It’s past 11pm and I’m standing in the cold outside one of the most unremarkable buildings in West Berlin: Zwanglos. Next to me is Travis – a gorgeous German editor I picked up on Tinder a few weeks back.
I can’t get over how easy and fun it is to have my pick of men here in Europe. Back home in Karachi, I’m only used to prospective mothers-in-law coming into my drawing room, staring at me as I serve them tea and rejecting me for being too Kaali (dark-skinned) or budhie (old) for their sons.
But standing here outside Zwanglos, I don’t feel expired and unsuitable. I’m an exotic thirty-two year old Pakistani journalist ready for her first sexual adventure. It may be my last – but I try not to think about that.
As we wait in silence for the door to unlock, I try my best to stifle a high-pitched squiggle (squeal+giggle). A woman who sounds like she gargles broken beer bottles opens the door in her negligee. She’s the barmaid here, a swinger club that apparently has had the longest, most colorful run in Berlin. She leads us inside the club with boredom, and a dash of disappointment. She’s probably sees many vanilla tourists like us.
Wading through the darkness, I smell the heavy incense and bump up into Buddha statuettes sitting around. I whisper to Travis, “you sure this is a swinger club? This is pretty much what all spas in Pakistan look like!”
He laughs as he takes the white towels and locker keys for us. In the changing room, he struggles with a tiny towel then gives up midway and stays in his boxers. I clumsily strip down to the cheap lingerie I bought a few hours ago when I found out I had to be nude for this experiment.
This is the first time I have ever been this naked in a public setting. It’s so liberating that I ignore my bloated vacation belly grown on this month-long trip. Is this what body acceptance feels like? It’s a far cry from the black burkini I don in a women’s pool back home.
Our lack of complete nudity does not please the barmaid. We don’t care for her rules though; both of us are here for journalistic purposes. Me to see what “swinging” and “sex clubs” entail in Germany. He’s here to see how a traditional Pakistani girl reacts to one of the many common freedoms in Berlin… I think.
“Want a tour of the place?” Travis and I, barefoot, roam around. I spot swinging leather beds facing mirrors, gynecology examination chairs, sexy whirlpools, and steaming jacuzzis. Of course, there are also places to be hung or chained while you are whipped, paddled, feathered or licked.
Everything here is eerily quiet and clean. Ironic that a sex club here is quieter and cleaner than a public bus in Karachi. The eeriness is broken by porn – lots and lots of porn – playing on every screen in the establishment.
Travis pretends to do a sexy pole dance for me when the barmaid looks away. I whack him with the towel, trying to make him take my project seriously.
It’s too early for swinging it seems because all the rooms here are empty. We find some action in the main room where the barmaid serves drinks to a young German couple drunkenly making out. Her hair’s wet from the shower or the sweaty sex, I can’t say. But they’ve definitely been here long enough to look more settled in than us. We make ourselves comfortable on a couch opposite them and hope that they notice us enough to become our interview subjects but not enough to want to “swing” with us.
“This is so strange, and cool,” she says eying Travis from top to bottom and admitting that it was her first time here. I love how boldly she shows her interest for a man while sitting in the lap of another. I look fondly at Travis and wonder if I could ever convince an honourable Pakistani husband/boyfriend/lover to take me to a swinger club.
The girl’s dopey boyfriend touches his own pecs in nervousness. What happens if Travis decides to swing and leaves me alone here?
I flashback to the reason why we decided to visit this place. A week ago we were walking through a park and he had said, “no one can force you to do anything here… Germany is the land of choice!”
That might have been a great concept theoretically but did that work equally well in practical life? “Do I still have choice to say “no” if I’m inside a sex club, naked and drunk?” I asked intrigued. Back home if you combine these elements on a regular night, there is no getting away from rape and murder in usually the same or opposite order.
“Of course, you do! Try it out yourself if you don’t believe me,” he said.
That day I made a mental picture of how my deeply Islamic mother would respond if she found out how I was behaving in Berlin. Oh, the shame, dishonor, judgment, ostracization, or maybe even a forced marriage to a 70-year-old Pakistani man. Picturing her, that nonsense, the whole context, made me want to come Zwanglos and give someone a blowjob.
Back in the club, Travis continued to be objectified by the girl sitting across us. I noticed I had accrued some admirers who sat very nakedly with their passions at the bar. An introverted older German gentleman who paid more than 100-euros for a single-person entry eyed me shyly each time Travis looked away. He was making awkward conversation in English with a young Arab man who was far from shy in showing his interest.
Behind one of the porn-playing screens was an assortment of pastries, cheese and sausages. I guess gangbangs at 15:00-17:00 can work up a serious appetite.
While I contemplated the sausage rollups and the neon stains on the couch, Travis pulled me closer and whispered. “It’s about to come. Wait for it… 10, 9, 8, 7, 6…” I scanned the room fearfully for what he meant.
The girl sitting across from us cleared her throat and asked, “Are you guys open to everything?”
Damn, you could slice a bratwurst from the tension in the room.
Travis knew my choice but I still waited to see if he had changed his mind about his from all the sudden attention. How do German men respond to choice, I thought? I know a Pakistani man would jump for joy at an opportunity like this.
But Travis looks back at me and smiles. “No! We’re a really happy couple,” he says while giving me an adoring squeeze. I’m absolutely thrilled this remains a journalistic pursuit for him too.
“But you guys are really cute and we totally would if we could!” I add guiltily as they go back to making out with each other.
Our rejection for them gets quickly forgotten when a young good looking couple walk in as nervously as we had only a few hours before.
“Amateurs,” says Travis noting the newbies and digging into the sausage/cheese platter. I too pig out on the free buffet like it was my last day on Earth.
Somehow, by this time, my rebellion and research had changed into boredom and resentment. I hate that for the German girl sitting across me this is nothing more than drunken fun and she’ll go back to eating her vegan vietnamese food from some hip Kreuzberg joint, and making art out of recycling bins. But me, I’ll go back to a bed of bad news, bans, and bureaucracy.
I feel so bitter in that moment, I immediately want to leave. So we take a last tour around the place, and find the single dudes from the bar peeping through large holes in the wall and watching the exhibitionists show off their fun.
Travis decides to pop in the toilet before we head out and I let him leave me alone for a few moments just to see if I’m safe without him beside me.
Within seconds, a man passes by and asks: “You want to?” pointing to one of the rooms. His tone is similar to when you ask someone if they’d like to split a dessert or a cab.
“No, thank you,” I say politely and fix my glare on the screen.
It’s hard to be taken seriously when you’re staring unblinkingly at full-speed intercourse. But he somehow does and goes away.
Travis returns a few seconds later with our clothes and coats. We step out into the cold night and feel like we’ve been jolted out of a lucid dream. We take the train to my cheap hostel and my heart skips as he holds my hand throughout the ride. “Happy couple, huh?” I ask him. He nods in a way that makes me wonder if the status wasn’t just to ward off the people in the club.
I kiss him in the middle of the street, tongue and everything. And he kisses back hard and squeezes my bum. I take out my keys and boldly ask him, “You want to?” He smiles at me in such a way that I perfectly know his “choice”.
Words by Fouzia Azeem
Photo by Kiona Hagen Niehaus