Review - xplore Berlin 2014


Review by Liis, an exploring anthropologist

I am lying back on my towel. The hot summer sun reflects back from the drops of water on my naked body. A group of us have just been cooling ourselves with a hose on the terrace of schwelle7 Beside me is a beautiful free-spirit rigger expert with a truly perfect ass. People around us, mostly naked, are chatting, laughing, doing nude acroyoga and other things We look around, then at each other and laugh aloud. Later we are struck by an idea that is it like the garden of paradise. Now I ponder that perhaps a more appropriate link can be drawn to Bosch's famous masterpiece “The garden of earthly delights”.  In fact, the visual connection to these gardens can only be made if we replace them with a Berlin urban landscape. It is not so much what we see, but how and what we feel in this “garden” It is a specific energy or a vibe that is in the air – its a feeling of liberation, joy, acceptance. It is a playful and carefree atmosphere and the people here remind me of children.

For me this aforementioned moment turned out to be a distinguishing aspect of xplore – the yearly BDSM festival concerning sexual, corporeal and spiritual exploration. The three-day event is a combination of various workshops that may challenge, educate or just excite, both physically and mentally. But clearly the festival is not only made up of the workshops but it is rather a holistic experience where the moments in between matter as much (chats on the terrace, caressing one another before or after workshops, late night flirts...). Participating in the festival is a journey inwards as well as an exploration of/to the Other: people connecting and interacting with their bodies as well as with their tongues. Old friends meet, new acquaintances are born. Energies are created, personal boundaries are crossed, prejudices are dispelled. Also, the role of the space is not to be underestimated – the artistic rooms of schwelle7 allow people the comfort and freedom this type of “research” needs. It is an intimate and creative collaboration between the performers, participants and the space.

This year the organizers of xplore chose a somewhat different approach concerning the festival's concept. Perhaps from the need to deconstruct an already existing and functioning format (one should never get too comfortable regarding sex!), they kept the workshop program as well as the list of presenters wrapped in mystery until the beginning of the festival. This made the first morning of the festival buzz with excitement. We were then given descriptions of the presenters and a timetable, also the theme of the festival started to unravel. Workshops were named after different virtues but in principal the content of the workshops remained hidden. People were forced to activate their instincts and senses, to think about the different virtues they wanted to discover or nurture. This year’s program also allowed the participants (as well as presenters) to try almost all the workshops, as they were repeated daily.

While having lunch in the Italian café next door, I asked some people about their past and previous xplore experiences. A woman who was attending xplore for the third time told me that what makes a great workshop is to a large extent her personal trip - whether she is able to find the intimacy and connection with a partner or a group. Looking back, I could not agree more. This was what I am keeping in mind when elaborating on some of the workshops I experienced and explored:

BRAVERY -  “Another porn is possible”

Gala Vanting is a passionate young queer feminist porn-performer who has decided to challenge and change the way people look at and experience porn. Focusing on the problem of representation in mainstream porn as well as its capitalistic and patriarchic nature, she opts for the democratisation of porn. This meant that the direct and tangible output of the workshop was concerned with producing our own pornographic material (photos, video) with non-professional cameras, smartphones etc (the democratisation of means is also relevant here!). We were urged to consider critically how we look at people, to seek for the pornographic in the quotidian and hidden places, to not be afraid of the “unflattering style of imagery”. The logic is that as the way we fuck is often raw and messy, then this should also be reflected in the porn we produce. Although at first I was a bit intimidated by the whole idea, it actually turned out to be the most amusing experience of the whole festival. I impersonated a porn director who worked with a male “porn star” who had a strong affection towards his red high heels. The layers of parody were entwined with the sincerity of the footage. The chemistry between us enabled a surprisingly good end result – a slow and sensual video about a boy waking up, discovering that he is wearing some kick ass red high heels and then descending into wilderness with them... As much as I was able to look around (which obviously was not too much!), I saw people engaging in their roles and assignments with ease and a creative spirit. In the end, you cannot go wrong when you give people the chance to play with cameras in a setting full of sex and humor.

FLUIDITY -  “I felt loved”

Christine Borch's Fluidity workshop encouraged a relatively different type of collaboration - six naked volunteers were lying in the centre of the room, each one being sucked by a friendly leech. They were, in turn, surrounded by the rest of us who witnessed this very explicitly intimate relationship between a human and a non-human. Christine, as she told us, is interested in the relationship between people and nature, or more precisely how people have (ab)used the latter. Her ritualistic performance can be seen as an attempt to bring nature closer to us - she believes it is the leech who can teach us, who collaborates with us. Indeed, for example, the leech itself finds the spot on the skin where it wants to suck. The workshop was able to imply and entwine several symbolic elements: the whole notion of blood as a means of communication and exchange, the leech itself as a rather mystical creature that stands somewhere in between - a hermaphrodite sucking blood from both ends of its body. I cannot tell you how enjoyable it was to observe the leeches afterwards literally dancing in the water of a big glass vessel, as if full of life energy and joy.

