FOR YEARS I had heard stories of the fabled sex club, the Lab.oratory, located in an abandoned power station in East Berlin. Described by The Lonely Planet as a well-equipped “lab” with “plenty of toys and rooms for advanced sexual experimentation,” the name of the club alone should give us pause, reminding us that homosexuals were brought to laboratories in Berlin by the Nazis for experimental purposes in the 1930s and ’40s.
Upon entering the Lab.oratory, everyone is given a number that is “branded” on his shoulder with a Sharpie marker, which reminded me of the serial numbers that were tattooed onto the forearms of Holocaust victims by the Nazis. In the club, the numbers are used to keep track of one’s purchases. Still, I wondered whether the Lab.oratory was eroticizing Nazi enslavement and experimentation by using taboo imagery, whether consciously or not. If so, should it be a cause for concern, or does such a place serve as an outlet for a segment of the gay community, offering a way for them to take control of their sexuality after years of shame and discrimination?
As I approached the massive power station that houses the Lab.oratory, I was in awe of the imposing exterior, which exuded all the sterile monumentality of Soviet-era architecture. There was a long dirt path leading to the entrance that was lined with a metal barricade fence held in place by concrete blocks. The Lab.oratory is a part of the Berg-hain in the nightclub section of Berlin. The Berghain is in the main space and primarily plays techno music. Upstairs is the Panorama Bar that focuses on house music, and the Lab.oratory is on the ground level serving as a gay male sex club. The Berghain is one of the most famous techno clubs in all of Europe, though you’d never know it from the outside. It hosts the world’s most influential DJs to a mixed gay and straight crowd of 1,500 patrons. It opened in 2004 as a reincarnation of the Ostgut Club, which was arguably the focal point of Europe’s techno scene in its day. Ostgut hosted a male-only fetish night, “Snax,” six to eight times a year, which is still held twice a year in the Berghain and Lab.oratory and boasts “delicious sodomitical debaucheries.”