BERLIN — A hush fell over the a whole lot of kinksters gathered in the pews of the Twelve Apostles Church in Berlin when the cellist, clad in head-to-toe black leather-based, took a seat in entrance of the altar and started to play Rachmaninoff.
At the again of the room, ushers from the nun-themed drag troupe The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, watched him, rapt.
When the cellist was carried out, a leather-clad organist performed Johann Sebastian Bach’s Prelude in C main. He was adopted by a quartet in chest harnesses and leather-based pants who carried out Vivaldi’s Sonata in A minor. Then a towering baritone in skintight leather-based sang the hymn “Panis Angelicus” to cheers from the group.
Classic Meets Fetish was one of the opening occasions at Folsom Europe, a five-day pageant of avenue events, cultural occasions and bacchanalian membership nights that attracts 1000’s of vacationers to what organizers describe because the fetish capital of Europe.
Politics was additionally an necessary ingredient in this 12 months’s combine.
“I have been thinking about how much society has changed in the last few years,” the live performance organizer, Tyrone Rontganger, informed the viewers. “We live in a society that has become polarized, but I have always believed that fetish unites, just as music brings people together.”
There are Folsom occasions every year in San Francisco, whose Folsom Street gave the pageant its identify and first location in 1984, and in New York. Public nudity and sex-on-the-sidewalk throughout the pageant should not unheard-of on the San Francisco occasion, however New York tends to be a tamer affair.
Neither of the American variations, nevertheless, has the over-the-top fame of Folsom Europe, which will get its carnal and cultural cachet from Berlin, a metropolis whose vibrant year-round night-life attracts everybody from homosexual intercourse vacationers to British bachelorette events.
The German capital — and Schöneberg, the neighborhood in which Folsom is held — can be deeply enmeshed in the L.G.B.T. historical past of the 19th and early 20th century, when town was a middle of homosexual tradition and activism.
“Berlin has always been a very special city,” mentioned Alexander Cabot, the primary transgender man to win the title of Mr. Leather Berlin 2019. “Back in the 1920s, Berlin was called the city of sin. That is very appealing because you can experience a variety of things here — so many different things — and people like that. It is very free.”
That period of openness was dropped at a violent finish by the Nazis and didn’t re-emerge till a long time later when West Berlin grew to become a Cold War counterculture mecca.
Folsom’s organizers mentioned they wish to have fun that hard-won freedom, however in addition they cautioned that Berlin’s anything-goes sexual fame may be inaccurate.
“We are actually less scandalous than in San Francisco, I think,” mentioned Daniel Ruester, a bursar for Lufthansa who co-founded the pageant in 2003. He described it as “sexy but not sexual.”
“Tourists always think in Berlin you can do anything, but that is not true,” he added. “We do have laws here.”
The centerpiece of Folsom Europe is a avenue truthful that turns Schöneberg into a form of kinky catwalk, the place 1000’s of elaborately dressed contributors — principally homosexual, bisexual and transgender males — drink, store and exhibit their look.
At this 12 months’s occasion, which happened final month, there was an abundance of uniforms — from the New York Police Department and the French Foreign Legion to the Canadian Mounties, together with rubber pet masks and usually formal-looking leather-based outfits that included jackets, ties and hats.
The sea of leather-based was sometimes interrupted by a burst of shade and costuming: There was a person in a head-to-toe zebra outfit, together with zebra-stripe heels, shopping for large steins of beer; a scantily clad Pikachu winding his method by the group; and a Star Wars storm trooper ready in line for the bathroom.
Organizers remind guests that the pageant is ruled by guidelines, that are displayed on posters throughout the neighborhood. Three of a very powerful: no public nudity, no public intercourse and no Nazi symbols, the show of which is strictly forbidden underneath German regulation.
“In the beginning, especially, sometimes Americans would come in S.S. uniforms, and it was always a big, big problem,” mentioned Alain Rappsilber, a chimney sweep and a Folsom board member who described himself as “kink-free.”
(When asked his profession, he emphasized that being a chimney sweep was “not a fetish, it is actually my job.”)
The ban on Nazis appeared to be more widely respected this year than the prohibition on nudity and public sex, which became more loosely observed as the crowd got drunker and the afternoon turned to evening. Organizers said the people who act out each year tend to be tourists.
“Here in Berlin, people don’t need to go crazy because it is normal for us to have a beer in public or to walk around and see someone’s uncovered backside,” said Mr. Ruester, the festival co-founder.
Organizers said Folsom Europe has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for causes across Europe, particularly in countries like Russia and Poland where the authorities have recently targeted L.G.B.T. people.
But it was founded, they said, out of a desire to celebrate gay life and the leather scene in Berlin, which has boomed in the years since the festival began.
In Schöneberg, gay bars have been joined by a crop of high-end fetish shops that sell bespoke leather outfits and $150 off-the-rack harnesses.
As with many things in Germany, the weight of history seemed inescapable even in the carnival atmosphere of Folsom, which was held just a few blocks from a memorial to the gay victims of the Holocaust.
The freedoms celebrated by the festival began to be carved out over 150 years ago, when German researchers coined the word “homosexuality” and began to discuss being gay not as a personal moral failing but as a naturally occurring phenomenon, according to the historian Robert Beachy.
Germany was also home to what Mr. Beachy argues may be the first public coming out, in the modern sense of the term, when the lawyer Karl Heinrich Ulrichs argued for the decriminalization of homosexuality before an 1867 gathering of the Association of German Jurists and in a series of pamphlets written under his real name.
Decades later, Schöneberg was a playground for luminaries like the bisexual singer Marlene Dietrich, the painter Otto Dix and the author Christopher Isherwood, who lived there when he wrote the novel that inspired the musical “Cabaret.”
The sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, who founded the world’s first gay rights organization, also lived and worked nearby until his organization was ransacked by Nazis who forced him into exile.
The sense of partying atop a paradise lost suffused even the classical music concert. After the musicians took their bows, they joined the audience, which included a number of older men whose leather outfits were accessorized with canes, in a singalong.
The tune was a song by Dietrich, a Nazi critic who left Germany in the 1930s.
“I still have a suitcase in Berlin, that is why I must go back again,” the crowd sang. “The happiness of bygone days is all still in my suitcase.”