Berlin at last. The girls and I landed from our morning flight out of Heathrow, checked in to a hostel on Alexandraplatz and set out on foot to explore the city. We meandered streets decorated with bullet holes, had passports stamped at check point Charlie and finally stood one foot astride the east and west points of the city.
We touched the wall, played hide and seek at the holocaust memorial, tried to envision it’s artistic meanings and cried at the stories hidden below it. This was a flying visit, less than 20 hours, but still I feel like I gained more than in the entire 4 days I was here last time.
Then, the morning. Packed and filled with anxious excitement we made our way back to the airport and soon located a group of witchards seemingly trying to blend in in mundane clothing. Faces were put to names, characters introduced, wands compared. We were on our way to our first larp (a ‘live action role play’ based around a wizard img university called College of Wizardry). The four hour journey consisted of confirming relationships (I’d done a lot of work online), embellishing stories and conducting new plans. Songs were learnt, friendships forged and backstories shared. Seemingly before too long the atmosphere on board shifted; those who had been before were suddenly craning at the neck to gain a first glance of ‘home’. Along a long, dusty road, around a corner and we were greeted by red brick turrets and castle spires. This was it. We were here.
Having collected robes (gold for seniors), ties (red for phoenixes), books (both the general student handbook and beastrology 101) and name tags we had 10 minutes to locate our fourth floor room and attempt to get our bearings before the initial briefing.
Claus, the organiser, explained how the next few hours and days would work before we went to meet our house, course-mates and fellow students for the next few days. We were instructed in duelling, casting generally spells, the rules of the school and how it was completely ok to be ‘off game’ if required. It was all very overwhelming, and I was more than pleased when it was time to return to the room to change and ‘get into character’. One thing I was struck by time and time again was the kindness and generosity of our fellow players. There were always ready to jump in and assist, everyone was happy to have an ‘off game’ moment if needed, and I received several amazingly thoughtful gifts from people I had previously spoken to before travelling to Poland. Including an amazing leather wand holder complete with Peregrine sigil from my in game Cousin, and hand-knitted scarf in sendivogius colours from a rival house Junior. People are really amazing.
Honestly the next two and a half days are a blur. A blur of minotaurs, school politics, hatching dragons and doom-spiders. There were exams, potions roulette, hexed flowers and ‘essays’ to write. Some professors required impressing, others were happy with a song and a smile. It was a completely surreal experience. Some of my stand out moments include;
– Pips mentee, a Junior named Oliver, inviting her to the ball with a public display including a banner and flowers despite there being the threat of a curse if he did so. His character was too saddened at the thought of a senior he respected never having taken a date to a ball…Then Pips grandmother turning up to the ball to hex him so that he could only speak to one girl…Pip. Singing Beyoncé with the words zoning in and out depending on the direction he faced will make me smile for a while. EXCELLENTLY played Erik!
– everything about Hannah O’Hara
– a castle full of hexed flowers
– waltzing with a rooster, and feeling like a real lady being twirled around a ballroom
– exploring this magical 13th century Polish castle complete with torture chamber dungeons and spiring towers
– dancing with the runes professor at the mid terms party, and playing potions roulette with her!
– a hundred million opportunities to use and stretch my imagination
– discovering my competitive side in fighting for house points. We came third, which considering we were the smallest house by around 7 people was quite amazing!
There were downsides to it all too. I didn’t like the transportative feeling of being back at school, with all the pressures, politics and confusion that went with it. There were moments when peoples games overlapped with mine and caused me to feel way out of my depth, and equally moments where I watched someone playing an evil, manipulative or bitchy characters and wondered what on earth would motivate someone to spend three days of their life making themselves and others miserable. Watching other houses rise above us in the cup and the disappointment (mixed with pride) when we came in third…being in trouble for ridiculous reasons (losing house points for being late to a class because we were saving the life of a teacher…really?!). I can’t pretend to understand larping, or say I found it easy, but I will say I am glad I went to Czocha and experienced this magical place, even though it’s not something I’d care to repeat.
Tips for future players:
– try to get your bearings the first night. There’s nothing worse than being late for class with the cup riding on not losing points and having no idea where you’re going
– eBay wands + stone floors = broken wands
– take time to explore and enjoy this beautiful place
– spend time with the goblins, they’re fab
– don’t be afraid of the NPC room, they’re up for anything and REALLY creative
– if you’re asked if you’re doing anything for the next half hour by someone holding a brown poncho…you may be being summoned by demons. Just saying.
– everything is ok. Feeling weird, feeling lost, feeling sad or out of your depth. Equally getting caught up, laughing your head off, running from your own imagination. This is larp. It’s not for everyone, I’ve certainly decided it’s not for me, but I’m glad I went, glad I have these memories. Most of my fellow players are probably the most creative people and actors I’ll ever have the fortune to meet. People put so much time, effort and money into what is essentially a weekend away. I was constantly astounded, consistently amazed (in both positive and negative ways) and mostly left in awe.