• Hannah Shields

THE HOLIDAY

"For the last time, I'm not going on a gay cruise with you!" "But why?"

"Because -"

"But think of all the friends you'd make."


And that's how you ended up sandwiched between two crowd control barriers, in a never-ending queue on the outskirts of Kreuzberg surrounded by a chorus of gay men clad in black, with asymmetric haircuts and faces contorted into expressions of apathy; all desperately trying to conceal the fact that they’d donate their left testicle to be allowed into the very building you're in line for.

So you managed to quell the cruise idea and instead, opted for a spontaneous weekend getaway – courtesy of Ryanair – where you've swapped the Brandenburg gate for 8am bratwursts as you fall out of one darkened club and into the next - trying to look incredibly cool along the way.

"I hope everyone's naked inside," sings Jamaal.

"Why would everyone be naked?" I reply in hushed tones so not to reveal my Britishness. (As if that wasn’t radiating off me enough by the fact I was orchestrating an orderly queue around the upcoming bollard.)

"It happens here," retorts David. "They're very liberal."

"Forced exposure. Yes - very liberal." It was for such deadpan, painfully accurate and rather comforting quips, that you were glad to call Li a friend. "Besides, it’d take forever for everyone to take their clothes off." Ever the pragmatist.

"Well, I'm not walking ‘round naked!" I retort. Cue a systematic eye roll from the group. "Why should I? It's degrading."

"When did you become such a prude? You never usually pass up an opportunity."

You decide not to dignify that with an answer and silently hope you got the dress code right. You don’t want to be the only one turned away. It took you two and a half hours to get ready and you seem to look as indifferent as everyone else. And by indifferent, you mean part Matrix, part sport luxe goth with an irritating air of minimalism. That can only be a good sign.

You shuffle forwards. And that’s when it begins: a two second appraisal from Europe’s most unyielding bouncer. There’s barely a square inch of face not covered in ink, metal or hair. He wouldn’t look out of place in Shawshank. You undo your coat, shake off the shivers and clench your teeth in a way you hope looks high-fashion over hypothermia. You concentrate on the artwork surrounding his left eye and pray to god he likes your shoes. (Urban myth dictates this was Britney’s shortcoming for entry.) Suddenly, the man raises his chin. You detect a subtle eyebrow lift. You’re in!

You skulk round in the shadows awaiting your comrades, trying to catch your first glimpse of debauchery. Sadly your view is obscured by a waif of industrial plastic and you’re left waiting; the anticipation rising. There’s an aggressive beat that makes your heart palpitate and your sensibilities come alive. A group of chiselled northern Europeans march past, looking wildly effortless and a bit kitsch. Jamaal was going to have a field day. You’re midway through taking off your outwear, foreseeing the sweat-fest to come, when you feel a tap on your shoulder. You jump with giddiness before realising it’s only Jamaal. He grins mischievously and pulls off in another direction.

"Have you seen the men?" I say gesturing madly.

"Did Britain win the war?"

"Jamaal!" I hiss.

"Oh relax. Berliners have a great sense of humour. We’ve just paid €18 to be allowed into an abandoned power plant."

You roll your eyes and head towards David who’s finishing up a body search. He’s really enjoying it. Barely able to contain himself. He strolls over once the frenzy has finished.


"I think he fancied me."

"That was a woman." You’ve made your payment and had your phone camera covered. The only thing standing between you and mecca is the cloakroom. You decide to check-in everything - keeping only the essentials on your person - so you can feel truly liberated and throw yourself around for twelve hours without having to worry if your Airbnb key is still about your person. You’re so busy congratulating yourself on your preparedness that you don’t realise how far you’ve fallen behind. You look around and notice your pals have already gone through. You’re left sandwiched between two strangers: one techno-head who is no longer wearing trousers, revealing a pair of pasty legs, a Polynesian tattoo and some sock garters; and one PVC Zorro, complete with hat, mask, cape and... that’s about it. You mistakenly scan down his body and note he’s very pleased to be here.

Thankfully, it’s your turn next. Coat in hand you march confidently forward and place your possessions on the counter. An androgynous beauty gazes down at you with effortless coolness. They address you in English. Clearly you weren’t fooling anyone.

"You can’t go in like that."

You assess your outfit without coat: black non-descript dress, minimal leather appliqué, black tights, black trainers. It’s a fairly similar get up to most people around you. Well, other than Zorro.

"You need to take it off."

Take it off? Maybe something was lost in translation. You look up and see they’re pointing at you whilst removing their jumper in a demonstrative fashion. Fear grips you. You’re only wearing minimal garments - in every sense of the word - under your dress.

For a good 75% of the clientele, there’s nothing more unsexy than a woman, let alone a woman roaming the dance floor wearing little more than a strapless skin tone bra, M&S control tights that have been washed one too many times, and knickers that barely cover your behind. You’re stuck to the spot, paralysed. Where were Jamaal, David and Li?

"Your friends have already done it," barks the mindreading attendant. "You don’t want to let them down - do you?"

It must be true. They all must be inside having a big naked jamboree without you. You could turn back and go home but you’ve come this far - and you’ve already paid entry. You realise that you’re holding up the line and hear frustrated murmurs and a few heckles from the back of the queue. "Take it off," roar the regulars. You’re left with only one choice.

With the goading crowd in your ears, you submit and let the straps of your dress fall down your biceps. The attendant gestures for you to hurry up. This was not the time for modesty. You inch the fabric down past your bra and over your waist until the whole dress is hanging from your hips as an ankle length skirt. You tuck the spaghetti straps into your knickers. You could cope with this look. It’s not so revealing - at least on the bottom half - and a hell of a lot more acceptable than parading around in your 40 deniers. You do a twirl. There’s a wolf whistle which seems to satisfy the attendant. They wave you through. Finally, you can breathe. This is it. Final hurdle complete.

You turn the corner, take a sneak glance at your phone and head downstairs to meet the others. You find yourself in an adult Aladdin’s cave. The whole place is covered in contraptions, wires, and people of every age, shape and size. Anything and anyone you could desire is at your disposal. A stranger comes over and offers to play with your feet. You politely decline.

That’s when you spot them, huddled together with a group of locals. They’ve got drinks, their heads are thrown back laughing flirtatiously, but more importantly, they’re all fully clothed! Gott im Himmel. You stride over confidently, working your look. David’s the first one to spot you. He glares incredulously. You’re perfectly aware of the fact you resemble a walking oxymoron: half Venus de milo with arms, half nineteenth century nun - but what can you do?

"What are you wearing?"

"They made me take it off," you respond meekly.

"You could have worn nice underwear."

"I didn’t want VPL."

After an hour, nobody pays the slightest attention to what you’re wearing. Your body is used as something to hug or grind against depending on the track playing. You’re aware that in some of the harsher red lighting your top half looks naked but the jokes on them. You’re having FUN. The night spins out of control. You're jostled between a cacophony of perspiring humans all swaying to the monotonous beat. People are outwardly friendly, generous with their hedonism and non-judgemental in their sexual liberation. A bohemian fantasy wrapped in PVC and leather.

As you head back out into sunlight, you realise your party’s over. Your feet ache, your teeth feel furry and you’re in need of a litre of non-carbonated water (fingers crossed the Zeitungsladen will be so kind). It’s your last day in the city. Your flight home leaves at 8 hours. Sure, your experience of Berlin's nightlife has hardly been original and you’re currently a walking cliché - but at least you can say you’ve done it.


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