I stumbled upon the Fusion (often written in cyrillic ФУЗИОН) for the first time in 2009 after many enthusiastic stories of the apparently magical place, and decided that I must join the pilgrimage. After my first joyful and overwhelming weekend at the grassy green, mind-blowingly decorated airfield, I went 7 times in a row. Year after year. And despite the noticeably enormous growth, it is still the only festival celebrating music and performance, for which there is no alternative. It will be perhaps forever unique. And forever lost. Has it been killed by its own success?
Private Videos put online like this one on YouTube pushed the promotion of the event to another level
The big players all mix there: Richie Hawtin, DJ Koze, Kollektiv Turmstrasse, Digitalism, Magda, DJ Phono, H.O.S.H. at one of the side-stages called Bachstelzen, and so on. But besides the headliners, there is another reason people love this event. M. Rux, musician and DJ from Berlin, knows that very well: "I've played several times at the Fusion Festival and seen some changes over the years. To play at the Fusion has always been something special and magical. The audience's highly interested in music and very mixed, too. There are only a few headliners, as the booking is still based on the true subculture and alternative music."
And this is exactly why I love it, too. It's not a handful of concerts squeezed into a week-end. It's the very alternative experience, the fact that on the Fusion ground in summer time, you will be part of a kind and loving community says the team itself on the website: “Far away from daily life, for four days in Mecklenburg a parallel society of a very special kind is formed: presenting music, theatre, performance and cinema up to installation, interaction and communication.” So does the origin of the difficulties lie in the hype surrounding certain artists? Do the masses who are coming for the main acts, bring down the spirit? It can't be as simple as that, so let's take a look at how the Fusion festival evolved into the magic place it is today.
Summary of an incredible evolution
Martin Eulenhaupt, together with colleagues, founded the Kultukosmos association and bought about 45 hectares of the airfield. He threw the first party, to which 800 people came. So the Fusion was born. The beginning, then, was a little gathering of people who were looking for an alternative way to party, who wanted to spend a couple of days per year just dancing, who loved music and developed the Motto Ferienkommunismus (that is holiday communism) – which already says a lot about their ideals.
But what does this really mean? Far away from police controls, corporations and etiquette, everyone could dress and be as they like, get in touch with whom they want and especially consume what they want. And no, I am not just talking about alcohol and vegetarian snacks here. But still, the main ideal was to respect the other festivalgoers as well as the surrounding nature. It’s all about the attitude, that everybody should greet each other in a friendly and kind way. Everyone could be member of this enchanting get-together far away from wars, aggression and money issues. That includes families and children, too, as there is a separate family camping area, connected by a little bridge to the rest of the compound.
And people loved the communal idea. The tickets were cheap, drinks and food could be brought in or bought onsite for low prices. The meals cooked and sold on the festival were strictly vegetarian, so another movement joined the party. Each summer more people from all over Germany and Europe swarmed to the little Müritz, conquering a region, which was by then mostly untouched by tourists. So the Kulturkosmos associates made friends with the people living in the tiny villages surrounding the festival ground, to be able to keep the festival going. They included and invited the neighbours and managed to integrate the event into the given structures of the region.
Nowadays, the original spirit hasn’t changed so much – only the number of people visiting. Between 60,000 to 70,000 people stream yearly to the festival. For 20 years this summer, more than 500 artists on 20 stages have performed during the long weekend in June. With no commercials anywhere, only arts and decoration, the festival has maintained its alternative and ‘hippie’ character, its anti-commercial stance, over the years. Until now, neither the organisers nor those who curate the festival want to make money with the event, explained Eulenhaupt to a German TV channel last year. There is even a documentary series about the Kulturkosmos, that deals mainly with the excessive party nights and the slight glorification of the Kulturkosmos' ideal of a "self-determined life of capitalist constraints and exploitation interests." So if the Fusion is such a success, what is the actual problem it's suffering from? To understand the change, we must delve much deeper into the Fusion's universe.
A wonderland called Fusion?
On the former Soviet military airfield close to the village Lärz and the small river Müritz, an area of about 100 hectares is found. It includes several grass-covered, former airplane hangars. And yes, the area offers numerous different possibilities. It would be the perfect spot to built a huge golf course or a shopping mall or a massive hotel complex. But luckily, the group of pioneers had an idea far better than any other. Right there on the Rechlin-Lärz Airfield in 1997, a techno and goa gathering took place for first time. The aim of founder Martin Eulenhaupt and his followers was to transform this special place from a military base into a unique cultural centre: "We want to create a vision of utopia for ourselves and others in the 'here and now' as well as making the benefits of the pilot project felt.” Generally, the association is not financed by public funds or grants of any kind. “This makes us independent", explains the association on their website. The relation to the ideals of the peace-movement is quite obvious.
