When was the last time the world’s had a proper Woodstock Festival? Was it the stage-burning disaster of 1999? NOPE – it was LAST WEEKEND – far, far away from the States!
Little-known fact: The peace, love, rock-n-roll, and smelly hippies have lived on here in Poland for 21 years!**
The annual 3-day festival is absolutely free and takes place near a small village by the German border, Kostrzyn nad Odra.
Last year, over 750,000 festival-goers camped out all over the grounds – officially the largest open-air festival in Europe! The music lineup includes mostly Polish hard-rock bands and a few well-known nostalgic acts: last year The Prodigy headlined, and this year I sang along to “Wasn’t Me” with Shaggy and threw a few punches to Flogging Molly! (Not quite Hendrix-status, but still.)
Of course this is a festival for music fans, but the highlight is undoubtedly the atmosphere. Imagine nearly a million dirt-caked Polish people drinking, smoking, dancing, making drum circles, amateur-tattooing, yoga-ing, constructing tree forts, body-painting, mud-wrestling, laughing, cursing… This place was faaaar out man!
In spite of the mounds of trash and broken beer bottles, reeking toi-tois (or “port-o-potties”), swirling dust, smoke, stench, and general debauchery – it was actually a surprisingly family-friendly environment. Everybody’s welcome, from suburban parents to the homeless guy with his pants half-down. Truly a celebration of peaceful coexistence! (Well, aside from the hourly ambulance sirens and a few broken noses I witnessed.)
The party begins on the train ride to this remote village. Hundreds of backpackers are crammed in the compartments like sardines, hollering and cracking open beers. I was sandwiched between 3 German guys recapping their survival plan for the festival: Buy WATER… Beer… hm, that’s it. By the time I arrived I already needed to shower about 7 times, but instead I opted to embrace my inner flower child all weekend… “When in Rome”, eh?
A ‘shower’ is possible, though, if you want to fight the swarms of half-naked people crowding around some spigots shooting water from the ground. Which usually prompted some more mud-wrestling – a signature of this festival.
It was a miracle I found my friend Basia among the thousands, and I followed her like a lost duckling to her friend’s camping area. I tried to orient myself in the sea of tents by counting rows of toi-tois. (I got lost in pitch-black darkness about 3 different occasions, after which Basia somehow appeared out of nowhere to my rescue.) Sat down with her crew, passed around some vodka, sang a few tunes because obviously somebody brought a guitar, and felt a bit like the novel Token American.
Never a dull moment here: Every ten minutes a group would break out in a raucous chorus of “Stoooo lat! Stoooo lat! Niech zyje zyje nam….!” (the Polish happy-birthday shanty), swinging $1 beers and waving their proud Polish flags (or some peace-sign posters or whatever).
During one concert, a guy in our group was sporting a unicorn costume, which apparently inspired his friend to scoop him up and pass him over the crowd like a beach ball – never to be seen again. (‘Til morning.)
Anyway, if you’re ever near Poland or Europe for that matter in the beginning of August, you cannot miss this festival. The village is about 6 hours from Warsaw and just a 1.5 hour train ride from Berlin! Speaking of trains…
Post-Festival Train Fiasco:
Since Kostrzyn nad Odra is so close to Berlin, I decided to delay my long arduous return to Warsaw and visit this popular city for the first time. Dragged myself out of my sleeping bag and caught the 11 am train to Berlin, once again jam-packed with stinky people (much stinkier this time around). I’d gutted through about an hour of hangover-induced nausea before the train suddenly stopped.
At first I was a little too bleary-eyed to notice, but after a half hour the heat got so unbearable that people started climbing outside for a smoke. Not a single announcement from the conductor. Chatted with some German students (who’d been hanging out in my armpit most of the journey); we were all equally confused.
By the time an hour passed, everybody was grabbing their bags and setting off on their own. Eventually the staff let us know we were stuck and they couldn’t send any alternative transportation for us.
So I’d guess around 200 smelly hippies were left stranded in the middle of nowhere.
Why didn’t I demand a refund? Well, truthfully most of the passengers – myself included – just kind of piled onboard without a ticket, knowing full well no one would dare climb over all these stinky people to check tickets. I suppose we got what we deserved! (In fact we probably should’ve thanked them for as far as we got.)
The nearest train station was about a 5km walk, which wouldn’t have been so bad without all the baggage. Must’ve been quite a sight for the locals: hordes of disheveled backpackers lugging camping gear through this little German village, as if we’d wandered off the Camino de Santiago. Loud German drinking songs kept our spirits up as we trudged along. (Worst-case scenario, we’d set up camp in someone’s goat farm.)
Ages later, we made it to this tiny stop, without a clue when the next train would arrive. (At this point we were 20 km from Berlin.) We waited around another hour and a half, losing heart – when finally a train appeared!
We leapt to our feet, cheering and waving our arms. The train slowed to a stop and opened its doors, but it was completely brimming with people. As we tried to squeeze inside, the conductor peeked out the window, shook his head – and closed the doors again! The very last train had taken off without us.
Shizen. We would have to either camp here or hitchhike; I knew it would be difficult for such a large group of us to flag down a car. We resolved to spread out a bit, in groups of three or so.
Another hour had passed when finally a few kind ladies pulled over to our rescue. (Not sure if the other groups ended up with a ride!) We were dropped off at the next nearest station, just in the outskirts of Berlin. My new friends were heading to Leipzig so I bid them farewell and hopped the next train!
At long last I rolled up to my hostel, a tired smelly mess after these 6 hours of adventures. The journey may have been a little longer and rockier than I’d gambled on, but I’m happy to get a story out of it!