What’s stopping you?
by Rebecca Jackson (2015)
I’ve tried to write about this place more than once. I’ve tried talking about it. I’ve tried dancing about how it makes me feel. Just to see if the experiences that I collect, that soak up under my skin and into my panties can also ooze back out into the world and make some kind of difference.
I suppose my intention with writing about Schwelle7 would be to encourage you to engage with something unknown, to do something that maybe fucking scares you, that could be uncomfortable. Not because I’m a masochist or that I love being spanked on soft black dance floors with elegant leather whips, but because there’s more to life than what you see, and you only really find that out when you step outside your comfort zone. I suppose my intention with writing about my experiences is to encourage you to try. To try something that makes you brain hiccup and the nerves under your shoulder blades tingle. It doesn’t need to be at Schwelle7, but it’s a good place to start. It doesn’t need to be bondage. It doesn’t need to be breath play. It doesn’t need to be public sex or group sex or same sex sex…but it could be. When was the last time you tried something you hadn’t done before? Do you remember when you did? Do you remember how alive you felt? Even if you didn’t like it? You are reminded that you have a choice, that you choose, that every second you can choose, that you are free.
When the first one of my friends went skydiving, we all thought she was bat shit crazy. Why do something so utterly unnecessary and life-threatening just to get a kick? My flat mate had the same reaction when I told her about Schwelle7, that I was going to practice bondage and contact improvisation and BDSM. There was this ‘Why?’ in her eyes: a fear for my safety, for my sanity, for my health. But I was more afraid for my safety and sanity and health if I kept going on the path that I was going; mildly discontent with my job, moderately dissatisfied with my sex life, kind of terrified that I was living something mediocre and too confused to know how to change it.
One of my first questions when I wanted to start engaging in BDSM was ‘How do I stay safe? If I want to try getting tied up or spanked, how do I find the right people and ensure I don’t end up in some ditch somewhere?’ Don’t get me wrong, Schwelle7 isn’t an easy place to walk in to, but it is a safe place. The most striking aspect of the space for me is the light. It is big and bright and open; a large dance studio, proud and clean and subtle. It is also home to the owner; it is someone’s, and has a soft, sexy smell and an identity and a purpose. I’ve seen people fucking in the middle of the day, in the middle of the room. I’ve seen people crying and hugging. I’ve seen people dress up like jokers or paper bags or kings and queens and live out their fantasies. It is amazing that there is somewhere to do this.
Engaging in BDSM also made me challenge my prejudices and conditioning, no less because it was me who liked these ‘strange’, ‘dark’ things. We are taught ostentatiously to accept and welcome other cultures, traditions and tastes. But how open-minded are we really? How open-minded am I? Something very strong in me questioned why I liked what I was seeing, what I was doing there at Schwelle7. I grew up a staunch feminist with a prim, proper English education and a university degree. I would come back to that girl in the strangest moments; topless, bent over a bar being flogged, and I would question myself. Why do I like this? Is there something wrong with me? My conditioning told me there was something dirty and seedy in this. And if I’m honest, at times it’s still there. I don’t expect to just magic it away.
But I have learnt that it is kind of fun to play with these prejudices, to try and juggle the idea that I’m inappropriate, to question where this thought of ‘indecorum’ comes from. It is important to readdress my concept of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.
Just as it is important to mark the moment when you realize your parents aren’t infallible. Just as it’s important to challenge your government and the people that lead you. After all, who is it that can tell me how to get free, but me? Who is it that can tell me what feels good, but me? Who is it that can give me self-worth and self-confidence and satisfaction and gratification and fulfillment, but me?
And then we come to the pain. To the act of it. To the bondage and the spanking and the physical experience. Whilst not everyone is a submissive, and not everyone likes receiving sharp sensations, almost everyone in their lives will experience some sort of physical or emotional pain. At Schwelle7, you look at the human relationship to pain. You can experience it yourself, or watch it in others; the before, the during and the after. I learnt to not be scared of pain, that pain is always there. And it will always go, and you will always live through it. I learnt to deal with pain, both in myself, and in others. And I completely readdressed my understanding of pain itself.
