The Last Wacken, Chapter I: Wine and Resolutions in Hamburg.

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This is Part I of my Wacken Open Air 2014 diary. The rest of the series will run in installments over the next few days.

MONDAY, JULY 28, 2014.

2:27 PM. I can’t believe I’m here again, and that I’ve done this so many times. This is my 12th trip to Wacken, for the record.

Right now I’m drinking the first official beer of my trip—a Warsteiner on a Lufthansa plane from Seattle to Frankfurt, Germany. It’s customary to drink my first beer at the airport but I left at 10:52 from Portland—a little early for beer. The lines were too long at the pub in the international terminal at Seattle. But, it’s good to see Lufthansa still serves free beer in the sky. Germans know how to run an airline, unlike us clueless Yanks with our passion for deregulation. Don’t get me started.

The openings of my Wacken diaries tend to be long-winded—perhaps because I have little else to do. Not so this year. No long reminiscences of Wackens past and who goes and doesn’t go anymore. My first Wacken is as far in the past now as 9th grade was from it (the year 2000). That’s all I’ll say. Three of my friends from Norway, Hobbes, Morten and John, will be coming, and I’ll be meeting Karl (@Rekator_) who I know from Twitter; he may be instrumental in getting me to the Wacken site. I wish my husband was here, but no such luck. I miss him.

dsc00191

For the record, here is me (far left) at my very first Wacken Open Air, in 2000. Note the T-shirt I’m holding in my right hand. I wore it this year and you may see it in photos in upcoming installments.

The plan, as I foresee it:

8:40 AM (Tuesday)—land in Frankfurt. Long layover. Maybe get a SIM card for my clunky old dumb phone. Try to get word to Cody and family back in the US.

1:15 PM—land in Hamburg. Get SIM card, if not already done. Take a shuttle to the Hauptbanhof (train station) and buy a ticket for the 6:59 AM train tomorrow to Itzehoe, the nearest sizable town to Wacken, which is very small (except during the festival). Walk to hotel, check in. If I have any energy left I’ll go to the Rathaus to see Jan—he isn’t coming to Wacken but has some sort of booth at (evidently) a wine exhibition in Rathaus Square. Then dinner, a drink at the Captain’s Corner bar in the hotel. (Yes, it’s that hotel—Hobbes and I stayed there in 2006). Sleep heavily.

Morning—wake up, check out, walk to Hauptbanhof. Catch the train to Itzehoe. At 8:06, when I get off the train, hopefully Karl will be waiting and his dad will give us a ride to the Wacken site. Hopefully.

On the way to Seattle I realized I’m so wrapped up in the logistics—doing this right—that I was forgetting this is supposed to be fun. I have to remember that. This week research, dissertation, money, politics, the war in Gaza, my unfinished book—none of that exists. I’m traveling a huge distance and have sacrificed a lot to get to Wacken. It’d be a shame not to enjoy it.

I will.

TUESDAY, JULY 29, 2014.

12:16 PM. On the short hop flight from Frankfurt to Hamburg. All has been very smooth so far. The overseas flight was possibly the most enjoyable I’ve had in 14 years. It was reasonably comfortable, the food was good and everything was on time and worked well. I don’t want to count my chickens yet—I don’t have my luggage yet—but if things continue in this vein, this may be the easiest trip to Germany yet.

There are many metalheads on this plane. A lot of them speak Spanish. Two rows behind me there’s a guy who’s evidently blind, in the company of a friend who’s helping him out. Both are wearing metal shirts. The pilot, in his PA address from the flight deck, welcomed the Wacken fans on board. First time that’s happened.

hamburg hauptbanhof

The interior of the Hamburg Hauptbanhof. This photo (public domain) is not by me.

I got my SIM card in Frankfurt. It seems to work. I texted my husband. There’s one thing off my plate.

Looking forward to meeting everybody. Doing this long trip solo gets a bit lonely.

1:15 PM. The plane has landed in Hamburg exactly on time. The weather is cloudy and muggy, but not super hot. There are a few tense moments at the baggage claim, because the bags are very slow to be unloaded. Please don’t let them lose my bag—they did in 2006. I’ve got a large camping backpack containing my tent, sleeping bag, bedroll and various other necessities. Wait! That’s it! Officially the easiest trip to Germany so far.

There’s an official Wacken guy (wearing a Wacken shirt) at the airport info counter in the arrivals hall. He tells me there’s no shuttle bus to the Hauptbanhof anymore, but a train which costs 3€. Even better. I buy a ticket and then go for a bite at the sushi bar on the bottom level of the airport. I remember I ate here with Zack and Hobbes (Norwegians) in 2009. It’s not bad.

2:00 PM. The Hamburg Hauptbanhof is exactly the modern Teutonic bedlam I recall it being—blue, crammed with people and red trains, orange and brown fast food stands, and echoing loudspeakers blaring in German. Buying a ticket for the Itzehoe train is easy—they have a “take a number” system at the DeutscheBahn office which works well. Now comes the long hot walk—burdened with my big backpack—down Adernauerallee to my hotel, the Best Western St. Raphael.

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As long as I’m recycling photos of old Wacken trips, here’s me in front of the Hamburg Rathaus in 2003, eleven years ago.

