After carrying out an interview with André Janizewski, one of the organisers of Nation of Gondwana, I became intrigued by this festival and decided to go and see it for myself. What André said that had appealed to me was the size – a crowd of no more than 8,000 people – and that many of these people have been going to the festival ever since the 90’s, as it’s managed to retain its underground flair over the years. Sure enough, one of the things that stood out to me was the relaxed, old school vibe and the number of people who informed me that this was their umpteenth year at Nation of Gondwana because it’s “the best festival you’ll find in Germany”.
After arriving at the festival site and pitching our tents, my posse and I headed straight to See, a stage on a hill besides Lake Waldsee, where Valencia’s Upercent was playing the perfect warm-up set. It didn’t take long for us to get in to the zone; the crowd, music and art installations were all on point. I was particularly impressed by the creative use of plastic chairs, which made up the backdrop for the stage and hung, illuminated, between the trees. At around midnight, we decided to check out another stage, Birke, which was named after the trees beside it. The music in there was considerably more pumping, as local DJ Patrick Malessa was blasting out dirty Techno and the crowd were loving it, although I got the impression they were holding back somewhat – Saturday night is the big one at NoG, so I think many people were conscious of conserving their energy for the remainder of the weekend.
At Birke, we met a couple who told us about the “tiny club”, aptly named Schrank (cupboard), which could fit no more than thirty people. Like any good club, there was a sizeable queue outside, with a ‘one in, one out policy’ and we waited roughly 25 minutes, before being given the nod to enter. Small, sweaty and intense, Schrank was a unique experience and a lot of fun. We stayed there for about half an hour before deciding to return to See, where another local DJ, Sven von Thülen, was behind the decks. After a short, energy fuelled dance in front of a projector displaying psychedelic graphics in an area I dubbed the “Tripping Zone”, I decided the lake looked like a more appealing place to flail my limbs, so we kicked our shoes off and headed on in. To my surprise, the lake was really warm and I enjoyed splashing around in there and talking to experienced Nation goers, who had been coming back to the festival year after year. Eventually though, tiredness got the better of all of us, so we decided to call it a night and save ourselves for the following day.
Saturday morning began at Naked Lunch, where we’d had dinner the night before, a delightful food stand with equally delightful staff, who provided hungry ravers with pulled pork baps, quesadillas, “Raverbenedict” (like eggs benedict but better) and other tantalising savoury treats. With its cosy seating area, this became our regular mealtime spot and turned out to be a pretty good place for socialising too. It was there that we met a couple of guys who informed us the “official opening” would soon take place at See. I had no idea what to expect, but as we were sitting there on the hill, several middle-aged women casually walked up on to the stage and began waving to the audience. They introduced themselves as the Grünefelder Frauenchor (Grünefeld female choir) and went on to sing several feel-good songs, both in German and English, which had the crowd singing along and waving their hands in the air. One of the organisers even joined them at the end in singing the chorus to Hallelujah. Though it was quite bizarre seeing a choir perform at a festival, I thought it was a really lovely way of including the locals and making them part of the event.
Over on Wiese, the main stage, which had not yet opened the previous night, Beda was playing a mix of Dub Techno and Deep House. We danced for an hour or so but then our attention got drawn to the area right of the stage, where a group of firemen were hosing people down. I had seen photos of this and was hoping the firemen would be present at this year’s Nation, as it was damn hot! As soon as we spotted them, we ran over, kicked off our shoes, dropped all our possessions and began dancing under the water. It was incredible how this lifted us; I had been feeling a little groggy from lack of sleep, and the humidity wasn’t helping, but after ten minutes of being hosed down I was back on flying form, as were my friends. I also appreciated the fact that, once again, the festival organisers had involved people from the village of Grünefeld, who were clearly enjoying bringing all these people such happiness. They obviously have a great relationship with André and his partner.
