The Stormy Hamburg (Part 2 of 2)

Hamburg made an impression of “the nautical Berlin”. At least in terms of culture and liberalism it gives Berlin run for its money thanks to the districts of St. Pauli, Sternschanze and Reeperbahn. There are punk bars and hipsters cafes. Techno clubs (or rather huts) and squatted buildings full of lo-fi spontaneous art. There is a red light district behind iron gates, after which woman visitors are banned from entering. If that was not enough, a massive ugly-grey nazi-era bunker sits right in the centre of the city. Plans have been devised to demolish it, but destroying German quality 2 meters thick walls is not an easy task. So for the time being it hosts techno and punk nights. Very fitting indeed.

The city centre is quite generic with its pretty, but standard Central European architecture. Nothing to write home about. On the other hand, Speicherstadt is absolutely amazing with its tall red brick buildings, canals and the beginning of the 20th century industrial look. In terms of the architecture it is one of the most impressive areas I have ever seen and most certainly the most attractive warehouse area in the world. On a slightly different note, just outside of the city to the west lies Blankenese, a pretty village for posh people, which makes a pleasant half-day trip. Expensive houses, hilly narrow roads and a water-front make it all very Mediterranean. Germany does not cease to amaze, Hamburg in particular.

I am not a big fan of visiting museums, just because they are big and famous, but Hamburg has something entirely different to offer, namely an Airbus factory. I wanted to visit it, but unfortunately my timing was off for English guided tours. I went there to take a look at this massive facility. I tried acting like in the know and marching through open gates, but was politely stopped by a guard and guided to the reception. Upon explaining my cause at the reception, the answer was “this is not possible”. Said in the cold tone that instantly kills all the hope inside. The factory left unseen. Well, Hamburg is definitely worth visiting again, the factory or not. Hopefully next time I will have better luck with Fish Market and Airbus.

The Stormy Hamburg (Part 1 of 2)

Estimating travel times is hard. I started a journey to Hamburg just outside of Lübeck, some 50km to the destination or about two and half hours of riding. The plan was to arrive early to catch the legendary Sunday fish market. I woke up at 5:30am and was on the road half an hour later. Fifteen minutes into the ride it started raining and the rain continued until the evening. In fact the weather was stormy during almost the entire stay in Hamburg. Continuous rains did not spoil my impression of Hamburg, but on contrary they complimented the character of the city. Anyway, I arrived to Hamburg soaking wet and muddy around noon just in time to see flocks of trucks leaving the market square… Two and hours turned somehow into almost six hours. If that was not enough, my phone experienced a temporary water death. Fortunately I had a place to stay thanks to Helge and Ina. Helge was my roommate at vipassana for ten days, most of which we spent not communicating with each other. It almost felt like being roommates in Finland. Well this time we had plenty of communication and I benefitted from the knowledge of the locals. Thank you, Helge and Ina.

I did not know anything about Hamburg in advance, apart from the fact that The Beatles had started their career there. The biggest feat of Hamburg is of course its harbour, which is the second biggest in Europe after Rotterdam. It occupies the other bank of Elbe, making a neat split between industry and living. Unlike in Göteburg, where the harbour looks sort of out of place in the heart of the city, the harbour of Hamburg fits nicely in the city landscape. As well as horns of passing by ships compliment the soundscape of the city. The harbour is a subject of pride among Hamburg inhabitants, as it has historically been the main source of wealth of the city. There is even an annual celebration dedicated to the harbour. What other city can boast something like that? The harbour creates an illusion as if there was an open sea just behind the harbour. All the channels and rivers make the impression complete that Hamburg is a sea-side city. When I shared my thoughts with Ina, the answer was that there is indeed nothing on of the other side of Elbe. I dedicated one day to exploration of the harbour and as it turned out there is well nothing much to see. Heavy industry, even heavier fog and flocks of trucks, not much in terms of sightseeing. The harbour looks much more appealing from the other side of Elbe.