It’s not that long a walk but I’m tired from not having slept on the plane. (I can never sleep on planes no matter how long the ride). On the walk I decide I’ll go down to the wine festival where my friend Jan—a Wacken companion from 2009 and 2011, and whose brother I worked with on Painkiller Magazine—said in an email the other day he is working. I decide, however, that I won’t stay that long. Better to rest; my train tomorrow is at 6:59 AM.

I get to the hotel. It’s been remodeled since I was there last (2006?) My room is very small but nice. The air conditioner works, but it has to work hard to make a dent in the muggy air. Next to my closet is an automatic trouser press. It’s unremarkable except for the German word emblazoned across it: “HOSENBÜGLER.” I laugh out loud. What sort of word is “hosenbügler?” I wonder if the Germans have any idea how ridiculous their language sometimes sounds to a foreigner.

4:00 PM. After a it of a rest at my hotel, I start down toward the Rathaus to see Jan at the wine exhibition. I have no idea what to expect (other than, presumably, a glass of wine). For such a big city central Hamburg is surprisingly compact. The Rathaus—the old baroque town hall—lies at one end of a main drag, Mönckebergstrasse, from the Hauptbanhof, which my hotel is only a 5-minute walk from. It’s a pleasant walk and the street is crowded. Lots of people out for a stroll on a Monday afternoon.

I find Rathaus Square full of temporary restaurant stands, most of which look like little beer gardens except they’re serving wine. I wrote down the one Jan told me to go to: No. 12, “Obertürkheimer Weinlaube.” It’s on the far corner of the square facing the old World War I memorial. I recognize Jan immediately. He’s working behind the bar with a couple of other people, one of whom I recognize from one of the Wackens we were at together.

Wacken 2014 A 007

The very pleasant environs of the Obertürkheimer Weinlaube.

The Obertürkheimer Weinlaube is very cool, for a temporary stand. It has checkered tablecloths and the wooden rafters are draped in grape leaves. A decorative rack of upside-down wine bottles hangs over the bar where Jan is working. Jan is the consummate bartender. In 2009 and 2011 I couldn’t keep up with the drinks he was giving me, and he runs true to form tonight. Almost immediately he pours me a glass of chilled rosé, which is quite nice for such a warm afternoon. We talk about Wacken, the bands coming this year, Jan’s brother Max who is now married and living in Macau, etc. Jan also pours me a shot of Ouzo, which I recall was one of his favorites. I’m getting too old for shots, but I do the best I can.

“Are you hungry?” Jan asks me. I say, sure, if you’ve got some food, why not. Almost immediately someone appears with a colossal plate mounded with meat and spätzle (German noodles). The meat is some sort of pork, slow roasted and covered with a tasty gravy. It’s like oxtail but boneless, and melts into succulent shreds with the slightest pressure of the fork. Jan pours me another glass of wine. The food is incredibly good. Never mind eating at the hotel tonight—this is definitely dinner.

Wacken 2014 A 006

Awesome sculpture, bro!

As you might expect, a few Wacken-bound metalheads drift through Rathaus Square occasionally. Jan often calls out to them and tries to get them up to the bar for a drink, but not that many metalheads are into wine. At about 5PM, however, one does wander up to the stand. He’s a tall dark-haired fellow in an Iron Maiden shirt, and as Jan pours him a glass of wine he says he’s from France. We get talking about Wacken, bands, French wine versus German wine, countries he’s visited, that sort of thing. The guy, whose name is Cyril, is delightful to talk to. Through our long conversation Jan keeps us sampling the various wares of the winery he works for. There are rosés, whites and reds, and all are very good. By the end of it Cyril and I are at a table in the corner discussing world politics. My head is humming and it’s nearly 8PM. So much for going down there for a few minutes or a single glass of wine.

Finally as dusk falls behind the baroque gargoyles of the Rathaus I call it in, and Cyril and I part ways. We hope to meet again at the Wacken beer garden tomorrow at 4PM. I say goodbye to Jan and start back up the Mönckebergstrasse toward my hotel. Though it’s still early, I fall asleep almost immediately after collapsing onto the bed in my hotel room.

Wacken 2014 A 009

WEDNESDAY, JULY 30, 2014.

5:06 AM. I’m awake early—jet lag definitely has something to do with it. The dawn is just coming up and my ineffectual air conditioner has been blowing and rattling all night, but it’s still very warm in my room. Thinking about the exhausting journey still ahead today, I’m again reminded of what a huge undertaking Wacken is, at least for someone who lives in North America. At this moment I am 5,161 miles from home, and I won’t tell you how much money I spent to get there, but it was a lot. Wacken is the most expensive and exhausting way to have fun. I love it and it’s been a huge part of my life for the past 14 years, but at that moment, lying there in my hotel room, I decide that this will be the last time.

To Be Continued!

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6 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. The Last Wacken, Chapter II: An Epic Norwegian Saga of Camp Supplies and Dusty Beer Gardens. | www.seanmunger.com
  2. The Last Wacken, Chapter III: Dusty Sunset and a Stairway to Heaven. | www.seanmunger.com
  3. The Last Wacken, Chapter IV: Lemmy Lives, Slayer Rocks, and We Receive a Startling Proposition. | www.seanmunger.com
  4. The Last Wacken, Chapter V: Megadeth, Avantasia, and (almost) the End of an Era. | www.seanmunger.com
  5. The Last Wacken, Chapter VI: All Good Things… | www.seanmunger.com
  6. Rebuilding our broken air travel system, part I: Stop monetizing the misery of passengers! | www.seanmunger.com

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