This clip shows a forefather of what is known today as the Fusion Festival
In her book Der Kulturkosmos Müritz, the young author Johanna Ickert described and analysed the rebellious association Kulturkosmos e.V.: “The Kulturkosmos Müritz e.V. emerged mid-90s from a group of artists and cultural workers, for the most part from Hamburg. The group initially is called ‘U-Site’ (Underground location / place) and organised cultural events from 1993 on, mostly in remote areas. Trademarks of the jointly organised activities were its non-commercial character and the broader sense of the content orientation, that provided space for different genres of music, theatre and performance.” The workgroup itself is formulated their goals on their website as follows: "... competition, exclusion, isolation and commercialization are increasing. Solidarity, social action and the work for other reasons than financial motives are being more and more rejected, as well as artificial and cultural content, which can’t be put on the market. That includes subculture as well as ‘electronic music’ and its surroundings." That means: there were nearly no published line-ups (only during the first 5 years), no commercials and no media-partnerships.
Yet the surely utopian ideas of the organisers were repeatedly reaching reality in the last 15 years, so says M. Rux, too: "To realize a festival in such a huge dimension, without advertising, is already very unique. But it can provide the space for –or at least the illusion of– escaping commerciality for a couple of days." To keep up this unique experience, the association experimented, discussed and changed the concept of the festival continuously, and the creators were came closer and closer to the achievement of their ideas of an individual life in a community – at least for some days of the year, during the festival season.
“Irreplaceable in this project are, as well as the guests, the supporters and passionate musicians especially.”
The Festival has always been organised by an independent and open-minded community of dedicated festival lovers. Many of them are art and culture professionals, others come from entirely different fields. The ‘principle of unsalaried staff’ goes for the absolute majority of people involved, so the supporters do not work for money.
And the people visiting the festival work on self-made projects as well: in the camping area, in some years several visitors put on their own radio-channel-party, like it took place at Nuit Debout in Paris this spring. The party is actually a special sound system which works collectively. The music is transmitted by a short-range radio frequency. So everyone is invited to bring ghettoblasters, radios, clock radios, telephones and other equipment to build a sound system everyone can listen to, together with all the others.
ZOB (bus station): empty in the early morning, but first place to be seen when the masses arrive with the shuttle buses called 'Bassliner'
Rumours of a "sabbatical year"
Since the latest presale phase began last December, the rumours of a one-time pause – or maybe even closing – of the Fusion Festival, can be heard all around. People, who are, according to their own declaration, close to the management, state in online-forums, social networks and by word of mouth that the Kulturkosmos is considering a break for the Fusion Festival in 2017 – for unexplained reasons. 2016's edition, already sold out, is however shaping up nicely.
Shocking news, especially for fans who've been visiting the event for years and also a bad sign for any alternative project that is confronted with commercialism in the music business and culture industry. And commerce is usually related to public awareness. Also people, who do not share in the universal liberty seemingly on offer, can be attracted to buy tickets for this kind of event. "Because of the growing awareness level, it's clear that even more people are attracted, but they might not understand the spirit of tolerance, respect, openness, non-commerce and social consciousness. This has already lead to unpleasant scenes. So, to prevent the situation getting out of hand, we should hold back to raise further public awareness for the Fusion festival.", states Fog Puma, who has played and visited Fusion several times.
He's also sensing problems resulting from a certain Fusion-hype: "I don’t think it’s helping the cause to attract even more attention by writing articles about it. Quite the contrary. And it’s not that I want to that new people know about the unique experiences that can be had, but even a critical article contributes to the hype. So an article about negative impacts is part of the hype." Sorry mates.
Like a lot of Fusion fans, Fog Puma thinks that it's quite obvious that the hype is challenging, and that it's provoking a change of the spirit, if not actively destroying it. "And anyone who wants to participate in events like the Fusion, wouldn’t want to cause this kind of change, rather than keeping it alive. And it is evident that with social media, certain hypes and rumours spread really fast." But can we stop a hype? Are there no other festival-examples to follow? Sadly, other big events that provided an alternative to the mainstream, try to fight the hype-tsunami, too. Some are overcoming their problems, others devote to commerce.
"Anyone who wants to participate in events like the Fusion, wouldn’t want to cause this kind of change."
Other internationally recognized festivals like Portugal's Boom Festival are also struggling to avoid the formidable mainstream following after amazing photos published on the Internet and the general hype about the electronic music scene. But the pictured paradise does not come from a travel brochure. It can't be booked, because its atmosphere is brought by the visitors themselves.
