Café Mit Schlag

Behind the Dark Windows is a Hidden World of Mutual Arousal and Transcending Boundaries

There is another side of Vienna beyond the romantic scenes of elegant women in shimmering ball gowns, taking a gentleman’s arm as they cross to the Opera. Just around the Ringstrasse, near Gumpendorferstrasse in the 6th District, men and women prefer to wear slithering latex and leather straps while being spanked.

Bondage, Domination and Sado Masochism combines fear and sexual fantasy | Photo: Creative Commons

The SMart Café on Koestlergasse is a treff punkt for Vienna’s sadomasochistic community – and yes, there is one. The window curtains remain closed and a warning sign against people under 18 signals that it is not just another café.

Yet, the front room seems quite normal at first, that is, until you lookup at the ceiling, where a mannequin dressed in shiny latex miniskirt  is hanging, strapped in a bundling of cords like a spider’s dinner.

Then, there’s the TV on top of the bar: a continuous-loop video of naked women and a parade of sexual encounters to help expand the mind.

Lou Reed’s “Heroin” was playing in the background – “cause it makes me feel like a man, when I put a spike into my vein” – while a customer read the menu, custom-made for its regulars but drawing a smile on the faces of a couple of curious, and slightly nervous, people who had come here for the first time.

In the meantime, a middle-aged grey-haired man wearing a loose dark coat stood in a corner of the entrance hall, his anxious face frozen in a smile. It took a minute to realise that he was wearing a chain around his neck, and was apparently tied to the wall.

The rest of the two-dozen or so customers were sitting about at the round café tables, sipping coffee, wine or beer.

Most were alone, although two of them, at different times, approached the chained man, talked briefly with him and went back to the table where each was sitting after the man in the coat shook his head, apparently saying no to an offer. But this is, of course, just speculation. Body-language and all that.

By 22:30, the bar area was practically full. All the tables in both rooms in the café were taken as well as the stools by the bar.

Students, well-dressed hetero- and homosexual couples were leaning on the bar chatting over a beer or trying to get a drink.

Suddenly, a small and delicate blonde wearing tight jeans rushed down to a dark room at the end of the bar, while the now unchained and partially undressed man (wearing only a leather g-string and a metallic net shirt) hurried after her. About a dozen of customers follow them to the “Domina Studio” where the arousal from pain was to begin.

A spank on the right gluteus, then to the left, a repressed and low-pitched cry of relief comes out of the man while his head is facing the floor and his hands are tied to a wooden-looking stock, similar to the one used for the people about the be chopped by a guillotine.

Then, the woman rubs his back and again, another hard smack echoes all the way to the voyeurs in the entrance of the room.

The BDSM (Bondage & Discipline, Domination & Submission) session ended almost as quickly as it began, and the tiny-boned blonde emerged confidently from the room. This was Alice, born in Poland but a resident of Austria for most of her life.

She and her husband practice SM in private, but decided to open a bar rather than jump from one undeground party to another.

The café opened in 1999 and since then, none of the neighbours has complained, Alice reported, in the sweet voice of an ingenue. “They say hi to us, and some are regular customers.”

Question race to mind, one after the other. For instance, How far is far for a sadomasochist?

“It depends,” said Alice. “Everyone has different boundaries, some customers get disgusted by the idea of me touching their nipples, while they enjoyed being hit.”

She says that most of the times, they get aroused simply by the idea of pain, when she says she will hurt them for behaving badly.

Psychologists, literary critics and philosophers seem to agree that imagination may be at the core of Sado Masochism. Playing for one night as sadist or masochist is underlined by the relative power roles: One dominates while the other is submissive.

In fact, evolutionary theories suggests dominance and submission is a reproduction strategy found in most species.

But the same study at Charles University in Prague suggests that a woman playing the dominant role contradicts evolutionary theory. “During courtship, females signal their interest” to the strong and dominant males, “by acting weak, needing protection and therefore submissive,” says the research published by the scientific journal Neuroendocrinology Letters in 2006. But humans don’t fit in the theory as women can take up the dominant role.

This is the case in the famous first novel on masochism, “Venus in Furs” by Leopold von Sacher-Mason published in 1870, in which the main character, Serverin von Kusernski, begs his mistress to mistreat him and degrade him.

“I came across Lives of the Martyrs, I read with horror mingled with intense pleasure how they suffered the worst torments almost with a smile, how they languished in prison cell,were tortured on the rack, pierced by arrows,” to his mistress.

This novel turned the Austro-Hungarian Empire the cradle of popular masochism and even though time and space separates the owner, manager and dominatrix of the SMart café, she would agree with Sacher-Masoch:

“I am a supersensualist; with me, everything takes place in the imagination,” said Kusernki. The novel is said to be highly autobiographical and details Kusernski’s sexual arousal from fetishes such as women wearing the fur pelts of wolves.

Just as there are boundaries for the masochist, the SMart café sets norms for its customers. They accept and/or tolerate “only BDSM-practices, which are played by adult persons only with the agreement of participants,” says the café’s website.

“The SMart Café will in no way accept and/or tolerate any kinds of sexual and/or other practices – especially any kind of violence – with children, minors or real animals.”

In psychology and psychiatric literature, sadomasochism has many contours, definitions and degrees. Sadomasochism ranges from the playful and harmless “rough sex” to the disorder of sadist personality disorder, which could lead to crimes such as rape or murder.

According to a recent research by Gallup and the EU Commission, Austria has the lowest levels of crime in the Union, yet it holds the fourth place of sexual offences.

But this statistics have not been proven to be directly linked to sadomasochistic practices, and there is some suggestion that the controlled practice between consenting adults, may, as with the discipline of sports, serve as the safe release of tensions that might otherwise lead to violence.

This suggests that mainstream sadomasochistic practices, a composition of BDSM; Sadism & Masochism, cannot be linked directly to sexual offences, depending as they do on consent, and thus may actually have a social benefit.

So far, psychiatry and crime researchers agree that Sexual Sadism and Sadistic Personality Disorder are uncommon according to Psychnet UK, a mental health information website. A sadist forcing his will and cruelty upon the other characterises these mental disorders.

He gets aroused by the victim’s suffering, and pays no attention to any kind of social or legal boundary. Thus, turning the other into a victim rather than a masochist.

While these two disorders remain in the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), consensual sadomasochism was removed in 1994.

But Alice knows what the café’s customers like and dislike. A thirty-something man with a puppy face knelt at her lap, so that she can put a collar around his neck.

“Sometimes I hurt them but then I need to calm them down rubbing their back or telling them everything will be alright,” she said.

The café has all the equipment for a full-service SM night: pulleys, cage, darkbox, bank for stretching, gallows, buck, metal rungs, slave table, nail chair, gyn-chair, etc.

But first they warn its users that the café will not be responsible for any accidents or “damages to their health,” and the owners want to prevent those situations by regularly holding seminars on First Aid or giving advice to sadists and masochist role players on how to avoid reaching any dangerous limits.

As two visitors tried to leave and get their coats off the rack, a minor obstacle stood in their way: the middle-aged masochist man was kneeling on the floor, while he’s licking Alice between the legs, all the while her husband standing beside. Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs” came to mind, the perfect song for this image:

“Shiny, shiny, shiny boots of leather,
Whiplash girl-child in the dark…
Your servant, don’t forsake him,
Strike, dear mistress,
And cure his heart.”

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