This is Part II of my Wacken Open Air 2014 diary. The first installment is here.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 30, 2014.
6:50 AM. On the platform at Hamburg Hauptbanhof. Yes, it’s incredibly early, but I thought it would be a good idea to set out for the Wacken site early for a couple of reasons: to get good camping space in Campground A, where the Norwegians and I always camp, and also to avoid big crowds on the train. On the second score I’m certainly correct. As I get on the train to Itzehoe it’s virtually deserted, only a few commuters. I see only two other metalheads obviously bound for Wacken.
The ride is very pleasant, crossing through the verdant farm fields of northern Germany. Once you get out of Hamburg it’s striking how rural most of Schleswig-Holstein really is. And there’s a reason why one of the most prevalent cows in the western world is called a Holstein—it obviously comes from this area, where fields of cows flash by the train windows frequently. I also see small quaint houses and a lot of modern windmills. With all the wind, this is a good area for generation of green power.
I text Karl on the ride. He’s up, and says he’s soon headed for the Itzehoe train station.
8:06 AM. The train has arrived. Although there are a few metalheads scattered about, the Itzehoe train station is curiously quiet. In Wackens past, at later times of day, I recall hordes of metalheads, all laden with heavy packs and camp gear, angling for the shuttle bus. It was a good idea to take the 6:59 train.
Karl (Rekator_ on Twitter), photographed at Hell’s Kitchen in the Wacken village.
As I come up the stairs to the interior I see Karl immediately. He’s holding a cardboard sign with my name and Zombies of Byzantium written on it, but I wouldn’t need the sign to know it’s him. He’s tall, thin as a beanpole, and blonder than Dolph Lundgren from a mid-80s action movie. His father is also there and both are very friendly.
There’s also a woman with an expensive professional camera standing there in the train station. She says she’s a reporter and asks to take a picture of Karl and me for the local newspaper, Norddeutscher Rundschau. We let her. Who knows what may come of it?
8:30 AM. We’re in Karl’s father’s car, on the back roads through Itzehoe headed for Wacken. Nils (the father) tells us this is the best way to go to avoid the traffic. At one point we’re on a small one-lane dirt road leading through a cornfield. As it’s early morning, we stop at a small bakery somewhere on the outskirts of Itzehoe. I get a pastry with gooey chocolate which proves to be a foolish choice to try to eat in the front seat of a car. Still, this is vastly preferable to the crowded, overheated Wacken shuttle bus, which Karl tells me is running 70 minutes behind schedule. We’ll be at the Wacken site very shortly.
9:00 AM. Nils drops us at the “Kiss and Ride,” and Karl and I, hauling our gear, walk toward the main entrance of the Wacken campground. This is the first time I’ve been here in three years. It’s hard not to recall other Wacken entrances, such as the rainy one of 2005. A thin trickle of metalheads is streaming into the gates to populate the rolling grass hills beyond.
The almost-pristine site of our camp, which as of Wednesday morning (before we put it up) did not yet have a name.
Surprisingly, since the last time I came they’ve changed the entry procedure; instead of getting your ribbon wristband at a booth at the camp entrance, now you show your ticket, and you have to get a ribbon at a central point later. We enter the campground and walk to the left toward Campground A. This is very familiar ground to me. It’s a non-car zone, which means there are no engines or generators and it’s relatively quiet, at least compared to the rest of the vast Wacken campground, which now sprawls for acres. In 2000 you could cross the entire campground in 10 minutes. Now you’d better leave an hour or better.
The exact spot where I want to camp is unpopulated, at this time merely a broad expanse of very long green grass. Karl and I start to put up our tents. I explain to him that when we camp with the Norwegians, with whom I’ve been since 2005, it’s been a tradition to coin a name for our camp, usually based on something that happens over the course of Wacken. Sometimes, but not always, the name is in Norwegian. Thus the honor roll of camp names is as follows:
- 2005: “Camp Øl” [Norwegian for “beer”]
- 2006: “Camp Ditch” [named for the drainage ditches you had to ford to get there]
- 2007: “Camp Flatfyl” [Norwegian for “shitfaced”]
- 2008: “Camp MacGyver” [named after Morten, our handyman who can make anything]
- 2009: “Camp Ja!” [an inside joke that comes from a ubiquitous German brand of water products]
- 2011: “Camp Tilfeldig” [Norwegian word for “random chance,” which is how you often make great friends at Wacken].
It’s much too early to pick a name yet, but I tell Karl that we’ll know the appropriate name when it arises.
While we’re putting up our tents—leaving plenty of room around us for the Norwegians—I receive a text from Hobbes, saying they have landed and are finding a way to get to the festival ground. I tell Karl to expect them about 11:30, maybe a bit after.
