“Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle.”
2012, the year two friends and I turned 21. We took the new age as an invitation to do a road trip through the US. We had been going to all kind of festivals in and around Berlin (Germany) for years. We couldn't resist checking out this Burning Man Festival, that we have heard so much about.
Our first stop of our trip was San Francisco with days before the Burn would start. Armed with a few checklists of clothes and supplies the internet recommends first time Burners to get, we ran in and out of the city. We got some "desert shoes" at Market Street, tried to find "desert googles" somewhere in Oakland, and all the sudden stranded on Haight Street. We were baffled by a sudden and total change of vibe, only to discover a big white rabbit on a purple wooden wall. It was already getting late. We entered.
Inside we were greeted by an older Hippie completely dressed in Victorian clothes with a small pocket watch hanging to his side. While browsing all his store, we tried on top hats, coats or some steampunk googles. The storeowner told us all about the old days on the playa, when the Burn was still being celebrated at Baker Beach in San Francisco and how the music scene was evolving from then to now. We became friends and swore that we will hang out on this year's festival. He even invited us to join him and his friends at their camp, which we gladly accepted.
A few days later we arrived on the Playa. Frankly, we were overwhelmed with what we saw. It was like a door to another world, that we jumped through. The horizon was covered in colors by dozens of camps and people in all kind of fun outfits. Everybody grinned and seemed like they were home. We wanted to be part of this. We tried to find our new friend's camp to put our things down and go explore. Of course, we couldn't. We were lost in this Wonderland. We decided to erect our own little tent in some random spot.
“It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”
We had hit the Playa for the first time, only to be greeted by two naked guys passing us with their bikes yelling: "Oh, the joy of Mushrooms". Both looked at us with a big grin spanning from one ear to the other and a bit of madness in their eyes. Even after they had disappeared, the grin seemed to stay floating in the air. We took a deep breath trying to absorb the magic of this wonderful place. It was impossible at this point. It appeared to us, that we had never gasped the meaning of the word "overwhelmed" until this very moment. Around us were people running around in all kind of outfits (or none whatsoever), speaking and yelling all kind of what we thought were mad things. We tried to interact with them, to speak their language. But we couldn’t. It was all too foreign for us. Despite being welcomed with a cozy hug and warm words by all those magical people, it took us a while to integrate ourselves and to understand what made them so unique. We walked around, visited workshops and talks, danced our asses off. It was fun, yet, it seemed like we were still foreign bodies in this community.
It was Wednesday's white party at the Opulent Temple. We hadn't slept much in the last days, either because it was too hot, or we were not ready to sleep yet. Pure exhaustion hitting us hard already, we kept dancing until the sun was already coming up again. We were mingling in the crowd, blending in with all our white clothes. Making new friends left and right. We thought we were adapting to this madness. The party was over. The three of us were walking back to our little tent. All the sudden, we saw this guy with a huge top hat and his blonde friend sitting on a random couch next to a fire. His eyes were covered by reflective goggles due to which it was impossible to see any facial expressions. He saw us walking by and yelled at us: "Sit down and enjoy the Oprah show!" We didn't understand what he meant by 'Oprah Show'. We approached them regardless. "Well boys, sit down. Enjoy the Oprah Show with us!", he said again. He was pointing to a guy with a guitar and a huge permanent wave which even Oprah would have been jealous of. This guy had tried to seduce the hatter's friend all night long by singing and playing songs. It must have been quite the show. The hatter asked us, if we want some tea. We looked around, but there was nothing to find except some warm whiskey. "We don't see any tea?!", we replied. "There isn't any", said the blond friend. Again, we were baffled by the situation. We were so sure, that we were adapting to the spirit and to the people in this community. But again, we thought people are mad here. Now the hatter wanted to change places. He was getting bored by the Oprah show and wanted to get a clean cup for his whiskey. While walking to their camp, we asked him what he was doing when he is not in the desert. "Oh, I own a business!", he replied with a huge grin. It must be a hatter store, we thought. He was Dutch and it was his first time at the festival as well. We exchanged all the different experiences we had so far, until we had to part ways again.
The next day, we went to the center camp to get some iced coffee, when we saw our old hippie friend with his pocket watch hanging out in one shady corner. We were excited to see him. With our iced Lattes in the right hand we gestured what things we had experienced so far and what we were thinking about this experience. He listened, nodded a few times. He smiled and laughed out loud. To him it seemed like the repeating story of all the first timers he had met over the years. After listening to us for a few minutes, he invited us again to join his camp. We accepted and the four us went to grab all our belongings.
His camp seemed huge. In the center was a big tipi tent with a little kitchen and a few couches. On its right a shower system with a big black plastic fundament to vaporize all the dirty and used water. On its left was a little palace with aluminum walls erected, where all the camp members could sleep in the cold and dark. And there was this woman, the camp leader. When we arrived, she was wearing all red. She seemed severe and quite domineering. Around her were three guys orbiting, trying to please her. It seemed impossible. On the contrary, we thought that she might yell for a beheading any second. She didn't. Our older friend told us that she was stressed about something happening in San Francisco and introduced us to all members of the camp. It was a mixed and fun group of people excited for taking us in. We were sharing drinks and food with them, laughing about all kind of things that had happened so far on our journey. We heard about their stories. We laughed, ate, and drank more. We 'competitively' played some Frisbee on the playa. It was a good day.
The big night arrived. It was time for the man to burn. Our old friend took us on a journey of our lifetimes in our journey of our lifetimes. He explained the twelve principles to us. Introduced us to many old school serial burners. We finally started to understand this community. All the things that we had learned so far, were coming together. It all started to make sense now. It was at this point that we realized that it was not the people that we had met here who were mad, but we were all mad. Them. Us. All the people in this desert city. All the best people are.
It was a fun and inspiring journey. Looking back one week seemed both short and long. While time had passed so fast, at the same time it seemed like this desert experience had lasted for years. When we got back to Berlin. We told all our friends about our experiences. We shared all the things we had learned. We joined local burner communities. And brought our friends with us back to this very desert were all had begun.
“We're all mad here. Im mad. You're mad”
One of the most impressive things were the outfits other fellow burners had picked. The variety of choices was immense and wowed us many times. With madburner.com I want to give back to the community and share what my take is on playa outfits. Many people see this one week as their only chance at expressing themselves. I want to make it possible for you to express yourself via clothes at any given day of the year. You will see a variety of different outfit options divided into three collections: White Rabbit, Mad Hatter, or the Ruler of Hearts.
I update the collections every month only for you. My goal is for you to find exactly what you have been looking for without the hassle of researching the entire web. If you cannot find what you have been picturing in your head, drop me a line via the contact page. Maybe you will be able to find it next month on the store. Check the page out every other month and see for yourself how you want to express the true you this coming Monday. Be sure not to miss it by subscribing to the MadBurner Newsletter or by following MadBurner on Facebook.
As always: Stay mad!