Melanie Pressler, founder of the now-defunct Her Damit and 7001 festivals, has been accused of owing tens of thousands of euros in arrears by numerous former employees.
The affected parties range from part-time and full-time staff to freelancers and service providers, with claims stretching back as far as 2015, the year Her Damit launched. In addition to owing money, some accuse Pressler of blackmail and allowing "dangerous" working conditions. Others tell of being overworked, repeatedly lied to and having their requests for payment ignored.
"I feel used, robbed, and I'm sad," Andre Parecker, who helped with the site build at Her Damit 2018, told Resident Advisor. "There's still €3410 owed, which I probably will not get. She stole a part of my lifetime."
Most of the accusations centre on 2018, when Pressler and her company, Auena UG, ran two festivals on the outskirts of Berlin: 7001, in August, followed by Her Damit in September. (Her Damit, originally scheduled for June, was postponed due to a high risk of forest fires.) Both events took place at the same site. Neither will return in 2019.
Last month, Groove magazine reported that Auena UG had filed for bankruptcy, making this Pressler's second insolvency since 2013. The first company, AJM Projekte UG, was started by Pressler and two others and ran from 2013 to 2014, when it was dissolved.* In 2015, she set up Auona UG before closing it in early 2017. In late 2016, she set up a third company, Auena UG, which filed for insolvency on February 5th, 2019.
Lucie Blacher interned for Pressler for six months before working as a production assistant at Her Damit and 7001 in 2018. Onsite, her duties included overseeing sanitation, security and waste disposal. She says she's owed €2200. "This company was probably the best place to do an internship as I could see how someone can screw up literally everything that needs to be done for a festival," she said. "Manipulation is what she does best to achieve whatever she needs. That's why I'm giving this statement: to protect other people getting exploited, hurt or simply ripped off."
"I am still owed roughly €2000," said US-born production assistant Kenneth Scott, who also worked both festivals. "While there, I was coerced by Melanie Pressler into working under extremely dangerous conditions far outside of my experience or skill set. [She] is solely responsible for the dangerous working conditions, my outstanding payment and the psychological duress of being either lied to or ignored for nearly six months of attempting to be paid for my work."
Ricarda Faber, head of artist care at Her Damit 2018, also felt that Pressler put the safety of her staff at risk. Over the course of the weekend, a series of mysterious fires sprung up in the vicinity of the site. The perpetrators were never found, though multiple staff allege that they were started by representatives from a disgruntled security firm, who had not been paid by Pressler for their work at 7001 festival. In addition, Faber told RA that there weren't enough security onsite at Her Damit, which meant that it was left to her and a team of others, on Pressler's orders, to go into the surrounding forest and "scare off" whoever had started the fires.
"We were all super scared and nobody really wanted to do it," Faber said. "It was just going too far. None of us had any professional training and we had no idea what kind of person we had to deal with. I mean, who [starts] a fire purposely putting in danger 3000 people? I just kept thinking of what happened at Love Parade. I was so scared and didn't want to go... When I got back into the office, Mel was just sitting there, she hadn't even gone into the woods! Seriously?"
"I'm owed about €3500, but for me it's not primarily about the money," said Ferdinand Walch, who worked in artist care at both festivals. "My point is that [the bankruptcy] has now happened for the third time in five years.* After the comments on the Groove article, I realised what a dimension the whole thing must have. Apparently employees and service providers haven't been paid for years. And until days before the insolvency filing went public, tickets had been sold to people for festivals I am convinced never had a chance to happen. And all this without any sign of humility and insight."
Ricardo Esposito worked for Pressler and Auena UG from September 2017 through 2018. He was the inventory manager and also helped with production across both festivals. He says he's owed €4304.
"I was blackmailed by Melanie Pressler," Esposito said. "She said I had to go to Her Damit, otherwise I wouldn't get my money at all. So I went to Her Damit and I worked. I was onsite for another ten or 11 days, but I didn't get my money... [She] is a highly manipulative, sociopathic and pathological liar... She was chased out of Munich for doing people wrong there, and she does the same thing now here in Berlin."
Resident Advisor reached out to Pressler, who replied with this brief comment.
The management has filed for insolvency.
The two festivals have been cancelled and will be discontinued."I only wish that Melanie Pressler finally, after all these years, gets her just punishment," Laura Korrmann, who interned for Pressler during both festivals, posted on Facebook recently. "That she can never take a leadership position again. No matter in which city or country she escapes to next. That she can never again risk the finances and mental states of innocent people, while she continues to live the life of luxury. That she never again puts the health of her employees and guests on the line. And above all, that she finally learns to respect the work of others!"
*Correction: A previous version of this article said that three of Pressler’s companies went bankrupt, when in fact it was only two. Her first company "dissolved naturally," according to her previous business partner.