What really is pain? What is pleasure? And why am I so attracted to one or the other? Conscious BDSM uses pain as a transformative tool, helping you to investigate yourself. There’s nothing like a sharp, strong sensation on your behind to help you concentrate your mind and readdress your reality. More specifically, what is real physical pain and what is emotional pain? Do I cry out when I am hit by a whip because of the hot sensation on my behind which will pass in a couple of seconds? Or because of the shame I feel at baring myself and allowing someone to do this?
Asking someone to do this? Begging someone to do this? What emotional ‘pain’ do I ask for in my everyday life, in my relationships? Am I aware of it?
But I would be lying if I said it was just about self-investigation. Of course, the whole thing oozes with sex. Things that happen at Schwelle7 are hot. It is a place where your urges are accepted and your boundaries are tested and your prejudices are given not-so-mild electric shocks. It really made me see how much people need attention and intimacy; everyone needs love. Everyone needs touch. And everyone gets something from being allowed to step, leap or jump stark-bollock-naked out of their comfort zone.
The human body speaks its own language and it is physical and subtle and hidden. With a million different dialects, for some the alphabet is formed from beatings, for others, erotic clothing, or submissive play, or soft stroking sensations. Learning your body’s own language, learning about yourself is perhaps the most important thing you can do. Bypass all the restrictive constructs that stop you from knowing what you really want and who you really are, and just try.
What’s stopping you?
by Melissa Steckbauer for Shortlist No 3 / 2013
Berlin fucks like no other city. Here you have the pendulous balance between Berghain and Prenzlauer Berg, evidence of coital, familial love coexisting beside a rakish sort that is worked out in the blind dark. In a city such as this, the two extremes even coexist as with the cozy schwelle7, the BDSM dance studio in Wedding that operates under the maxim of care in the hands of Felix Ruckert (formerly of Pina Bausch‘s Wuppertaler Tanztheater). Of all Berlin‘s fabulous quarters, I dare say Wedding is one of the kinkiest – Wedding! Meanwhile, nothing qualifies the success of care giving like the children of Prenzlauer Berg. They are, like it or not, adored and waited on by doting grandparents and parents of all kinds while the little darlings, move safely through coves of Berlin arbor. Some of the same arbor which acts as protective cover for the top cruising spots in the city. J‘adore.
One might argue inversely that the strength of the familiar is at Berghain and the rakes are the domestics in Pberg (I shan‘t judge). His having emerged freshly from the toilets at Berghain, lacquered with drugs, I once had a friend say to me “This is our church“, and then dance off in the direction of his beloved and their new swedisch lamb of a boyfriend. But the range of berlin‘s playful community goes well beyond the kinksters and hipsters at Berghain. A melange exists within and beside the annual men‘s leather parties, the dark room at Ficken 3000, the seemly Soho House, Silver Future, Kumpelnest and the Diamond Lotus Tantra Lounge.
I‘ll make an educated guess that the best hybrid and the most ethical play space in the city is still schwelle7, where you can run with chaste sluts, stage trained actors, Shibarl braggadocios, or a throng of contact improv students. You may as easily attend an on point analysis (and play party) about furries and pet play as take an aerial yoga class. And when they say chastity at schwelle, it is in all sincerity. There you‘ll be taken as seriously in your abstinence as your peers who endeavor to come in a froth on a pile of warm bodies. This manner of co-existing is the apex of elegance, and this democratic approach to choice is what I find most delicious about Berlin. This is surely the benefit of a city filled with academics and dervish philosophers having their way with a multitude of artists. Let‘s hear it for preference, choice and equanimity.