As we knew it was going to be a big night, we decided to enjoy some downtime in the forest, where we dragged a groundsheet and our sleeping bags and dozed peacefully for a couple of hours beneath the beautiful pine trees. Then we headed back to our tents, donned our matching black and gold outfits, complete with glowsticks and neon blue and green water pistols, and made our way back to Wiese. Anja Zaube, another popular Berlin-based DJ, was treating the crowd to a deep, dark Techno set, which we raved to for a bit but I was conscious of getting over to See to catch the start of Radio Slave.
As darkness fell, different lights began to appear and the stages became a picture of colour, with pretty, decorated umbrellas twinkling and bobbing up and down amongst the merry ravers. Radio Slave played a fun, diverse set, featuring Butch’s remix of Basement Jaxx’ Good Luck, 90s banger, Needin’ You by David Morales and Deep Dimension’s current dancefloor destroyer So 1992. A few minutes in, we met a very likeable German guy, who repeatedly told us how much he enjoyed our energy and intensity and strongly suggested we head back to Wiese for Joel Mull as soon as Radio Slave’s set was over. We did as he said and, although we only caught the last forty minutes, it was definitely worthwhile, as those forty minutes were probably my musical highlight of the weekend. We rocked up around the time he dropped one of my favourite old school tracks, Age of Love by Jam & Spoon, then it was nothing but raw, pumping Techno after that. The lasers on that stage also completely blew my mind and, combined with the music, sent my excitement and energy levels into overdrive. After Joel’s set, we stayed to see the mighty Daniel Avery play until around 2pm, by which time we were in dire need of a short break.
We took a leisurely stroll around the festival site, during which we encountered a cosy clothes printing store with a tea bar, where a few people were swaying to mellower sounds. We stayed there for a bit to chill and watch the world go by, but knew we’d probably doze off if we spent too much time there, so once again we made our way to See to dance to 80s grooves, courtesy of Gerd Janson, up at our favourite spot on that hill. At that time, there were even more lights and some seriously mad, trippy visuals over the lake, which try as I might, I could not get my head around (and I was stone cold sober). We finally decided to call it a day soon after that, and the three of us returned to our tents feeling ultra satisfied.
Sunday morning began with a hearty brunch, followed by a much-desired hosing down by the legendary Feuerwehrmann, which woke us up nicely. We continued to dance in the water to the sounds coming from Wiese, played by iconic German DJ Monika Kruse, who, like many others, claims that Nation of Gondwana is her favourite festival. Her set was the perfect start to the day, everyone around us appeared to be in a good mood and it was clear to see how much Monika enjoyed being there; she didn’t once stop smiling! More exploring led us to a beach area on the other side of the lake, where people were napping or just taking it easy, which we walked along before venturing into the forest. (Somehow we got lost in the forest and ended up having to climb over the fence to get back on to the festival site, but that’s another story.) The only other artist we saw that day was Sven Dohse, who I had high expectations for, as André had described him as “a local hero”, who’s been coming back to the festival for over twenty years. As André said, Sven has his own special style, which makes him stand out from the other DJs, and he certainly knows how to please the crowd. It was a packed dancefloor and each and every person was well and truly going for it. A highlight of this set had to be when two people dressed as Sea Rescue Captains made their way through the crowd with stepladders, which they then stood up on and began pouring glasses of champagne for everyone. They were thoroughly entertaining, and had a great energy, adding a nice touch to the closing performance. Eventually, it was time to leave beautiful Waldsee and return to normality in the city, so we begrudgingly packed our things and made our way back.
Overall, my first time at Nation of Gondwana was a very positive one, in fact the festival far exceeded my expectations. I loved its authenticity, its retro feel, the chilled yet wonderfully weird crowd it drew in, and the location. Then of course, there was the music! Everything from House and Techno, to Trance, Disco, and New Wave could be heard over the course of the weekend, making it all the more diverse and interesting. The most special part, however, was the loyalty of these festivalgoers, who have been coming for so many years, as well as the loyalty of the festival organisers to Nation’s fans and the people of Grünefeld. That’s pure love and dedication right there.
Bring on NoG 2019!
Written by: Milly Day