When I first met Felix I had no idea that only three months later I’d end up torturing him with a 100,000 Volt electro shocker. Actually, I’d never planned on torturing anyone before at all. To me it was something that strangers did to other strangers in strange lands, one of those things that’s constantly talked about but become more and more abstract with each new version of the Milgram experiment and each sensational new Guantanamo discovery. At some point this problem found its niche between the Ozone hole and the extinction of species. It became normal. But all that talking about it never made it quite clear what it feels like; it just happens to some poor sod on TV. Plain old torture is nothing new though, so instead of doing a little bit of waterboarding at some house party, Felix and I decided to try out some historical torture methods ourselves.
We talked to an expert to learn about the details (and risks involved) and then set out on a journey into the ugly depths of the human psyche, that we had been told about—but could have lived without ever getting know for real, now that we’re looking back at it. Disclaimer: the following scenes might look pretty tempting, but please don’t try to reenact them. The experiments were actually dangerous and took place under medical supervision. DON’T DO IT! JUST DON’T!
Felix: In the beginning I thought this was going to be cool and totally relaxed and doable because the first couple of minutes felt like a trip back in utero. Then I realized I was crouched in this perpetuum of agony while breathing my body temperature up to new heights and straining my brain with calculations as to how long it would take until I’d suffocate. Then the pain set in and spiced up things a little. It started out with infernal cramps in my legs and every attempt to slightly change my position just resulted in even more pain. I never thought before that my toes could make me scream with pain. Then I lost my sense of time and with that, the control over my body. My limbs started twitching and hitting against the walls of the box. So basically I was beating myself up.
HANGING UPSIDE DOWN
According to our expert the true nature of torture comes out with the breaks between each set, when you know you’ve been extradited but don’t know what they’ll do to you next. Felix, however, knew everything he was in for. I explained the whole process to him thoroughly: the “grilled chicken” method of hanging someone upside down to make all the blood run into the torturee’s head so it swells and causes shortness of breath, dizziness, and indescribable, migraine-ish attacks of pain. Some torturers also like to set up a little electro stove underneath the person dangling off the ceiling. In short, if no one chooses to take you down, you’ll eventually crap out. It proved fairly difficult to tie Felix up, but I have to say, the time he spent hanging there was the first stretch of time since I met him, where he managed not to bum a cigarette off anyone for more than an hour.
Felix: After the box I thought this “hanging upside down” would be a fucking spa treatment for my still aching and convulsing body. But it turned out it was pretty much the same thing, just shittier, if that makes any sense. The cramps returned and all the blood from my legs flowed into my skull, which made my eyeballs feel as if they were hard-boiled. I seriously believed they’d pop out of the sockets. Even minutes after I was taken down I still couldn’t see properly. The world looked as if it had been run through a giant brownish batik-dyeing machine.
CHINESE WATERDROP TORTURE
It might not be appropriate to ask for sympathy in my position, but torturing really sucks. No wonder they blamed the water drop torture on the Chinese (the truth is the Italians came up with it). The procedure is classic. The head of the the torturee is fixed so he can’t move it the slightest bit and then water keeps dropping on his forehead. Felix wasn’t much help, lying in the corner feeling sorry himself after the hanging part, so I had to construct this on my own. The mean thing about this is not the water, it’s waiting for the next drop. And the next. That’s what drives you crazy. In the beginning I didn’t see much of that though. Felix looked all peaches and cream in the face.
Felix: Ever kissed a girl in the rain and thought this moment is perfect and then she kicked you into the balls? After all this shit I thought this must be the honeymoon of torture methods. In the beginning I relaxed and watched the drops that were about to drop on my forehead. Then I started getting really impatient. Very, very impatient. Strangely impatient. About as impatient as you get waiting in front of the train card machine and you hear your train’s doors just closing and you really have to pee and you realize you have lost your wallet and this was the last train that could have possibly brought you home to your family for Christmas just before you piss yourself. I was pretty close to that actually.
Noise is one of the oldest torture methods, invented around 300 B.C. That means that a whopping 2,300 years before the invention of Techno, they already used to drum blasphemers to death. So the Guantánamo prisoners weren’t off that bad after all: they were only tied to a chair, naked, in the cold, without food but with Metallica instead. However I didn’t want to put Felix through Metallica, so I just looked for the worst crap I could possibly lay my hands on. I taped a set of headphones to his head and put iTunes on repeat. A couple of minutes were enough to drive me crazy and I could only hear what the headphones gave off to its surroundings. Felix was squirming in his chair. But somehow I couldn’t get rid of the feeling that he somehow enjoyed this.
Felix: The thumping gabber became a bit meditative after a while and slowly boomed me into the moron’s nirvana. Blind and deaf from exhaustion, I almost fell asleep a couple of times. The isolation part was a bit annoying, but actually I could have endured this for hours. I began asking myself if there was some way I could release myself from this because the ties were chafing my skin. Maybe I was also having thoughts about breaking my torturer’s neck. Almost dislocating my thumb in the attempt to break my shackles was probably the worst part about this whole thing though. If you consider that a weekend at Mayday is the best thing that some people will ever experience in their lives, two ours of noise torture are a pretty fair deal.
The expert advised us to stay clear from Felix’s head with the taser because that could cause epileptic attacks. That’s why I decided to go for his leg. In Germany any idiot can walk into a store or go on the internet to buy a 700,000-volt taser without even showing his ID. So that’s how we reached the climax of our little experiment. I put the taser against his leg and shocked him. He shuddered and screamed. I kept going until he was lying on the floor and didn’t move any more.
Felix: The pain wasn’t the problem, even though I must say that I ended up squirming on the floor after just the second shock. The pain goes away. What stays though is the echo in your nerves. I think everybody who had an experience with electro shocks before knows what I’m talking about here. But that’s not really the point. This part of the torture was where I truly looked into the core evil of all this crap: man and his degenerated soul in action. A couple 100,000 volts melt away any constraints—and suddenly you find your appreciated colleague turning into the asshole who’d shoot you into the back in a rundown prison.
When torture was banned in Europe in 1820 that didn’t happen due to its inhumanity but its impracticable character. In times where torture is gaining more and more acceptance behind the scenes there’s a little Kang Kek Iew in all of us. I know that I was a privileged victim assuming something like this exists. Compared to the poor guys who’re suffering in random cellar holes around the world I could have aborted this shit any minute and could have stormed out the door after screaming “fuck off” into my colleague’s face. That’s why I can’t say that I was tortured for real. The pain isn’t what it’s all about; it’s just a side effect of the concept. You learn to put up with it and get used to it while your body is drugging up itself with its own chemicals. The human body can put up with a lot of crap, that’s for sure. However, losing your personal freedom, the option to say “No!”, being delivered to complete unprotection…that is truly hell on earth. I’m sure for Juliane this was merely another job, but I still cringe when she starts talking to me.
JULIANE LIEBERT AND FELIX NICKLAS
Photos by Christoph Voy