I just got back from my first big ‘non burning-man’ festival and have some thoughts and stories to share. From the first moment I kept trying not to compare this festival to ‘Burning man’ and just see it as a thing of itself. But brains, they love comparing.
The Set Up
The entry line into the festival was split into 2, those with cars and those on foot. I came on the festival bus so was lucky to enter after less than an hour of waiting. A friend in a car waiting 6 hours. Despite being told Id’s would be checked to confirm the ticket ownership that didn’t happen.
Despite lots of “no border” signs and “refugees welcome” banners, the festival had three layers of gates and guards. There was one border for entering from the outside world into the camping area, then another for entering from the camping area to the main festival area and then another for entering the area for families that had many circus tents and performances. Every time you left the main area you got this green token you had to give back when you entered. Obviously at some point I lost it and had to go to the entrance with an ID to get another one.
The camping area is ‘first come first conquer’, no real order and just groups of people taking up as much space for their friends that will arrive later. It was overly crowded by the second day and snoring strangers could be heard all around me.
A strange moment was passing through one of these check points which had only black security guards. This under privileged minority getting some amount of power over the privileged seemed to result in them taking their job much more seriously than the rest of the guards I encountered. It was a very strange scene, while they were making sure to be ‘in charge’ they were still there ones working, supposedly for our enjoyment.
This was probably the favorite part of the festival for me. The workshops were consolidated in two area’s so even without a schedule I could just pass by and was guaranteed something interesting was happening.
Dance, martial arts, sewing BDSM clothing, making jewelry, discussing utopias, graffiti were some of the things I attended. Some of the workshops did require extra money for the materials.
There were also many very high level circus, theater and dance performances.
I was impressed by the amount and quality of the art works. No it wasn’t burning man but it was damn good. Many of the art works had an interactive element which made them even more awesome. There were also random Telephone lines around the place which you could call and hopeful someone would answer. I tried communicating with some strangers this way but honestly I was never very good with phones.
I was surprised at how German the festival was. Yes, it is in Germany but I was expecting a more international feeling. All the signs were in German and the vast majority of people were German and the largest drug consumption was by far alcohol. I was also disappointed at the almost total lack of nudity. I was the only one walking around topless and encountered only one nude guy. We talked briefly sharing our surprised at all these clothed people at a festival that is described as “clothing optional” especially since most of the time the weather was warm and sunny. The same goes for cool costumes. You could see them here and there but there idea of contributing to the festival with personal costumes hasn’t gotten hold. I was also surprised at the relative lack of queer/trans visibility.
The Food and Garbage Economy
Within the first day piles and piles of garbage were mounting everywhere. In order to combat this the festival provides everyone with a garbage bag and if you return a full bag with a part of your ticket you receive 10 euro’s. Many people were collecting bottles probably to recycle outside of the festival. I was walking around with my burner cup asking the food stales to use it. The food itself was vegetarian only and very cheap for around 3.5-5 euro’s you could get a great meal. I noticed that the fact that money was still involved in interactions with the food servers made us less friendly towards each other. Unlike burning man, this person was not volunteering their time for the community and thus attempting to connect to it, they were doing it so they could take the money they earned and go have fun somewhere else.
The main area of the festival wasn’t so big and massive sound systems were bleeding into each other causing a massive amount of chaotic mess in most areas. I was impressed with myself when my ears actually recognized some funktion one speakers at one of the main electronic music stages. As I got closer my eyes recognized them too. As for music there was a very large variety, which were the idea of “fusion” is supposed to stem for. There were even robots playing music and classical piano concerts. One again I realized how little of my brain actually finds music (without dancing) recharging. Trying to just listen to music a little voice in my head went “This information is not relevant for survival”.
I did have a great time, mostly because I learnt a lot and made a new friend in one of the workshops but for the future I’ll probably save my money for Burning Man.