xplore Berlin 2018 Review
by Jeanne Philippe
The Continuity of Sexual Freedom in a Once Liberal City
Each festival has its own infrastructure, its own architecture and creates its own social structure. Let us take „Fusion“: this festival for (electronic) music, theatre, performance and cinema at a former Russian military airfield in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, has grown within twenty years from a festive evening with 100 people to the largest “tent camp of the republic” with 75,000 visitors. The former hangars, in which the Soviet planes parked during the time of the Eastern Block, are used as music and event stages and the former airfields are occupied by temporary installations, such as sculptures made of scrap metal, gardens of hammocks, woods with disco balls, streetfood wagons and promenades. There is a program 24 hours a day, for a week the night becomes day. Whether you sleep or party through, is subject to your own discretion and there is no norm. Here people dance in ecstacy, new talents are discovered, well-known DJs are celebrated, lectures, workshops and performances are organized. One disguises oneself conspicuously, debates, drinks alcohol, takes drugs or does not. In theatre circles there is lots of talk of a “crisis of the theater”, but neither Netflix nor game consoles can keep up with the intensity of the live experience this festival provides.
Since the 1990s, there has been talk of a “festivalisation of the society” (Häußermann: urban politics), but the history of festivals, with all the characteristics we experience today at „Fusion“ for example, goes back to the „Dionysias“, the ancient greek celebration lasting several days in honour of the god of wine and fertility. In the „Dionysias“, a development can be traced back, from its religious origins to a festival with rituals of singing, dancing and sacrifice, and further to the Greek tragedy and comedy. And the Dionsysias display the typical characteristics of a festival: it was a theme-bound, or curated festival, it was limited in time and space, its own spectacular character and setting guaranteed for high visibility with audiences and in the media. Interestingly until today the remarkable architecture of “ancient Greece” serves as the „unique selling point“ of the city of Athens.
When it is said that Berlin is “poor but sexy” (Wowereit: 2006), it means that the attractiveness of Berlin happens on a sensual level. In comparison with other cities such as Leipzig, the city of books, the trade city of Hanover or the former West German Bonn, the self-awareness, self-image and self-representation in Berlin plays very consciously with the wicked image that it has been attached to since the “Golden Twenties”, a period between 1924 and the world economic crisis in 1929, marked by a phase of an economic upswing and the flourishing of art, culture and science. At that time Berlin was the third largest metropolis of the world and the centre of a new, hedonistic feeling of life. Urbanization, industrialization, stock trading, as well as impoverishment and social neglect brought about the rise of the Berlin’s amusement business to become an international crowd-puller. It made the city with the bear in the emblem to the capital of gays and lesbians, to the temple of fetishism, occultism, drugs and the „Freikörperkultur” (Free Physical Culture Movement). The production “Babylon Berlin” (2018) announced as a „series of superlatives” heavily draws on this narrative. The production spans a historical arc over 100 years and connects to current events under the slogan “poor, but sexy”. It lends Berlin’s hedonism a market value in both the range of the film business – by linking the city to its the successful past as home of the Ufa Palace and the international pre-war film production before Hollywood’s supremacy – as well as to the field of current night life and club tourism.
Of course, this “policy of great events” such as the staging of “Babylon Berlin”creates a higher visibility for this history of liberal continuity, but precisely only because these continuity exists is it possible that Berlin generates a success for itself from this “tradition”. Apparently even without promoting the protagonists of this continuity. And therefore Berlin –as it needs to maintain its image as “sexy” – also benefits from the work of Felix Ruckert whose Xplore Festivals are dedicated to creativity and sexuality.
Xplore is not a commercial form of a place of desire such as the „Kitkatclub“. Xplore plays at the intersection between choreography, performance art and now forms a subculture, since the public funding of the work of Felix Ruckert stopped in 2006. When in doubt, however, the funding policy insists on its own „poverty“. Berlin has become prudish or bigoted.
While Tom Tykwer studies the detective novel “Der nasse Fisch” (The Wet Fish, 2008) by Volker Kutscher, I practice „Dirty Hands On Yoga“ with Lina Bangsbo: “Open your asshole and your mind will follow.” Nothing about this is spectacular. Everything about it is effective: When doing „fire breathing“, not only the abdominal wall goes inwards but also the genital area. In the „downward facing dog“ not only the back, but also the anus is stretched to the sky. If desired, you get supplemented by light flogging, which increases the perception for buttocks and anal area: ‘Ah yes: Here I can stretch a little further.’
