If, like me, you’re about as cuddly as a cactus, then a rather different way to spend four hours of your Saturday evening is to go to a cuddle party. “A cuddle party? What’s that, Linda?”, I hear you ask… Don’t worry, I’d never heard of the concept either – that is, until the lovely Jenna sent me an article about them. Sufficiently weirded out but curious at the same time, I toyed with the idea of going.
Me: I’m thinking of going to a cuddle party on Saturday.
Simone: I think I’d rather have my uterus extracted through my nostrils.
That decided it – I was going.
I located the building easily enough, got into the rickety lift and ascended to the fourth floor.
Despite the rather crumbly exterior, the room was really nice. As I paid my €20 (I know…) and got a sticker with a little heart and my name on it (eye roll), I looked around. Colourful mattresses were laid out in a circle on the floor and candles and warm lighting made the space look cosy. The thing that surprised me most, however, (apart from the fact that I was there) was how many people in Berlin were in need of a cuddle. There must have been around 50 people there and there was very little room left on the mattresses. A few people were younger than me but most were in their forties, fifties or sixties, with a roughly 3-1 ratio of women to men. A quick glance at the refreshments table confirmed the worst – no wine. I was diving headfirst into the weirdness stone cold sober.
I squeezed into a free spot just as proceedings started. After a brief introduction, Gottfried, the “Cuddle Trainer” passed the “Cuddle Elephant” to the person beside him. (I swear I’m not making any of this up.) We had to say our names and why we were there.
“I just really like giving cuddles.”
“Cuddling makes me feel good.”
“I was feeling really sad today and thought that cuddles might give me some comfort.”
When it came to my turn, I said that I’d seen an article online and was curious. This got a scathing look from Gottfried which became outright hostile when I said I’d seen the article on thrillist.com. Clearly he doesn’t put thrills and cuddles in the same category. I passed the “Cuddle Elephant” along. When all of the introductions and freaky reasons were done, Gottfried ran through the rules. There was a lot of blah blah about knowing your boundaries and not being afraid to say NEIN! He pointed out the “safe mattress” at the back of the room where you could sit for a while if you felt overwhelmed. Kissing was VERBOTEN and touching boobs, crotchal regions and arses was also out.
Once the mattresses had been stowed at the back of the room, Gottfried put on some airy-fairy, shite music and we all had to dance around a bit. I shook off the pressures of the outside world by shuffling awkwardly with my hands by my sides, while other people looked as if they were undergoing some kind of demonic possession. The next song started and this time we had to move around the room, making eye contact with the other lunatics. The third song got the touching bit started. We could hold hands, feel hands and stroke hands as we moved around but, unfortunately, nobody HOCH FÜNFed anyone. People were already starting to sweat and the smell of B.O. was overpowering. I half-heartedly touched a few moist hands.
Next we had to dance with each other, choosing a different partner every so often. I ambled around, getting increasingly freaked out by the glazed, blissed-out eyes and serene smiling. If these people weren’t high on life, they were definitely high on something. One guy, who looked like he’d be at home with Jack in the Cuckoo’s Nest, started trippily waving his arms around in my face. Another caught me around the waist and started to sway with me.
“How close is too close?”
As I didn’t know how to say “If I feel an erection, then you’re too close and you’re going down”, I just mumbled that where he was was fine. Presently, we had to find a partner to hand grope. A middle-aged woman caressed my hands and gazed at me lovingly. I watched the seconds ticking by on the wall clock. Each pair found another pair and then there were four people mauling each other. I found my head sandwiched between braless boobs. Then the four had to find another four and engage in a group hug.
I looked a bit like this guy:
After unsticking my face from a man’s back, I had a time out behind the refreshments table. Ah, a solo exercise. OK, back in. We stood with our eyes closed (mine were open) as Gottfried talked us through a load of nonsense about feeling the energy come up through the earth into our stockinged feet. As the cuddle party took place in Hasenheide, one of the dodgiest areas in Berlin, I didn’t even want to think about what my feet were absorbing. We raised our arms and started walking forward until we were one massive, 50-person cuddle. I checked to make sure everyone’s eyes were closed and ran. I had lasted an hour and twenty minutes. Pretty impressive, I thought. I couldn’t even imagine how they were going to fill another two hours and forty minutes but I had a feeling it would probably end like this:
I washed my hands repeatedly and left the building. Safely back in my local bar with a large glass of wine in front of me, I achieved a level of relaxation that cuddling fifty strangers could never give me.
I’m sure the lingering stench of B.O. will wear off any minute now…