Photography by Eric Chris Phillips

Dystopi­an look, utopi­an feel: wel­come to Germany’s queer­est weekend

Brought to you by Pornceptual, CockTail d’Amore and Buttons, Whole is an “unreal, exciting, beautiful, liberating and overwhelming” festival. Is it the future of Pride?

It’s 5am and sev­er­al hun­dred ine­bri­at­ed rev­ellers are danc­ing along­side five colos­sal exca­va­tors tow­er­ing omi­nous­ly above the lake and fes­ti­val grounds at Fer­ropo­lis (“the city of steel”) out in the East Ger­man coun­try­side. It’s the arrest­ing loca­tion for the three-day Whole Unit­ed Queer fes­ti­val, where activ­i­ties include a non-hier­ar­chi­cal Japan­ese bondage” class as well as an open-air dark room” heav­i­ly pop­u­lat­ed by gay men (two men fuck in broad day­light against a cam­ou­flage mesh). The fes­ti­val aims to be a sex-pos­i­tive, inclu­sive space for all sex­u­al and gen­der expressions.

Whole is organ­ised by Berlin’s most infa­mous par­ties: Pornceptual’s Raquel Feda­to and Chris Phillips found­ed the fes­ti­val and oth­ers like Cock­Tail d’Amore and But­tons got on board lat­er. This year’s event includes 27 col­lec­tives from the glob­al under­ground dance music scene, com­ing from Ams­ter­dam to Tbil­isi and Mex­i­co City to Moscow. The par­tic­i­pants are much more than a group of DJs and pro­mot­ers… they work tire­less­ly to carve out space for their audi­ences and cre­ate oppor­tu­ni­ties to sup­port new artis­tic pos­si­bil­i­ties and sex­u­al free­doms,” accord­ing to the fes­ti­val spiel. The name is an unapolo­getic dec­la­ra­tion of intent: to make Europe’s queer scene one big inclu­sive whole. 

For many atten­dees, it’s their first fes­ti­val expe­ri­ence, like 19-year-old Moham­mad Sal­im who is born and raised in Berlin with Pales­tin­ian-Lebanese roots. He reels off adjec­tives to describe the event: unre­al, excit­ing, beau­ti­ful, lib­er­at­ing and over­whelm­ing” amongst oth­ers. So many emo­tions,” he says. Whole is tak­ing place at a sig­nif­i­cant turn­ing point in Mohammad’s life: he only came out to his par­ents a week before. I have bare­ly spo­ken to them over the last three months,” he says. The things I went through were unfor­get­table and unforgivable…but I got very strong sup­port from the queer com­mu­ni­ty.” For Sal­im, it’s the most non-judg­men­tal, peace­ful fes­ti­val ever. It was a tru­ly life-chang­ing expe­ri­ence. It’s peo­ple just liv­ing out their truth over and over.”

Photography by Pedro Pablo Errazuriz

It’s a sen­ti­ment echoed by many, but not every­one agrees. Par­ty­go­er Lina (who spoke on a con­di­tion of anonymi­ty) praised some of the efforts to include minor­i­ty groups (like The House of Liv­ing Col­ors bira­cial drag col­lec­tive), but argued more could be done to pro­tect vul­ner­a­ble queer iden­ti­ties — groups that are grow­ing in Ger­many after the coun­try took in over 1 mil­lion refugees in 2016. She says she received ver­bal abuse from oth­er par­ty­ers for wear­ing a Free Pales­tine” t-shirt (it’s not the first time the Pales­tin­ian-Israeli con­flict has sparked off on the dance floors of Berlin).

When it gets dark, the goth­ic spikes light up in reds and greens, like a Bru­tal­ist fair­ground ride. Every­thing here is big: the huge machines look like the titan walk­ers vehi­cles from Star Wars, or a sur­re­al­ist paint­ing (think Sal­vador Dali’s The Ele­phants). The Teufelsee” stage (which trans­lates as Devil’s lake” and is named after Berlin’s fabled queer lake) is set in the water. Mus­cu­lar tor­sos bris­tle against trans­girl harems, while bejew­elled femme boys soak up Depeche Mode’s Enjoy the Silence.

Pho­tog­ra­phy by Gen­er­a­tion Black, Pedro Pablo Errazur­iz and Eric Chris Phillips

One of the most hyped events is the Gen­i­tal Self Love Expe­ri­ence” work­shop for female* identified/non-binary/trans*/intersex. Held in a womb-like tent called the La Mai­son de Venus, sex tech­nol­o­gy researcher Oli Lip­s­ki described it – in turns – as fun­ny, heart­break­ing and affirm­ing. We sat in a cir­cle with mir­rors and were told to intro­duce our­selves to our gen­i­tals. See how we felt with our­selves, what emo­tions came up. We then did the same with the per­son next to us and stared at their parts. It was such a daunt­ing feel­ing — of being so exposed and inti­mate with a stranger, but we were made to feel safe and sup­port­ed. By the end I was cry­ing, there was such pow­er and ener­gy from the peo­ple around me that it evoked some intense feelings.”

It’s clear that from speak­ing to atten­dees that Whole is not your typ­i­cal elec­tron­ic music fes­ti­val and is cer­tain­ly a wel­come and pio­neer­ing under­tak­ing. What’s unclear is how the fes­ti­val will con­tin­ue to address polit­i­cal and gen­der issues against unam­bigu­ous hedo­nism. Ben Miller who held a pan­el there and is a Schwules Muse­um board mem­ber (one of the world’s largest queer muse­ums and archives) is opti­mistic and prais­es the fes­ti­val for doing some­thing dif­fer­ent. Hope­ful­ly this all moves beyond plain hedo­nism –– and beyond the idea that we all go for the week­end, let off steam, and then just con­tent­ed­ly re-join the world out­side until the next moment for free expres­sion comes up. We’ve got to change the world, a lot, and quickly.”


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