“Wackeeeeeen!”— finally, that favorite battle cry rings out again on the “holy ground.” Fans trek in, parking camper vans and setting up tents on the festival grounds while organizers put finishing touches on the stage and technical equipment. They’ve waited for this moment for two years.
Tens of thousands of metalheads are geared up for a fun festival, flocking to the small village in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein from as far away as Australia, Mexico, Japan, Israel, Chile, Hawaii, Texas, South Africa and New Zealand.
Lines started forming as early as Monday but that didn’t dampen people’s good mood in the least. After all, they had plenty of beer and good music.
Meanwhile, Wacken Open Air, or W:O:A for short, attracts not only metal fans from all over the world, but also curious tourists. The village of Wacken, which has a population of just about 2,000, is transformed once a year by the now 32-year-old festival into a place that almost takes on urban proportions.
Up to 85,000 people crowd the village during Wacken Week; in addition to the fans, and the villagers, there are also thousands of employees, media representatives, the musicians and their crews.
The fields and cow meadows surrounding the village turn into a gigantic tent city with a tight infrastructure. Fans call the 240-hectare area “Holy Ground” or “Holy Field.”
In fact, a sign pointing the field out as a tourist attraction was recently set up on the nearby A23 highway. Usually, such signs point out castles, museums, nature reserves and even UNESCO World Heritage sites. This sign, on the other hand, shows the main stages with the bull’s head, with the audience silhouetted against it and displaying the sign of horns hand gesture Wacken fans use to greet each other and pay homage to the bands.
Newcomers, old hands
This year’s lineup has about 200 bands from newcomers to old Wacken favorites. Headliners are Slipknot, who will be there for the first time, Powerwolf and Judas Priest. Rammstein singer Till Lindemann with a solo program and Limp Bizkit were also initially scheduled, but both cancelled.
Fans weren’t disappointed for long as the lineup is simply too impressive: Arch Enemy, Feuerschwanz, Gloryhammer, Therapy?, Hämatom, Life of Agony and Finland’s Lordi, who won the Eurovision Song Contest in 2006. The left-wing punk group Slime is also at Wacken 2022, and for the first time, German rapper Alligatoah.
Some bands have been in the business for a long time, and Wacken this year is an occasion to celebrate several band anniversaries, including the German medieval rockers In Extremo’s 25th band anniversary, the 40th band anniversary for the German metal band Grave Digger while Cirith Ungol from California and the Britain’s Judas Priest even look back at 50 years of band history.
cologne carnival band invited
The metal community was irritated to hear that “Die Höhner,” a popular Cologne carnival band, will also be performing at the festival. Critics said that made the festival more of an amusement park.
Actually, the Wacken program has often included bands you wouldn’t necessarily expect — the very first Wacken Open Air in 1990 saw a pop singer by the name of Michy Reincke, and in 2013, Rammstein had folk singer Heino join them on stage; in 2019, comedian Otto Waalkes performed at Wacken, and Torfrock, a band from Hamburg, is a regular feature. Mambo Kurt, who plays rock and metal classics on an electronic organ, is another cult staple, while the local fire department orchestra, the Wacken Firefighters, traditionally open every W:O:A festival.
The idea to invite a Cologne carnival band to a heavy metal festival was apparently born as Wacken co-founder Holger Hübner and Höhner frontman Henning Krautmacher were having a few drinks. It certainly is a fabulous good-bye gift for Krautmacher, who retires this year after 36 years with the Cologne band.
Most Wacken visitors don’t mind anyway, many comments on social media said, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to go. In truth, the metalheads who end up in front of the stage where fun music is played tend to be amusing, too, celebrating and singing along before they head off to the major stages that feature metal music.
For many Wacken fans, the festival starts once they have set up camp. Beer cans pop open, the music is turned up, and people settle in for the next few days. Apart from individual tents and caravans, some groups set up entire camps, with seating furniture, refrigerated trucks and even their own port-a-potties. The metalheads party in front of the stages and on the campgrounds, turning night into day, and nobody minds the occasional earplugs either.
Every year, when the festival is over, the party campsite zones are a problem when fans leave behind broken tents, pavilions and chairs, refrigerators, old sofas and Euro pallets — in other words, really bulky waste. Disposing of this trash costs huge amounts of time and money.
So the Wacken organizers have come up with a plan — people who leave behind a clean campsite on the day of departure are asked to take a photo and post it on Instagram under the hashtag #greenwacken.
Prizes include coveted tickets for Wacken 2023. Advance sales for the festival, which is scheduled to last four days for the first time in 2023 (August 2 to August 5, 2023), begin one day after the end of this year’s W:O:A, on August. 8.
This article was originally written in German.