Wave-Gotik-Treffen “Sometimes I’d like to meet that other version of myself”

Niha-Céta presents her self-made headdress.
Photo (detail): © Carolin Mitulla

Each year at Pentecost, darkness descends on Leipzig. With about 20.000 visitors, the Wave-Gotik-Treffen is one of Europe’s largest meetings of the so-called Dark Culture. Nicole a.k.a. Niha is attending and will even be on stage playing cello for the band “Other Day”.

Dark make-up, black clothing, gloomy music: It’s midday, and Nicole, who has chosen the stage name Niha-Céta, is already in the midst of her preparations for the kick-off of the Gotik-Treffen. She’s bustling about inside and outside the caravan she and her boyfriend Sad have specifically rented for the weekend. Otherwise it would have been difficult to store everything they need, like pots and pans, a sound system and a range of outfits. Even Goths, as the members of the scene are called, need their comfort.

  • Niha schminkt sich in der Badekabine des Wohnwagens. © Carolin Mitulla
    Niha schminkt sich in der Badekabine des Wohnwagens.
  • Falsche Wimpern gehören zur Grundausstattung. © Carolin Mitulla
    Falsche Wimpern gehören zur Grundausstattung.
  • Auch Nihas Freund Sad stylt sich für das Festival. © Carolin Mitulla
    Auch Nihas Freund Sad stylt sich für das Festival.
  • Schwarz ist die dominierende Farbe der Schminke. © Carolin Mitulla
    Schwarz ist die dominierende Farbe der Schminke.
  • Niha überprüft am Außenspiegel ihres Wohnwagens, ob alles sitzt. © Carolin Mitulla
    Niha überprüft am Außenspiegel ihres Wohnwagens, ob alles sitzt.
  • Letzte Handgriffe werden im Tageslicht gemacht. © Carolin Mitulla
    Letzte Handgriffe werden im Tageslicht gemacht.
  • Warten auf ihren Einsatz: Sads Schuhe. © Carolin Mitulla
    Warten auf ihren Einsatz: Sads Schuhe.
Niha is standing in the caravan’s tiny bathroom, putting on make-up in front of the mirror. She starts by reinforcing her right eyebrow with black eyeliner, followed by eyeshadow, precious stones, false lashes and, very important: striking contact lenses. Niha is intensely focused, her every touch sure. There’s not a lot of room to move in the caravan’s tight bathroom. But the goth from Naumburg has had lots of practice. She regularly does her own and always elaborate styling.
Niha-Céta during the various stages of her make-up process. © Carolin Mitulla

First Contact

Niha discovered her enthusiasm for the Dark Culture that emerged from the Punk and New Wave movement at the age of 13. Friends and the characteristic gloomy music first introduced and attracted her to the scene. These days, she plays in a scene band herself. When Other Day were looking for a cellist in 2007, they posted an ad at the music school in Niha’s home town of Naumburg in Saxony-Anhalt – and found Niha, who studied cello there. The band describe their style as “poetry set to music”: electronic beats with German lyrics, accentuated by the heavy sound of the cello.
“Hauch der Schatten” by Other Day

Other Day have already performed at the Wave-Gotik-Treffen five times, twice with Niha. This time, they’re playing at the Felsenkeller. Their outfits are as much part of the band’s image as of the genre itself. But the main reason for the cellist’s elaborate get-up and make-up is that she simply enjoys doing it. She loves the special aesthetic of goths, the possibility of doing her own thing, of being creative and expressing her personality. After all, one characteristic of the Dark Culture is that its adherents like to think about taboos and topics that are philosophical, new-age religious or perceived as negative in our society.

In everyday life, Niha dresses a little less conspicuously. She uses make-up only sporadically and more minimalistically, taking less than 20 minutes to do it.
“I don’t feel like putting on make-up for two hours every morning before I go to the bakery. That doesn’t mean I feel like less of a goth or less myself. They’re just different facets of me. Sometimes one of them comes more strongly to the fore, sometimes the other.”

However, her dreadlocks and pointy ears – shaped by surgery – are her constant companions. She remains a goth, or an elf as she also calls herself, no matter what: at festivals, on stage or in everyday life. Niha no longer reacts to stupid comments, and people in her small hometown have gotten used to her appearance. She only demonstratively points a finger at people who stare at her.
Niha-Céta’s mimed reactions to prejudices against goths. © Carolin Mitulla

Seeing and being seen

It’s 3pm and her preparations are done. Niha makes her choice of costume dependent on the weather and her plans for the day. Today, she is wearing a short, pleated skirt, patterned tights and a long-sleeved top with an impressive collar, accompanied by mesh gloves and comparatively low heels. The most striking thing about her appearance is her headdress that she has designed and made herself.

“I’ve paid about 250 Euros for this outfit. That’s relatively cheap. There are people here whose clothes cost 1,000 Euros or more, yet they only wear them the one time. It’s turned into a real competition: higher, shorter, more. It’s not easy to stand out here. But I don’t care. I’ll wear a skirt twice if I want to!”

Niha and Sad are now ready to mix with their fellow goths. They plan to attend the “Neo-Romantic Picnic” at Clara Zetkin Park in the city centre of Leipzig – a highlight of the festival Friday.
 