While 40 million Euro of funds were raised for the most expensive German television production of all time, Krisana studied psychology and Mazen wrote his doctorate in neurology. Now the two work with trauma and in their workshop the participants practice conditions and possibilities of dealing with danger. We face a bear: We box in the air, fight for our survival, roar loudly. The bear disappears. We shake each other out and jump. Jumping again and again. That tells the nervous system: Everything is ok. Everything is good. When children are happy, they jump. When we jump, we are happy. Neurology is that simple as an applied practice. We imagine: a rhino. Fighting is hopeless. The horn is stronger than us. So we run. Screaming through the room. On the run. We made it. We escaped. Shaking. Jumping. The shaking and jumping acts like an eraser in the nervous system. The nervous system understands that the danger is over. We imagine: A tiger. A tiger is stronger than us. Fighting is impossible. The tiger is faster than us, escape does not work. So Freeze. Quiet and mute we stand on one leg in the room. The tiger must think we were trees. Danger over. Shake, jump. A new state of neutrality is reached. First: There is no danger. Second: If there is a danger, I am up to it. Neuroscience is as simple as that. Small things, like this exercise, make big changes. A new consciousness: There is no danger that I could not cope with. And there is no danger from men.
While the shooting of “Babylon Berlin” proceeds successfully I practice the “Bonobo Experience” in the workshop of Jason Hall and learn from the beast in me: Bonobos, among all monkey species are those that have the greatest genetic similarity with humans. Groups of Bonobos live in matriarchy. Touch and sexuality are means of community and relationship maintenance. If you linger longer than ten minutes in front of the Bonobo cage at your local zoo, you will witness several sexual interactions. Bonobos explicitly live polygamously. In the workshop of Jason about fifty workshop participants practise clarity in communication, humor and respect for the limits of others: “If someone says “No” to you and “Yes” to someone else, that is … beautiful.” Mutual study of grimaces, mutual feeding, feeding under stress through the simulation of food shortage, loss and recovery of a group member, dealing with a thunderstorm at night – such are exercise sequences and experiments in which the ability to (self-)care, assertiveness and social interaction through the identification with another self (the Bonobo), as well as interaction with a community are explored in a playful new way. Your repertory of social behaviour is expanded.
While Berlin still tinkers with its deviant image, I have a new favorite song:
I never loved this hard this fast before/ but then again I never loved a boy like you before/ I never had somebody sweep me off the floor/ The way you do.
I never kinked this hard this long before/ But then again I never fucked a boy like you before/ I never had someone I could fuck hardcore/ Until I met you
While “Babylon Berlin” casts 5,000 extras and shoots 200 days on 300 locations I watch two Shibari artists tying together two women gently kissing each other on the shoulder while all other possibilities of movement are restricted.
While the premiere of the film is celebrated on September 28, 2017 in Berlin, I ejaculate for the first time. Our ways and looks cross each other at the program notice board. I don’t know where to go yet. He takes me by the hand. His eyes seem very old and very young the same time. It feels safe. I don’t know yet what is coming, but I am open to it. I have to pee but I don’t go to pee. Instead Mara, Hannah and Matis offer more drinks in their workshop: water in 0,5l cups. Curiosity and anxiety play within me like light and shadow under the summer sun. Mara, Hannah and Matis have prepared a ceremony. I hear, but I don’t understand. Instead, I trust that the process will guide me.
Women. Strong women gather. Exercises. I shift the weight from one leg to the other. It feels like being pregnant, having to pee so hard. We get explained and demonstrated how female ejaculation works. Oh, it’s that simple!? The exercises feel like birth preparation: squat position with partner, deep breathing. To be held from behind with folded arms. To deliver weight to others, to relax. Yes: Only females can prepare females for better sex or for giving birth. And then it starts: Approaching my mate. My mate for 30 minutes. Slowly I walk towards him. Seeking for support of another woman. Mara holds me, like shown before. I am supported. I let go. Slowly at first. Then, helping myself with my hand. I ejaculate. For the pleasure of an other. Yet. This is no charity. I feel devotion, dedication, pleasure. Devotion so easy to give because the other remains receptive. Graceful. Thirsty at times. And I feed him through my well-being. By simply letting go. I receive his gratitude with my open heart. I lay down. I am released. My cells let go. Yes. So very easy: No orgiastic breathing, no screaming, just pleasure on both sides. And that was it.
While a movie is coming to the theatres, I peacefully pee on men. So what? And sometimes my libido sleeps and then there is nothing to do. So I watch Netflix.
“Babylon Berlin.” The image of a wicked city. In 1920 as in 2020, Berlin has the reputation of being “poor but sexy”. It’s a pity that structures that have contributed so essentially to the sexual emancipation of women and men do not receive public, structural or political support: the Xplore festival remains a world of its own, a society with its own infrastructure that produces its own space of social integration and emotional security; a curated festival, limited in time and space, that can be regarded as extreme and spectacular, even though the diversity and power of sexuality is everyday and normal.
However, that this diversity of sexuality is commonplace and self-evident in Berlin is neither due to Klaus Wowereit nor Michael Müller, but rather to Felix, Judith, Mara, Sarka and those many others at Xplore.
Jeanne Philippe (Berlin, Oct 2018)