SUNDAY, AUGUST 3, 2014.
4:00 AM. There’s a new thing at Wacken: the bus depot. So many tour buses now come to Wacken that the organizers have them arranged in various parking spaces just outside the main camp entrance. There’s even a large reader board, like the kind you see in a train station, listing the departures. Because of travel times and the need to stagger bus departures for traffic control, many of these buses leave in the middle of the night. The Canadian Joshes, for instance, have to leave about 3AM to catch their bus to wherever they’re flying out of. New since 2011, the last time I was here, is a long series of loudspeaker announcements about bus departures, all night long. For example, “The bus to Vilnius, operated by _____, will be leaving Space 8 in ten minutes.” The announcements are made in German and English, by a guy and a girl. I think they’re drinking, because eventually the announcements become slurred and snarky, kind of like the dueling airport announcers at the beginning of Airplane. “The white zone is for immediate loading and unloading of passengers only…”
I only mention it because this is principally why I don’t get much sleep on my last night at Wacken. The buses leave all night. Tallinn, Berlin, Prague, Warsaw, Rome, Oslo—at one point I even think I hear a call for a bus to Jakarta. That’s impressive, a tour bus from Germany to Indonesia. Actually I don’t think it was for Jakarta but some European city, but it sounded like Jakarta. Who knew.
6:07 AM. What little sleep I manage to get is interrupted by a strange, faint rustling noise near my tent, probably inches from my head. It sounds like little animals rifling through trash, specifically cellophane. At first I think it must be our resident mouse, Hosenbügler. Then with horror I realize it’s probably rats scurrying through the pile of garbage left outside my tent by our extremely untidy German neighbors. Instantly I get up and start unzipping the tent. The rats scurry—thankfully I never actually see them—but I decide now is the time to start packing up, and hopefully my constant activity will keep them away. Indeed, the German camp behind us is gone, but they left a disgusting pile of trash two feet from where I was sleeping. Maybe I should have moved my tent a few days ago as I’d considered.
This is the horrifying ruin left by our neighbors. In contrast, Camp Metric was as spotless when we left as it was when it was established on Wednesday morning.
I’m the first to be up and about. Derek, who wants to catch a ride to Hamburg with us, arrives about 7:15. Over the next hour or so the Norwegians start rousing themselves and packing up. I always take a few pictures of the ruined, wasted remnants of Wacken—it’s a tradition, and today is no different. I always call these pictures “The Harsh Dawn.” In our camp we usually rise early to try to beat the traffic back to Hamburg. Most people don’t leave until later in the day.
9:00 AM. We’re packed up. Karl appears particularly sad. After saying one last goodbye to Camp Metric, we shuffle toward the camp exit and the taxi stations—our plan is to catch two separate cabs (there are 8 of us) to Hamburg. Karl, laden with his bags, goes off toward the Kiss & Ride to wait for his dad. I hate this part of Wacken—the parting.
We catch our cabs. While driving through the village, the cab I’m in, with Derek, Juro and Morten, happens to pass Karl walking down one of the back streets of Wacken. He looks so sad. He doesn’t seem to notice us.
“The Harsh Dawn.” Hobbes strikes Camp Metric.
The ride takes more than an hour. The cab driver has to cheat—evidently a certain road through Itzehoe is off-limits to Hamburg-bound traffic, but he takes it anyway. Next to me Derek is asleep. I can’t wait to get to my hotel, the Renaissance. I always stay in the same hotel the day after Wacken. For me the festival traditionally ends the moment I walk into its lobby.
11:30 AM. And, it’s happening now. With my filthy clothes, dusty boots, huge red backpack and Avantasia T-shirt, I shuffle through the doors of the Hamburg Renaissance Hotel. The desk clerk smiles at me and says, “Wilkommen.” As I say the words, “I have a reservation,” my last trip to Wacken Open Air passes into history.
