Woodstock / Bethel (dpa) - Tibetan prayer flags, colorful tie-dyed T-shirts and dog suits, peace signs as inflatable pool swims and above all a smell of incense sticks.
Tinker Street, the center of the small town of Woodstock, about two hours' drive north of New York, looks like a commercialized commemorative shrine to the festival of the same name, which began exactly 50 years ago on 15 August.
In a small square, a man with a guitar plays the Jimi Hendrix classic "Voodoo Child", a gallery shows framed original photos of the festival and a bakery offers "peace, love and cupcakes". In between, dozens of tourists move across the narrow sidewalks.
"The anniversary is preparing us a really good business, it is much more busy than usual," says the saleswoman in the bookstore "Golden Notebook". "And tourists are always asking me where the festival was right here. Maybe in the park over there? I always have to pull myself together and say: No, the park would have been way too small. Woodstock was not in Woodstock. For many, that's a complete surprise. "
The small town with about 6,000 inhabitants in the Catskills, a New York recreation area, was eponym and spiritual godfather of the legendary festival, the music party itself took place but about an hour's drive southwest in Bethel, past small hills, lakes, fields and summer camps of Orthodox Jews. Also in Bethel there are now and then signs with peace signs and white doves in the front gardens and singles booths with batik T-shirts, but the commerce is celebrated in Woodstock. The memorial shrine in Bethel, on the other hand, is a large sloping meadow with the natural topography of an auditorium on the edge of the village.
"Here it is," says a blonde woman in a colorful batik T-shirt, standing with a devout expression on her face. "Everything happened here." Next to her, a bearded man in a black motorcycle garb with a skull print enters the small clearing on the edge of the meadow. "Wow, that took a long time to finally come back. And it looks a lot different than it did then. "They both pick up their cell phones and take pictures of the memorial stone covered with numerous lucky coins on the floor. "This is the original venue of the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival," it says.
Half a century ago, Woodstock co-organizer Michael Lang was right here, together with Max Yasgur, dairy farmer and former owner of the meadow. Several potential venues for the festival in the sprawling area around Woodstock had just hit the headlines and partly canceled in court. "They thought there were about 50,000 long-haired hippies coming in, ransacking their town, raping their cows and stealing their chickens or whatever," Lang recalled recently at a podium discussion at a Catskills hotel. "They were very buttoned and got scared."
It was four weeks until the planned festival kick-off, bands and stage were organized and paid, more than 100,000 tickets sold - and Lang was desperate. "We found Max and went to his meadow together. He was a very smart man, a Republican, but his point was that we were fighting over there in Vietnam so people could do just that. He then asked me, 'How much space do you want?' I said, 'How much do you have?' - '250 hectares.' - 'I'll take it.' "Lang pays the farmer about $ 70,000 and then hectically begins with his team to turn the meadow into a festival site in just four weeks - with a stage, sanitary facilities, food outlets, campgrounds, parking, fences and an area for the musicians.
"I'm a farmer," Republican Yasgur will say from the stage to the hundreds of thousands of people in his field later, "I do not know how to talk to 20 people at the same time, let alone a crowd like this one. (...) But you have proved to the world that half a million children - and I name children, because I have children older than you - can come together and have fun and music for three days and nothing more than that may God bless you for it. "
Organizer Lang, from New York's Brooklyn neighborhood, had organized several concerts and smaller festivals when he moved to Woodstock in 1968. Back then, the country around him was repeatedly pervaded by shock waves, both positive and negative: the war in Vietnam, the civil rights movement and resistance to the separation of white and black people, the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and civil rights activist Martin Luther King five years later, the women's movement, the first moon landing, the flower power hippie movement. "Woodstock was born out of these times and out of the need to see if we can adapt the world to our image of a more compassionate and loving place."
Together with his friend Artie Kornfeld and the investors Joel Rosenman and John Roberts - all in their early 20s - Lang goes to work. "We had this vision that we could bring the people out of the cities and the efforts of everyday life, for a weekend in the country into nature and adapt the world to our vision." The organizers do not want a political festival speeches there are none give. "The biggest political statement we could make was that it worked."
But first and foremost the organizers are concerned with the music: not just bands, but the best of the best, mainly, but not only, from alternative culture, off the mainstream: Joan Baez, Canned Heat, Janis Joplin, Grateful Dead , Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker, Crosby, Stills & Nash (with new band member Neil Young) and Jimi Hendrix - they all come and shape the musical taste of a generation to this day with their performances.
