Boccaccio in Berlin. An Interview for the Berlin Portrait Series on The Needle.
“I thought that Berlin was the city of the possible. Where you could do things. Where there were spaces to create those things. But there were also the raw materials, the people for it. A fauna of freaks and misfits, of outsiders. An appeal that was sexy. Very sexual. A lack of inhibitions: to be naked or fuck in public, to live an open sexuality. And there was the desire to have fun”.
Danilo Rosato tells me about the things that first drew him to the German capital. He has lived in Berlin for more than ten years now, and is well-known as the creator of Homopatik and Buttons, two of the best known queer parties here. They are sparkling, non-conformist places, where you can really do almost anything you want, be suffused with a joyous sense of fun, especially when the garden of about.blank is open in summer. It’s an atmosphere you don’t find just anywhere in this city.
We meet in Markthalle 9, at Mani in Pasta, one of the only places in Berlin where you feel like you are eating in Italy. Danilo is Italian, from just south of Rome, on the border with Campania, so his language is Neapolitan. He’s also lived in Valencia, Spain, and in Bologna, where he studied for eight years, graduating with an arts degree in film studies (he examined how Spanish film responded to the end of Franco).
Danilo orders a Genovese; I get ravioli with cima di rapa. I ask him if he misses Italy, and he tells me he’d rather like to bring Berlin in its entirety, on a crane, and place it on the coast of Sicily. That would be perfect. Really, I agree, it would.
We get to talking, and Danilo tells me about his experience as a party organiser in Berlin’s queer scene:
“I first came to Berlin, because I was invited here with my collective. I was already involved in the party scene in Bologna: organising Carni Scelte [a portmanteau of meat+choices], a queer party––I hate the word ‘queer’, it’s so ugly!––and being involved with sexyshock, a feminist party, run by women, for women. It was in 2002, and we came here to collaborate with the Berlin Porn Film Festival, and the indie film project CUM2CUT. You are given some directions and then one week to produce a porn film; it’s kind of like a cooking show where you get only a few ingredients to make a dish. Anyhow, we were invited to do the final party. And, back then, I fell very much in love with Berlin”.
“Berlin at that time was experiencing a moment of change, of confrontation: on one hand, there were punks and squats in Friedrichshain. And then there was the establishment “gay” scene. The archetypal “gay club”, such as SchwuZ, or GMF, etc. But something that was a mix between punk and queer was missing. You could find it, but it was very underground. There was also still that classic division here––especially in Schoeneberg–– between the gay club and the sex club. When you got drunk enough, you would go from one to the other. And the sex clubs were dark enough that no one needed to see you. The fact that you were drunk could be used as an excuse”.
Danilo tells me that what he felt was missing was not only a queer scene, but also one where the club mixed with the sex club, where there was no shaming, where you could fuck where you wanted, where sex becomes a game… sex-positive parties where you didn’t need to hide.
“I think that the arrival of queer Italians in Berlin has been extremely important to the history of the gay scene here”, he tells me, “They’ve played an an important role. Not only are my parties––Homopatik, Buttons––organised by an Italian, but so are other parties like CockTail d’Amore (run by Discodromo), and Gegen (by WARBEAR, and Fabio Boxikus). They’re all essentially Italian parties, run by Italians who already did queer parties in Italia”.
I press Danilo on this one, telling him that I can think of few places in Europe that have a worse gay scene than Italy. Why then does it make sense that Italians, of all people, would bring an exciting alternative gay life to Berlin?
“Think about it: the period when we did parties in Italy [before 2007] was a queer moment in Italy, as a reaction to Berlusconi and that conservatism. It was a rupture, a fuck-you. But living in Italy was still weighty and difficult for queer people. And Berlin was an easy exit, a possibility to do what you wanted. And I think that Italians brought with them a sense of the commedia, of the theatrical, the burlesque, of self-irony. All this was a good antidote to the technicality of the German fuck, which was too obvious, too serious. You would go to a club here and, bang, you’re fucking, but it’s too serious, efficient, and not a lot of fun. Italians eat not just to fill their bellies, but for the pleasure, to enjoy. It’s the commedia of the fuck. There’s intrigue, some courtship, flirtation, some ambiguity, tension. You need these things, otherwise, eroticism is missing”.
“Our parties aim to contaminate German sexuality. I do think they have changed the way that people think about sexuality here, of how to live in liberty. In Germany, there’s the expression that “du bist verrückt mein Kind, du mußt nach Berlin”. We’ve created playgrounds for these crazy Germans, who need to express themselves in a joyous way, in a way that’s different from the establishment gay scene. We offer a way which, as I said, is not only grotesque, but also has good music instead of that conformist commercial pop crap”.
“And now, after a decade, do you still like the city?”
“Yes, I like living in this city”, and he goes on to describe how he enjoys summers in Hasenheide park, in the FKK zone, barbecuing, or partying, dancing, at CockTail d’Amore. Or chilling at Stadtbad Neukölln, for sauna or swimming. Or going cruising at The Boiler. Or just being at home, thinking and reading.
