The Rambling American: Fusion and Exclusion

Only in Germany would you find the Fusion Festival, a giant electronic music concert that’s motivated by political awareness. But Locke McKenzie discovers that festival-goers are less driven by ideals and more by an urge to party.

While walking around a former Russian airbase, the Fusion Festival seems like many other festivals: colorful lights, art installations, jungle gyms, stumbling-drunk people, and over-filled Porta Johns. What else would one expect from the most popular electronic music festival in Northern Germany, and arguably Northern Europe?

While the music and the party are undeniably present, the Fusion has more behind it than music and money-making. As the event-planning group Kultur Kosmos states on their website, the Fusion Festival is a politically inspired celebration, meant to promote “the current discussion of racism and violence associated with the political right (especially in Eastern Germany).”

Photo by Thomas Charbit

Courtesy of Thomas Charbit.

In some ways, this mission is clear the moment one drives up to the premises. German flags with the bottom gold portion torn off — a symbol of the political left — hang from poles across the festival grounds. A non-profit organization based in Eastern Germany, Kultur Kosmos’s main goal is to put on events for the youth of the former Soviet sector. While neo-Nazism is still a problem all over Germany, its stronghold is unquestionably in the East.

In contrast to the Marshall Plan-fueled success of Western Germany, the East has been suffering under one plague or another since the beginning of the first World War. First it was Fascism, then Communism, and then the struggle to survive under the unforgiving hammer of capitalism. When the wall fell, people fled to the West, leaving ghost towns in their wake. Cheap immigrant workers stole jobs from those under-qualified for some modern work, and the East German currency suffered hyperinflation to the point where people were buying goods with wheelbarrows full of money.

Under these weak circumstances, the neo-Nazi parties, both in the East and the West, found strength in the Neue Bundesländer (New-German States), the politically correct name for the East German states. According the Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, there are approximately 28 neo-Nazi hate crimes committed each day in the East.

Although these hate crimes — and any overt reference to Nazism, like swastikas in plain sight or the performance of the Sieg Heil — are punishable under German law, this subculture still exists in small underground pockets, especially in small villages in the East. Earlier this year, a camp was disbanded for being a neo-Nazi propaganda center. Children were sent during the day and taught old Fascist songs and led through programs discussing the strengths of the Arian race.

That is why Kultur Kosmos has chosen to base their activities here in the rural East rather than in Berlin or Hamburg, where political activism is already well received.

Photo by Thomas Charbit

Courtesy of Thomas Charbit.

“By meeting new people and having new experiences in an international atmosphere of respect and tolerance, along with the clear exclusion of Nazis [the Fusion Festival] creates a place where radical ideas of the political right are called into question.”

Ultimately the goal is to expose the youth of these small East German villages to a more positive subculture. If they are able to enjoy themselves at a festival where the ideals they grew up with are not tolerated, perhaps they will begin to reform their thinking. One internalizes ideas best through interaction, not preaching. While Kultur Kosmos has many smaller events and programs, the Fusion is seen as the culmination of theory and praxis.

But whether the Fusion Festival actually accomplishes these goals is something I am a bit more skeptical of. For the most part, I am a habitual cynic, and it’s easy for me to see this event as little more than an excuse for the political left to have another party.

I see this often in Hamburg. Punks, anarchists, and antifascists are very active. Every weekend, “solidarity parties” parade under the guise of spreading political awareness. One week, they had a solidarity party to protest the imprisonment of a member of the Rote Armee Fraktion. Another week they threw one to raise awareness of the education strike in Hamburg.

I have attended some of the solidarity parties myself and am not surprised to report that I have noticed very little political activity at all. In fact, I question whether I have ever heard a conversation at one of these parties about the “action” in question. Usually, it’s just a crowd of Germans dressed in black, drinking cheap vodka, and grooving to the DJ on the dance floor.

Even more importantly, these solidarity parties are often difficult to attend if you’re not a member of the already established antifascist community. As an outsider, I often found it hard to converse with any of the people active in the scene. They are just as closed a clique — if not more so — than many other groups.

Photo by Thomas Charbit

Courtesy of Thomas Charbit.

What then are these solidarity parties actually accomplishing other than allowing this private little group to party together? And why am I now praising the Fusion Festival for its political accomplishments?

The Fusion has now been around for thirteen years, and at its inception, I’m sure it was exactly like many of these solidarity parties: a closed event for those already a part of the political left. The first year experienced an attendance of less than 10,000. This year’s attendance, however, was rumored to be somewhere between 70,000 and 85,000 people.

We were approached by three different, excited people as we were packing up the car to go to the festival.

One seemed like a typical Fusion-goer — black cap, black sweatshirt — but the other two were drastically less typecast. One was in ordinary work clothes. The other was an innocent looking waitress at the coffee shop across the street who had only attended the year before for her first time.

“You guys are going over today? I’m so excited, we’re leaving tomorrow morning. Is this your first time? It’s so great! You’ll love it.”

Each year, the festival grows. This year it grew by between 20,000 and 30,000 people. This also means that each year it diversifies. It brings in people together from all sorts of political backgrounds, yet through open political discussion, posters promoting the eradication of Nazism, and a strong leftist leaning contingent, it still stays true to its roots.

Comically, one still hears a great deal of bitching from the Fusion veterans. They say that the festival has gotten too big. Too many people know about it now. There are too many Spießer (German word for an uptight person) here now.

But isn’t that exactly what the point should be? Shouldn’t that be the success of this festival? It is forever a problem within the scene, and one that annoys me to no end. What makes me happy, however, is that those are the people that probably don’t belong there in the first place.

Locke McKenzie runs a language company in Munich, Germany. When not expounding on the finer points of communication, he tends to drink and write about it at Reinheitsgebot-Renewed.