Wacken Open Air 2008

Festival Dates: July 31-August 2, 2008
Venue: Wacken Open Air, Village of Wacken, Germany
Bands Mentioned, in Order of Appearance:  Girlschool, Mustash, Avenged Sevenfold, Nashville Pussy, Leaves Eyes, Iron Maiden, Synic, Unearth, Job for a Cowboy, Soilwork, Opeth, Gorgoroth, Avantasia, Hatebreed, At the Gates, Lordi

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Wacken Open Air 2008


How I made a lot of friends, got a black eye, and lost my passport.

Wacken Open Air is recognized in many nations as the best heavy metal festival in the world. There are some contenders, like maybe Metal Camp in Slovenia, but seriously, there is nothing else out there like W:O:A. The amazing line-up that each year tops the preceding one is only half the story. What W:O:A is truly about is the seventy thousand people who make their way from across the world to this small village in Northern Germany to unite over their love of metal. W:O:A is about the metalheads, headbangers, rockers, punks, fetishists, and of course Vikings. The story of Wacken is the story of these people.

Naked, just because

Naked, just because

We offer you a miniscule portion of all the many stories and tales that weave their way around the magical time of July 31-August 2, 2008. We give you the account of two girls from New York City who decided that it was a good idea to go for an international camping trip with thousands of drunk and high strangers who are there to worship music by hammering each other with fists, wallowing in mud and vomit, running around naked, and refusing to shower. This is our story.

We arrived in Hamburg a few days early feeling quite extravagant about the vacation time that we were taking. It was a paltry week, but fairly long by our standards. We arrived Sunday, the 27th of July. We were to board the Remedy Records shuttle that Tuesday. These leisurely few days allowed us to observe as Hamburg, or at least the Red Light District, was slowly taken over my merrymaking metalheads. We spent the days hanging around the Hamburger Dom , the Hamburg Aquarium and the Botanical Gardens, where on Tuesday we napped on a shady bench to the soothing babble of Germans taking walks with their well-behaved dogs and puffing away on cigarettes.

Hamburger Dom King Kong

Hamburger Dom King Kong

The best part of Hamburg Aquarium, which was generally awesome. Sorry, theyre just so damn adorable.

The best part of Hamburg Aquarium, which was generally awesome. The most metal lemurs out there.

Our nights we spent at the Wira hostel, where the staff was friendly, the rooms and bathrooms were clean, and the shower lights were on a timer which meant you occasionally had to leap out and wiggle around nude in front of the motion sensor to get the lights to turn back on.

Tuesday, July 29 – We get there

Inside the shuttle, oh, youre jealous...

Inside the shuttle, oh, you're jealous...

Tuesday evening we collected our bags and misjudged the distance to Holstenplatz from our hostel electing to walk for an hour with all our belongings rather then getting on the subways (air conditioning on trains is not something Germans have yet considered). Once we found a bunch of metalheads sprawled all over a small square we dropped all our crap, and sat around waiting to bumrush the shuttle which arrived at 8pm on the dot.  The ride to Wacken took just over an hour of growling and threats of retching. We gathered our bags, got our wristbands and Full Metal Bags containing condoms (d42 was shorted her W:O:A condom), pens, stickers etc., and went off to set up house as close to the showers as we could.

Map of Wacken Open Air... the place is IMMENSE

Map of Wacken Open Air... the place is IMMENSE

We made friends with a screaming man and his posse who implored us to camp next to them. They pointed to a spot just over a hill and a few trees which we only just heartbreakingly overcame so we had to say nay.  The second we put our bags down in our new chosen spot, and before we were able to actually break camp, our brand new neighbors had already invited us over for beers.

Declining beer in favor of setting up tent in the last minutes of daylight we then ran off to find a much needed potty. A lady in an orange vest guarding the campground crossroads pointed to a raucous full of lights and screaming and we ran right into a number of naked men who were fenced in on a little landing around the potties refusing access to much needed facilities. We never found out why as our need was too urgent. Less guarded potties were soon found elsewhere. With dismay we realized that showers were not yet ready.

