The amazing ceb organized a trip to Leipzig for the goth festival. And the stars aligned so I was able to go, and I had the most brilliant time imaginable. I want to record this for myself but I'll try not to go into too much excruciating detail.
Day -1 and day 0: travel
5 o'clock train out of Stoke, changed in London, connection to Harwich, where I met up with the Cambridge contingent including ceb and jack. There was a bit of train ticket shenanigans; the ferry ticket includes travel from Liverpool Street to Harwich (the fact it was booked in jack's name didn't appear to be a problem), so I split the return half of a Stoke-Cambridge return to get from Stoke to London on the way out, and back from London to Cambridge on the way home. I think I saved myself £60 by rules-lawyering slightly.
The London-Harwich train has a different demographic from most of the trains I take, I suppose the best way I can describe it is business people but not City people. And Harwich itself is mainly a container port so it had lots of cool industrial bustle going on to watch, but not much in the way of facilities while waiting to embark. Just a terminal full of groups of continental teenagers on school trips. Boarding took a while, because a ship had crashed into the passenger walkway at some point and they had to shuttle everybody by minibus. At this point jack and I discovered our basic berth had been upgraded to a fancy cabin with a double bed and enough room to swing a cat besides. We watched the port for a bit, but not long as they clearly weren't going to set off at the planned departure time of 11, and with a fairly early arrival in the Netherlands we didn't really want to stay up to watch the ferry get underway.
We'd been warned that the PA wakes you up with an announcement at 6:30 local time, and knowing that the next wakeup call was at 7 we went back to sleep for another half hour. That in fact gave us plenty of time to get showered and dressed and have breakfast in the ship's restaurant, a rather nice if over-priced mix of Dutch and English breakfast food, before disembarking a little after 8. And then we were on the platform at a tiny little station in Hook of Holland, with the sun shining and any number of calves wandering about. This was the start of a frighteningly complicated journey across Europe; happily IWJ took charge and the rest of us followed him around like little ducklings, and he was remarkably successful at herding seven obstinate geeks across Europe.
The German trains were on strike, but the German trade unions are remarkably civilized and put lots of notices on their website explaining that they positively wanted customers to ride the trains that were still running, and guidance for how to replan your travel. So I think the strike made lots of people very late and caused them to put up with inconvenient multi-stage trips, but nothing like the chaos you get when British trains are on strike when it's near impossible to travel at all and nobody can tell you what's going on. In our case we ended up in Berlin, which is not exactly on the way to Leipzig, just when they called the strike. Which meant that we could abandon our original plan of nearly four hours of travel on several local trains, going even further eastwards before we could double back west to our destination, and have a nice chilled three hours in Berlin followed by a one-hour direct express train to Leipzig. Berlin of a May evening is extremely pleasant, we ate rather good pizza and drank beer and wandered about the area around the station which includes the Bundestag and the Reichstag and was remarkably tranquil for the centre of a major capital city.
So we got in to Leipzig late Thursday evening and there were goths everywhere, yay. We decided that it wasn't worth waiting in a long queue to get our festival wristbands at that point, so we headed straight for the hotel where there was some amount of faff over the booking, which ceb and IWJ bravely sorted out, and we were able to collapse into bed about midnight, so about 32 hours after setting out. I had really been looking forward to travelling across Europe by train with friends, and it was indeed fun, but even with the interlude in Berlin and with being asleep for most of the sea crossing, that was a lot of travel.
Day 1: visitor in Gothsville
After all that nobody got up til late morning Friday. We ambled into town to register and receive our wristbands, actually a short and pleasant walk from the hotel but one we hadn't wanted to face very late in the evening, carrying heavy bags at the end of a very long journey. The entry booth was sited in the Moritzbastei, a commercial and social space built on and in a sixteenth century castle. Indoors, a sort of labyrinth of cafés and bars with stages and party spaces tucked away in the interior. At ground level a bunch of tables and foodstalls, and on the roof a Mediaeval fair. So we sort of beached up in what is clearly a prime gothwatching spot and bought elaborate iced coffees or interesting varieties of German beer or Bratwurst or Flammekuche (flatbread with meat (optional), cheese and vegetables) which I'd come across in Alsace but it turns out to exist in SE Germany too.