There is a municipal river bus cruising Elbe. I experienced a cultural shock, when I realised that there was a bar on the municipal river bus. Completed with tables and chairs too. All for the price of a bus ticket (drinks are not included). Suomenlinna ferry has got a long way to go. Maybe in the year of 2107. One can only hope…

24 hours of Fusion (Part 2 of 2)

The title of the post is a lie. I stayed over for another 24 hours till Tuesday morning to see what Fusion after-hours are. Most of the friends and acquaintances had left earlier, the festival area looked deserted and on top of that it started raining. I was sitting in the empty camp in a grumpy mood contemplating what the hell I was doing there. But then I had a realisation that it was way better to wait for the rain to stop at the festival with people and music than all alone in the middle of nowhere. How different things can look in another light. I met more people on Monday than during all the previous Fusions combined. The festival atmosphere is not the best setting for having a profound conversation, but the after hours were different. It seemed people were more down to earth and had no rush to see the festival programme. Food was shared with strangers (including smuggled bratwurst!) and stories were told. Highlights are anarchy of Berlin’s nightlife in early 90s and incostistencies of German traffic lights. Long story short, traffic lights in Germany do not make any sense. This is a topic for another post, though.

Monday did not have those “a day after, a Monday morning” qualities (but Tuesday had!). While most of the stages closed, Bachstalzen kept on deliveribg a mixture of deep house, slow techno, lo-fi, 80s hits and everything in between. Something that works really well both for dancing or as a conversation background. A full-on party nevermind the slow bpm with the packed dance floor and people hanging out in the trees jungle style A club for cool boys and girls, just like Guy’s Bar in Koh Phangan with sand and fancy dresses making the impression complete. As shocking as it sounds at some point of the night the bar ran out of beer (we are talking about Germany here). Mate was mixed with vodka and the party continued… As the official programme was approaching its end, entertainment was put into the hands of fellow partygoers. After music ended at Bachstalzen, sound production got rather lo-tech with people drumming on anything remotely generating sound and producing acid sounds by scratching air balloons. There was a “the rave is on” van cruising over the camping area and blasting drum & bass. It made brief stops inviting people to join this mobile mini-rave. Then there was a disco bus equipped with a decent sound system/lights and a mad party inside. I have been to many parties in my life, but never to a bus party. Fusion surprised once again.

Tuesday was a true day after. Music stopped, people were tired, food was difficult to come by. A quick cold shower (my first one ever in Fusion!), musli with a banana and milk for breakfast and I was on the road again. My bike gear raised questions from several people. One guy was so impressed by my story, so despite my protests he gave me five euros telling me “to buy something nice as long as it is not meat”. Funnily enough on my way from Fusion, I stumbled across a restaurant serving “after Fusion freakadellen”. I ordered frikadellen with potato salad and an orange juice, which cost exactly five euros. Remembering the condition of the gift, I paid with my own money. Universe balance was not upset. Bad karma avoided. Fusion ended.

24 hours of Fusion (Part 1 of 2)

The road to Fusion was hard: three storms, one rain jacket forgotten in Hamburg, two flat tyres, plus an old puncture in the spare tyre. Preparations for the journey could have been indeed better. I arrived on Sunday 8am, two hours late from the schedule due a huge storm in the wee hours of the morning. Sparkling wine for breakfast and I was ready for festivities. This year I had only one day worth of Fusion, so the time was to be used wisely. An important lesson was made this time: 24 hours are not enough to experience something as massive as Fusion. I kept hearing about amazing things discovered at the festival, but was never in a right place at a right time to catch them. On the other hand this is a part of the Fusion experience – missing something magnificent and hoping to catch it the next year.

What could be said about Fusion this year that was not said last time? It is always the same each year, but totally fucking different. It is like Christmas – no revelations, same as the last year, but nonetheless you cannot wait to experience it. A theme park for grown-ups, a playground for all ages. Walking around, exploring, getting lost, dancing, seeing absurd things, enjoying veggie food, watching theatre and cabaret, having strange conversations and experiencing just plain weirdness. How about a remote controlled real-looking robotic homeless bum or a mobile bicycle piano (completed with a woman lying on top of it)? Or a giant human powered wheel, witch set in motion an animation of a rowing skeleton? In a true Fusion fashion 99% of the line-up did not ring a bell. I was glad to catch Afrika Hi-Tech, but either they had problems with PA (the sound check took way too much time) or their music is too avant-garde for me, but the end result did not work for me. I will give them another try at Flow Festival next month, though.

Anyway what is the point in talking about Fusion? It is to be experienced, not to be heard or read about. As a Fusion newbie realized that it was actually AMAZING and not just something people pretend to be fun. Or as a new acquaintance from the festival put it: the first rule of Fusion is you don’t talk about Fusion. Just like Fightclub, minus the violence.


