20 Years of Wacken: Part Three - Beyond the Music (2000-2004)

While this is supposed to be about the festival in the first half of the second decade, we both felt that it would get old just writing about the bands who played. Take a look inside and discover all of the extra-curricular activities on offer at this mega festival.


by Goatlady and LeticiaS


By the commencement of the second decade of Wacken Open Air's existence, punter numbers were heading quickly past 25,000 per year, band lineups were expanding, and the festival had firmly established itself as the biggest, and arguably most important, festival on the European summer festivals circuit. Now, while this is supposed to be about the festival in the first half of the second decade, we both felt that it would get old just writing about the bands who played. So the focus for this article is a bit about the third five years, but also the extra-curricular activities on offer at this mega festival.


During the first half of the second decade, festival attendances almost doubled, growing from 25,000 to 48,000 attendees. And yet, despite the festival's growth - even up to where it is today at 70,000 - the camping atmosphere wasn't damaged or restricted. Wacken Open Air is famous for its on-site camping experience, like festivals of old. Punters who rock up to this small village every year can camp in the surrounding area. This area, which spreads over several square kilometres, crowded with tents and dotted with flags from every nation, makes for much more than just a 'tent city', and the organisers are not wrong to label it on the map as the 'Wacken Holy Camping Ground'.


Despite this growth, though, the cost of attending Wacken didn't really change a great deal (nor did the beer prices, happily remaining  fairly constant); although the currency did. Until 2002, Wacken tickets and adjunct costs were in Deutschemarks: in 2002 the Euro became the only legal tender in Germany. A measure of this change is that in 2001 tickets for the festival were 99 DM, and in 2002 were 50 Euro; beer went from 13.35 DM/Litre to 7.50 Euro per Litre.


Between 1999 and 2004, the festival also began to see the addition of what you could call 'extra-curricular' activities to engage people over and above the music and the drinking. The huge festival atmosphere could be seen in everything else going on around the festival itself. As anybody who has been to W:O:A knows, the atmosphere during the festival is a combination of the awesome acts hitting the various stages throughout the three days and the activities that surround it: the metal market, medieval village, beer gardens, movie nights, soccer matches, karaoke, and more.



Wacken Open Air Panorama


The metal market is what you might like to call the 'trading post' for all things metal. This outdoor market fulfils every headbanger's fashion desire: tshirts, boots, patches, jewellery, studded belts, hats and pretty much everything else imaginable. It's also where you can pick up the ubiquitous drinking horns. In addition to the Metal Market is the Metal Market Event Tent, which does cost a small once-only fee for unlimited access during the three day festival. It's worth it though, because it's here that you find CD, DVD and vinyl stores, as well as indoor entertainment. That entertainment includes riff competitions, artist signings, strip shows, and much more.


And, being in Germany, you couldn't have a festival without a traditional Bavarian beer garden, where you can sit on a bench while you're drinking your beer (in case standing up and drinking gets a bit much for you). Not to be totally separate from the village of Wacken, which has always been, and continues to be, so very supportive of the festival, it wouldn't be complete without the beer garden's own eclectic entertainment. This entertainment includes Mambo Kurt, who covers metal songs on his organ in polka and bossa-nova style, and the ever-popular Wacken Fire Department Band.


One of the elements of W:O:A, however, that has grown in popularity over the years, hand-in-hand with the popularity growth of folk and viking metal, is the Medieval Market. This market features craftsmen who offer hand-crafted leather goods, armour, chain mail, helmets and the like for sale. Some of these also set up workstations so visitors can see the items being made. The medieval market is one of the reasons why you're likely to see punters wandering around under the European summer sun wearing full suits of chain mail.


The popularity of the Medieval Market, especially in the latter half of the second decade, has meant that in 2009 for the 20th anniversary of Wacken Open Air, the festival will feature The Wackinger. What is The Wackinger? It is a huge viking village and role players' and knight army's camp - every folk and Viking metal enthusiast's dream. 


The Wackinger will be housed in an extra, fenced-off two hectare square area. Some of the highlights will include viking and knight fights; staged role-player battles; weapon shows; juggling; music. Wacken punters will be able to take an active part in the Bruchenball cup, highland games, and more - at no extra cost. One couple are even getting married!


Karaoke at Wacken is an experience unlike any other - and with a crowd many times larger than the average club show watching, even more so for the participants. Each night in the Headbanger's Ballroom tent, thousands gather to watch singers try to wow the audience with a full live back-up band. Big screens flashing the lyrics to metal classics behind the performers ensure that the audience are all singing along too. It's an experience you won't get anywhere else in the world.


Perhaps the most significant thing about the extra-curricular activities at W:O:A is their demonstration that the festival's organisers are not content to rest on their laurels and just have the same thing year-in and year-out. A good festival does evolve to keep its punters interested, and to keep them coming back. Of course, what it also means is that you end up with so many people wanting to attend the festival that at some point you have to set a limit and say no more. While that limit wasn't reached in the first half of the second decade, it was reached a mere four years later.


Stay tuned for the final article in our series - which will look at the huge event, which happens in about a fortnight - Wacken Open Air: for the 20th time.