Filthy but excited by the noise, lights, and crowds of extremely drunk, extremely friendly metallers we made it back to camp to be scolded by neighbors for running off without even as much as a buzz. This was remedied long into the early morning with Christian, Lysander, and Stephan. The guys lived in a nearby town and so were able to get all essentials, as well as countless cases of beer and numerous tents driven right up to the campsite.

Lysander, Stephan, Stash, BBQ, Christian--already drunk

Left to right: Lysander, Stephan, Stash, BBQ, Christian--already drunk

Drawn to our camp fire, two more Americans showed up carrying wieners, mustard, and more beer. Stash and Jared, Californians, were traveling around Europe together for the summer, with Wacken as one of the high points of the trip.  As the fun seemed to be winding down—after a small explosion and things catching fire—Jared rushed away to bring back that evil green liquor that people must drink purely out of a masochistic idea of a good time: absinthe. Stephan gulped it down and fell to the ground shaking, screaming “This stuff is evil” before vomiting and then wondering off to make friends with neighbors, falling down, and finally coming back to sit down in his puke.

D42 and I eventually decided to try out the old sleeping bags. Screaming, fireworks, and other disturbances carried on unabated until I finally blacked out.

Wednesday, July 30 – We are introduced to Wacken-style medical care.

We awoke at the disappointing 8am because we were suffocating in our fiery tent. It rained overnight and when we came out we saw Christian looking with puzzlement at the soaked clothes he was wearing the night previous. He awoke in nothing but his boxers and wasn’t sure how it happened.

D42 and I went into town in search of nourishment and stuff to buy to make our new home more comfy. We carefully considered how to make our tent as white trash as possible and decided to add some foldout chairs, umbrellas, a cooler and our dainty underthings hanging around decoratively. If we had enough lawn to throw in a junked car on blocks, we would have, but the land around us was becoming quickly overpopulated. Eventually someone made camp more or less right under one of our umbrellas.

Lookin good

Lookin good

Looking REAL good

Looking REAL good

The late afternoon found us lounging in our lawn chairs, sipping Jack and Coke, cranberry juice and vodka. “How quickly we degenerated into white trash” fittingly observed d42. Christian made cocoa in his camp stove (oh, how jealous we were of this stove!) and we drank it out of beer bottles for lack of mugs. It was delicious.

We spent the rest of that day basically looking around for things to buy. I was disappointed by sold out Wacken hoodies, but kept my hopes high. This was much easier to do after we finally showered.

Home sweet home!

Home sweet home!

Personal Hygiene

Personal Hygiene

Because I had to see it, I inflict this on you!

Because I had to see it, I inflict this on you!

Later I was extremely happy to finally purchase a Wacken hoodie, but after leaving this precious garment in the tent I had the misfortune to use a potty next to some of the dumber and more violent representatives of Wacken revelers. Tuesday and Wednesday are days spent by nearly sixty thousand male metalheads in their early twenties doing more or less nothing but be bored as shit. A pastime was found by some douche bags who decided to ram themselves into the doors of porta johns after someone went in. That someone was myself, of course. It sucked quite a lot when the bathroom door suddenly smashed into my face.

I tore my way out of the wreck and some girls sheepishly pointed to a bunch of guys drinking nearby. I berated them, they berated me, I bled on them from the cut by my eye and stalked off. D42 went looking for a red cross or a police station and found out that the guys in the orange vests only know how to look metal while standing around by some fences. We then found out that Wacken organizers are unprepared to deal with belligerence but are willing to nurse wounds provided paperwork is filled out.

I was taken into a white tent full of makeshift hospital beds where metalheads bled and twitched. A nurse asked if I maybe had a concussion and after I told her that I don’t think I do, she applied some alcohol to my cut and then let me out to bleed where I may without so much as a band aid.

Respite was found at the Viking Market, which ended up a peaceful and surprisingly not crowded place where Vikings put up tents filled with fur-covered furniture and were being rustic all over the place with cauldrons and things roasting on spits. It appeared to be an add-on to the Metal Market but was also a small camp-ground for people who were a bit more serious about role-playing than the rest of the camp could have understood.