My tent, before the Norwegians arrived. This is about 4x larger than the tent I brought to most of my previous Wackens.
10:00 AM. With our tents established, we decide it’s as good a time as any to go to the exchange boxes, located far away on another part of the grounds, to obtain our festival ribbons—the essential entry ticket that security guards always check to allow you through the gates. This is a procedure I’m not familiar with. Karl and I have to get a map from a security guard to figure out where we are and where the exchange boxes are. When we get there we see a very, very long line of metalheads stretching far across a dusty, mostly-empty field. Standing in line is simply a part of Wacken, and in any event we have no choice.
The line moves quickly. At its end there’s a little box office with several windows, and we surrender our tickets and get ribbon wristbands in exchange. Long as the line was, I remark that it’ll be worse later. You can justify almost any lengthy wait at Wacken by saying “it’ll be worse later.”
11:30 AM. Karl and I go out of the campground and into the Wacken village itself. Having waited too long to get a Wacken T-shirt in 2008 and 2009—they sold out quickly—I decide I should definitely get one early, so we go to the merchandise stand not far from the main Wacken office on the town’s main drag. There’s a huge crowd there. Karl stays behind as I start into the poorly-defined line. It’s hot. Several people in the crowd are smoking, and the smoke hangs heavy in the air. Someone else in the crowd has a bullhorn and is using it to blare occasional funny things in German (at least I guess they’re supposed to be funny). After 20 minutes with scarcely any movement toward the merchandise stand I can’t take it anymore. If I miss out on a T-shirt, so be it.
One of the central merchandise stands is right beneath the “grain silo” in the Wacken village, probably the most recognizable landmark in the area.
We decide to go a ways up the street to Hell’s Kitchen, a concession fronting the main drag that serves food, beer and (most importantly) has clean toilets available for half a Euro per crap. We’ve only just settled down with drinks—me a beer, Karl (who does not drink alcohol) a Coke—when I get a text from Hobbes saying that they’ve arrived at the front gate. Almost exactly on time! We walk down to the main gate to find them.
11:45 AM. It’s great to see the Norwegians again. Shame that Zack, my best friend, wasn’t able to get a ticket; but Hobbes is here, as well as Morten, the eccentric tinkerer and corset-maker who at previous Wackens has rigged such ingenious devices as solar-powered flagpoles, phone recharging stations and a makeshift refrigerator dug into the ground. With them are John, who I know from Wacken 2011, and a fellow I haven’t seen before, Joachim. There are also two women with them, Guro and Ida. Each year our camp is a little different, and it’s always cool to see how it comes together.
Hobbes, Morten and the others start putting up their tents. There’s enough room around mine and Karl’s tent for a well laid-out camp, with a sort of “courtyard” in the center where we’ll eventually erect the pavilion tent, once we get one. Morten has brought all the stuff he’ll need to attach a large flagpole—nearly 4 meters tall, he says—to the side of the pavilion. Karl brought a German flag, Morten a Norwegian one, and I brought the Stars and Stripes. If the flagpole is successful it should be visible from pretty far away, and will have a blinking light on top which will be quite helpful in finding out camp in the dark. I got lost one night in 2011, so I’ve insisted on this feature.
Norwegians…to the rescue!
After we get the camp up it’s usual to go to the Wacken village and stock up on supplies, but this year with the new ribbon procedure the Norwegians decide they’re better off going to get the ribbons now and leaving the shopping for later. Karl and I walk them to the ribbon/ticket exchange line. “It’ll be worse later” is exactly right: the line is now four or five times the size it was when Karl and I went at 9AM. We leave the Norwegians to it, and I go to the Wackinger Village (formerly the Medieval Village) for a bite to eat and perhaps a beer. We’ll venture into town together for supplies once they’re through that long line.
2:00 PM. Karl and I reunite with the Norwegians, and we’re off, outside the campground gates, to the village. This is one of the most interesting parts of the Wacken festival, to see how the 70,000 festivalgoers interact with the people of the Wacken village proper. For the villagers themselves, the W:O:A, which must otherwise be quite overwhelming, is if nothing else a business opportunity. All along both sides of the street (Hauptstrasse, the main drag in Wacken) people have set up concession stands and little businesses, some sophisticated, some shoestring operations, catering to the metalheads. Hell’s Kitchen, which is definitely sophisticated, has a lot of competition from various “garden bars” and other places that sell food, beer and supplies. Some Wackeners along Hauptstrasse don’t participate, but merely sit and watch from their porches and fenced-off front yards. Most of the locals’ houses have Wacken flags hanging from them. Probably a large percentage of the town’s residents go on vacation during this time, as native New Orleanians often do during Mardi Gras.
