I once commented ‘I really dont care that much about seeing Europe.’ I was convinced that I would never have the finances and subsequently romanticized the idea of adventurous holidays in Africa or South America as so much more thrilling.
Despite there being some truth to the above, that I prefer adventure over history and museums, one European city was always overwhelmingly sexy to me because of what I’d seen in cinema.
Berlin. A kinky melting pot of liberal sexuality and self expression. I imagined the clubs to be wild, uninhibited and sexy. Germans were famous for kink and fetish and the thought of something that is usually so taboo in Australia being open and accepted was irresistible to me.
When my wrestling club decided to compete in Paris at the Gay Games 2018 I declined for two reasons. I didn’t feel confident enough, but also because I generally have no interest in France.
It’s worth noting that for Australians, a European vacation is rarely a short one, since the flight time is over 20 hours and we want to make the travel well worth it.
Upon returning from Paris, one of my club mates told me he had learned of an international wrestling camp in Berlin which was held annually and that most of the Gay Games competitors attended.
By February 2019 my flight was booked and in June I was on my way to Berlin, via Amsterdam.
This was a big deal. I had only ever done big international trips with my ex of 8 years and because he worked in travel, he would take care of all the details. For the first time I was travelling on my own terms, to a continent I didn’t think I’d ever get to, and for a sport I never thought I’d be good at.
First stop Amsterdam. I had arranged a Misterb&b room for 4 nights in Amsterdam before I would head to Berlin. I did this for 2 reasons. An Airbnb because I was only spending a short time in the city before moving on, and a Misterb&b because as a solo traveller, I could make friends with the host and he could show me around. Vincent was lovely. Between board games, brunch and drinks in Amsterdam’s gay scene, the city became a warm and friendly environment and a really positive start to my European vacation.
4 days later I caught the train to Berlin. At 6 hours, next time I’d fly but the seats were comfortable and I got to see regional parts of both the Netherlands and Germany.
Arriving in Berlin, there was a storm and there was water everywhere. If you imagine trying to find your way through a foreign city on a good day, mix that with the pandemonium of very wet weather and a crowd of flustered, panicked people. I took a taxi to meet a fellow wrestler from Melbourne just outside where I was staying.
That night I went to Prinzknecht, a local gay bar where the attendees for the wrestling camp were hosting welcome drinks. They were lovely. In particular Mitch, Renè and a gorgeous Norwegian dude who will remain nameless. They embraced me with open arms.
In typical Australian form I got shitfaced and really loud. I’m not saying that because I’m proud of it but rather the opposite. The last thing I wanted to convey was obnoxious lad behaviour clichè of British, American and Aussie tourists.
The next day we met at Berlin Hauptbahnhof do take a transfer to the sporting facility outside Berlin. Arriving early to appease German punctuality standards, I waited as my European friends from the previous night arrived. The Norwegian guy gave me a knowing smile and I smiled back in embarrassment.
“You were on FIRE last night Andrew!” He said, before making it clear with his body language that I had nothing to be anxious about. We were mates and he wanted to let me know that via a lighthearted joke.
During the camp we trained hard. It was a work hard, play hard kind of environment. 2-3 training sessions each day for about 2 hours at a time.
But the company was great. We had fun in the swimming pool and we cracked jokes with one another.
“You realise because you’re Australian we all expect you to swim like a god!?” One British wrestler told me.
Giving them a taste of good ol’ Australian larrikinism I belly flopped onto a blow up raft and paddled around crying “Jack! There’s a boat!”
The most beautiful thing about the camp was that I formed a network of international friends. Even some from USA.
When we got back from the camp I checked into my hotel in Berlin. I was staying at the Axel in Schöneberg. The first thing that raised my eyebrow were the door signs. There were 3. ‘Please make up my room’ and ‘please do not disturb’ were standard but the one that made me giggle was ‘please disturb.’ I knew immediately that I was going to have fun in Berlin.
As I got a foot massage down the road, the thai masseuse gave me a run down of where to go and where I would have fun.
On two of my days I did the common tourist things. Brandenburg Gate and a Third Reich tour. The tour broadened my mind entirely. It was a painful reminder of the atrocities of World War II but also a reminder that evil exists in men’s hearts whichever their allegiance. Stories of Berlin women being raped by Soviet soldiers broke my heart. After the tour, which ended just after visiting Adolf Hitler’s bunker, I visited a different memorial. This was the memorial for homosexual victims of Nazi Germany.
The darkness of Berlin’s history was balanced though, by the amazing liberal culture and the presence of new friends I had made. We often ended up at Woof Berlin, a local bear bar around the corner from the Axel. I had to buy one of their t-shirts!
Sometimes Berlin was enjoyed more at night, embracing the exclusivity of the infamous Berghain or the deviance of Laboratory. Rooms full of gay orgies and leather were commonplace in a city whose motto was ‘anything goes.’
When I left Berlin, I travelled more through Europe, circling my way back to Amsterdam. On my final night I met Vincent for some board games. It was beautiful. My last night in Europe where the fun had all begun.
6 months later I got a pleasant surprise. My new friend Brian from the wrestling camp decided to visit Australia and train with our wrestling club. It was so beautiful to be around the strong connection we had forged in Berlin. We trained and we partied. But most of all we connected. That connection, and all the others I made in Berlin will last a life time!
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