Reportage, Germany, 2022

After Faust, led by Mephistopheles, fatally wounded Gretchen's brother Valentine with a blade, the two flee into the Walpurgis Night. Every year, witches celebrate a euphoric festival with lots of fire, wild, unrestrained dancing, and sexual excesses on the Brocken in the Harz Mountains on the night of April 30th to May 1st. This is meant to distract Faust from the events and from Gretchen's fate. Shortly before his death, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe dealt with witchcraft in his two parts of "Faust". The Brocken is the center of the legend and is also widely known as Blocksberg.1

Contrary to the myth, it is now believed that the "witches" did not fly there. The women applied special "witch ointments" to their skin and brooms. The toxins contained in them had a stimulating effect. Hallucinogenic ingredients made them feel as if they were floating or even flying. This and the associated lack of inhibition most likely led to the wild orgies celebrated on the Blocksberg. A search for the devil's wedding leads from the starting point of the legend in Thale through the Harz Mountains to the summit of the Brocken.
Along the so-called "witches' path", we drove through the villages with a rented car. We wanted to take the same path that the witches were supposed to have taken. Albeit almost completely unknown in most of the world, there is a veritable kitsch cult surrounding Walpurgis Night here. It is celebrated in every small town. In some places there are Walpurgis fires. Cheaply produced witch figures are hung on the eaves or in windows facing the street. As if everyone had prepared for this one night all year round. Between commerce and kitsch, there are always people who take mythology seriously. If you leave the homemade or nowadays Amazon-delivered costumes behind, you quickly develop a different perspective on the legends and customs. Almost 250 years ago, women and girls were condemned to death if they were believed to be witches.

Witch burnings are a term to most of us. At the same time it is astonishing and regrettable that less than 80 years ago, the fortune teller and ghost conjurer Helen Duncan was put on trial in Scotland. She was sentenced to nine months in prison for her belief in witches and ghosts. And today, in Schierke at the foot of the Brocken, witch figures are once again hung on lanterns for decoration.
Even if this is the wrong message in the context of witch hunts. Rather, the celebrations should be about the freedom of women - to do as they please. This is not only tolerated but also celebrated.

According to legend, the wedding of the witches with the devil takes place on the summit of the Brocken at midnight. We gave up the temptations of the Walpurgis Festival in Schierke to make our nocturnal ascent. It was a rainy, particularly dark, cloudy and therefore uncomfortable night. Due to the weather conditions, we finally arrived ten minutes late at our destination. We found no soul there. No devil, no witches, and not even the traces of an orgy. Completely sober, cold, and almost like a symbol of male victory in the eternal gender struggle: the weather station and the Brocken Hotel. Gray phallic symbolism in the icy wind. Did we miss the orgy by minutes?

1    compare: Komp, Andrea: Mentor Lektüre. Faust I. Johann Wolfgang Goethe. Inhalt, Hintergrund, Interpretation. Munich: Mentor Verlag, 1996. S. 21.

This work was created as part of a seminar in the course "visual journalism and documentary photography".