It was an educative as well as meditative experience. While in the beginning the atmosphere was more anxious and talkative, later it seemed that also the observers somehow sank into the same meditative tripping state of the six volunteers. The sound of soft rain sneaked into the room and people fell more silent, became more thoughtful, they lay down and closed their eyes. When reflecting on her experience, a glowing French girl who was sucked by a leech on her stomach later claimed it was like an experience of white magic when her sadness was turned into happiness with the help of a leech. “I felt loved” was her remark that still resonates in my head.

FLEXIBILITY - “Now you try it!”

A rather anxious crowd is waiting in the hallway. Suddenly we start hearing from the other room what sounds like a recitation of a manifesto. A strong woman's voice calls out: “To penetrate!”. This is followed by a man’s voice : “To be penetrated!”... “To crack!”...“To be cracked”. They continue calling out verbs that imply or relate to penetration. The elated crowd becomes even more anxious when we are given instructions to choose a side in the big room dependent of whether we want to penetrate or be penetrated. This was the beginning of a workshop where women fuck men in the ass.

Another moment, a little later in the big room: a sexy, strong “woman” in high heels, an afro wig and a black shiny strap-on meets a handsome “man” who is wearing only a short, lace skirt and who resembles a young Greek god. The women seduces the man and puts him on a table in the centre of the room. She starts caressing and massaging him, she stimulates his cock...and very slowly pushes her strap-on inside him. She knows what she is doing – the flexible and very excited man moans with pleasure. She fucks him hard...but this magical encounter is over as quickly as it began and the woman declares to us in a pedagogical and stiff voice: “Now you try it!”

This definitely transcended a typical workshop demonstration, it became a performance in itself and paved the way to something very promising. It is perhaps no wonder how quickly and comfortably people were then able to engage in anal fucking. In no time at all I looked around and saw dozens of women fucking big men in the ass. The penetrating energy also provided something for the ears – only listening to the strepent sounds in the room would have made anybody aroused. It was a rare and beautiful sight of male submission, deconstruction of gender stereotypes and a celebration of ass fucking.


The title of this workshop correctly refers to what a workshop about collective masturbation is all about. When you put together a charming Danish orgasm coach and a big room full of liberal-minded, aroused festival goers then this is what you get – a lot of laughing.

After asking us to find a place in the room and lay down on our towels, Pia Struck educated us on what precedes a great orgasm – how we should touch ourselves, work with our breathing, spine movement, sounds, muscles etc. This was followed by some practical exercises where we had to imitate fucking somebody with a cock – a good way to make people laugh and relax. We were then finally “allowed” to start touching ourselves and apply our freshly learned knowledge. People were more than eager to please themselves and in no time all the corners of the room were reverberating with moans and groans. At some point Pia urged us to look around. My partner was in full action, enviously engaged in her act of self-pleasure. I lifted my head and saw most of the people sincerely enjoying themselves, either standing or lying, without any complexes or worries. A fit, sweaty guy caught my eye – he was standing up self-forgettingly wanking off with a big smile of pleasure on his face. The energy was wild and liberating. I am not sure if I was shaking with pleasure or laughter (or both).

Of course the workshops described here are only a fraction of what was going on in the actual festival. There were workshops oriented towards dance and bodywork - Felix Ruckert's Presence,  Gustavo Frigerio's Grace theatre or Juliette Dragon's burlesque Attitude. Mandy Selina Ronda's Patience workshop embraced touching and the exploration of various senses. There were workshops focused on psychological mind-games, role play and fantasies - Seani Love's Humbleness and Claudia Fabrizy's Devotion. Nicolas Yoroi's Creativity workshop was an intense introduction to bondage and suspension. And the list continues. I must emphasise that this here was of course a purely subjective insight into the festival and rather dependent on my personal choices and feelings.

Even if sex is constantly explicit at xplore, the festival is definitely not only about sex and sexuality. xplore is made up of unique people, collaborative energies and exploration of (m)any kinds. It is as much spiritual and psychological as it is corporal and physical. It is about being part of something bigger that resonates in you long after the schwelle7's black door has closed. And most definitely it is just as much fun.

I am reminded of another moment of the festival: I am sitting on the terrace side-by-side with a new acquaintance – a perfectly modeled young guy with an eccentric nature and an absurd haircut. We chat and then he tells me: “You know that now you are spoiled. It does not get any better than this. Never. Anywhere.” I feel satisfaction and panic simultaneously.

Liis, an exploring anthropologist