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Wave-Gotik-Treffen: Exploring the most gothic festival on Earth


Every single festival is inherently weird to some degree. They are a world away from the banality of the everyday and they tackle the mundanity of modern living in an extreme assault on the mind, senses and memory. 

To this day my eyes have not recovered from the sight of a man scaling up a rogue oak tree on the grounds of a festival (that will remain unnamed for legal reasons) only for the said tree scaler to present his bearded Wheeto to the masses watching on agog and defecate from a height usually reserved to our avian friends, and with propulsion usually reserved to fudge factory mechanisms. 

This unnamed festival was an ordinary musical affair, so just imagine the surprises in store at Germany’s Wave-Gotik-Treffen festival. Don’t worry, they should be far more savoury, just a little closer to the eccentric side of things

As the largest gothic festival in the world, the music might ostensibly take centre stage, but it’s the weird happenings that prove most eye-catching. On the surface, you must have a mind with a mystic bent to enter the carnivalesque wonderland of Wave-Gotik-Treffen but it holds just as much mindbending joy for sneaky sceptics venturing into its enchanted quarters. 

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Homed in Leipzig, bands from the darker side of things – namely gothic rock, darkwave, deathrock and other grisly noise machines – take to the stage to entertain an audience often clad in Victorian clothes and ghoulishly ancient guises. For four days each Whitsuntide, around 20,000 people descend on the unique event making it a grand celebration of a subculture that suddenly gathers enough attention to seem like the mainstream. 

While the festival might relish in history, it has its own interesting past. The first time fans tried to throw the festival in 1987, it German Democratic Republic laws of the time rendered the outing illegal and only a few hundred daring visitors attended. However, the passion was set ablaze from thereon and in 1991, it was greenlit to open its doors to the Darkside masses. 

As you scurry away from the bands for a moment you will find the weird gothic world come to light. The festival has played host to Viking re-enactments, medieval markets, and gothic romance tents where you can meet a soulmate with a very singular fascination in common. The festival is an emporium of oddities that dazzle and beguile like a Lord of the Rings fever dream in a tent somewhere a half-mile away from Glastonbury’s Pyramid stage—especially if you stumble towards the occasional fetishist event.

The absinthe quaffing fiasco is not limited to the festival grounds either. Museums and art galleries all usually join in as Leipzig takes a time leap towards a gothic reimagining of the past. 

However, the true beauty lies in the moments when the wild charade of the festivities collides with the realities of festival life. You simply can’t beat the sight of someone who looks not unlike Abraham Lincoln frantically waving his hat in the air to attract the attention of a friend he has lost in the moshpit or queuing beside Viking for a burger van bratwurst. 

Festivals are a weird and wonderful world and the manic majesty of Wave-Gotik-Treffen upholds the true beauty of them, it cuts through the malaise and delivers on the spiritual mystic.

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