The whip cracks, the waitress shouts and the client laughs as he winces. Welcome to the Masoch Cafe in Euro 2012 host city Lviv, which also happens to be a little-known place of pilgrimage for lovers of pain.
The city in western Ukraine, which hosts Group B matches involving Germany, Portugal and Denmark, was once home to Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (1835-1895), who gave his name to the term “masochism” through his famous work “The Venus in Furs”.
The origins of masochism — officially defined as deriving sexual pleasure by being physically or emotionally abused — is less well-known than its opposite, sadism, which takes its name from the French writer the Marquis de Sade.
But while Sade has had countless books and films made about his libertine lifestyle and anything goes sexuality, even in Lviv, which used to belong to Poland and Austria, Masoch is a relative unknown.
No roads are named after the author and there’s no mention of him in any municipal guidebooks.
“Lviv is a conservative town. There’s time for everything,” said the mayor Andriy Sadovyy, with a wry smile.
“He’s an interesting character who invented a doctrine. With the development of the city, there’ll be new roads, maybe even one in his name?”
“We’re rather proud of him,” added bookshop manager Lubomyra Kril. “He left his mark in literature but Ukrainians haven’t really taken him to heart because his father was Austrian and he wrote in German, plus he left Lviv at a young age.”
Masoch remains a curiosity for the well-read: Lviv’s two biggest bookshops — Ye (To Be) and Litera (Letter), had a shortage of his books on Saturday.
The link between Sacher-Masoch and Lviv, which at the time was called Lemberg, is found in some poems and in “The Venus in Furs”.
In the latter, the central character is a “widow of Lwow” — the Polish name for the city used in some translations of the book — and on holiday where she tortures the book’s narrator — at his request.
As he says: “If I can’t enjoy the full and total happiness of love… then I want the woman I love to mistreat me, betray me, and the more cruelly the better. That too is a pleasure.”
This type of paradoxical pleasure is laid bare in the Masoch Cafe.
When it opened in 2008, “everyone was reading ‘The Venus in Furs’ on the tram or the bus”, Ilona, a Euro 2012 volunteer, told AFP before the first match in the city between Germany and Portugal.
A lifesize statue of Sacher-Masoch welcomes even the most ordinary customer.
Inside the Cafe Masoch, the decor is sensual, with moulds of penises and breasts, plus small sofas decked with chains in the cellar and fur-covered menus.
A television screen shows in turn erotic films, news items and clips of classic films.
On the menu are bulls’ testicles and penis as well as “orgasm” desserts and cocktails with names like “fellatio”, “breast milk” or “masochito”.
But it is the waitresses who bring to life the practices dear to the heart of good old “Leopold”, as he is called in these parts.
One young Kiev woman, out in Lviv with two friends, asks for special treatment.
A waitress blindfolds her, whispers a few words in her ear, slips some ice-cubes down her back and between her breasts, pours alcohol in her mouth, shakes her head then hits her with a small whip.
The customer and her friends all burst out laughing.
A group of Germany supporters also tried a little bit of punishment.
Oksana Voloshyn, 26, who has worked for the last six months in the cafe-restaurant, is the most active of the waitresses and is happy to oblige anyone looking to play mistress and servant.
Her consenting victim, bent over the back of a chair, has to shout out what she orders with each crack of the whip: be it a “miaow” or a “I’m sexy and I know it!”
“Here, we whip the clients and they like it,” said Voloshyn proudly. “And when they’re whipped, they give a bigger tip.”