I just can't describe the experience of turning up in a city of a sunny Friday lunchtime and there are Just. Goths. Everywhere. I mean, Leipzig is a sizeable city but several tens of thousands of goths descending on it makes an impression. The museums bring out their most macabre displays and the shops set up black window displays and the restaurants have "gothic special" menus, and the municipality put on special buses and trams serving the main venues. And the centre of the city plus the areas around said venues look pretty much like this. I couldn't stop gazing at all the beautiful goths, with every sub-subculture represented, from steampunk to fetish, from cyber to industrial, with punks and zombies and cosplayers thrown in for good measure. And all the colours, plenty of people in the traditional blacks, purples and dark reds, but people in bright orange or red and white candy-stripes or pastel pink who were unmistakably goths. Also all ages and body-types and gender expressions, though I have to admit that the goth-filled centre skewed rather whiter than the suburbs where we met more regular inhabitants.
It was nice that there wasn't pressure to wear elaborate costumes; some of the visitors were clearly having fun expressing themselves, but plenty of others were just wearing faded band t-shirts and black jeans. I hadn't quite dared to goth up just for wandering into town, so I was wearing normal clothes that just happened to be purple and black. Having spent a few hours soaking up the atmosphere and watching folk just visibly having fun dressing up, I felt confident enough to go home and change into my recently acquired and not yet worn shiny purple corset. I don't really have a bottom half that goes with it, but I improvised with a dark grey fishtail skirt that's part of my normal wardrobe, but under a corset looks vaguely period. And my trusty bowler hat, partly because it was coming up sunset and I've been advised not to wear obviously Jewish headcoverings in Germany, but mainly because it looks awesome. jack was a quick study in helping me lace the thing, and my corset reflex kicked in reasonably quickly, and bam. That was a very successful experiment; I felt both physically and psychologically comfortable wandering around town in a corset, even a fairly cheap off-the-peg one as opposed to the custom made corset dress I wore to get married. So I'm definitely finding more excuses to dress like that.
The more musically knowledgeable people in the group had recommended Jordan Reyne, so we turned up to her gig, and indeed she is something special. She has a "loop" machine, which plays back sounds after a time delay, allowing her to harmonize with herself, right there live on stage. And she has a gorgeous voice and is doing musically interesting things, including using literally industrial (ie recorded from a factory floor) sounds as a backing track, and performing folk-style ballads about her New Zealand convict ancestors or about twentieth century labour history. OTOH she has no stage presence at all, she was just wandering around the stage occasionally expressing surprise that she was in front of an audience or that people actively liked her songs.
And in the later part of the evening we went to the Agra, one of two huge venues, this one is a trade exhibition hall during the rest of the year, and danced to Deine Lakaien, a band I discovered recently by browsing related artists on Spotify starting with a gothy seed. I described them to jack as melodramatic, lyrics all about pain and misery over the classic goth instrumentation. Especially coming from Jordan Reyne, the gig was a kind of meditative experience, almost endless rows of people dancing in the half-light in this huge open space and the thumpy repetitive music.
Day 2: trad goth Saturday I quite happily wandered around all day in my proper goth dress, a Hellbunny thing with lots of ribbons and a short foofy skirt. It's basically my Little Black Dress anyway, but this time I had my hair in bunches and an improvised choker of haematite chips and fishnet tights, so I felt pretty successfully gothy (even without makeup, cos I'm scared of makeup).
Early afternoon we went to a museum called the Grassi, which happened to be a stone's throw from our hotel, mainly to see an exhibition and demo of Renaissance dance. However, the leader of the dance group turned up at the appointed time, blanched and gave a very nervous but heartfelt speech about how he'd expected at most 20 dance geeks, not several hundred goths, and there was no way he could accommodate all of us, and would we be terribly hurt if he prioritized those who had paid rather than got in on on their festival wristbands, and those who could speak German? So instead we wandered round the museum a bit (actually three museums, one of musical instruments, one of design and applied arts, and one of anthropology). I picked the pre-twentieth century part of the design museum, where they have done some really interesting things pairing old artefacts with works of modern art. And they have some very cool pieces, even speaking as someone who's a bit spoiled by living just up the road from the Fitz.