The main place to get supplies in Wacken is the Edeka Market, which I’m told is the single most-visited piece of real estate in the entire Wacken universe during the festival weekend. How they keep supplied, especially considering the vast quantities of food and beer they sell, is beyond me, but we make a quick shopping trip, bringing back several pallets of Warsteiner, some water, and assorted snacks. Even the young kids of Wacken are making money from visitors. A line of them wait outside Edeka Market with bicycle-drawn carts for hire. Hobbes quickly decides we need one. For the low-low price of 12€ a kid about 11 years old agrees to pedal our wares to the campground gate. In the meantime, Morten and some of the other Norwegians split off to visit another shop across the street, to buy our pavilion, chairs and some other hardware to outfit our camp.
Even the kids in the Wacken village make out like bandits. This one earned 12 Euros for hauling our beer to our camp. Hobbes (hat, shoulder bag) is to the right.
4:00 PM. I’ve got a meeting scheduled: I’m supposed to meet some other people I know, particularly some friends from Canada, at the main beer garden. Karl and I take off well in advance. The problem is that I told people—such as Derek, a friend from the old Braveboard (the Brave Words Bloody Knuckles message forum)—to “meet at the fountain in the beer garden” at 4. Only, there is no fountain anymore; there used to be. Now the center of the beer garden is a sort of half-assed may pole, but it will have to do. Indeed, not long after 4:00 I run into Derek, and Matt and Stephanie, who I haven’t seen since my last trip to Toronto in five years. There are also some other Canadians I don’t know. We get some beers and find a table just as the inimitable Mambo Kurt is starting his set. Mambo Kurt, who plays metal covers on a cheesy church-style electric organ, is a pillar of the Wacken experience. The Canadians don’t seem to track on him as well as I do. Ah well.
There is a major problem in the beer garden: dust. The ground is dry and clouds of gritty dust fly everywhere, landing on every surface, particularly hair and skin. After only half an hour in the beer garden my shorts are filthy and my legs are covered in an ugly brown layer. It’s also tough to breathe without coughing and the stuff is stinging my eyes. After a while I suggest that we decamp from the main beer garden and go to the smaller one in the Wackinger Village. I don’t know that the dust will be better there, but it’s worth a try.
6:00 PM. The Wackinger Village beer garden is a bit better, though the dust is still thick. At least you can’t see it floating on the surface of your beer. After a while the Norwegians, who have finished outfitting the camp, find us here. The balance of the warm evening is spent catching up and killing time—aside from drinking and chatting there’s not much to do in Wacken on Wednesday evening. Karl and I are eager to see the Dio set, however, when it’s broadcast on the movie field. I was there in 2004 when Dio performed live, the video set that they’ll be showing. Damn, was it really 10 years ago?
Norway and Canada meet in the Wackinger Village beer garden.
8:00 PM. The almighty Dio lives! At least on video. The movie field is a large Jumbotron-style screen, put up at one end of a large field on one of the higher spots of the Wacken area. In past years the movie field has been a great place to come and watch bands when the crowds are too thick and you just want to sit down. Tonight, when no bands are playing on the main stages, the video replay of an old Wacken set is just as good as the real thing.
And it is. I recall Dio’s set at Wacken 2004 as the single best metal performance I’ve ever been to in my life. Seeing it replayed here, for an enthusiastic audience on a big screen, brings it all back. “We Rock” and “Rainbow in the Dark” are the highlights of the show, but with Dio everything’s a highlight. We lost him too soon, and the metal world has never been the same. It’s hard to believe a decade has gone by since I was there in the crowd at that set. How time flies.
9:00 PM. Although it’s a bit early to turn in, after Dio Karl and I go back to our camp. The pavilion is up and Morten has even put up our flags—the three emblems of our three camp nationalities flutter proudly in the darkening sky.
The dust on my legs (and arms, and forehead) is intolerable. Though it’s only Wednesday night, I decide a shower is in order; I can’t imagine crawling into my sleeping bag in this condition. The shower camp is about a 10 minute walk, but the line is mercifully short. When I get back to camp, feeling at least somewhat refreshed, I find the Norwegians are back and the beer is flowing. Camp parties are always one of my favorite times at Wacken.
11:00 PM. Darkness. We, citizens of three nations, are gathered under our pavilion in our folding lawn chairs, cans of beer in hand, watching the flashing and twinkling lights of Wacken all around us, and hearing metal churning from various stereos in various parts of the camp. It’s great catching up with Hobbes again. Time almost doesn’t exist in a place like this. When I finally turn in, crawling into my tent to unzip my sleeping bag, pleasantly buzzed from the beer, I think it’s about midnight, but who cares? Day one of Wacken is done, and the main event still lies ahead. I feel good. This is why I came. It’s an expensive and difficult way to have fun, but it’s still pretty awesome.
To Be Continued in Part III!