Wacken 2019: What makes this the biggest metal festival in the world?

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Photo: Athanasios Kouklas / Festileaks

The 30th anniversary of Wacken Open Air ended last Saturday, 3rd of August 2019. Festileaks was also there, and apart from seeing amazing headlining shows from Sabaton, Slayer and Parkway Drive, we also tried to find out what are the things that make the Wacken experience so special.

Camping as an experience itself

Camping bar Wacken 2019
Photo: András Melles / Festileaks

Camping at Wacken is quite different compared to other festivals. Although live music at the festival grounds started on Wednesday 31st of July, the campsite was open since Monday already. The reason for that is so people can prepare for the festival weekend! This means finding a nice spot for camping and setting up all the equipment you brought takes time.

One would question, why it takes so much time with setting up a couple of tents here and there. However at Wacken people arrive with cars, camping vans and caravans, and set up really pretty installations around them. Most of the tents that are set up, fit more than 5 people each and nearly every group of friends who camp together have their own beer tent. Real professionals arrive with generators and aggregates that provide electricity. Once they have that, sky is the limit: some people bring fridges and huge flags, while some use the electricity to power huge speakers and lights. We have also seen that some campers set up their own bar!

The Holy Wacken Land

Photo: Athanasios Kouklas / Festileaks

As the biggest metal festival in the world, Wacken operates with huge numbers. The festival infield blasts live music from 9 different stages. The biggest stages – the three main stages – are Faster, Harder and Louder. Faster and Harder are next to each other, making it easier to prepare one stage while a band is playing on the other.

Photo: Athanasios Kouklas / Festileaks

The festival also has thematic areas. Visiting the Wackinger village bring medieval vibes, hosting mostly folk, pagan and viking metal bands on the Wackinger stage. Right next to the village lies the Wasteland, where you suddenly find yourself in a post-apocalyptic steam-punk future. You never feel cold there, as there are plenty of flamethrowers around the Wasteland stage. Fire everywhere adds a lot to the shows of the hardcore, thrash and death metal bands playing there. In the evening the fire show is hosted there as well, and during the day the inhabitants of Wasteland perform interesting and freaky shows.

Photo: Athanasios Kouklas / Festileaks

The Wacken Plaza hosts the Bullhead City Circus with 2 stages inside – W.E.T. stage, Headbangers stage and the History stage. The History Stage includes parts of the main stage used at the very first edition of Wacken Open Air back in 1990! This year at the 30th anniversary of the festival, the organisers added this stage to the festival, fulfilling a special role, to which we will get back soon. Lastly, let’s not miss out the Beer Garden stage, the closest stage to the Wacken Center entrance.

Food and drink

Photo: Athanasios Kouklas / Festileaks

Wacken has a lot to offer when it comes to food and drinks. There is a huge variety of international cuisine found on the Holy Land, from Chinese noodles and Indian food to burgers, Hungarian Lángos, döner kebab and of course German Bratwurst. Plenty of breakfast and coffee stalls can be found as well, and thanks to the variety and the huge number of food stalls, waiting times were always low.

The same can be said about queuing at the bar. The 7km beer pipeline does help a lot, the bars never run out of cold beer, and you would usually get served quick. What also made things easier is the fact that several bar staff were walking around in the crowd, serving you during the concerts. Apart from regular lager you could find honey and cherry beer, different wines and cocktails as well.

The prices were around the average you might see at a festival: €4 for beer, and around €6-8 for a meal. In case you wanted to take something to the camping or you missed something during preparation, this year you could get them from Kaufland Metal Markt. There you could find canned food, barbecue meat and veggies, fresh bakery, more alcohol, or anything else that you might need for your festival experience and can get from a supermarket.

Outstanding organization

Photo: Athanasios Kouklas / Festileaks

It is also important to mention that the festival organisers play a major role in the success of the festival each year. Making sure everything runs smoothly is one of the key aspects that affect visitor’s opinion as well. Wacken operates with excellent crowd control measures, and the location tracking feature on the phone application helped visitors a lot this year. The app only collected location data and was only needed for safety purposes. Whenever any stage or entrances got crowded, you could receive a notification to avoid that area, or find/use an alternate route to get to your favourite concerts or back to your tent.