When we returned, Stephan told us how one of our neighbor’s lounge chairs was stolen. This was all decidedly un-Wacken-like behavior.

We spent the night bullshitting by the fire, feeling terrible about our limited German, eating steaks and wieners. I eventually drowned my discontent in Jack and Coke and went off to use the porta potty yet again. The same assholes were still there, rushing at the door, provoking passersby to do the same. A small Swede told them that rushing at porta potties wasn’t his idea of a good time. I did my business with D42 on guard but eventually I stopped trying to prove a point and found another place to do my business.

Could you blame me?

Could you blame me?

The rest of the night was full of lost metalheads seeking warmth and hugs. New friends were made and lost. The last of my euro was nearly spent. Thoroughly chilled, exhausted, and now sporting a black eye I crawled into my tent and decided to sleep it off. The hope was that tomorrow, the first day of actual bands, will give people purpose and keep Wacken goers from being a bunch of dumb-fucks.

Thursday, July 31– Tripwires, barrels of water, and finally—the music!

We woke up to only one umbrella and heavy facial bruising. This is the evil spirit of Wacken manifesting. Not the 666 number of beast sort of evil either, but the I’m gonna steal your shit in the night and clock you when your pants are down kinda evil. It’s generally why this sort of festival doesn’t work in the United States.

The gloomy feeling was somewhat diluted by our now ritual morning walk through the village and an impromptu shower in the street. Sleepy amiability of passersby and the inexplicably delicious Spanish breakfast cheered us up entirely. I got ice for my swelling eye and made friends with other people who sported the same injury. It’s nice to not be the only one.

Young Enterpeneur, shlepping beers and such to the campsite

Young enterpeneur, shlepping beers and such to the campsite

We chatted about anti-theft devices and territory claiming techniques. Scattering broken glass everywhere would drive the property value down despite proximity of food, showers, and the soothing hum of a generator. A railroad spike with everything chained onto it seemed extreme, but not out of the question. When we got back to camp, it turned out that our neighbors had been thinking the same thing and have already set up trip wires all over their camp. What we ended up doing was putting our names on everything we owned and then putting everything we wanted to keep owning either in our tent or in Christian’s kitchen tent if we were leaving. Sad, but at least the tents themselves were still considered holy and unbreachable.

As I mentioned, our neighbors were able to bring anything and everything with them because they live nearby. One of the things they brought was a pool. There is a Wacken Schwimmbad, but it is known that the place is filled with hair and filth, so we didn’t go. And we didn’t have to, because Christian broke out an inflatable pool he then nearly tore a lung inflating.  The next step was filling it with water. Christian bartered with a food purveyor near us for the use of a large barrel which we filled several times with water from the potty and had a good old time hauling back to our tent.

One man doing the job, the rest cheering him on. Especially Jared, throwin up those horns

One man doing the job, the rest cheering him on. Especially Jared, throwin up those horns

A Swedish girl named Janet came over, babbled at us, and totally ignored the menfolk who were drooling over her. She would show up again and again to steal beer. The consensus was that Swedes are a heartless people. We kept working on our respective sunburns while the Germans in the pool showed concern for a lack of Janet in the water.

Pool full of Germans

Pool full of Germans

Around 4pm we wrestled ourselves away from the campsite and got in line for the chance to enter the stage area. I gave my dues to GIRLSCHOOL and walked over to MUSTASCH, a surprisingly good band. MUSTASCH did their thing and then lovingly looked at the crowd, “You’re so many… so happy… so good looking… soooo drunk!” Stage presence they had.

Despite the excitement of actual music, we became quickly concerned with finding a shady spot from which to enjoy it. We weren’t the only ones and finally napped in the shadow of an immense speaker with at least a hundred other metalheads.

Sea of humanity

Sea of humanity

When LAUREN HARRIS came on, someone continued to gently snore nearby. She wasn’t worth waking up for, but as we were awake, we pushed through the thicket of bodies around us and left the shade just to avoid her. LAUREN HARRIS was more painful than the precancerous rays of the merciless sun. As was AVENGED SEVENFOLD whose awfulness we also had to escape.

