Photo: Campground at the festival, Selb, Germany. September 2012
1 AM Friday, Sept. 7: I say my goodbyes for the night and leave the campfire and head back to my tent. The hour was still early for a night camped at a German music festival, but my body was still short on sleep from the last couple days of travel. I entered my tent and zipped the door shut to the cool night air. Earphones in, sleeping bag cozily around my head, I was tuned out to the noise and festivities that continued on late into the night.
4 AM: I stir from my sleep to the sounds of a few shouts and some distant yelling. I don’t think much of it, probably just some people with a little to much to drink doing something stupid. I’m soon asleep again.
7 AM: I awake to the lightening sky on my second morning camped in the farmers field turned makeshift campground for the 3 day music/medieval festival that would be occurring over the weekend. I unzip my sleeping and look to grab my pants to get dressed. Hmm, they’re not there? Maybe under my backpack? Nope. Hmm. Then I look up at notice my tent is slightly unzipped. Hmm, I don’t think I would have left it like that, but did I? Then I start to get a feeling of panic as both my wallet and passport were in the pockets of my pants. I hop out of my tent into the frosty morning air and look around. I spot my neighbor and tell him that my pants are missing along with my wallet and ask if he’s seen anything during the night. Nope, he had gone to bed early with his kids. Shit I think, not only is my wallet gone and passport gone, but that was my only pair of pants.
A few moments later I’m looking around a see a dark shape in the bushes about 20 feet from my tent. My pants, minus my wallet. Shit. As luck would have it though, my passport and cell phone remained. But still, shit! My cell phone battery was almost dead, but I make a quick call to my brother to contact my dad to cancel all my credit cards, but as it was 11pm in California, there wasn’t much that could be done at the time.
I walk to the entrance booth and in my bad German explain what happened. Yes, they already know, and there were several others standing around that also had everything from cash, cameras and cell phones stolen during the night. A group of thieves, 3 or 4 of them had come across the field during the night and raided the campground full of unsuspecting festival goers.
The screams that had woken be up during the night were from a woman who’s tent one of the men entered. This alerted others which led to a chase through the campground. A tackle and swift elbow to the head led to one of the thieves being knocked out and taken into custody by the police. Unfortunately he didn’t have anything on him. The man was from [insert name of eastern European country starting with an S which borders Poland and Czech Republic] so he didn’t speak German for the police to try and interrogate. At least they got one of the bastards, I though. Too bad someone didn’t give him a few more kicks though. And my wallet was still missing, which didn’t help my situation much.
Later in the morning one of the police inspectors showed up and I stood in like with nearly a dozen other campers who’d also had stuff stolen and gave my report. They didn’t offer much hope that anything would be recovered. I heard some comments that they had supposedly located a car associated with the men some 40km to the north, near Hof. But of this I heard nothing further.
Now some hours later and my mood thoroughly soured I sat talking with my neighbor about the night’s events. Then I saw one of the festival workers walking by with something that looked my my wallet. ‘Mein Geldbeutel!?’ I ask. Yep! He says to try not to touch it much as the police want to come back to try and collect some evidence from it. I opened it enough to confirm to my great relief that all my credit cards, drivers license, and other items are still there. Missing, about 250 Euros in cash. But at that point, after thinking about how difficult it would be to try and get my credit cards and drivers license again (I’m traveling and won’t really have an address to ship anything to until mid November), I was actually relieved to ‘only’ have lost cash. Still, I wouldn’t have minded if the police let me give a few comments to the bastard they had.
As it turns out, a woman found my wallet in her tent. When one of the men came in she let out a scream, maybe the one I had heard during the night. Perhaps at that point he tried to quickly get out of the tent and must have dropped my wallet in the process. Or perhaps he had everything in a bag and it simply fell out. All I know is that I’m glad I got it back. It’s one thing to loose money, and it sucks. It’s an entirely bigger pain in the ass to try and replace documents while traveling.
Friday afternoon the festival begins and I try not to let any bitterness get to me as I listen to the music and enjoy some good food. As I go to bed that night, I make sure that my wallet is securely in my sleeping bag this time. Not that the thieves would be back again…
Saturday morning as I’m walking out of the camping area to go to the bakery I see a few people standing around the entrance. Then, one of the men with whom I’d had some contact with told me that the thieves had been back again during the night and stolen more stuff. Shit I think….
Saturday night I had a party to go to about an hour away. I packed up most my belongings in my backpack, leaving only my sleeping bag, mat, and a few other worthless items. I wished my tent a safe night, but I can’t imagine that the thieves would be back again.
I hear the news from my neighbor while arriving back to my tent late Sunday morning. They had been back again during the night…
Going to bed Sunday night I tie a few objects to the guy lines of my tent to make a bit of noise where they to be moved. Unfortunately I had a rather early train to catch, or I would have liked to stay up a bit and wait. Early in the morning I see the lights of a flashlight flicking off my tent. I yell out and ask what’s going on. Men had been spotted again trying to get into the camp. Four nights in a row? Fucking Hell!
Now, the fact that the police were unable to catch a group of men who raided the same small area with limited access points for 4 nights in a row leaves me quite disappointed. I understand not being prepared for the second night, not imagining they would be bold enough to return again. But on the third and fourth nights, they should have been there. And being a fairly small town, I doubt they had any other pressing matters to attend to. When I’m back in Germany in a few more weeks I’ll give them a phone call to find out if anything has developed since, but I kind of doubt it. And I wouldn’t even be surprised to hear that the man they have in custody had been released with nothing more than a slap on the wrist. Probably using my 200 Euros to by a big screen TV from Saturn…
Being so used to travel, I think I’ve let my guard down a bit. Prior to this, I considered the inside of my tent while I was in it as a ‘safe place.’ When sleeping in hostels or elsewhere, I’m always sure to keep my valuables well hidden, but I guess I was a bit lax in my tent security. Also, as I’m usually a fairly light sleeper, I’m not sure why I didn’t hear anyone enter my tent. Possibly because I had my iPod earphones in as well as having the sleeping bag fully zipped around my head as it was a rather chilly night. And with other campers in such close proximity, it is also hard to distinguish the distance of various noises from within in the tent. So perhaps if I did hear the sound of a zipper in the middle of the night, I would just have likely associated it with my neighbor opening his tent as opposed to imagining someone entering mine; something that was not anywhere on my mind as I went to bed that night. From now on, I’ll trust nothing as safe…
Photo: Omnia Live at Festival-Mediaval 2012. Selb, Germany