On the whole, Wacken Open Air 2014 was a great success. Nothing went terribly wrong and most of the problems we encountered were pretty minor and transient. The bands were great, being with friends was fun and gratifying, and the party never really stopped until you wanted it to. The Star Wars cantina song and the pile of filth behind my tent were annoyances but didn’t really detract from the experience, and in any event these are extraneous factors anyway. The Wacken organizers have tamed an almost staggering set of complex logistical challenges and fashioned them into a well-oiled, working, reliable machine. Truly, Wacken Open Air must be like nothing so much as a military operation, like the D-Day invasion. It depends on trucks, power, boots on the ground, food, people who know their jobs, and very meticulous planning. Compared to past festivals, 2014 went off almost as well as you could expect.
The weather certainly helped. We had a few spells of uncomfortably warm temperatures, and the odd rain showers on Thursday morning were troublesome, but these too proved transient. Wacken is a good place to have a festival like this, generally, because the weather in early August is agreeable more often than not. The exceptions to this rule—2002, 2005 and 2012 (for which I wasn’t present)—are miserable, but they’re not that frequent. I’m very glad that for my last Wacken we weren’t fighting the elements to try to have a good time. Dust was the biggest problem.
I won’t even say much about the bill. It was fine. You can tell someone who’s never been to Wacken before because they say things like, “Well, I’ll go if the bill is good,” or “I’m not going this year because [____] (insert name of coveted band) isn’t there.” At Wacken, the bands on the bill are almost secondary; if you can’t scan the list of bands playing there at any given year, regardless of year, and find at least 5 (or more like 10) that you really want to see, you’re doing something wrong. Wacken, in any event, is more about the party than the performances. Certainly, Slayer, Avantasia, Megadeth, Amon Amarth and Apocalyptica were terrific and it was wonderful to see them. But the party and the friends are what Wacken is all about.
The festival has changed immensely since my first time 14 years ago. Back in 2000 it was much more of a family affair than a huge logistical military operation. That’s not a criticism, just a fact. It was much smaller, much more intimate. You could get up to the front of the stage, if you wanted, for just about every band. You could see band members walking around in the audience. Wacken had only just started to have an international reputation then, so being a non-German there was like being in on a big secret that no one else had yet discovered. And it was immensely, immensely fun.
Me at Wacken with two Finnish friends, a decade ago (2004).
It’s still fun, and it’s still about friends, partying, and the camaraderie of metal. Hopefully that will never change. But today in 2014 Wacken is far more exhausting than it was at the dawn of the century. I think back to my apprehensions on the plane to Hamburg, considering how to do all the logistics, to get from point A to point B and do it right. You really can get caught up in all that and forget to have fun. Wacken 2014 was never not fun for me, but it’s now such a production that I think I’d better stop going before it crosses that line. I’d like to keep it as it is.
I love Wacken. I will always love Wacken. Many years ago, perhaps even the first time, I left a part of my heart and soul on that grassy field in northern Germany, and each year I’ve come back to revisit it. This year I left it there again and perhaps it’ll stay there forever. This little town in Schleswig-Holstein which for four days a year becomes the worldwide Mecca for metalheads has a unique hold on my consciousness. Counting this year, there have been 25 Wacken Open Air festivals; I have been present for 12 of them, or almost half the festivals that there have ever been. I’d like to say I’m a part of its history as much as it’s a part of mine.
Tschuss, Wacken. Thanks for everything.
Remember the news photographer who snapped a picture of Karl and I at the Itzehoe train station on Wednesday morning? On Friday, when Karl went to meet his dad, he got a copy of that paper, which had an article about Wacken and a paragraph about us. In case you’re interested, here’s what it said.
“Before the eggplant-colored, somewhat outdated Metal Train arrived, were Karl-Georg (19) and his father Nils in the Banhofshalle ready, in hand a cardboard sign with a name. “We pick up a friend from the USA,” said Karl-Georg. Via Twitter, the contact was made, but they have never met in person – hence the sign. Sean (40), from Oregon, is a writer. Zombie books were his metier (?). With the Father as chauffeur they went both straight to Wacken, Karl-Georg for the first time overnight on the campground. “The right Wacken experience,” he hoped for himself.”
There will be one more Wacken article. Tomorrow morning I’ll run an article consisting mostly of photographs that didn’t make it into the diary (or perhaps a few repeats too); a few of my readers have requested it.