Folsom Europe is all about community!

 

FOLSOM EUROPE

FOLSOM EUROPE

Taking a trip down memory lane with Folsom Europe co-founder Daniel¬†R√ľster¬†

WINGS¬†adores¬†Folsom Europe. The famous fetish street fair¬†in Berlin¬†is a great way to end your summer holidays, meet up with old friends and make new ones,¬†all¬†while having a beer and enjoying¬†a sausage (no pun intended). We spoke to¬†co-founder Daniel¬†R√ľster¬†about the history of the popular event,¬†that takes place¬†annually¬†in early September, and we¬†video called¬†some fans¬†and friends to find out what¬†their favorite Folsom memories¬†are.

Folsom Europe, as most of you are probably aware, owes its name to Folsom Street in San Francisco, where the American edition of the event originated in 1984. It’s the world’s largest leather get-together and a showcase for fetish culture in all its glory.  

But,¬†how did the European¬†edition¬†come to be? For that, we need to move forward in time¬†a little,¬†to¬†the¬†end of July 2003 to be precise, and change¬†locations, to an airplane flying over the Atlantic heading for Germany.¬†Onboard one of the passengers is reminiscing about the amazing weekend he just had. Daniel: ‚ÄúI was on my way home to Berlin from a business trip to¬†San Francisco, which made it possible for me to visit Dore Alley (Folsom‚Äôs¬†‚Äėlittle sister‚Äô¬†event). I was thinking of¬†how awesome it was to meet all these leather men and I felt sad that the weekend was over. And then I thought ‚ÄėWhy don‚Äôt we have anything like this¬†in Europe?‚Äô I knew that most¬†fetish¬†events were organized by only a few people and then it hit me: ‚ÄėI should do it myself!‚Äô¬†That‚Äôs how I got the idea for Folsom Europe.‚Ä̬†¬†

Daniel knew he¬†wouldn‚Äôt¬†be able¬†to do¬†it all by himself,¬†so he contacted freelance journalist J√ľrgen¬†Rentzel¬†(Box¬†Magazin),¬†who¬†is¬†very well connected in the European leather and fetish scene:¬†‚ÄúJ√ľrgen¬†knows everyone, especially in Germany,¬†The Benelux, Switzerland, and Austria. I¬†shared my idea¬†with him¬†and he loved it. He was on board immediately.¬†Together we¬†wrote¬†a concept and in September¬†I¬†was back in San Francisco,¬†just in time for¬†Folsom ‚Äď I¬†plan¬†my¬†business¬†trips strategically (laughs). I had the balls to contact¬†the organizers¬†and they were willing to listen to my pitch¬†–¬†and they¬†loved it as well!‚Ä̬†

What¬†do you think was the argument that convinced¬†the team of¬†Folsom¬†in¬†San Francisco¬†to say¬†‚Äėyes‚Äô¬†to your¬†proposal?

Daniel: ‚ÄúWhat made¬†it¬†interesting¬†for them¬†was that we called it Folsom Europe¬†from the start; it was never supposed to be Folsom Berlin or Folsom Germany. We were discussing four¬†European¬†cities¬†equally: Cologne, Berlin, Amsterdam, and London. London turned out to be too expensive¬†–¬†for us and for the visitors.¬†Amsterdam¬†–¬†I‚Äôm sorry to say –¬†was on its way¬†down¬†as a fetish capitol. Cologne was a rising star in the nineties and early zeroes,¬†but¬†in the end,¬†we saw more potential in Berlin. Being gay and queer has always been easy in Berlin,¬†and everyone knows the Golden Twenties¬†and the stories surrounding them. We never wanted to be a copy¬†of Folsom.¬†The American edition¬†is quite mainstream and attracts a lot¬†of¬†‚Äėnormal‚Äô¬†tourists. We wanted¬†to keep¬†the focus on the fetish¬†community¬†itself¬†–¬†similar to¬†Dore Alley¬†–¬†and I think that‚Äôs another reason¬†why¬†San Francisco¬†liked our plans.‚ÄĚ

The queer community in Berlin was supportive right away. The event received a lot of advice from the Gay and Lesbian Street Festival on how to deal with rules and regulations from the city, the police, and the fire department (as well as the bureaucracy that comes along with it). After tons of hard work from everyone involved, the first edition took place in September 2004, and it was really successful, with 3500 visitors attending from all over Europe. Since 2011 approximately 15.000 fetish enthusiasts from all over the world visit Folsom Europe every year; from Japan to Brazil, and from Spain to Australia. Not bad for an event that in its first year was mostly promoted by word of mouth and some self-printed flyers.