Thus, on their website, the hosts of the Boom try to remind the festival goers to hold back: "As we want to experience Oneness, to transcend the conditioning of our habits, traditions, cultures, countries, religions, and to understand that each one of us is essentially the same (one heart, one brain, emotions), we kindly ask you not to bring any national flags. We are all human beings. We would also kindly ask you to avoid reminiscences of mainstream culture such as selfies or other self-centered emanations. Enjoy disconnecting and entering the trance."
This anti-nationalist and non-discriminatory demands are also the appreciated manners at the Fusion Festival. But kindly asking for something is often not enough. So the Boomers took action and limited the number if tickets for this year: "To limit the number to 33,333 has been a hard decision, as it means some Boomers can't make it to the festival – but we believe that it is quality that matters, not quantity."
The Burning Man festival in the United States is also a clear example for a unique, but also well propagated major event. Even an online business magazine, the Business Insider UK, is writing about it, and the writing itself is far from helpful: "Since it started in San Francisco in the 80s, Burning Man has gone from a countercultural afterthought to a mainstream phenomenon. The annual pilgrimage of those seeking an alternative living experience — for a week — has exploded in popularity among the tech elite."
And the event takes place in Nevada's desert, a spot which seems to be pretty difficult to reach for a mainstream culture which celebrates itself usually in the metropoles of the world, like New York or Paris. It seems that Burning Man, which was once the quintessential counterculture festival of the world, has fallen victim to its own devices just like Coachella and Bonnaroo before it. The sheer exclusivity and cultural significance of the Black Rock City experience has manufactured a large-scale event. But what can a festival do, not to 'sell out'? The answer might be simple: taking action - or a break.
"But the Spirit is still alive, and after all, I still like to be there."
Opening of the main stage Turmbühne in 2014, in the back: people are watching the scene from one of the ancient airplane hangars
I myself witnessed an unpleasant change of the spirit at the Fusion Festival. Other people, visiting the event already for a couple of years, were sensing a lack of consciousness and team spirit within the growing party mob. Some proclaiming that a lot of the "new" people just came to take drugs or because they had heard of the Festival headliners. "My heart is still beating (since the year 2000) for this festival, and like many others I have experienced a whole lot of changes of the Fusion during the last 16 years, and some were not so pleasant. But the Spirit is still alive, and after all, I still like to go.", reassures Fog Puma. So, at the point I stepped into their wonderful world, some were already fearing a wind of change blowing away the original idea of the Fusion.
Might the Fusion be suffocated by the mainstream?
The big question is: how can such an amazing and well-organised festival lose its spirit so abruptly? Why that might be the case for the Fusion Festival, is anyone’s guess. But what can be brought out, are some indicators:
In the summer of 2013 things seem to escalate on the festival area for the first time, due to a kind of ‘Fusion Festival hype’. This hype might have been caused, amongst other vague reasons, by the unintentional promotion of the event trough social media platforms on the Internet like Youtube or Facebook (which is already a catalyst for spreading information about former concealed event locations or non-touristic travel hideouts). And it has appallingly been kicked off by the overzealous visitors and fans itself: the Kulturkosmos was estimated that in this festival season more than 10.000 visitors entered the Fusion Festival ground without having bought a ticket. That would have been easily possible, as there was just a tiny fence and some voluntary helpers to retain the festival area.
Visitors left their waste behind. The area had to be cleaned thoroughly.
Garbage and wastewater overflow
After two days of sun and fun, the tide came in for a sea of rubbish, especially at one of the main stages, the Tanzwiese (that is the dancing meadow) which therefore had to be completely removed and was replaced by a surface of sand. It is now called Tanzwüste (the dancing desert), in memory of the ancient dance floor, which was destroyed that tremendous year. And the rest of the huge place suffered too.
The camping area was overcrowded, dirt and rubbish were lying around everywhere. To avoid that problem, the management usually has quite efficient tactics, but the established system couldn’t stand the run. The lack of environmental consciousness and of course, garbage sacks, resulted in the enormous problems of waste disposal. Nobody was prepared to provide material for an extra 10,000 people. But not only the waste problem was horrific this time back then: the protection of health and hygiene was not viable anymore. The toilet-situation was completely out of control, as the cleaning teams couldn’t keep up with the mess people were causing in the mobile toilets. Behind stages, trees and bushes puddles of excrement accumulated. It was gross.
