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Everything you need to know about Wacken from A to Z

Silke Wünsch ss
August 3, 2017

The world's biggest heavy metal festival is held in the German village of Wacken. Nearly 80,000 metalheads get together each year to break records in headbanging. Here's a guide to everything you need to know.

Longhorn sign at Wacken Open Air
Image: picture alliance/dpa/C. Rehder

A for Arrival

Cars, busses and camper vans will usually have been rolling in days before the start of "W:O:A" (Wacken Open Air), which officially runs from August 3-5 this year. Some metalheads get creative and make sure to feature the famous Wacken longhorn symbol, going as far as installing actually horns on their vehicles.

However, the revelries start before most people even arrive in Wacken. En route to northern Germany, scores of heavy metal fans usually run into each other at rest stops and gas stations.

Read more: 10 things you need to survive at the Wacken Open Air festival

B for Beer

A healthy and balanced Wacken diet naturally includes copious amounts of beer. True metalheads can even tolerate the stuff for breakfast. To make sure they don't run out of beer, organizers built a special beer pipeline that continuously delivers the popular beverage to the festival grounds. That said, Wacken fans usually make sure they bring their own six-packs along as well - for those times when leaving your tent to get some beer just seems like too much effort.

Beer pipeline for Wacken Open Air
A dream come true for beer fans: Wacken had its first beer pipeline built in 2017Image: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Rehder

Read more: German metalheads construct beer pipeline for Wacken

C for Campground

Festival goers erect an entire tent city ahead of the festival, making sure there's plenty to do away from the stages as well. Generators deliver electricity to fridges, speakers, showers and toilets alike. For those who need immediate relief, there are plenty of Dixi-Klo brand porta-potties. Many people have even said that they come to Wacken for the lively atmosphere between camp sites and not so much for the music.

D for 'Dixi-Klo'

We already mentioned the popular German brand of portaloos, which aren't usually fun for anyone to use. However, at Wacken you can easily upgrade from camping to glamping by renting your own personal Dixi-Klo in advance for 150 euros ($165). Needless to say, they go like hotcakes - much like the beer and barbeque snacks which ultimately end up in them.

E for Entrance fee

A total of 75,000 tickets go on sale for the cult festival each year, with prices continuously rising. In 2016, a Wacken ticket still cost 190 euros, but this year the price went up to 220 euros. That trend, however, may likely stop, since ticket sales have sold. Last year, all the tickets were gone within hours, but they took 309 days to sell out this year.

Read: New stage, sound and beer pipeline at world's largest heavy metal festival Wacken

F for Firefighters

The traditional local firefighters' band is in charge of playing the opening act at W:O:A. Granted, they only appear on one of the smaller stages, but are nonetheless one of the key attractions. Having a repertoire spanning from the most recognizable rock classics to old-fashioned German folk songs, thousands of metalheads welcome the Wacken Firefighters into their midst.

Wacken firefighters' band in 2012
An unusual sight, but the local Wacken firefighters' band is part of the Wacken traditionImage: picture alliance/Jazzarchiv

G for Gigantic

The sheer proportions of the festival can be quite overwhelming. More than 40 kilometers (25 miles) of fencing run along the perimeter of the area, which holds 240 hectares (593 acres) of land reserved for the festival. Put in perspective, this equals 330 soccer fields and is four times the size of the actual village of Wacken with a population of 1,800 residents.

H for Holy Wacken Ground

This is not the local church community but rather a common term of reverence and respect toward the annual festival and its grounds. And there are some ground rules that enforce that respect. Signs reading "Don't pee on the Holy Land" remind fans that everyone is responsible for doing their part to keep the event enjoyable.

I for Infield

This is the epicenter of all things Wacken. The three main stages, aptly named Faster, Harder, and Louder, are all part of the infield area, which traditionally opens on the Thursday of festival week. Some think it resembles a scene from a battlefield when metalheads from around the world storm the area at 2:00 p.m. on that Thursday, but in truth it is merely the beginning of one big party.

J for (Thomas) Jensen

Thomas Jensen is considered the father of Wacken Open Air. In 1989, he developed the idea with his friend Holger Hübner while sitting at a local pub in his hometown of Wacken. The first W:O:A took place in August 1990, featuring six bands and attracting about 800 people. In the meantime, the event has grown and become the biggest heavy metal festival on the planet. For Jensen, who still organizes the event, it was a dream come true.

Thomas Jensen
Thomas Jensen is the mastermind behind the world's biggest heavy metal festivalImage: picture-alliance/abaca/J. Reynaud

K for KO

After all the partying, you are bound to hit a low point. If you're lucky this will only happen once W:O:A is over, but many festivalgoers end up suffering the consequences of another K word: "Kater" is the German term for a hangover . To minimize damage, you should stay hydrated, go easy on the junk food and perhaps remember to bring along some painkillers.

L for Loud

Wacken prouds itself in its motto: "Faster, Harder, Louder!" From 4:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. you might be able to catch a few hours of shut-eye, with the last bands usually finishing at 3:00 a.m. But in the morning, metalheads start getting up and ready fairly early all around the campground, as the first acts start playing at 11:00 a.m. Wacken is clearly not cut out for those looking for a restful vacation. 