“Sometimes I think about living somewhere by the sea”, he says, “Naples is, for example, a great city. But, honestly, when I think about leaving Berlin, I can’t come up with another place to go. Where is it?”
“How do you feel, then, about the direction of the city over the years you’ve lived here?” I ask.
“When I hear about a place being the ‘next Berlin’, I think people should stop trying to look for that place. Berlin is unique. Like New York in the 70s, or London in the 80s. These are unique moments, created out of very specific causes. When people say Berlin is changing, I reply: well, obviously. Every city changes”.
I propose, as a counterargument, that a lot of people who have been here for some time say that the underground has lost its shine because it’s been discovered.
At this Danilo rolls his eyes, “If the underground is so unknown that there’s no one there, I don’t want be part of it. What you want from the underground are places that break from norms. Such places, even if they become mainstream, and are now full of people, can still be transgressive. I think we need to increase the number of people who go to these places. Even if, say, 10 000 people from all over the world go to Berghain in a weekend, where they are thrown into an environment where they see two gay people fucking, another couple fisting, things they never encountered before, then they go home a little more “pink” than before. These spaces have the ability to contaminate in a positive way”.
He continues, “People normally interpret a party getting well known and popular as a negative sign. There are people there, so it’s no longer any good. But I think it’s an oxymoron when people think the definition of a successful party is one where nobody comes. No, what you really want is more and more people. The more contamination the better!”
I reply that not only has the Berlin party scene been discovered, but that the city as a whole has been. This discovery has also meant big economic changes in the city.
Danilo Rosato replies, “When it comes to this discourse of gentrification, I think it too is a natural phenomenon. There’s been an improvement of the economic, social, and cultural situation in the city since I moved here. Yes, the price of an apartment has doubled or quadrupled, but that’s because the city used to be disgusting. You couldn’t find good food, good shops, or places to really have fun. Really, it was dirty and disgusting. Now there are more jobs, more people, it’s more diverse, there’s lots to do, it has so many more incredible cultural offerings, and you eat… well, not always well, but much better!”
But certainly there are downsides of gentrification, I query.
“Of course. And the state needs to intervene against speculators and protect the poor. I don’t think we need to blame people who come here from other places, especially expats, for the these downsides, but instead blame policy. It’s absurd when people say that they hate all these internationals coming here. We are making this city better. We need the good things that come from gentrification balanced against a strong public policy with strong rules, especially to challenge the degenerating phenomenon of speculation. Don’t blame new arrivals”.
“So Berlin is still sexy even though it’s not poor”, I suggest.
“That phrase by Wowereit never made sense to me. How can something be sexy and poor? The two don’t go together. But yet, I still think Berlin has its edge. It is still in conflict. Everyone likes this about the place. While other cities are static, there’s an internal conflict here. New phenomena have just substituted older ones. But there are others that won’t go away. The city still tears at itself, in permanent conflict, between the bourgeois and the working class, between expats and “locals” or older immigrant communities. You see it between the old Guestworker populations in Neukölln, and the arrival of the Spanish and Italian youth populations there. And there are still in Berlin authentic places of counterculture: they can either be well established or completely unknown, but these transgressive places that break down norms are still present. I sometimes think we are in a Boccaccio tale here: we are in the Decameron, behind the wall, living something transgressive”.
“And we shouldn’t forget what it can be like elsewhere”. I add.
My next question is: “After ten years, do you feel like a Berliner?”
Danilo replies he does not think that the term “Berliner” is at all useful. He tells me, “No I don’t feel like one. It doesn’t exist. What does it mean? I don’t even think Germans are Berliners. There are too many places where the term breaks down. East and West. People who have come here from elsewhere in Germany. People born around the corner from here who don’t participate in the things the city has to offer. I don’t understand what being a Berliner means”.
We’re full of pasta and it’s time for an espresso, which Danilo takes standing at the bar of Café 9, saying, “Look, places like this. When people say it was better here in the past, they forget what it was like when they couldn’t get a good caffè”.
Danilo smiles and downs his coffee.
The next Buttons party will be on 20 April 2018. Come celebrate the closing of the winter tropical tent. On 18 May, the hedonistic garden of Buttons will open. Danilo Rosato’s 48-hour long party at About.blank runs every third Friday throughout the summer. Venite! Come!
Interview conducted in Italian, translations by Joseph Pearson.
About The Berlin Portrait Series on The Needle
The Needle, one of Berlin’s most-read blogs, is beginning of a series of portraits of Berliners. The Berliners included, however, were not born here. They are all transplants: people who have come from somewhere else to make the German capital their home. We also interview people who have a meaningful connection to the city, but have since moved on. We aim for diversity: to claim the city for internationals (and those from diverse places and backgrounds in Germany) who make Berlin a better and more vibrant place to live.
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