And¬†since¬†we‚Äôre already on the¬†topic¬†of¬†marketing and¬†PR:¬†in its¬†third¬†year,¬†the event¬†was suddenly the center of worldwide attention¬†for a hot minute.¬†Daniel: ‚ÄúWe had¬†really¬†good connections to Klaus¬†Wowereit, the¬†openly gay¬†mayor of Berlin,¬†and asked him¬†to write a¬†word of welcome in our program booklet. He agreed to do it, which¬†was fantastic, but a week before the event the conservative press¬†suddenly¬†jumped on it. It¬†was an election year and they saw it as a¬†way to get rid of the gay mayor who,¬†according to them,¬†was ‚Äėsupporting¬†perverts¬†and¬†sadomasochists‚Äô.¬†At the same time, there was this crazy guy,¬†who was the initiator of the Institute Against¬†Fascism¬†– which was basically a one-man show ‚Äď and he started spreading all these theories¬†of us being anti-Zionist. Bizarre allegations, but the news went around the world in days.¬†At one point¬†I¬†found myself explaining to a reporter from the New York Times that we weren‚Äôt¬†‚Äėa sadomasochist street party‚Äô.¬†Let‚Äôs just say there‚Äôs¬†no such thing as bad publicity, especially when you can prove¬†that¬†the allegations against you are made up¬†(laughs).¬†You can still find the articles¬†through¬†Google!‚ÄĚ

The basic idea behind¬†the¬†Folsom Europe¬†Street Fair¬†is to socialize:¬†meet up with old friends, make new ones, drink some beers, share a¬†Limo, eat a sausage (maybe even two or three, depending on your appetite), and enjoy the Berlin summer sun to the fullest. The fair – held on the¬†Fuggerstrasse¬†and the¬†Welserstrasse,¬†in Berlin‚Äôs gay district¬†Sch√∂neberg –¬†is a daytime¬†affair. It¬†always¬†takes place on a Saturday¬†and the festivities end around 10 pm.¬†It¬†feels like a¬†street festival¬†for the LGBT community, with vendors selling the latest,¬†hottest fetish gear¬†(including Mister B), booths¬†that offer¬†food and¬†(alcoholic)¬†beverages, and a stage with VJ‚Äôs¬†and performances.¬†Recon does meet-and-greets with their members and multiple nonprofit organizations inform you on safe sex. Daniel: ‚ÄúThe Gay and Lesbian Center of Berlin did this campaign once where you could grab a lottery ticket out of a fluffy teddy bear‚Äôs¬†ass¬†in return for a donation; it basically looked like you were fisting it;¬†you could win small prizes like lollypops.¬†Everything is a little bit kinky and over the top.‚Ä̬†¬†

Video call 1: Mataina Ah Wie¬†S√ľss

Mataina, you are in charge of the entire Folsom Europe Street Fair and you host during the event as well. How did you get involved with Folsom?
Mataina: ‚ÄúI‚Äôm 56 and a professional drag queen. Working night shifts on high heels started getting painful and I was looking for an extra job during the daytime. A friend recommended me to a Folsom board member because I know how to coordinate events. I‚Äôm in charge of the entire street fair. I make sure we have electricity and running water; that we get all the permissions from the authorities; and I brief the security people and talk to the police when there are complaints from neighbors. There‚Äôs a lot that goes into it!‚ÄĚ

Do you have a fetish yourself?
Mataina: ‚ÄúThe first porn magazine I bought in the seventies had all these pictures of men with big mustaches. Whenever I see one now I go absolutely wild. As a drag queen, I like to wear tight leather pants and fishnet stockings every now and then. And I carry a whip, which makes it easier to make my way through the crowd.‚ÄĚ

What’s your favorite memory of Folsom Europe?
Mataina: ‚ÄúI remember one year that¬†the kindergarten on the¬†Welserstrasse¬†(which is part of the fairground) was¬†selling cakes to our visitors. And on the other side of the street, there were all these human puppies playing with each other, tails included. I couldn‚Äôt believe that that was actually happening. I thought that was amazing.‚ÄĚ

Anything else you would like to add?
Mataina: ‚ÄúFolsom needs more women. We would love to have more women join our event and we would be incredibly happy to make them part of our team. For me the best parties are mixed ones; it makes things much more exciting!‚ÄĚ

There are plenty of other events happening all over the city that are part of the program. Can you give us some examples?