Not even showers and thunderstorms could cancel the organizer’s plans. Even when the festival had to be evacuated for a couple of hours due to an approaching thunderstorm, concerts were rescheduled to different stages.

The Wacken community

Photo: András Melles / Festileaks

The festival has an extremely loyal fan base. It isn’t then a surprise that the festival gets sold out nearly every year, with the next year’s edition selling all tickets in 21 hours! Metal fans from all around the world do their pilgrimage to the Holy Wacken Land to celebrate heavy music.

At the festival we had a chance to meet Wacken veterans, and we had a chat with Thomas, who has been to the festival 10 times. He said “going to Wacken, and being a “Wackener” for a week connects you with other metal fans on a different level. When you walk on the streets and you see someone in metal T-shirt you don’t do much, smile at each other at best. However, wearing a Wacken T-shirt anywhere bears something extra. I remember walking around in London with friends, we were all wearing Wacken merch. A tourist bus was passing by, and someone was leaning out of the window, waving at us and shouting ‘Wacken!’. It is a whole different connection, a real community, like a big family. And once you visit the Holy Wacken Land, you always want to return. Once you do return, it really feels like home.”

Photo: Athanasios Kouklas / Festileaks

Inclusive and sustainable

This loyal community really takes care of each other during the concerts and respect each other. This is how it is possible to do extreme circle pits and mosh pits with no injuries. In case someone does get hurt, both members of the audience and the on-site paramedics help each other to make sure everyone gets treatment in time. Both fans and the festival believe in being inclusive, and accessibility is also a key feature of the heavy music celebration. Wacken’s social commitment measures include stage platforms, free escorts, handicapped accessible sanitary stations, and sign language interpreters for several performances.

Photo: Athanasios Kouklas / Festileaks

The organizers put sustainability as well to the forefront of the event. As they would like to celebrate the festival in the next 30 years as well, they launched the Green Wacken initiative. It aims at keeping the festival and camping ground clean, making sure visitors clean their rubbish around their camping area before leaving. There is also an Instagram raffle game, where visitors who tidied up their campsite and uploaded a picture with #greenwacken can win VIP upgrades for next year, and other amazing prizes.

Diverse lineup

Wacken is always strong on its lineup, and the 30th anniversary of the festival was no different. As always, several bands played a special show, and picking 5 must-see artists can cause a lot of difficulties. At every show, regardless of stage size and time, massive crowds gathered to support their favourite bands. This is another proof of how loyal and passionate the Wacken crowd is for the artists they love.

The festival also supports new and young talents by organising the Wacken Metal Battle. This was the special purpose of the History Stage: hosting the international band competition with bands from 30 different countries. The restored podium from 1990 was used as a metaphorical bridge between the past and the present, giving an opportunity for upcoming bands to show their talent. The 5 winning bands are:

  • 1st: Varang Nord (Latvia)
  • 2nd: Archaic (Hungary)
  • 3rd: Drunken Buddha (Spain)
  • 4th: Chumatsky (Ukraine)
  • 5th: Vane (Poland)

All in all, Wacken Open Air is an experience that every heavy music fan needs to witness at least once in his life. Since its birth in 1990 as a small heavy metal festival in Northern Germany, where no festivals were taking place at the time, the festival managed to become as years passed, the biggest metal festival in the world.

Photo: Athanasios Kouklas / Festileaks

How did you enjoy Wacken 2019?

Were you at Wacken 2019 too? We would like to know how you experienced the festival. Below, you can rate the festival in seven different categories. In September, we conclude which festivals were the best during the Festileaks Festival Awards. Participation is voluntary and anonymous.

[awards poll=”festileaks-festival-awards-2019″ festival=”wacken-open-air”]

Wacken Open Air 2020

Wacken Open Air is one of the major metal festivals in Europe. It takes place in the village of Wacken in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. Wacken first started as a small festival in 1990, but its popularity over the years increased massively. Today it is considered the biggest metal festival in the world. It attracts around 80,000 metalheads every year and is always sold out. In 2016, Wacken launched its own brewery.

András Melles
I am a concert and festival enthusiast from Hungary, living in the United Kingdom studying History and International Relations. I've been to various festivals in Europe, and my optimal number of festivals I need to visit a year is 3, but we all know that the more the merrier! My favourite genres are rock and metal, but I am open to all different kinds of music. Favourite bands? Name the sub-genre and I tell you my choice! ;)