NASHVILLE PUSSY came on, but we weren’t really feeling them. The growls from the party stage brought us over to LEAVES EYES at the risk of having to watch IRON MAIDEN from the sidelines. I never really heard LEAVES EYES before, but if you have, then you know that the growls I heard were probably the only ones they had in their repertoire of songs. They were more ethereal and melodic than I liked.

IRON MAIDEN was that night’s headliner. Many drove into Wacken all Thursday long (yeah, the traffic is still pretty sick) just to see them. One of our menfolk told us later how he stayed in the front for the whole set, and a cross he was wearing around his neck was snapped in two by the pressure of the crowd against his body, which in turn was pushing into the crowd barrier.

IRON MAIDEN started out with a video of how they flew in on their private plane, piloted by singer Bruce Dickinson. Then, as they were getting ready to launch into the songs, the video turned to World War II, and of course, Nazis. I thought it was a little weird, seeing as how they were playing a show in Germany, but no one else cared, and soon we were carried off by a large man who really loved IRON MAIDEN and we really couldn’t help but love the band with him and all his friends who were singing along. Dickinson almost had a fight with the camera man who was, obviously, shooting the band, because Dickinson wanted him to shoot the fans. But eventually he was happy, and everyone else was psychotically happy too. Great show.

When we got back to camp Christian was already there. We lost the guys earlier when they went off looking for Stephan.  He entered the bathroom and never came out. They finally found him under a pile of sand somewhere. He explained he was hot, so he buried himself. Good tactic. I will also have to mention now that absolutely no one got showers except d42 and I the whole time we were there. Showers are decidedly not metal, but we were just the sort of rebels to go against the grain on that point.

Christian asked if he could come into our tent and after a not uncertain “No,” in stereo, he relented. We slept.

Friday, August 1 – It rains, and how I remembered that cold can be painful

Friday we started the day right and after breakfast and some booze went to see CYNIC.

First time I’ve ever heard of them, but what amazing progressive metal! I was a bit buzzed already and I stood there listening, feeling good, feeling calm. The sun was still in full force and d42 realized that she was so sunburned that the top of her ears were actually blistered. We bought her a floppy hat and covered her ears in Vaseline.

Next was UNEARTH. A bunch of us got together, including some British metallers that lived next to the Californians. It rained. Since we were pretty much insane over UNEARTH, the rain felt amazing. Of course with rain came mud. With mud, come mud people.

Mud People of Wacken

Mud People of Wacken

Stash lost his shoes during JOB FOR A COWBOY, which we were sorry to miss as they were apparently a lot of fun. He then picked up some new shoes, made of cloth and at least 2 sizes too big at the Lost and Found. Since he was already sick as a dog and had a cast on (he had broken his hand by attacking a wall before the trip began and now sported a soggy and smelly cast) d42 found him better shoes and I gave him some cold meds. I think that was the point at which we transformed into camp mommies.

During SOILWORK we waited until the set started to meet up with the Brits and then ran screaming into the crowd to get to the front. The element of surprise worked and we moshed like mad. The circle pit never stopped and the wall of death extended all the way to the back of the crowd. Fucking awesome.

All the band pics are gonna suck, sorry

All the band pics are gonna suck, sorry

Björn Speed Strid thought it was raining because water kept getting all over him from the rafters of the stage, but it didn’t actually rain again until OPETH, which we also waited until the last possible moment to go see. Ten minutes before the OPETH set we were still at the campsite sharing liquor and BBQ, but got to the stage just in time to be utter assholes and shove screaming to the front. As it is for some reason common knowledge that one does not mosh much at OPETH we had to create our own mosh pit.

Seriously difficult to get decent pictures when youre in the middle of a battle.

Seriously difficult to get decent pictures when you're in the middle of a battle.