Daniel: ‚ÄúWe have two official parties. Revolver on Friday in¬†KitKatClub¬†and¬†a huge fetish party on¬†Saturday¬†called¬†PiG. Most visitors¬†already¬†arrive on Wednesday; they come early to¬†shop¬†in our famous Berlin fetish stores¬†and¬†to¬†avoid overcrowded shops on Saturday. We urge bars and clubs to organize parties, so there are nights for puppies, skinheads,¬†rubber¬†men, and much, much more.¬†We operate a Folsom double-decker sightseeing bus,¬†there¬†are¬†two¬†boat tours on the¬†Spree¬†river that offer fantastic views of the city, and even the neighborhood pharmacy has a fetish-inspired gallery in its shopping window.‚Ä̬†¬†

Wahl des Mr. Berlin 2019

Video call 2: Tyrone Rontganger

Tyrone, you’re a famous face in the Berlin fetish scene and a former titleholder (Mister Leather Berlin, German Mister Leather). What’s your connection to Folsom Europe?
Tyrone: ‚ÄúI‚Äôve been organizing Classic Meets Fetish since 2015, which is one of the first events that happen during the Folsom weekend. It‚Äôs not¬†really¬†the official opening, but in my mind it is. Classic Meets Fetish is a classical music concert¬†and a¬†charity¬†event; held in a church in¬†Sch√∂neberg. The musicians and the audience all wear fetish clothing, and so does the priest.‚ÄĚ

What can people expect from Classic Meets Fetish in 2021?
Tyrone: ‚ÄúThis year‚Äôs concert is in honor of Tom of Finland. We¬†will¬†mostly¬†be performing¬†Scandinavian pieces, but we also are thinking of music that is connected to his life. Tom was a soldier in the Finnish army in¬†the war against¬†Russia, so there will be some Russian compositions. There might even be some American bits in there since he lived in California as well, and hopefully one or two pieces from the film.‚ÄĚ

What’s your favorite memory of Folsom Europe?
Tyrone: ‚ÄúI‚Äôm responsible for organizing everything that has to do with the¬†visiting¬†international titleholders and I‚Äôm always excited to get to know them personally. My favorite time at the event was 8 or 9 years ago, when I went with my best friend – before I was German¬†Mister¬†Leather¬†–¬†at a time when nobody really knew me.¬†These days, I can hardly walk two steps without being caught in a conversation;¬†it can take 20 minutes just to cross the street (laughs).

Is there anything else you would like to add?
Tyrone: ‚ÄúFolsom got canceled last year because of COVID and I think it‚Äôs cool that this year we will hopefully have the chance to get back together again. It‚Äôs important that everyone takes care of themselves and that they respect¬†their own as well as¬†other people‚Äôs health.‚ÄĚ

For more information on Classic Meets Fetish 2021 go to www.classic-meets-fetish.de.

Video call 3: Ralph Bruneau

Ralph, in 2017 you became International Mister Leather and in the same year, you visited Folsom Europe for the first time. How did you experience the event?

Ralph: ‚ÄúWhen I arrived my face was on the cover of Box¬†Magazin¬†and inside there was a lovely interview written by Tyrone¬†Rontganger, which also featured pics of my cock. It was nice to arrive in town with some pre-publicity (laughs). I was stunned by Folsom Europe. It‚Äôs all about having coffee, lunch, dinner, drinks, and conversations with friends and other titleholders. It was awesome and really, really, really fun. In the US we might meet friends at similar events, but we‚Äôre all basically trying to get laid.‚ÄĚ

But that hopefully happened as well right?

Ralph: ‚ÄúOf course. It‚Äôs Berlin!‚ÄĚ

Is there anything you would like to add?

