This weekend marks the last Rock am Ring festival at the Nürburgring racetrack. Far from sadness, musicians and fans are basking in the summer weather as they go all out to rock it up in time-honored tradition.
Clad in hats and shades, the first fans are gathered at the center stage under the blazing sun. There is still calm before the storm, but with minutes to go until Lonely the Brave open the second day of the festival, that won't be the case for much longer.
Thursday saw Pennywise, The Offspring and old hands Iron Maiden rouse the crowds in readiness for a long weekend of loud music. Further big names include Metallica and Linkin Park, and from Germany, Jan Delay and the Fantastischen 4. It's an eyecatching line-up in what is to be the last edition of Rock am Ring at the location it has occupied since its launch in 1985.
The rock music spectacular is a cult favorite in the summer music calendar, and attracts fans from far beyond Germany. This year alone, more than 80,000 rock lovers have turned out, and many make the pilgrimage every summer. Kevin first came to the Nürburgring racetrack when he was eleven. That was 14 years ago, and he has been coming annually ever since. In the early years, he came with his father, who is also a big rock fan.
All round perfection
"The bands are the icing on the cake," Kevin said. "But the really special thing is the people. I have met so many great people!" His girlfriend, Sarah, agrees. "This is my first time here, and it's brilliant," she said. "Nice people, cool bands and a great atmosphere."
That mood extends well beyond the three main stages. Besides being a music festival, Rock am Ring is a giant fair, complete with free-fall tower, bungee jumping, tattoo shops, jewelery stalls and countless bars.
At the campsite where many fans sleep during the event, music serves as the backdrop to barbecuing, drinking and partying. High-spirited boys roll trashcans down the hill or play football with car tires, while girls dance the hours away. For many who go, Rock am Ring is synonymous with adventure and freedom, and fans will often go to great lengths to get there.
Anna and her friends came from the town of Hameln. "We spent seven hours on the train and another hour on the shuttle, then it took three quarters of an hour to find the campsite, and we've been putting out tent up for the past hour."
Judging by the French, Italian and Swedish flags on some of the tents, other fans have travelled even further.
After almost 30 years, this is the last time the festival will be held here. Financial disagreements mean festival organizer, Marek Lieberberg, and the racetrack's new operators will not be working together in the future.
Lieberberg is planning to move his festival to the former NATO headquarters at Rheindahlen in Mönchengladbach.
But the racetrack's tradition will continue in 2015 with an event called Grüne Hölle, or Green Hell, in reference to the northern loop of the track. Like Rock am Ring, it will also take place on the first weekend of June.
Fans are divided in their loyalties. Some will back the old venue, which assures them a setting and an atmosphere they know well and love. Others, however, say they will follow Marek Lieberberg to the new location.