In the 1960s and 1970s, Gerd Pohl, a German leatherman who made a living as a photographer, travelled a lot to the United States, notably New York and San Francisco. A close friend of Tom of Finland, during his trips he got to know the American leather scene. Back to Germany, he decided to throw a big leather party in his city of Hamburg. His project became reality in August 1973. On August 10th, he hosted a party at the Loreley, the city’s oldest leather bar, located in St. Pauli, the neighborhood that was and remains home to the city’s world famous red light district. The party was to be continued the next day at the Fucktory, a factory building located in the western suburb of Altona. The party attracted between 200 and 300 participants. Among its claims to fame is the fact that it included the first fist-fucking scene to ever take place at such an event in Germany. To make sure none of the features of an early 1970s leather gathering were missing, the police came and raided the gathering and they took down Gerd’s information…. That didn’t deter him from wanting to reoffend! But as he was starting to organize the second party, Gerd came to realize that creating a club would make things easier. And thus was born the MSC Hamburg.
While Gerd Pohl was indisputably the driving force, he founded the club with 6 other leathermen. Initially, the club was founded informally. Not until many years later did the club become officially registered. Indeed, male homosexuality had been illegal in Germany since the 1871 adoption of Paragraph 175 and it would remain so until November 23, 1973; in that context, an official registration for a club that was not only gay but also fetish would have been unthinkable. That is also why, like many other leather institutions in the United States or in Western Europe, the founders did not foreground leather or sado-masochism in the name of the club, calling it instead Motor Sports Club Hamburg.
The MSC Hamburg was created to organize an annual leather party. That party would always take place the second weekend of August. Organizing it would remain the sole purpose of the club for many years. Some of the early parties were memorable. The third party, in 1975, premiered Pier 48, a porn directed by Gerd Pohl himself. In 1976, among the attendees was the world renowned filmmaker Rainer-Werner Fassbinder; Fassbinder dealt openly with homosexuality and homosexual sex in several of his movies, notably Fox and his Friends in 1974 (original title: Faustrecht der Freiheit), and Querelle, adapted from a novel by French gay writer Jean Genet and released in 1982, a few months after Fassbinder’s untimely death. In 1977, hundreds of journalists showed up for the MSC leather party: there had been rumors of casualties and fatal accidents occurring at leather events; save for a slave who had been forgotten for a few hours after being handcuffed to a tree, the journalists left the party disappointed and with nothing to write… nothing they could publicly write about anyway!
Over the years, the MSC annual parties became famous and they would attract leathermen from all over Europe, particularly from Great Britain and the Netherlands. Indeed, the MSC Hamburg was the fi rst German leather club to develop and maintain connections with brother clubs outside of Germany. Thus, while MSC Hamburg was not technically a member at the foundation of the ECMC (European Confederation of Motorcycle Clubs) in London in January 1974, MSC Hamburg did have representatives at the Confederation’s first Annual General Meeting (ATM), held in Amsterdam that same year there, where they offi cially became members.
The annual parties became an important event on the European leather calendar. In 1977, as the leather scene was growing fast and parties were popping all over Western Europe, MSC Hamburg agreed with SLM Copenhagen, a Danish club, to alternate for the two following years: MSC Hamburg would host a party in 1977, and they would attend SLM’s party in 1978. That year — also the year when Gerd Pohl stepped down as the chair and transmitted his baton to Klaus Kiehle — is to this date the only one since 1973 when Hamburg did not have an MSC party!
The 1980s would see important changes in the Hamburg leather scene. In 1980, the club was offi cially registered and became MSC e.V (“eingetragener Verein,” meaning “registered club”). In 1981, the leather bar CHAPS organized a contest and Horst Menzen was elected Mr. Chaps: with his American partner Andrew Day, in 1984, he would open Mr. Chaps, Hamburg’s leading custom leather shop. It was not until 1998 that a German Mr. Leather title was created, awarded during the Easter weekend in Berlin. In 2001, Axel Teschke, an MSC member, was elected German Mr. Leather and he competed for IML. But long before him, Thomas Karasch, a MSC member who was elected Mr. Chaps in 1986, fl ew to Chicago where he became International Mr. Leather in 1987. Thomas is to this date one of only two German leathermen to have won the title, and the only MSC Hamburg member to have been an IML.