Baez is six months pregnant, her husband in jail, she occurs anyway. Santana did not record a single album at the time, was drugged, and Woodstock made him a superstar. "The best $ 1,500 I've ever invested," says Lang. Even pop bands like The Who are there, if not so enthusiastic. "They had no interest in the hippie movement." Frontman Pete Townshend was probably the "most unlucky type in the whole festival."
Monthly planning precedes the festival, but it is still chaotic: The summer of 1969 is as rainy as long ago no longer, again and again violent thunderstorms over the area, the meadow with all electrical stage equipment is a muddy swamp. The tickets had originally cost six dollars per day, but when the first visitors simply overrun the few semi-finished fences in the muddy meadow, the organizers spontaneously decide not to require entry.
So many young people are on their way to Bethel, that the access road 17 B and the route all the way down to New York become a permanent congestion. Many of the musicians also get stuck in it, like the band Sweetwater, which was supposed to open the festival. Panically, Lang grabs singer Richie Havens, who lives in the area, and sends him on stage first. "It was then the perfect opening, he brought everyone together."
After all, nearly half a million people celebrate together in the meadow of farmer Yasgur for about 60 hours, slip through the mud, bathe naked in the surrounding rivers and lakes, sing and indulge in music, sleep little and take many drugs. People are in their arms, propagating free love and carefree sex. The atmosphere is familiar, Lang's parents watch the action from the stage. Film and photo shoots carefully planned by the organizers go around the world.
"I was 16 and went with a few school friends," recalls the musician Andy Shernoff, who hails from New York and later founded the punk band The Dictators, in conversation with the German Press Agency. "Someone had a car, and then we just left. It was about the music - I saw every band except one. I had a sleeping bag with me, but I can not remember where I slept. "His ticket from that time has been shelved by Shernoff until today.
Soon, food becomes scarce at the festival, but residents of Bethel, Scouts and other local organizations intervene to help with water and free food, "breakfast in bed for 400,000 people," fresh from the surrounding farms. Many hippies are said to have eaten in Woodstock for the first time the later emblematic for their movement muesli, it says in the meadow directly at Museum at Bethel Woods, which documents the festival (and symbolic $ 19.69 entrance fee). Festival visitors help out in food and hospital tents. Everything goes smoothly: For three days, not a single fight or any other act of violence is reported.
Finally it is Monday morning. Many visitors have already left, back to their everyday lives with jobs and families. But a few thousand are still there and see the last concert of the festival. "It was 8:30 and maybe 5,000 people were there when Jimi Hendrix took the stage," recalls Lang. "He then played this great version of the American national anthem, which became the legendary Woodstock moment."
And then it was over. "The weekend seemed to have taken months. It became a way of life and it seemed like it would go on forever, "recalls Lang. "And then, right after Hendrix left the stage, I got a phone call that I need to get to Wall Street now to handle the money and bank business. So I had to deal with the seriousness of life again. One of the last helicopters taking off from the site took me along. All the kids down in the field were cleaning up the garbage and making a big peace sign out of garbage. That was the last thing I saw from Woodstock. And then I came to Wall Street and the banker had an aquarium with barracuda in his office. "
The spirit of Woodstock lasts only briefly. "I came back and everyone in my neighborhood spoke only of peace and love, it had really made such a feeling," recalls festival visitor and musician Shernoff. "But that did not last long, then everyone went back to their old everyday rivalries."
Everything seemed to have gone as fast as it had come. One year after Woodstock Hendrix and Joplin die, in 1974 also farmer Yasgur. In 1994 and 1999, organizers are trying to launch anniversaries with new Woodstock festivals, but it's not the same anymore. For the 50th anniversary Lang wanted to offer a new edition, had already been able to win stars like Miley Cyrus and Jay-Z, but then the organizational problems piled up, and the planned "Woodstock 50" festival had only about two weeks before the scheduled Date to be canceled.
Opinions about such reissues have always been shared. The Woodstock feeling can not be reproduced, says an elderly man in the audience of the panel discussion with Lang, who reveals himself as Juma Sultan. He should know it eventually. "I closed with Jimi." This one sentence defines his life today. As a percussionist, he was on stage at the festival's final appearance with Hendrix.
But it needs the Woodstock feeling today more urgent than ever, says co-organizer Lang of the German Press Agency. "Many of the problems that we were worried about at the time and that we wanted to solve are back. At that time, there was the beginning of the environmental movement, and now we have someone in the White House who denies the existence-threatening climate change. And everything is so divisive in terms of relationships between people of different backgrounds and men and women. We thought we had learned our lesson - but the past has caught up with us and we urgently need to look back and think about it. "
Museum at Bethel Woods