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Report: Wave-Gotik-Treffen 2016

in Thursday, 12 May 2016 at Various Locations
by Erika Kuenstler

Whit Monday is usually seen to be a time when families gather in celebration of God. Yet this extended weekend also happens to be the one time of year where a pilgrimage of Goths transcend on the city of Leipzig in Germany, giving rise to the largest Goth festival in the world, with around 241 bands and artists spread out over 50 locations, entertaining approximately 20 000 people over a course of five days. This year saw Wave-Gotik-Treffen celebrating its 25th instalment, a momentous occasion that had fans arriving in droves from literally all around the world.

The main hub of the festival is the Agra grounds, a massive trade fair ground which hosts not only the hundreds of tents which spring up over night, but also a smorgasbord of catering stalls, a large concert venue, as well as a cavernous hall featuring the most exquisite goods. Regardless of whatever your heart desires, you’ll find it all (and far, far more) in the Agra Hall, be it a handmade leather corset, books about magic, misfortune cookies (like fortune cookies, except that the little paper inside predicts a rather less lucky future), the latest pair of killer boots, all the way through to bondage and BDSM equipment. This hall was always abustle, in particular when the weather was being irksome.

To start off the momentous 25th anniversary celebrations, a huge party was planned at Belantis amusement park, starting at 8pm on Thursday night. Shuttle buses were organised, taking fans between the amusement park and the Agra grounds. At the park, a massive four dance areas had been set up, with all rides operating for free, culminating with a firework display at midnight. However, what was not planned for was the sheer popularity of this opening party. Normally, the park is said to have a capacity of 5000 people. However, on the opening night, rumour had it that the park was packed to over double its capacity, and still had a queue of over half a kilometre long of people standing five abreast, just waiting to get in. With this news pouring in, the shuttle buses stopped running at about 10pm, leaving a mass of disappointed fans stuck at the Agra camp-ground, unable to attend the opening night. However, those lucky enough to be at the amusement park were also disappointed: though amusement rides were supposed to operate until midnight,  these rides also closed over an hour ahead of schedule, following the equally premature firework display.

After this slightly anticlimactic opening party, the highlight of Friday was the Victorian Picnic, an event at which people had the chance to flaunt their finest and most outrageous costumes. Whether as a family, under friends, or even by oneself, this was certainly the place to see and to be seen. Prides of photographers prowled the event, voraciously capturing the decadence of the attire, whilst hordes of onlookers sat on the lawn, gawping at the rare esoteric display. The weather was also perfect for a picnic, with sunny skies and gentle breezes providing the perfect backdrop to catch up with like-minded friends made in previous years.

Overall though, one of my favourite locations of the festival was the so-called “Heidnisches Dorf”, which roughly translates to “Heathern Village”. This was a sprawling medieval camp, housing a massive range of different attractions. For example, a blacksmith showed off his trade, whilst a few stalls further, a barber offered an authentic medieval shave. There was even a stall which offered a dating platform for festival goers, conveniently located right next to a stall boasting a medieval marriage officiator. Munificent food and drink stands did a brisk trade, selling everything from pig-on-a-spit all the way to the ubiquitous mead and honey wine stands. You could try your hand at medieval pastimes like cross-bow shooting, or could relax in the steaming tubs in the bathhouse tent. Adding to this atmosphere was a slew of excellent bands, featuring the likes of LEAVES EYES, HEIDEVOLK, and TROLLFEST.

Speaking of bands, the absolute highlight of the festival for me was CARACH ANGREN’s show. All to infrequently in Germany, this horror-tainted band never fail to deliver an enthralling performance. Clever backlighting cast a shadowy silhouette show, made all the more ghastly by the sickle microphone stand. CARACH ANGREN’s music features an captivating mixture of macabre horror, hauntingly melancholic melodies, grim and dark tales, and an aggressive sound that goes for the jugular, all topped off by theatrical grimaces. Their appearance at the Wave-Gotik-Festival was made all the more spectacular by the guest appearance of a ballerina on two of their songs, adding a surreal twist of beauty gone mad.

