Kostrzyn-upon-Odra River, Poland
By Tom Peter
It was a sweltering hot day and already late in the afternoon when I reached the small Polish border town of Kostrzyn-nad-Odra, home to the Woodstock Station rock festival. As I made my way along a forest road towards a military base on its outskirts, I passed scores of bare-chested men who lay dotted around in the shade, having clearly succumbed to a mixture of heat and hard liqueur. I approached the throbbing roar of guitars beyond the forest with some apprehension, believing I was in for a night of testosterone-induced aggression. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
When I stepped out into the clearing I found myself at the edge of a mud mosh pit the size of a tennis court, with a few dozen boys and girls in swim suits going absolutely bonkers to the sound of a Polish punk band. Beyond it there was the main stage towering over a billowing cloud of dust thrown up by thousands of dancing metal-heads who were going equally off the rails.
Those in front of me chased one another through the knee-deep murky water, tipping each other over (girls were the preferred targets), and rolling around in the sludge in what looked like Mad Max fighting scenes. Every so often groups would be overcome by a communal fit of exercise mania and organize themselves in circles to do push-ups or crawl, military style, across the pit.
All right, I thought. This is not a moment to be a distant observer. I put one of my two cameras into my watertight rucksack (which I carried in anticipation of a summer thunderstorm) and stepped right in, braced with my wide-angle lens. The challenge was to keep the thing dry, which I managed more or less by holding it high up in the air. Only when I saw a possible picture did I dive into the mess, fire a few shots and lift it up again. A few people came up to me, telling me I was crazy. “Well, that’s a question of definition,” I replied.
Ten minutes later I was drenched and it was time to explore the rest of the festival ground. The level of craziness didn’t tail off, but the overall mood was very peaceful and surprisingly photographer friendly. No offence to my compatriots, but at German festivals people have the tendency to become overly pushy, if not aggressive, when alcohol and fun take their minds to ecstatic heights. But here my camera elicited only smiles and embraces.