Ralph: ‚ÄúThe last event I went to was¬†Darklands¬†in 2020. After that we had nothing for 1,5 years. No sense of community, no dancing, no playing. People are hungry to hold each other again. I hope we can have that in the fall. That‚Äôs what‚Äôs so brilliant about Folsom Europe: Daniel took an idea from San Francisco and made it into something that is internationally renowned on its own. The whole premise is about community and showing the world that we enjoy sharing our fetishes; that we are out and proud about it.¬†That‚Äôs¬†incredibly¬†special!‚ÄĚ

What part of Folsom Europe are you most proud of?

Daniel: ‚ÄúDefinitely the¬†donations¬†we collect at the gates. When you enter the fairground the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and current title holders ask you for a¬†contribution; which¬†helps a lot, people¬†tend to¬†react differently to them than to volunteers wearing¬†a Folsom¬†t-shirt. Our visitors¬†are really generous and I‚Äôm thankful for their support.¬†In 2019 we raised 34.000¬†euros for charity.¬†80 to 90 percent of that goes to¬†European¬†projects¬†that offer information, guidance, and support around HIV/AIDS. To whoever is reading this: if you are a nonprofit organization¬†devoted to¬†HIV/AIDS, reach out to us through our website.¬†Your focus doesn‚Äôt need to be on the LGBT community by the way!¬†Our general assembly decides once a year who receives funding and how much.‚Ä̬†¬†

Can you give us some examples of charities that you’ve supported over the years?

Daniel: ‚ÄúThere‚Äôs a kindergarten on¬†Welserstrasse¬†(one of the two streets of the Folsom Europe Street Fair) that is integrating kids living with HIV in their school. It took a lot of talks and convincing arguments for parents to agree to that. We think it‚Äôs an amazing project, especially in the¬†heart¬†of the gay community in Berlin. We also supported¬†an¬†interesting project run by Christian nuns in Ukraine. They took¬†care of HIV patients, back when there was no help for them at all in their country. It‚Äôs a full-circle moment:¬†the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence¬†raising money¬†that went to their¬†real-life counterparts. I love that image!‚Ä̬†

Is there anything you would like to add?

Daniel: ‚ÄúI want to give a shoutout to all the international title holders ‚Äď or the¬†‚Äėsash queens‚Äô¬†as I¬†sometimes¬†like to call them¬†(laughs).¬†They spread the news about Folsom Europe,¬†invest their private money¬†and time¬†to visit¬†us,¬†support our¬†event with their titles¬†and popularity in their own communities,¬†and they help us with collecting donations during the event. There‚Äôs more and more of them joining us every year and I‚Äôm truly impressed by their generosity.‚Ä̬†¬†

Want to know more about Folsom Europe?

Check folsomeurope.berlin online for news and information about the 2021 edition. We hope to see you there!   

MISTER B BERLIN

Pre-order for Folsom now! (Deutsche Version unten)¬†We are happy to welcome you back to Berlin this year. But everything will be different. We will take care of all our customers though we need to follow some corona rules. Therefore we need your assistance! If you already know what you want (e.g. pants, jacket, vest, shirt…), which size you wear, and what color you like, please pre-order! Just drop a mail to berlin@misterb.com and we put your favorite item aside. To all Berlin people, we recommend come early before Folsom. Then we have enough time to care about you. Thank you for your cooperation!

Jetzt¬†vorbestellen¬†f√ľr¬†Folsom!
Wir freuen uns sehr Euch alle wieder zu Folsom in Berlin begr√ľ√üen zu d√ľrfen. Dieses Jahr ist aber Alles anders. Wir werden uns allergr√∂√üte M√ľhe geben trotz der Hygenie-Auflagen alle Kunden*innen bedienen zu k√∂nnen. Aber daf√ľr brauchen wir Deine Mithilfe. Wenn Du schon, wei√üt, was Du m√∂chtest – egal ob Hose, Jacke, Weste, Hemd, Harness oder oder oder… – , Du Deine Gr√∂√üe kennst und Deine Farbe wei√üt, dann bestell doch bitte vor. Einfach eine Mail an berlin@misterb.com und wir legen Dein Lieblingsst√ľck f√ľr Dich zur Seite. Allen Berliner*innen empfehlen wir, kommt rechtzeitig vor Folsom. Dann haben wir gen√ľgend Zeit f√ľr Euch. Danke f√ľr Eure Mitarbeit.