M for Marketing

Wacken has become a lifestyle - one that comes with its own line of merchandise. Marketing professionals have seized the opportunity to make sure that metalheads can prove they're loyal to the brands they support. Not only can you buy all your typical t-shirts, hoodies, bags and even beer mugs commemorating your trip to Wacken, but there are entire events that build their following on the event.

If you want to continue headbanging out on the open sea, you might want to experience the Full Metal Cruise - an annual cruise that bears no resemblance to the Loveboat. And there's also Wacken Winter Nights for those who are happy to skip the Christmas market and instead enjoy heavy metal in the snow.

N for Neck

No doubt your neck will be the first casualty of the Wacken festival. With non-stop headbanging turned into a sport, you're more than likely to suffer the consequences the next morning. But thankfully there's a massage bar as well as yoga to make sure you keep the damage in check. And while we're talking necks, you might also want to make sure you pack lots of sunscreen. Depending on the weather, you could easily end up with a red neck and nose.

O for 'Ohropax'

Ohropax is a German brand of ear plugs that has become a synonym for the product. In fact, German shops would hardly know any other term for this piece of essential protection. With a sound design bound to live up to the "Faster, Harder, Louder" motto, do yourself a favor and keep your eardrums safe.

Wacken Heavy Metal Festival 2013
Headbanging is coming back in style - or perhaps it never really went out of styleImage: Getty Images/P. Lux

P for Pavilion tent

There are options for those who can't do without at least a minimum level of luxury. Pavilion tents enable even the fussiest of metalheads to find comfort and peace while keeping the party going. These rather large party tents, available at hardware stores, mean the less courageous can still barbecue in pouring rain and keep headbanging without even getting their long hair wet. Some people use these tents to protect the tent they sleep in, putting two roofs over their heads.

Q for Queueing

It's just good manners. Whenever something is in high demand, be it beer or the "Dixi-Klo" porta-potties, try to form an orderly line and wait your turn. There's no point in trying to jump the queue; there's plenty of everything for everyone. Besides, you can strike up a conversation with those waiting in line with you, possibly making new lifelong metalhead friends from around the world.

R for Rustic cuisine

If you expect culinary highlights at Wacken, you're probably thinking of the wrong kind of festival. This place is all about barbecued meat, and lots of it. If you bring your own meat, you're bound to find some place to grill it. The methods used to sizzle beef, pork and co. can sometimes look a bit improvised though.

If you don't want to show off your barbecue skills, you can always buy food at one of the many stands at the so-called Wackinger Village. The "Ritterspiess" (Knight's skewer) is particularly popular among festivalgoers: layers upon layers of pork are served up on a skewer fit for a "Wackinger."

Read more: 10 things you won't find at a German grill party

S for Security

Security remains high at public events across Germany, and Wacken is making sure that all necessary precautions are taken. Guards will check your access bracelet several times before you get anywhere near the infield. Bags are not allowed anywhere near the infield and some other public areas. Liquids can only be purchased on site or, if carried in, in a soft container. The only exceptions are fanny packs or bumbags.

You can also purchase the Full Metal Bag, which is a small sack in which you can fit your bare necessities. Don't even think about trying to circumvent the high security measures, or you might be banned from the premises.

Read more: How the Wacken festival is planning to keep heavy metal fans safe

People in covered in mud during Wacken 2015
You might want to give Wacken a skip if you have any sort of aversion toward mudImage: picture-alliance/Fotostand/Jakobs

T for Tractor

Needless to say, as is the case with most music festivals, there'll be a fair amount of mud to deal with. Sometimes, however, cars and other vehicles manage to get seriously stuck in dirt. A tractor is ready on site for these instances to assist stranded festivalgoers.

U for Umbrella

You might want to pack for four seasons, as the weather can change overnight, turning a dry summer's day into a veritable mud-fest. Umbrellas are only one option and, like most everything else, won't be allowed anywhere near the public areas. However, rain boots, rain coats and heaps of socks can also help keep you dry - at least a little bit.

V for Vandalism

There's rightfully a zero-tolerance policy for acts of vandalism and violence, so please make sure you and your friends behave themselves. Remember that everyone is trying to have a good time and that this should not be at anybody else's expense.

W for Waste

No amount of Dixi-Klo portaloos in the world can make sure that smells are kept at bay, so you are bound to experience some unpleasant scents. Warning: If you decide to spend a whole week in Wacken, a bit of stench is bound to seep into your clothes and pores as well.

X for Xylophone

Wrong festival.

Y for Yoga

Who said that metalheads can't also enjoy a bit of yoga? Just look for the Welcome to the Jungle section to find various yoga classes that can help bring some balance back to your body.

Z for 'Zelt'

You will probably hear this word more often than anything else. "Zelt" is simply the German term for tent, but somehow seems to be used more often in everyday Wacken parlance. Any structure that doesn't seem to be built for permanent use can probably qualify as a "Zelt." You'll hear terms like "Bierzelt," "Partyzelt," "Musikzelt"...you name it. By the end of the festival, however, the majority of what you will see will be the remnants of things that used to be a "Zelt" after a full week of parties.

Countdown Wacken Open Air