"For years we have endeavoured to raise awareness about trash, and by trash of course we don’t just mean Nazis. We’ve known for some time that there are certain festivals (Boom, Burning Man) where the trash management functions superbly. At these events everyone takes responsibility for themselves and there is no time of day or night where trash starts to build up!“, states the Fusion-team, addressing the festival's visitors.
Despite this announcement in the Fusion festival's newsletter, new questions arose: Is a garbage deposit enough? Are the people that are conquering the Fusion still aware of the Fusions’ agenda? In any case: The festival organisers were forced to react.
What began as a joke on a blog, turned quickly into a rumour, just like the reports of the 'Fusion break', which led to this article, and became soon reality: a big fence was constructed around the terrain. Big floodlights were built. Relegation from the festival grounds in case of illegal entry was extremely enforced. Later, an expansion of entrance controls was brought in, too. The first time exclusion and control were a main issue to keep the Fusion alive. There was clearly no other choice but to invest in these issues.
"Internet Age and Fusion Festival are not a contradiction"
Therefore the price for a festival ticket increased and a re-organisation of the team managing the festival was established. M. Rux tell us, that "changes could've been seen some years ago already. Due to the huge run on the event and many additional guests, they had to deal with problems like people who would jump over the fence to get in. Since then the organisation is more strict, inside the team and beyond."
He continues: "We now have , for example, backstage passes with a time limit, they built fences and certain other gaps were closed – which I completely understand. If 10,000 people more than planned arrive, even the best planned infrastructure will break down at some point. Years ago, one could sense that already with the giant queues in front of almost all stands and toilets." At the same time the ticket sales system in general had to be rethought to ensure a just distribution: the common ticket sale (online and box-offices) had been transformed into a raffle and a following ticket bingo to clear the unsold stock.
But that worked only in parts, so the Fusion team adressed again to the visitors: “A “no ticket – no entry” policy, with two barriers, barbed wire and a big security team to back it up, seemed like the only option. We debated the issue over and over again and hardly anyone, including ourselves, liked the decision we took. Looking back, we can now say, despite all arguments to the contrary… it was the right choice.” By the way, tickets for the Fusion Festival 2016 have long been sold out. To get a ticket one has to participate at the registration period which is usually held online during two weeks in December.
M. Rux reflects that "Internet Age and Fusion Festival are not a contradiction. People will always feel the need to experience. In connection with the Fusion, there is just one negative effect I noticed: The updated ticket regulations and the new raffle procedure via the Internet hinder some long-time visitors from participating. Either because they have not applied early enough for tickets or because they don't understand entirely how the pre-order system works online. There is a generation change, which would of course inevitably happen. Maybe even without the Internet."
Still no escape from common event-management structures?
The discussion is open: Is the Fusion festival too well known to keep up its high standards and ideals? Was the nation-wide hype already too much? Or has it become too well known, even on an international level? One thing is certain: growth is always limited. People who do not share the spirit or respect for which the festival stands will always find a way to get access. And the résumé in the newsletter of last year's Fusion is not too bad, even if there were struggles:
The toilet and shower situation was more relaxed from 2014 onwards and all around the site the queues reduced so, once again, the organisers of the Fusion festival succeeded in regulating a complex system to supply fresh and clean water to the entire festival site. The area was not too overcrowded and everyone found enough space for dancing and chilling. Another noticeable thing is that the DRK (that is the red cross) troubleshooting squad, called Eclipse and the security (who is helping people suffering from drug abuse or who got somehow hurt, lost etc.), had much less to do than in previous years.
Walking sculpture: people can make things walk (and work again).
To sum up, the numerous up's and down's the management faced and solved already: The team knew that, if they didn’t solve the waste and overcrowding problem and stop the many people without tickets from breaking in, it might spell the end of the entire Kulturkosmos project. In the commercialised internet era and times of the zenith in consumer society, the greatest challenge is that the Fusion Festival continues to remain crisis-proof in the long-term future, with a Kulturkosmos safely guiding it through stormy times in the cultural industrie. And because they succeeded so often already, it's time to celebrate again this year:
20 years of Fusion Festival – what a reason to celebrate
No one could have imagined that out of the 'u.site Fusion-Festival 1997', with such a weird and wonderful crowd, one of the largest festivals in Germany would emerge. With everything that has gone on over the years, the organisers always tried to remain authentic and were keeping up their anti-capitalist principles. They will surely continue to enhance the alternative vision for this special festival. But to endure, the spirit needs to be shared by the people visiting, by the acts playing. And if the festival crowd, the management, the supporters and musicians succeed this year, we won’t have to fear the decease of this amazing event that has overcome so many obstacles already.