The important band of the day for me was GORGOROTH. Unfortunately, no one else shared my enthusiasm. They were to go on at 2am, which is a time when everyone is not simply exhausted, but also too drunk to make it far from their tent. I was really tired, but since I was scared of missing the band, I decided to not only stay up but stand up. I showed up at midnight and watched AVANTASIA. This Swede I met a few hours ago went on and on about how great AVANTASIA was, so I decided to give them a shot. They weren’t hateful, but they weren’t my sort of metal. They weren’t even metal really. The big deal was that the band is experimental and has about a million members in it and they all got back together just to do this tour. So AVANTASIA was on for two friggin hours.

I was freezing and rocking back and forth in the dark. My feet felt dangerously close to coming right off. Finally, GORGOROTH came on. The megascreen zoomed in on Gaahl’s face. It was covered in corpse make up, of course, with red paint forming what looked like a gash on his face. He was immobile, his eyes showing nearly all whites. He looked rabid, deranged. Behind him were three crucifixes with what I took to be three mannequins of two naked women and a naked man, but after a closer look I could see that the male was slightly aroused. They were breathing.

GORGOROTH went right into the music. These guys were uninterested in us. They spewed their black metal hate at the floor, hardly looking at the crowd. I loved Gaahl’s voice, powerful and rich, he could take it from screeching to growling to doom vocals. The music was brutally fast. They took short pauses between the songs, but didn’t let up.


Gorgoroth, photo by Michael Weisner

I kept expecting the crucified man and women to walk off their crosses and be further desecrated by the band. I don’t know if that finally happened or not, because about a half hour into the show I couldn’t stand upright any longer. I didn’t want to sit on the cold wet ground since I was already shaking with near hypothermia. I could have pushed my way into the crowd, to get warmth from their bodies, but at this point in the day I was flinching any time anyone came near me or I hallucinated something flying at me from the sky. It was unfortunately time for clean, dry, post-shower sleeping bag. I drifted off to sleep in my tent to the sounds of GORGOROTH still raging on the stage.

Saturday, August 2 – Last day of Wacken, shit hits fan, what to do when all is fucked

Christian and d42 discussed the wonders of salad that day. After the steady diet of little else but beer and bread (and what is beer but creatively processed bread?) they both drooled over the possibility of tomatoes. I planned on getting really plastered that night as I had yet to lose all sense of time and space due to uncontrolled imbibing of alcohol, of which there was still a shameful plenitude.

At this point of our depraved trip our bodies stopped communicating with our minds. We were lazy with the little sleep we got, the malnutrition, and the sun poisoning. The sun was again relentless. We could barely get motivated enough to leave the tent. Nothing seemed worthwhile. We meandered around the Metal Market and I spent the last of my euro on gifts. At nearly 5pm I finally got my crap together, drank a Red Bull, and made myself go see HATEBREED.

I saw HATEBREED a few weeks ago back in NYC, and it was a really amazing show, so I expected no less here. I came in there like I was on a mission and raved, jumped around, punched and screamed until the set was over. Good show, though not as good as it was in an enclosed space with a thousand white trash dudes from New Jersey. Completely soaked in my own sweat I headed back to the camp only to find out that my wallet was gone. And inside my wallet was my passport.

I won’t bore you with what happened next. Cold fear gripping at my heart, then gripping at d42’s heart, the panic, the feeling of doom… We spent at least an hour looking for it by the Black Stage, but everything was trampled mud and of course my wallet was black. I made countless trips to the Lost and Found and was directed to the security van where a very sweet Polizei wrote up a stolen property report which came in handy later but did not save me from being stuck in Germany. I missed several other bands while all this was going on and came back to camp totally crushed. I tried to sleep to avoid panicking. I called my boyfriend, called the airline, called the embassy (which wasn’t going to be open until Monday, and my flight was Sunday). Like I said, I don’t want to bore you, and I don’t want to bring you down, so here are some things that are good to know if it happens to you.