I managed to catch TROLLFEST’s second show at the festival, with the first having been held at the Heidnisches Dorf. This is another band which never fails to deliver a spectacular performance. This appearance was perhaps a little more sombre than their usual rambunctious antics, with the beloved rubber ducks that often adorn their stage having been left behind; a fate shared by the Jagermeister backpack that squirts Jagermeister into the crowd. Nevertheless, we had the pleasure of hearing one of TROLLFEST's new songs, and if this is anything to go by, the new album will be an absolute must-have for fans of the band.
ENSLAVED is yet another band whose performance was not to be missed, with these Norwegians delivering a set rife with gems from their older works in order to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the band. One of the most outstanding moments was when fans had the very rare opportunity to see “The Crossing” played live, one of their older songs, taken  from their 2003 album “Below the Lights”. A further momentous show was that courtesy of the Austrian band BIFROST, who have since the festival broken up very unexpectedly. In hindsight, this was then one of their very last performances, and one of the last chances for fans to catch them live before their split.

Whilst the bands were an obvious highlight of the festival, there were so many other interesting things to see and do. One popular event was a guided tour of a graveyard in Leipzig, although a misprinted time in the festival programme meant that many almost missed this opportunity. Here, the guide discussed many of the ideas and historic practices associated with death, delving into traditional thoughts on what happened to the soul once a person had left this world behind. As a parting gift, each participant received a small vial of salt to throw over their shoulders, ensuring that no spirit of the dead could hitch a ride out of the graveyard. A further gift was a small ampule of liquid soap, with all the participants ending the tour off by blowing clouds of ethereal bubbles into the sky as a sign of the fragility and beauty of life. There were also a hand full of interesting plays which festival-goers could attend. However, due to the very limited space in these theatres, fans had to often arrive up to four hours early to ensure getting a seat. Other attractions included art exhibitions, fashion shows, and book readings. However, also interesting was the Egyptian museum, with curators giving a guided tour of the exhibits, telling tales of how everyday life in Egypt could have possibly been.

The only downside of having such a massive variety of entertainment to choose from is the realisation that you can't be everywhere at once. Whilst unlimited use of the public transport was included in the festival ticket, you nevertheless spend a large part of the time travelling between various locations that are often on opposite sides of the town. Whilst it's fantastic that the organisers have put so much effort into creating a varied assortment of entertainment , and have done their best to make this as accessible as possible for everyone, be prepared to face some difficult choices in planning your itinerary each day, especially if you factor in those events in which you need to arrive hours in advance to secure a seat. Nevertheless, many of the shows on offer are well worth skipping one or the other show for, and the great thing is that you get to tailor the festival directly to your own personal preferences. One of the things that did manage to put a damper on the festival though was the weather, which is notoriously bad during that time of year. The first day had a jovial festival-like atmosphere, with fans in their finery strolling along the central promenade of the Agra grounds. However, as the festival progressed, the weather steadily worsened, with sporadic and unpredictable downpours marring events taking place outside. Whilst this was no problem for many fans wanting to see indoor shows, this was a bit unfortunate for those either with lavish costumes or those taking part in the numerous out-door events. Still, this was a small price to pay for such a massive festival with so much on offer.

Granted, there were a few rough patches, but organising a festival of such magnitude so thoroughly is no mean feat, and so a shout-out must go to the hundreds of people who made the 25th Wave-Gotik-Treffen the resounding success that it was. If you've never been to the Wave-Gotik-Treffen before, I'd highly recommend putting this on your to-do list for 2017. Even if you're not necessarily part of the Goth culture, this is still a milestone in the history of the alternative scene, and is guaranteed to give you an unforgettable weekend with plenty to see and do.

Photos of festival-goers as well as a selection of bands can be seen here.

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