Like all leather clubs, in the 1980s and 1990s, MSC Hamburg paid a high tribute to AIDS: the fi rst MSC member to die was named Günter Müller; claimed by the virus were also the lives of founder Gerd Pohl and Thomas Karasch. During those years, like many other leather organizations, MSC had to diversify its activities: while MSC Hamburg had been created for the sole purpose of organizing the annual party, the epidemic caused it to function more as a social club. The club worked with AIDS support organizations such as Hein & Fiete, they provided support to members affected by the illness, and they promoted safer sex at the parties. Over the years, the club also started organizing trips for its members: they went to the Baltic Sea, New York, Amsterdam, Sidney, Thailand, and San Francisco where they visited the members of the 15 Association.
In spite of the devastations visited upon the community by the pandemic, MSC Hamburg was always able to host its annual party. Throughout the 1980s, the parties grew in attendance and the Bauernhaus (Farmers House), where they had been hosted since 1975, became too small with its maximum hosting capacity of 500 people. MS (“Motorschiff,” meaning “Motor Ship”) Cap San Diego, a famous German cargo ship built in 1961, was bought by the city of Hamburg in 1986 and turned into a museum cargo ship. In 1990, under the chairmanship of Dirk Schütte, MSC Hamburg hosted its annual party on the boat. At Cap San Diego, MSC Hamburg’s leather parties became truly legendary. The industrial setting provided by the boat was particularly conducive to the sexual thrill participants were looking for. In 1990, for their fi rst year on the boat, MSC Hamburg only needed to rent a few rooms to accommodate about 1,000 participants. In 2000, a few rooms could no longer suffice and the club had to rent the whole ship. From 2000 to 2004, the MSC Hamburg’s annual party would host up to 3,500 men for a weekend of fun. The MSC Hamburg annual party had become Europe’s top leather event.
Over the course of the 1980s and 1990s, the parties grew in fame and popularity. But what they gained in popularity, they never lost in dedication to leather and fetish. Since 1973, the rules have never changed and a strict dress code is enforced: leather, rubber or uniform are required to attend the parties. Similarly, while the vicissitudes of gay life, particularly the AIDS epidemic, caused MSC Hamburg to diversify its activities, the annual leather parties remained the highlight of the club’s life. After 2004, when the parties could no longer be held at the Cap San Diego, the club maintained its activities: its members travelled to events held by LCNW (Leder Club Nord-West, Bremen), as well as to Folsom Berlin and Oktoberfest in Munich. They maintained connections with leathermen and leather clubs all over Europe and even in Russia. MSC Hamburg kept organizing the election of Mr. Leather Hamburg every year. They also participate in the Christopher Street Day activities in the city of Hamburg. They now also have a bar night once a month.
After they left the Cap San Diego, the MSC Hamburg was no longer able to host leather parties of the splendor of the parties they had in the early years of the 21st century. But they never ceased to look for a place where those could happen again. The MS Stubnitz was a 2,500 ton and 260 feet long ship built in Eastern
Germany in the 1960s and turned into a cultural project in 1994, hosting music performances and parties. In August of 2010, the boat was in Hamburg, and the club rented it for their annual party. Then Stubnitz went to other harbors where it continued hosting musical events in London, in France, as well as in other German cities. But the MSC Hamburg hoped to have more parties on it, and when there was an opportunity to transfer its home from Rostock to Hamburg, the club decided to pay for the move and worked to convince local officials to give the boat the authorizations necessary. Since 2014, Stubnitz has offered a new home to the MSC Hamburg’s parties. In 2016, the city and the owner of the boat came to an agreement that the boat would stay in the city for the next 10 years. In the last few years, the club has also regained some financial stability and with the Stubnitz at home in Hamburg, the club’s future looks brighter than ever. There is little doubt that in the near future, Hamburg will quickly regain its status as a major stop on the leather European tour . . . and the best of the MSC Hamburg’s legendary parties may well be to come! The first opportunity to get a taste of the German style is going to be the 44th MSC Hamburg leather party, August 10 to August 13, 2017!
- Rostom Mesli