Embassy of Hell
by Luc Sala / January 2010
Schwelle 7 means something like threshold seven and maybe initiator and grand vocalizer Felix Ruckert by using this name is hinting at the 7-th heaven behind his doorstep in a factory like building in Berlin’s Wedding neighborhood. For me, being a guest and workshop attendee at this amazing place in the otherwise already bubbling Berlin, it was like entering the underworld. Especially at the full moon party I attended it was like a trip to hell. The hell that we find in others (Sartre), but even more the hell we hide inside. Schwelle 7 is for sure hellish in the eyes of the middle class Berlin suburbans, a place where nakedness, sex, bdsm, and bondage, are part of a performance that does not separate actors from audience, fantasy from reality. It is a theatre and it is a club, a dance studio and a community, a totally relaxed place and one with hidden rules, flexibly enforced by members/supporters with Felix as the king and ultimate authority. He is a generous king, makes no big fuss about details like entrance fees and who eats or sleeps where and with whom. There is, however, hidden under his flexible and amicable welcome and gracious hostmanship, little space for true tolerance. His tolerance is on the side of hell, you are with him or you are out, reminding me a bit of Ken Kesey with his bus. Great theatre, majestic creativity, warm friendships and a definite worship of the different and the aberrant, but only as far as they protest and challenge the mediocracy, the middle class morality. This is not a place for the weak hearted, the morality is there, but has this hellish flavor, spicy and tasty, fast and engaging, but definitely would be graded “adult plus” if ever a movie was made about it. It’s a Fellini soap, at times ultra-realistic, at times totally otherworldly and spiritual.
Felix Ruckert is a dancer, in body and soul, someone who immediately translates emotions into motions, moving fast and supple, choreographing his visitors in an ever changing setup. He uses the space, the people, the props, the lighting in an amazing way, changing the whole atmosphere by using simple, but large screens, minimalistic furniture, textiles and lighting. No disco-lights in Schwelle 7, but great effects, intimacy or openness created to match the moods Felix wants to come out. He sets the stage, invites and directs, touches and senses for experiential openings. At first that comes across as pushy, especially as he spices his directing with quite a bit of sexual energy, invites, challenges and if necessary leads his sheep towards engagement. What for most would be intimate, genuine, sacred and secret, for him are merely tools and tricks, theatrical moves to create contact and transference, in order to deepen the experience.
His directness in touching you, however, is at the same time disarming, seducing you to let go, join him and his always impromptu troupe in letting go and go with the flow.
In the past Felix staged and choreographed performances, but found himself limited by what the “normal” venues and platforms require, their hierarchies, their rigid rules, the separation between dancers/performers and the audience. In this large and open space he now is able to be the producer, the theatre director, the prop-master, the master of ceremony, actor and audience, all at the same time if he so chooses. The operation needs no subsidies, has a core group of supporters and the events, workshops and parties keep the operation going with very reasonable fees for what are at times unique events. The full moon parties for the real Schwelle afficionados are amazing, authentically unreal, an inferno of crazy characters playing themselves or their dark shadow, engaged in weird acts, outright sex, SM-play or cruising the place in fetish outfits. Those parties are a mixture of bdsm, fetish and swinger club accents, with some artistic bondage thrown in and a lot of theatre and illusion, but amazingly no drugs and little alcohol. The party is the drug, says Felix, no need to dilute. He himself is the door-bitch (the dress code changes with his moods) and the main act, he plays the hot peppered jester using his attractive body as his main prop. For a 50-year old he has definitely found a way to disguise his mid-life crisis, although he will admit that he slowly gets bored by being the fool in his own freak show.
Schwelle 7 is the platform for many activities, ranging from serious workshops to spicy entertainment and fantasy role playing games with a distinct erotic focus like the Kingdom, where again actors and audience mix and interact, though with some distinction. Contact and experience are the keywords, in playful forms like contact improvisation, a mixture of dance, acrobatics, light massage and expression. Things here are paradoxical, totally fake and then again so genuine that one cannot escape to participate, meeting one’s own inner morality and ethics. This is group if not societal therapy at a deep level. Felix wants to be a choreographer, a dancer, a mover and shaker and not a therapist, but the total effect of Schwelle 7 is therapeutic. One finds oneself in the infernal, in the deep and normally hidden lust and perversion that here are exposed and challenged, but made visible. As one of the guests remarked ; ”In the over world I have to lie and cheat continually, wearing masks all the time, here I can at least choose my own mask and let go of it if I want to.”
In a workshop given by Shadow about bondage there was a surprising and very liberating juxtaposition between what seemed the subject of her workshop and what was really the issue, making contact and turning restriction into connection.
Using ropes to tie others, restricting their movements, but also tying oneself together with a partner, suspending oneself, it all turned out to be a great exercise in human contact, in finding one’s limits and one’s sensitivity to the limits of others.
