The Wacken Diaries - 01: Festival countdown

T minus 2 days and counting...

Monday

Yesterday, after 11 months of anticipation, we got on a plane in chilly Perth, Western Australia. Today, after 20-odd hours of uncomfortable air travel, we landed 13,762 kilometres away in Hamburg, Germany, home of pirates, beer, bratwurst and oh so much tasty, tasty metal.

In stark contrast to the wintery scene we had left, Hamburg on a summer afternoon was bright and sunny. After taking a taxi to our cheap but cheerful hotel on the waterfront, Metalbeast Dave and myself did the only things that could be considered proper in this most metal of German cities: took a stroll down the infamous Reeperbahn (one of Europe’s largest red light districts), met up with some English metalhead mates as well as a stray West Australian who had landed a day earlier, and headed to the legendary Hamburg Ballroom nightclub for the Wacken warm-up party.

The club is quite tiny, and although it wasn’t very full when we arrived it was already quite stuffy inside, so we opted to station ourselves outside on the street below.

A concept foreign to Australians but common occurrence in Germany and much of Europe is the consumption (not to mention sale) of alcohol on the street and in fact, pretty much anywhere. Despite having experienced this before, it still feels slightly naughty to be “at a nightclub” yet drinking beer on the roadside. Still, it doesn’t take much to get used to it!

fun and games at the Ballroom

Another concept that does take some getting used to is limited choice in beer. Upon asking “what have you got on tap”, Metalbeast received a puzzled look and “beer” in response from the barmaid. “Beer” turned out to be Beck’s. You could have any beer that you wanted... as long as it was Beck’s.

While numbers swelled throughout the night, they never quite reached the levels of last year’s Wacken warm up event, where both the inside and outside of the club were packed. Still, the drinks flowed and before we knew it our circle of Australian and English friends had expanded to include a blustery American, a quintet of variously dreadlocked and bearded Irishmen busking their way around Europe with acoustic guitars and a hand drum, and a black metal band from South Africa called Warthane, not quite two weeks away from their first ever gig outside of home soil, in Switzerland.

Songs were sung, horns were raised, shots were downed, jacket patches and tattoos compared and admired. Metalbeast and fellow Australian Vagrant Chris debated which Ballroom t-shirts to purchase but never came to a decision. Others came, introduced themselves and left, but are now merely blurry photos and even blurrier memories. Too much beer will do that to you...

more fun and games at the Ballroom

Tuesday

A slightly sore head meant a slightly slow start to the morning, although Metalbeast and I were in far better shape than our British compadres who had trouble surfacing before lunchtime - apparently shots were consumed after the sensible Australians staggered back to our hotel. It was nothing that some Burger King and a 'hair of the dog' on the Reeperbahn couldn't fix - for most of us anyway. One member of our party was too green to even finish his burger, much to everyone else's amusement.

Today's Teutonic idiosyncrasy: after perusing the menu at the pub where we ended up (after deciding against the bar, bistro and transvestite show establishment next door), one of our Anglo mates decided to try a 'cola' beer which, as it turned out, was exactly what it sounded like - beer with coke in it. Despite not being too impressed with the flavour, he drank it anyway, having already outlaid the cash. The rest of us stuck to more familiar brews and were not disappointed.

Afternoon activities included a stroll down to Remedy Records, Hamburg's largest metal specialist music store, to peruse their wares. Given that we would be hitting the Wacken Metal Market in less than 24 hours, however, we managed to restrain ourselves and no purchases were made.

The Reeperbahn and Remedy Records

The Aussies and a somewhat reduced number of Brits again headed down to the Ballroom as it got dark, this time for the Running Wild party. Given that the legendary German pirate metallers were about to perform their "last ever" show at Wacken, we figured Running Wild pirate mania would be at an all time high - and we weren't wrong. The Ballroom was quite a bit fuller than it had been the night before, with even more people opting to stand on the pavement outside, prompting us to suggest that some kind of "beer garden" would be a nice addition.

Although the atmosphere was quite conducive to partying - Manowar and Running Wild singalongs were order of the day - we were festival-goers on a serious mission: making it to the holy Wacken campgrounds the next morning on the 8am train. So reluctantly we left the Ballroom well before midnight, making the trek back to our hotel once more to pack and mentally prepare for the four day metal marathon ahead of us.