  • Niha und Sad auf dem Weg zum Clara-Zetkin-Park. © Carolin Mitulla
    Niha und Sad auf dem Weg zum Clara-Zetkin-Park.
  • Sehen und gesehen werden: das neoromanischen Picknick im Clara-Zetkin-Park. © Carolin Mitulla
    Sehen und gesehen werden: das neoromanischen Picknick im Clara-Zetkin-Park.
  • Besucher in barocken Kostümen. © Carolin Mitulla
    Besucher in barocken Kostümen.
  • Niha und Sad sind ein begehrtes Fotomotiv. © Carolin Mitulla
    Niha und Sad sind ein begehrtes Fotomotiv.
  • Freundinnen treffen sich zum Picknick. © Carolin Mitulla
    Freundinnen treffen sich zum Picknick.
  • Das rot-weiße Make-up der Besucherin hebt sich von den restlichen schwarz gekleideten Anwesenden ab. © Carolin Mitulla
    Das rot-weiße Make-up der Besucherin hebt sich von den restlichen schwarz gekleideten Anwesenden ab.
  • Picknick im Park bei schönstem Wetter. © Carolin Mitulla
    Picknick im Park bei schönstem Wetter.
  • Niha-Céta präsentiert ihren selbst angefertigten Kopfschmuck. © Carolin Mitulla
    Niha-Céta präsentiert ihren selbst angefertigten Kopfschmuck.
  • Niha und Sad in ihren Festivaloutfits. © Carolin Mitulla
    Niha und Sad in ihren Festivaloutfits.
In the afternoon, Baroque characters encounter Neo-Romantics, those who like to be looked at encounter those who like to look. They come to the park to see or be seen; to stay in touch or simply because they’re curious. The dominant colour is black. Even though a lot of people move around in the small space, the atmosphere is relaxed.

Niha and Sad stand out from the masses despite the fact that they’re also wearing black. The stark contrast between their dark clothes, white-painted skin and light-coloured contact lenses is unique. Because of her tremendous charisma, Niha is being photographed equally frequently by fans, onlookers and other goths. Every smile is practiced. Niha knows exactly how to move in order to look good in front of the camera.

Black Love

Fans recognise the cellist and the singer, even though at close to 2,500 Facebook followers, the fan base of Other Day still has room to grow. A 19-year-old girl is shaking when she receives permission to take a picture with the two of them, and an autograph to boot. Niha has gotten used to the attention a long time ago. Everybody who asks politely is allowed to photograph the white-haired young woman. However, she thinks that taking a photo without asking first is disrespectful, especially while she’s eating: “You never look good. And why specifically when I’m eating? As if I’m the first person to ever eat anything!”

The fact that his girlfriend is usually the centre of attention isn’t a problem for Sad – he’s even happy for her. The two of them met through the band and have been together since 2010. They don’t separate their private lives from their band lives because it is the music that connects them.

“I can imagine being in a relationship with a ‘non-goth’, as long as he’d understand and accept my passion. But different circles of friends and tastes in music could make things difficult”, Niha explains. However, if it came to a standard wedding, there could be problems on the horizon: “I definitely wouldn’t get married in a clichéd dress off the rack! If I got married at all, it would have to be in a unique and imaginative outfit. And we would throw a mega-eccentric party that lasts for days. But ultimately I’m not romantic at all, so I would probably only get married for tax reasons or as a form of insurance. I don’t need a ring on my finger to be content and feel like my life is going well.”

Plan B

It’s time to get back to the festival grounds on the Leipzig Agra, a spacious area that was built for agricultural exhibitions during GDR times.
 
Overview event locations of the Wave-Gotik-Treffen in Leipzig

Later that night, one of Niha’s favourite bands is playing. After a short stop at the caravan to change her shoes, take off her headdress and refresh her make-up, she’s off to the hall located opposite. It’s already quite crowded. The air is stagnant, it’s way too bright and very warm, but at the first notes, the corners of Niha’s mouth lift and she starts to move to the music.

“For me, these are the best five days of the year. You meet your friends, you’re among like-minded people and visually, you can really go to town!”
 
  • Grufti-Liebe. © Carolin Mitulla
    Grufti-Liebe.
  • Auch Modehäuser sind im Wave-Gotik-Fieber. © Carolin Mitulla
    Auch Modehäuser sind im Wave-Gotik-Fieber.
  • Besucher des Wave-Gotik-Treffens machen einen Stadtbummel. © Carolin Mitulla
    Besucher des Wave-Gotik-Treffens machen einen Stadtbummel.
  • Ein Eisladen verkauft WGT-Eis in der Geschmacksrichtung „Black Empire“ (dunkles Schokoladeneis mit Waldfrrüchten). © Carolin Mitulla
    Ein Eisladen verkauft WGT-Eis in der Geschmacksrichtung „Black Empire“ (dunkles Schokoladeneis mit Waldfrrüchten).
  • Festivalbesucher auf dem Weg zum Agra-Veranstaltungsgelände. © Carolin Mitulla
    Festivalbesucher auf dem Weg zum Agra-Veranstaltungsgelände.
  • Niha und Sad besuchen ein Konzert am Abend. © Carolin Mitulla
    Niha und Sad besuchen ein Konzert am Abend.
  • Bis zum nächsten Jahr: Festivalbesucher gehen nach Hause. © Carolin Mitulla
    Bis zum nächsten Jahr: Festivalbesucher gehen nach Hause.
And then, as the day ends, amongst a mass of black and accompanied by melancholic sounds, Niha muses: “Sometimes I would like to meet that other version of myself that hasn’t become a goth.” Though it’s not like she doesn’t have a Plan B for a normal life: At the age of 50 at the very latest, she would have become a baker and sell self-designed cupcakes in her small hometown.