Where the full-moon party was mostly fake and make belief, the workshop was very genuine, very moving, the ropes a great connection tool. Shadow explained how this connection thing, the link between bonder and bondaged was what led her to explore Japanese bondage, for her it was an artistic form of human connectivity.
As guest and participant the Schwelle 7 experience was emotional and in a sense enlightening for me. It was a meeting with hidden parts of my psyche, an opportunity to explore the archetypical layers and as it turned out, a great meeting place. Allowing people to show those infernal but therefore also genuine and sensitive parts of themselves is a gift and great opener. I felt privileged to be allowed to see some normally hidden their souls and this has led to new and exciting contacts. The audience, at least those who spent the night at Schwelle 7, was very international, there were many languages, it really felt like a free haven, an assembly of likeminded souls.
I left Schwelle 7 with some questions in my mind. One of them was how this operation fits into the cultural patchwork of Berlin. It is, seen the clientele, obviously attracting people from all over Germany and Europe, but would hardly fit into one of those highbrow brochures about Berliner Culture. Another enigma for me is how much Schwelle 7 is a mirror of Felix Ruckert, his needs, ambitions and aberrations and again, how much of what I see is really my projection. With this project he established himself as a creator of a temporary autonomous zone (Hakim Bey’s description of special places with a distinct anarchistic quality), an artistic meeting place like Warhol’s Factory or Kesey’s Bus. I wonder how his creation will evolve, and like to come back, even as it involves another couple of stairs up into the underworld.
Berlin Stories: Creative combinations and liminal experiences
by Linda Prihafor the finnish Dance Mag LUOVIA YHDISTELMIÄ JA RAJATILOJA / Jan 2009
In Berlin there`s a place called schwelle7, directed by the choreographer Felix Ruckert. It is exciting, a bit scary, appealing and very different. Many people seem to have an opinion on the place even if they never visited it.
I met Felix for the first time in a workshop in Finland, organized by the Reality Research Centre (as part of the year’s project: “the Realm of the Invisible”). It gave me new points of interest like the different body openings: the eyes, ears, mouth etc.. and the interest in pain and investigating pain in new ways. Most of all I was fascinated by Felix’s bodily intelligence, that I could perceive both in movement and in talking. I felt like learning new things just being close to him.
It was clear for me that I wanted to go to schwelle7 when visiting Berlin but it came as a surprise even to myself that I would do it for the first time participating in one of the Fullmoon Play Parties. This was my first real insight into the world of Sadomasochism.
Since then I’ve been to schwelle in many different occasions: Yoga and Bondage by Dasniya Sommer, Weibliche Dominanz (female dominance) weekend workshop and the intensive improvisation course by Julyen Hamilton, plus seeing The Farm, a performance by Felix Ruckert. So, I think I’m kind of a good example of these interconnective studies of dance, body and mind, that Felix is talking about.
My own experiences on BDSM are very litte and new but I can already tell that for a dancer and a body worker it has a lot of potential to teach. I can for example learn new ways of sensing and perceiving my own body, a bit like in contact improvisation. In my experience touch (let it be that of the floor, of the air, of an other person or in this case of a whip or a bondage) is one of the best “dance teachers”. This notion is connected to my understanding of the important qualities of a dancer and of what is work as a dancer.
For me it is most importantly sensing, perceiving, understanding the perceived and directing it. Like Julyen says: from perception to composition.
So, I don’t want to exclude any possibilities of touch as I can learn new things through it. Through BDSM it is also possible to safely measure your own boundaries (and pass them), or to play with power or roles so that when you actually meet them in “real life” it might be easier to deal with them. As a dancer I also find it highly interesting to work with controllable pain. Through my whole life that has included dance training I always had to deal with physical and even mental pains. That’s why it’s finally so beautiful to be able to control yourself how much and what kind of pain you actually want.
Schwelle7 is most importantly a place enabling play and games, combining many different aereas of knowledge and a more free attitudes to making art. It’s also breaking down some traditional power structures: everybody that comes to Schwelle is invited to come there to actively participate, not just to watch or perceive. Most importantly it’s still all about dance and art, with self-imposed conditions.