Ten Lessons Learned:

  1. You are not the only one who lost a wallet or a passport at Wacken, and mostly the stuff is found (even if it’s found a month later, it will actually be mailed to you with a little note, which is exactly what happened to me).
  2. Get a stolen property report as it will be your only ID.
  3. No matter what, they’re not letting you on the plane without a passport
  4. When they don’t let you on the plane because your passport was (possibly) stolen, talk to a manager and then MAKE SURE TO FIND OUT IF PROVISIONS WERE MADE WITH THE AIRLINE FOR YOU TO GET HOME (as were apparently made for me, but as no one informed me of this, I ended up buying another plane ticket home).
  5. To get an emergency passport in Northern Germany you will have to travel to Berlin and you may as well go straight there.
  6. The emergency passport will be made for you that same day and will cost you $100.
  7. The pub crawl in Berlin is awesome.
  8. You will need money and you’re screwed unless you have a good friend who will give you free reign of her debit card.
  9. You better figure out how to use the German pay phones because your cell phone bill will be ridiculous very quickly.
  10. The cheapest way to get a room at a hostel is to walk in there and ask for the cheapest room they have, without any reservations.

Now let’s get back to me and my panic. An Israeli guy peeked into my tent and asked if I wanted to get a beer. I was brought back to reality and realized that I would like nothing else. The guy ended up being Russian, and I babbled to him and a few other people with glee in my native language. After he told us how he and his friends must soon come home to Israel only to go to jail because they don’t want to go into the Army, my troubles stopped seeming so catastrophic. We ventured out to see AT THE GATES, who also cheered me considerably and then came back to the camp.

Since at that point I felt like I had nothing else to lose, I finally let go. Yeah, it’s stressful to live like we did, constantly worrying about somebody stealing your crap or punching you in the face, but I finally just went with it all. We drank like mad, danced around, possibly sang. I really can’t remember a whole lot. We tried to see LORDI a bit later, but my, were they a disappointment. Late into the night we stayed up talking to all our new friends, exchanging e-mails and promises to see each other next year. As terrible as the time I just described probably sounds, Wacken Open Air is still something I look forward to every year.

Sunday, August 3 – It’s all over, or is it?

The next day we leisurely collected all our stuff and made it for the shuttles. Remedy Records did an excellent job this year and the bus that would take us straight to the airport was easy to find. They also had our names on a list, so the fact that I lost our ticket (with my wallet) ended up not being a big deal.

Lysander told us that there is word of a trash heap out there thats 6 meters tall and just as wide. We couldnt find it, but this was also pretty impressive

Lysander told us that "there is a trash heap out there that's 6 meters tall and just as wide." We couldn't find it, but this was also pretty impressive

At the airport I ran into the obvious problem of not being able to get on the plane, so d42 took our tent and all our filthy belongings with her back to NYC. I kept my daypack and, for some reason, the purchases I made at the Red Light. Then I spent a few hours experiencing stupid terror and trying to figure out what to do. I finally went back out to the beautiful city of Hamburg and found a hostel. Lots of stressful phone calls later I ended up in Berlin.

This adventure lasted a few more unexpected days, but it also opened up my eyes to what a good idea it is to just STAY after Wacken. As I wondered around Berlin (where I had to go to get my emergency passport) I met people who upon seeing my hoodie ran up to me screaming WACKEEEEEN and dragged me off to drink beer. Even though I was technically lost and alone, it didn’t feel that way.

Related Articles

Bands that rocked our world at W:O:A 2008

Bands of people I met later in Berlin:

  • Anoxia – the band of a nice British guy with Asperger’s who gave me a hug in the time of need
  • Fetal Butchery – Canadian death metal band a really awesome girl I met in Berlin growls for at times

Stuff we wish we had, in addition to the packing list mentioned here.

  • bathing suits (at least tops)
  • device to make water hot
  • cooler
  • pavillion
  • hangers
  • chairs
  • umbrellas
  • pig mask
  • peanut butter
  • railroad spike
  • sledge hammer
  • a folding table
    • Rob
    • November 8th, 2008

    I’ve been wondering when I’d get to read this. Excellent article. You definitely got your money’s worth of music, adventure, and perhaps nudity. I’m less positive you got the full value of your food budget, but one can’t have everything.

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