearer the main gay area. A beautiful collection of poignant materials. Especially the stuff from the twentieth century; from the progressiveness of the Weimar Republic to the murder and torture by the bastard Nazis (any LGBT people can support right wing organisations or wear crap glorifying them are just arseholes). Plus a nice cafe and a pleasant garden shared with the people who live in the flats above.
Neue Museum on Museum Island
Our highlight of Monday. We took a long walk to Berlin’s cultural centre. The walk there took us past remnants of the Wall and Checkpoint Charlie as well as details on the Nazi period. Basically the last 100 years of human history has been centred on this city. There are several museums on Museum Island. My partner particularly wanted to see the bust of Nefertiti at the Neue Museum. We had previously done the Pergamon Museum which is very good. There are about 5 museums and a day pass to them all costs 18 euros which is good value but it will take up your whole day. Just the Neue cost 14 euros each which is a little steep.
The museum itself is beautiful and well worth a visit. It was not that busy and features exhibitions about archaeology from Berlin, early German history up to the medieval period (perhaps the separate Deutsches Historiches Museum – German Historical Museum picks up from that point), and Egyptology. The bust of Nefertiti is beautiful and presented in a lovely way. Plus some other treasures to see such as the tall golden hat (like it says on the tin) and an exhibition comparing ancient Egypt and China – similar in many ways despite not coming into contact.
The only bad bit…
Sometimes Germans can be their own worst enemies. They have this officious streak that runs through them, a caricature that is sadly too true sometimes. Like the horrible guards at the Neue Museum who follow you around like you are thieves. And enforce weird petty rules. Wear a coat or tie it around your waist but don’t carry it. Or the rule allowing women to carry bags around but not men. There was also the incident at out hotel when we booked a taxi and went out to wait. The receptionist came rushing out to tell us to come back in case we were picked up by a non-ordered taxi. Germans – chill out.