Imagine a mix between Alice in Wonderland, Mad Max, a gypsy camp, The Flaming Lips concert, Christmas and an acid trip. This is Fusion in a nutshell. An European take on Burning Man. Five days of non-stop festivities set in an ex-Red Army military airfield. An unstoppable express train that passes by at a blazing speed leaving no trail after it is gone, making you think whether what you saw was a collective dream. The legacy of Soviets is seen in huge military hangars now hosting various stages and a slight touch of the communism spirit. The festival is non-profit, has no sponsors, no promotion is made and cyrillic and Soviet era inspired art is used in the festival propaganda. Despite the lack of promotion, the festival reached its maximum capacity of around 60000 visitors in 2009 and a cap on tickets was introduced. Nowadays tickets are usually sold out in the matter of few days.

Fusion is an example of how a festival should be organized. There are no security checks, no silly rules and regulations nor any authority at the festival. There is nobody to check your bags or ID or to waive their authority in your face. The closest to security you have are Fusionmobiles – pimped up cars Mad Max style cruising around and ensuring that people are having fun. Organizers do not treat people like potential criminals who are there to cause troubles, but like responsible adults. I might add that this strategy works. I have not seen any violence, misconduct or any organizational problems. The whole thing just flows smoothly. Fusion is a festival that is made for people. For example, alcohol and food are sold at the festival area, but nonetheless you are allowed to bring your own, as much as you want. Furthermore, there is a free shuttle to a nearby village to refill your supplies.

Fusion is a festival in the proper sense of the word. It is not a music event with a handful of big name artists. It is not your average party from 9 to 5 in a closely guarded environment. Fusion is about non-stop celebration for five days in a row. There are no dead periods in the festival program, there is always something going on. In fact there is so much going that it feels like five days are not enough and it would take a month to explore just the festival area. The abundance of things to see, hear and experience makes you want come year after year. And every year you discover something new. The lack of big names is in fact a blessing. At least this way you do not have to worry about a rigid schedule and missing out your favorites. Out of the whole festival program I was familiar with at most ten names and had no personal “must-see” artists. I wanted to see Akufen and Ame. Missed both. Saw Beardyman, Awesome Tapes From Africa and Rico Loop instead. No regrets on this part. As a wise man once said, eat when you are hungry, sleep when you are tired and party otherwise. Fusion operates in a free flow mode, just go somewhere and find something interesting and bizarre. For example, I discovered Rock ‘n’ Wrestling show completely by surprise. It was … well.. rock and wrestling. Charles Bronson look-a-like fought villains (including a giant robot) on the stage for the love of a woman. Once the justice prevailed, he kissed the woman and proceeded to play rock, while assistants carried “dead bodies” off the stage. Bizarre. And lovely.

Fusion comprises of more than 20 stages representing all forms of entertainment under the sun. There is a cinema. There is a theater. There is a circus. There is a cabaret (at the end of the world too). There is music to each and every taste. There are all sorts of art installations, shows, workshops and performances. There are many things to blow your mind. One time we walked through a disco ball forest and found a guy there playing on a laser harp. Just like that. It is a massive attack on all sense organs, non-stop for five days and nights. Tons of lights, amazing decorations and fairy tale like constructions. There are a hobbit library, a disco ball forest, abandoned pirate ships and gigantic spider webs. It is Hobbiton, Rivendale, Pirates Of Caribbean and Neverland. All combined on a Soviet army base. It all is very beautiful and very impermanent. The festival area is deconstructed and built again each each, so every year offers something new. Night-time is very special with all the magical lights. Makes you wish that the night would be a little bit longer to fully appreciate all the magic around you. The highlight of this year for me decoration wise was a gigantic 2D tree, which really looked like it was flat thanks to a crafty video projection.

Fusion does not make any sense. It all is about survival in an absurd environment. Last year it was extremely hot during the day and freezing cold in the night. Everybody partied in the night and attempted to sleep in overheated tents in the daytime. Painful. Dust everywhere too. This year was marked with prolonged rains and mud-baths. It started raining on the Friday evening and pretty much never stopped until the festival end. By Saturday night the whole area turned into one massive mud-bath, which made me regret that I had not rubber boots with me. On the other hand, the rain resulted in a lot of sleeping and eating on my part. Almost like the time at a summer cottage with lots of food, lots of sleep and occasional partying. In fact I ended up sleeping more than I normally do at home. Fusion can be truly weird.

It was beautiful. It was bizarre. It ended too early. Until next year then.