We returned to the Mediaeval fair at the Moritzbastei for lunch, and enjoyed potato wedges and mushrooms cooked in a huge giant pan and covered in soured cream, and sampled our first Wikingerblut, literally Viking blood, but ceb had informed us that it's in fact a 50:50 mix of mead with cherry juice, and really very drinkable indeed. And more sunshine and more gothwatching happiness.
ceb had also informed us that The Beauty of Gemina are magnificent live, so we went to their gig in the early evening. This was held in a kind of too goth to be true venue called the Felsenkeller, a partly restored but very dilapidated Art Deco theatre. And it was indeed a very fun gig, very trad goth music and performed with gusto and a great ability to draw the audience in to the performance. As with Deine Lakaien, I don't passionately love The Beauty of Gemina, but it was a great show and I was glad to be there.
Then we went to the other giant warehouse venue, Kohlrabizirkus, for the gig I'd been most looking forward to of the festival: Fields of the Nephilim, who were one of my gateways into goth when I was a teenager (thanks, doseybat!). Unfortunately, when we arrived an hour before the official start time of the gig, the huge venue was already several hundred over capacity; according to the veterans this never normally happens at WGT, but there you go. The security guards were very good, helpful and professional yet quietly insistent that they weren't letting any more in. We waited until the previous gig had finished in the faint hope that enough people would leave that we'd get in, but no luck. At least we had company, but I wasn't really dressed for standing around for an hour at night, so I was pretty cold and miserable as well as disappointed by the time we gave up at around 11 pm. jack was very good at getting me home and getting hot tea into me and comforting me when I was unreasonably emotional over a minor disappointment.
Day 3: consumer
My main planned gig for Sunday was Beborn beton, because I wanted to do something towards the bleepier end of the goth spectrum and picked them over Clan of Xymox (playing at the same time) because ghoti was enthusiastic about Beborn Beton. So I reckoned it was a good time to try my skater-style leather minidress, which I wore over pink and black stripey knee-high socks.
First, though, ceb suggested an expedition to the unbelievable Völkerschlachtdenkmal, a monument celebrating cooperation between the nations to defeat Napoleon, begun in 1813 and completed (with rather poor timing!) a century later. It is just the most ridiculously over-scaled thing you ever saw, huge great concrete domed building several stories high, decorated inside and out with these colossal statues. So we climbed up lots and lots of steps and goggled at the ridiculousness of the statuary (metre tall nursing babies with six-packs! man holding a youth between his legs, his shins taller than a person so that your brain parses him as some kind of four-legged creature!) Anyway when we reached the choir gallery at the base of the dome we found an actual choir, singing polyphonic religious music (we presumed in honour of Whitsun), and playing with the amazingly echoing acoustic you get in massive domed spaces.
In the afternoon we went to the half of the Agra where there were stalls as opposed to just open space for concerts, and went goth shopping. I nearly gave up because it was hot and even in the best of circumstances I don't really like clothes shopping and there was too much choice but nothing that was quite perfect for me. But stopped for a rest and cold drinks, and then returned to the fray, and I found a very nice black miniskirt with ruffles and purple ribbons and straps, just at the right point for me on the romantic to industrial spectrum, and a new goth dress I am looking forward to finding occasions for, and jack found a bunch of frilly pirate shirts in black, dark red and shiny blue.
And we did in fact make it to the Beborn Beton concert in what is essentially a warehouse at Kohlrabizirkus. The space was full but not rammed, so we got the experience of being part of an absolutely huge crowd all jumping around to the same music. I found Beborn Beton slightly disappointing live; they did absolutely nothing wrong, but there was also no real spirit, it was just a perfectly polished performance, good setlist, everything performed exactly right, the lead singer interacting with and encouraging the audience just as you'd expect. But somehow if I go to a goth gig I expect something a bit more raw and less impeccable. I ended up spending much of the gig dancing in jack's arms, all the same, I was feeling kind of soppy by that point.
