The crown jewel of Berlin’s cruising bars, Lab.Oratory has earned its reputation. It might not be the kinkiest place in town, but it is definitely the biggest and most cruisy by far. Think of it is a giant dark room rather than a fetish or BDSM club, and you won’t be disappointed.
I spent a very busy Saturday night there last weekend for their (more or less) monthly Fausthaus party, and this review will focus mostly on the fisting nights, though that is not what this club specialises in. Their busiest night by far is Friday, which is a very casual, very busy, no-dress-code, anything-goes free-for-all. With 2-for-1 on all drinks (which in this case means they hand them to you two at a time, encouraging people to get each other drunk), it’s actually a very affordable night out. They just upped their entrance fee from six to eight euros, but even so it is still a really good deal, especially with gloves and lube provided.
The secret to enjoying Lab.Oratory is that you, at least to a certain degree, embrace the filth of it all. If you are meticulous about hygiene you are very unlikely to feel relaxed here. After all what they are most famous for is their piss pit – a basement portion under a grate where you could get “rained” on by complete strangers. On appropriately themed nights the ammonia in the air will burn your eyes. It is also one of the few places to host a regular “brown” party – but don’t worry, on any other night you would have no idea that this happens here. Apparently in Berlin there are cleaning companies that specialise in dealing with the aftermath of sex parties. Nice work if you can get it? However the fact that there are no bins, they constantly run out of paper towels, the bathrooms (which see a lot of use as guys get ready for fisting night) are never cleaned during the evening, the lube on the floor which keeps piling up throughout the night (the toilet area is particularly hazardous after midnight), and the less-than-satisfactory lighting make it really difficult to keep yourself or your play area tidy. It’s not impossible if you come prepared (and you figure out how to get more paper and which faucets have hot water) but it’s not made easy, either.
And now, to Fausthaus, the busiest fisting party in Berlin. Until recently, this took place every second Saturday of the month, but this appears to be changing. In October there were two (one of them in the “daytime” at 4pm), and in November there was none. There’s no details on their plans for next year announced yet, but hopefully there will be some sense of regularity, as the evening attracts a lot of tourists who plan their trip around it. Generally it starts at 10pm, with the door officially closing at midnight. The tendency is for half of the people to arrive fairly early and the other half to arrive just before midnight. There are reliably more than a hundred men showing up, and occasionally, especially on holiday weekends, a few hundred. One of the advantages of the venue, which is actually part of the Berghain complex (that includes the Panorama dance club normally referred to by that name) is that they have more space they can expand into on busier evenings. This includes a great outdoor area that is really fun during Folsom. They also, sometimes, close parts off when it’s quiet. This means the space is generally just the right size for the crowd, which keeps the cruisy vibe going.
I should explain the coatcheck process because that tends to confuse most newcomers. When you enter, you pay the cover fee. You are given a token with a number on it. This is “your” number. You are also given a large bin bag. This is your coatcheck – you can put all your unnecessary clothing and your valuables in it. The only thing you need to hold on to is the token. Bring the token and the full bin bag to the coatcheck when you are done stripping. They will take the bag, write your number on it, give you the token to hold on to, and, also, write the number on you. Basically the way paying for drinks works here is sort of like the system in the average gay sauna, except that you will use the number on your shoulder instead of a wristband. When you are ready to leave, you will go back to the coatcheck with your token, and retrieve the bag with your clothes – hold on the token. After you get dressed, you will take the token back to the bar (if you are leaving early and the small bar in the back is still open, you’ll get faster service there) and pay for what you consumed. You will usually get a pleasant surprise – even for Berlin the drinks are pretty affordable. Now take both your token and your receipt to the front door, and go home to send me a message about how much fun you had. One thing I should note here is that they are fairly strict about people not using mobile phones in the club, which is true in many sex clubs here.
If this was not overly complicated for you, you will be rewarded by a buffet of butts and an affluence of fists of all shapes, sizes, colours, and origins. The big difference between Fausthaus and the regular weekly fist nights in Berlin, is that you do not go here to meet Berliners. This varies a bit by season, but Fausthaus is very international – last Saturday I only “met” one German, and he was Bavarian. This actually makes it a lot easier to meet people, as long as your cruising game is tight – and if it’s not, hey, liquid carriage is cheap here. It is also less subject to this polite, tit-for-tat, we-are-all-versatile culture that Berliners favour, so if you are looking only to top or only to bottom this might be the club for you. The downside is you will also find more curious onlookers, tourists who did not read the program, or club kids who are getting their night started than in one of the more dedicated establishments. Again, though, as long as you make it clear you’re here for the main event, the numbers will work to your advantage.
The night here tends to have three parts:
- The Carousel, or Mister Right time: This tends to last until midnight. Guys just walk around, generally avoiding eye contact, pretending they’re too hot for everyone. Not a lot of play. If you came here with someone, it’s a good time to get yourself into one of the better play spaces. The lines for the bathroom are long, and if you are a top it’s generally better to hold it.
- The Feeding Frenzy, or Mister Right Now time: At midnight, when it is clear that everybody who will show up has already shown up, the mood changes. This is when guys get aggressive, and negotiations are brief. You will find that the guys who were pretending you didn’t exist are now grabbing your butt. Make the most of it.
- The Time of the Sling Lizzard: This is the time of the dedicated and the desperate. It won’t start before two, and on very busy nights it might not even start till four. Everybody who is still here is still looking. Standards are lower, butts are looser, and the bar run out of gloves.
The bar will generally stay open till six or even later if they think it’s justified. That only tends to happen during party weeks like Easter, however.
Now, the physical description: Think of a very large dark room, that happens to have a bar or two in it. There are slings, benches, cabins, gloryholes, what you will find behind or under any gay bar in West Berlin. Except that here the bar is the after thought – the darkroom is the club. The area by the main bar does tend to be a bit more sedate, social, and well-lit, but there’s still a sling there. There’s no part that’s off limits for sex here. There are a couple of upstairs “cage” areas where you can a great look at the action, a cruisy hallway that’s about the size of some actual darkrooms, the aforementioned pisspit, a great outdoors area with cargo-containers set up as playrooms, and there are even a few showers. In general the lighting is dim, except for the main bar itself. It feels cruisy, seedy, and decadent, but for my taste it doesn’t make for the ideal play environment. A sexy environment that is not actually made for sex is how I would describe it.
All in all, whereas you go to a place like Quälgeist for the gear, it is the crowd that makes Lab.Oratory fun, and they attract a fun crowd. It is definitely worth visiting, even if you decide that it is not the right place for you. And if it’s not someting you have done before, go ahead and jump in on the deep end. So go ahead, give it a try, and let me know how you get on!