The Goths were an East-Germanic people divided into the Visigoths and the Booboogoths, who pretty much single-handedly served the Roman empire its own ass and lived happily ever after until they all died. They were a tribe with lots of swords and shields and redheads, and for a numbskull like me, there is very little visual distinction between them and let’s say, the Celtics, the Gaels, the Vikings, or any caricature my grade school history books depicted fighting Romans, bears, or each other.
There is, however, a hugely obvious difference between them and the modern-day goths, living in their parents’ basement. This is just one of the many elephants in the room concerning the annual Wave Gothic Treffen in Leipzig.
As a 16-year old, I had a brief gothic period where I started to lean towards the black “scene” and attended their parties with a friend. I noticed what a tight bunch they are, how everyone knew each other and stuck up for each other. Although I thought it was kinda cool, I never felt like I belonged and quickly outgrew the style. Regardless, I still would check their electro parties occasionally, simply because I loved the aggressive, no-nonsense music.
Little did I know, one of that tight group I had observed, would become my girlfriend years later, and I would be re-introduced to the parties, the people, and the lifestyle.
A major facet of that lifestyle is WGT. In short: Leipzig turns dark and every venue and club books just about every gothic DJ or band in Europe. This lures out people from the scene into the sunlight, and before you know it, you’ve got a city full of freaks, from the mundane (like me) to the extreme.
For the record, “goth” does not limit itself to death metal and its fans, even though they seem to front the scene’s reputation. In reality, the term by no means limits itself to that typical style, but you’ll also find pirate goths (read: Johnny Depp), viking goths, batcave goths, rockabilly goths, medieval goths (harnesses, no shit), pagan goths, cross dressers, renaissance goths, metal goths, I-dunno-what-the-fuck-I’m-doing goths, fetishists, punk goths, valid-excuse-to-look-like-a-slut goths, funeral goths, military goths, steampunk goths, anime goths (aka lolita goth), white goths, victorian goths, cybergoths, and any possible combination of 3 of the above.
I went dressed in all-black linen shirt and bowler hat. For me, that’s pretty fucking radical- for Leipzig, it counts as little more than “pajamas”. My girlfriend was a little more imaginative (not to mention equipped) with her outfit than me, somewhat upstaging me with her fancy dress. I’m an amateur when it comes to these things.
The rat race to impress, boggles the mind. I often wondered what effort must have gone into a single costume: The working hours to pay for it, the help from others strapping you in, and the time spent in front of the bathroom mirror for the finishing touches.
“Agra”, the largest venue, located next to the ginormous campsite, was a procession of the most impressive costumes I have ever seen. Photographers were lining up, with the goths striking a pose every two steps for the next lens. They seemed so used to it.
The WGT wristband opens lots of doors. We spent many a night in dungeons, tripping balls to seizure-inducing effects and ditto music. Scenes you’ll see in The Matrix: Reloaded or Blade, but think better acting and music, (slightly) less fighting and blood, and over-the-top freaks on acid doing what they were born to do. It is impressive, let me tell you.
Those clubs were spread out over the city, so free public transport was a welcome extra. Locals must have a field trip each year, watching trams full of goths on leashes zoom by.
As fascinating as this new view on the scene was, I couldn’t help feeling a little detached from it. You see, I like a little depth in things- when they look a certain way, I like a good reason behind it. And I don’t want to speak for everyone, but 90% of the people there lack that. The goth scene often seems a little hollow, especially when you start to notice that beyond their looks, most of them are just people like you and me, who complain about the new Facebook features, while ordering a Big Mac and typing away on their smartphones. They have no special interest in the occult, or any meaning behind the trinkets in their hair. Upside-down crosses because they look cool. Goggles, swords, tall boots, yes I’ll admit they look legit, but they don’t actually serve any purpose.
When I had a mohawk, I would often get the remark that I was trying a little hard to be different. While that might or might not have been the case, I couldn’t just look different when applying for a job- it was part of who I was, and showed my identity, convenient or not.
Goth culture seems something that is worn and removed at will. The two girls staying next door from us looked remarkably ordinary before donning their tiny top hats and corsets.
The general idea is that it’s “about being yourself”, but then how do so many of them within the same branch, turn out looking exactly alike?
But if not by content, how are all the people there bound to each other? What really defines “goth”, if the clothing, music and lifestyles are all so vastly different?
I talked it over with my girlfriend, and she mentioned a thing called “weltschmertz”. Roughly translated as “dissatisfaction with the world”, Wikipedia defines it as an understanding that the physical reality will never satisfy the needs of the mind.
I think that makes sense. The one thing motivating all these people to look up the extreme, must be the desire to escape the ordinary. Flee to a world where magic is real, or where the mind and body are bionic in nature, where gas masks are needed, slaves are owned, and everyone looks some degree of awesome.
Could that be the real depth behind the façade of all the effort to shock? To search a new definition for the things we take for granted? On the subjects of death, sex, morality, religion and a number of others, they seem to want to force a re-definition through provocation: All those symbols and trinkets they wear, raise an impression because they go directly against society’s ideas that got taken for granted over the years.
At least- this might be their attitude towards the outside world. On the inside, it’s just a competition on who looks the fucking coolest.