We finished the evening with a couple of drinks in the Morritzbastei on the way home, dipping in to some of the small gigs playing there but not finding anything that grabbed us (the live acts were too far towards the shouty clashing noise end of the spectrum for my mood at that point, and the DJ room was pleasant but a bit too bleepy to be danceable IMO). And we realized we were sort of hungry as we'd just been snacking on random stuff from food stalls all day, so we acquired a big hearty bowl of soup and a plate of gnocchi from the café there, rather in the style of Clowns, we thought.
Day 4: romantic goth
Monday's planned gig was Qntal, who do Mediaeval-inspired music with mostly goth instrumentation, and who are a favourite of mine. I considered wearing my new Dress but in the end went with the purple velvet New Look one I'd brought with me, which with my hair loose and a sash round my waist fit in with the pseudo-Mediaeval theme. We had a kind of lazy day before it was time to go out for the gig, we'd sort of run out of energy for serious touristing by then. So we looked round a small exhibition of 1000 years of Leipzig history, and wandered through the town centre doing more gothwatching and drinking more Wikingerblut and generally chilling.
We happened to catch a proper Mediaeval music group called Feuerdorn while we were passing through the Moritzbastei, and they were rather fun, ever so slightly camp with their bagpipes and reenactor gear, didn't take themselves too seriously but did play music that was actually worth listening too, not just generic ye olde musicke. And in keeping with the theme we visited the bigger Mediaeval fair at Heidnisches Dorf for a bit in the afternoon; it was a bit too crowded to really appreciate the little demos of historical crafts that you find at these sorts of events. Plus there was a stall selling barely deniable Nazi memorabilia pretending to be Mediaeval leatherwork that just "happened" to be covered in swastikas and lightning symbols and such, so we didn't hang around there for long.
And then Qntal, at the same theatre where we started out the festival with the Jordan Reyne gig. They really did make a good climax to our festival experience. I didn't know that much about them except that I like much of their music (not all of it, some of it is a bit kind of clichéd). They showed up on stage with drums (both traditional and modern) and an electric guitar and a violin and some recorders or similar pipes and a lute and a sitar and a mixing deck, right there on stage with a sound engineer as one of the band members, and a theremin. It's not that huge a group, there were five of them doubling up between different instruments, with most of the singing done by the two women. They got rounds of applause for their sound checks, just standing there and singing a few bars of Occitan courtly songs or playing a complex lute riff while they adjusted the mixer.
The actual concert was far from a disappointment, I didn't love every item in the set list but there were a huge variety, and the good numbers were really good. The lead singer kept up a very funny and complex patter between songs, entirely in German which I understood about a third of, and sometimes held up her hand a couple of bars into a new number and asked for tweaks to the sound equipment. And they were having lots of fun with the lighting and staging and basically it was a heck of performance, I'm extremely glad I did get to see them live.
Days 5 and 6: homeward
The return journey took only 14 hours and was rather simpler than the outward, express to Frankfurt, express to Brussels, then Eurostar to London via Lille. The connections worked well enough that I got home in time to drop in on cjwatson for an hour or so before bed. And Wednesday I was off work so had time to recover before my usual four hour trip back to Stoke. Mostly hanging out with ghoti and her kids, drinking tea and recounting our trip and generally catching up. We even managed to go out and replace my shoes, which were dying anyway but completely fell apart after several days of tramping round town and bouncing at gigs. I did what I've been meaning to do for ages, and shopped in the boys' section for black brogues which are masculine while fitting my tiny feet. Those seem to have worked fine for two hours on my feet marking presentations today.
Basically I really want to go back in time twenty years and tell my teenage self that she'll grow up to be the sort of person whose friends invite her to goth festivals, as a brief break from a grown-up life with a proper job. That she'll be able to wear the goth clothes she's just starting to pine after, and that people will think she looks good rather than ridiculous. And she'll come home to loved ones. I find it quite hard to believe that the past two decades have been so good to me, really.
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