We love Wacken Open Air, we have been attending the festival since 2007. We’ve written this post to hopefully help anyone who is thinking of going this year, or in future years. So here it is: Wacken – A First Timers Guide.
Wacken is a small village in the Schleswig-Holstein region of Germany, about 50 miles north west of Hamburg. With a usual population just shy of 2000 people during the summer Wacken Open Air dramatically increases the amount of people in the village with approximately 85,000 metalheads making the journey each year for the festival.
How to get there
The first question we’ll answer in our Wacken First Timers Guide is how to get there. The closest international transport hub to Wacken is Hamburg and from there you have a number of options to choose from in terms of transport.
You can take the train from Hamburg city centre to Itzehoe which is the closest train station to Wacken. You may find that you need to change trains in Elmshorn if you aren’t on a direct train – just follow the people dressed in black. When you arrive in Itzehoe you will need to get on the shuttle bus to the festival. Times are published on the Wacken Open Air site nearer the time of the festival.
If you’re headed to Wacken straight from the airport and you’re in a group you might consider taxi’s. They’re not a bad price if you can fill the car and often people will share with you if you’re landing on the Wednesday or Thursday. It will cost you more than the train and shuttle bus but you will arrive there quicker and have door to door service. When carrying a big tent as well as your normal bags you might decide it’s worth it.
If you’re confident driving a manual car on the right side of the road consider renting a car. It’s an easy drive to the festival grounds but if you’re travelling in peak times the queue on and off the campsites can be a nightmare. We have found the benefits of having a car outweigh the negatives though. It gives you somewhere to store luggage outside of your tent and you have the option for onward travel after the festival to see more of Germany.
When you arrive you will be directed to one of the campsites. If you have arrived by public transport you will find yourself in one of the campsites for camping only. These campsites are closest to the main street of the village. If you have arrived by car you will be directed soon after arriving within the surrounding area of the village, this allows the organisers and local police to manage the huge increase in traffic. You will be directed to a campsite and a pitch where you will set up your tent next to your car.
Wacken First Timers Guide Tip
Get out of your car and start laying out your tent as quickly as possible to make sure you get enough space. Everyone is out of their cars quickly after parking and every year peoples campsites get bigger and bigger. Don’t be surprised to see sofa’s, dining tables or even full fenced in yards…
Once you’re set up you need to head to one of the ticket exchange points, you will find the location of these on the maps located at the entrances of the campsites. Remember where your tent is, the campsite area is enormous. Take your ticket to the exchange point where you will be given your wrist band for the weekend allowing you access to the festival grounds. You will also be given this years Full Metal Bag which is full of useful items such as first aid kits, ponchos, water bottle, ear plugs etc. as well as badges, pins and more, all with Wacken branding, the contents changes each year.
What to see first
This is a tough question but we would first head into the village before any bands start. A lot of the locals go all out during the week of the festival and you will find several have opened their houses for festival goers. Some might be offering use of their shower (for a price!) or the might have set up a make-shift bar in their garden. On the main street you will also find the Wacken Information Office where you can buy any Wacken branded merchandise you could think of. You will also find Metal Place which is a popular bar outside of the festival area.
One of our favourite places in Wacken is the Wackinger Village which seems to grow every year! You will find medieval reenactments here as well as booths where you can try your hand at axe throwing or archery.
If your scene is a bit more Mad Max you will also find the Wasteland in the Wackinger village which you definitely will not want to miss. Here the actors entertain the crowds by parading their vehicles around or even taking part in a bit of cage fighting.
There are two stages within the Wackinger Village, The Wackinger stage and the Wasteland stage. The times for both of these stages will be released at the same time as the runnings of the main stages. Both of these stages are smaller which gives a different atmosphere than the main stages, and the bands have been great when we’ve been walking through this area. It gives you the opportunity to maybe see some bands you haven’t heard of before.
From the Wackinger Village you can cross through into the Wacken Plaza area where you will find some more activities to take part in, pole sitting has been available for a few years now but a new addition we noticed recently was the beach area and some barrel showers. This area use to hold a football pitch but not being football fans we think it has been much improved with the new additions. This area is the main thoroughfare between the stages and the campsites.
You will spend a lot of time at the various bars around the festival. One of the main bars is just off the Wacken Plaza area, the Beer Garden. Most of the bars in the festival grounds serve Beck’s but within the Beer Garden as well as Beck’s you can get the popular Bavarian Weissbier. You will find another stage here, the Beer Garden Stage, you can usually catch the W:O:A Firefighters playing on this stage, there is also karaoke later at night. Wacken’s own Rainbow Bar and Grill is now located here with a statue to remember Lemmy from Motörhead who often frequented the Rainbow which is on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles and often played Wacken Open Air.
The infield is where you will find the three main stages. It will open during the afternoon on Thursday and will be open from mid morning through to the early hours every day from then until the end of the festival in the early hours of Sunday morning, last band usually finishes at 2 or 3am.
There are three main stages which were renamed in 2017 from True Metal, Black Metal and Party Stages to Faster, Harder, Louder stages. This is where you will find the big names and so you will also find the big crowds.
Wacken First Timers Guide Tip
If your favourite band is playing next on the Faster or Harder stages and you want to be up front start making your way while the previous band is playing on the other stage. The two stages are next to each other so only operate alternately. There will be space towards the front on the outer edge of the stage which no one is currently playing which you can get to. If you want to be on the barrier you’re going to have to be there pretty much when the infield opens though.
One of the mottos of Wacken is “Wacken Rain or Shine” and they mean it. No matter what the weather the festival goes on and everyone has a great time. We’ve seen the ground turn into a dust bowl it’s been so hot and dry and we’ve seen it as a swamp due to so much rain the ground couldn’t cope and everything in between.
Looks pretty good in the sun right? How about in the rain…
It’s still the best and biggest metal festival in the world!
Don’t let the weather potential prevent you from buying your tickets. Be quick about buying the tickets as well, ever since 2007 Wacken Open Air has sold out each year sometimes within a couple of days of the tickets being released. Which is usually towards the end of August/start of September but can change. Check the website during the festival the year before you want to go, there will be an announcement about the sale of the following years tickets. They usually announce at least one of the headlining acts for the following year at this time as well.
We can’t emphasise this enough in our Wacken First Timers Guide – be ready to leave early. People will start leaving Saturday night, if you wonder why and you take your time packing up Sunday morning you will find out. Traffic leaving the site is horrendous Sunday morning the later you leave it the longer the queue off the site. You want to be up and away by 8am to be sure you’re not stuck in the queue and depending whereabouts your pitch is this might be too late. We were unfortunate enough to get stuck towards the back of the queue in 2017, we had left it a bit later than usual, packed up ready to leave at 9 to head back to Hamburg. The 1 hour journey took over 4 hours!