Stretch Festival – Day Three
Stretch Festival is a weekend getaway in Berlin made up of workshops designed to help queer men explore identity, love, community, and connection. This is Day Three of Stretch Festival by Joseph Kearney, detailing his personal experiences of healing at this weekend for gay, bi, trans and queer men.
Related: Stretch Festival Part 1
Fight to the Bone
It’s my third and final day at Stretch and I plan to go bone deep, join a fight class and get a taste of death. I wake up in Prenzlauer Berg and check my ROMEO to see who’s on my RADAR. When I’m finished leaving some footprints on my handsome neighbours profiles I hop on my bike and head to Village on Kurfürstenstraße. David Bloom is offering another workshop, his spank class was sensational, so I jump at the chance to be his student again. This time it’s about bones, and David talks us through every one in the human skeleton.
We pair up, and I touch every touchable bone in my partner’s body; I massage his bones. Then I stand him up and place my fingers tips on his neck and on his tailbone and parade him around the room like a puppet. He repeats this bone massage sequence with me. You literally fill out your body better and more fully.
After bone class, we go to downstairs in the main building for Playfight. It is essentially Fight Club. We make a circular audience of men in a basement in Berlin. There’s about 60 of us, many topless, in shorts or wrapped sarongs. The fight coordinator, Alexander, lays out the rules of engagement and instructs us that it’s a non-verbal experience. The fighters remain on their knees and use as much, or as little force as permitted by each fighter.
You crawl into the circle and start a fight. The person you invite to fight with you, your sparring partner has the right to decline. When a fight is accepted you both decide without words if you will fight blindfolded or not, with gloves or without, you fight, and you wrestle, and you tackle, and it’s glorious.
The fighting is beautiful, the struggle, the grace, the diplomacy, and the beastly venom. The fuck you like nature of some men, the cuddle like nature of others. A femme guy and a masc guy start a fight, and it is hypnotic; a fairytale of force.
Death of a Weekend
The next and final workshop is about death and is run by Kai Ehrhardt, founder of Stretch. I enter the death workshop confident I can handle it. My father is a gravedigger, I know everything about the business of death, don’ I? We are given a questionnaire asking us when we expect to die? What do we think we will die from? Next, we share our knowledge and stories of death. It’s strangely liberating for me. I reveal my losses to death, my life lived alongside the passing of my community as part of my father’s job.
Mourning Stretch Festival
Then we are asked to mourn for our own death. This evolves into a very individual journey for each of us. We contemplate our own mortality and say goodbye to part of ourselves. We mourn the passing of us. I think of my weekend with Eric, the rules we broke, the love we shared, the life we lived in three days of intense intimacy. I am thankful for him and for stretch.
Back to Reality
The next day I return to Amsterdam. I lived a life in three days. I shared my pain; I witness that of others. I danced naked in a warehouse (how very Berlin!). I loved and lost in three days, and I connected to something. That for even one moment was profound to me.
Would I recommend Stretch to anyone? That’s difficult to answer, I think it’s useful to those who need it. I think any gay man can find something useful there, but like all good therapy, it won’t fix you, it will simply help you to hear yourself if you are ready and willing to listen. If you are heading to Berlin soon you can always take a look at ROMEO profiles in the German capital before you even get there with TRAVEL.
Images: Jean Baptiste Huong
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