A Walk Around the Grounds of Wacken

Wacken could be just a normal village on the countryside of the German state of Schleswig-Hostein. However, when you mention the place many people will have a smile in their face. Once a year, the population of some 2,000 is boosted by up to 100k metal fans and people necessary to drive the Wacken Open Air, one of the largest an most prestigious heavy metal festivals in the world. I am not that good in having sleepless nights in tents and standing in muddy soil. Thus, I did my way of visiting Wacken in November 2023 by walking through the town, watching the festival grounds. And – without telling too much about this Pictured Story –  these some three hours in Wacken made me fall in love with this small gem of a town.


Wacken – Location and Transport

Wacken, which is interestingly calling itself the Heavy Metal Town is located Northeast of the city of Itzehoe. It does provide services for the surrounding villages. However, the festival is one of the key businesses in town. According to Wikipedia, each citizen of Wacken had a personal profit of 4,000 EUR by the festival – in 2007 already.

Wacken is not too far away from the A23 motorway, which is connecting Hamburg with the North Frisia region. The distance to Hamburg is some 75 km and a one hour drive at non-festival days. The next major city from Wacken is Itzehoe. During day time, there is a bus running roughly once an hour and taking some 35 minutes from Itzehoe train station. This is also the connection I took when I explored the city. Accordingly, my walk started at the Wacken Arp bus stop (bus 6170), which is also named Wacken Wasberger Weg.


My Walk Through Wacken

As said, I started right at the key bus stop in Central Wacken, which is (if you come from Itzehoe) right opposite one of the key sights of the city, the Landgasthof Wacken. Unfortunately, the restaurant reduced operations just a few weeks before I came to the city. This was especially unfortunate, as parts of the ashes of legendary Lenny Kilmister, head of Motörhead have been buried in there just as part of the 2023 festival. The band has not only been one of the biggest ones in the history of rock’n’roll, but also one of the most frequent acts on the line-up. Additionally, a portrait of the artist is painted on one side of the annex. The Landgasthof is also hosting a minor stage during the festival. I headed on North on the Hauptstrasse. You do find quite a lot of references to the prolonged weekend, which completely changes Wacken in early August each year. Even the local car mechanic cannot have a logo without devil’s horns.

Walking along the street, you also spot a former silo tower, which is now parts of the Wacken Open Air Headquarters and especially the Wacken Open Air Store. Even in November, the store is open a couple of hours per week, not only selling memorabilia of the city and the previous and upcoming festival, but also seasonal items. During my visit, for example, I thought about buying the official Wacken ugly Christmas sweater. I went for some other items, though. If you are around out of shop times, there is still a vending machine outside.

Pictures next to one of the gates tell you how huge the festival grounds including all the camping areas are in fact are. Close to the store, I also found the only empty city limit sign frame – they are nowadays fastened with special screws as they were so popular souvenirs. You may buy the city sign – or the sign at the motorway reminding of the famous metal festival all year around – at the Wacken Store, of course.

Huge Festival Grounds

The pictures you see below are now from where the annual heavy metal magic is happening – or at least a very small part of it. As somebody who has never visited the festival before, it is not even that easy to orientate as all the roads, paths and walks of the festival grounds get new name. There is a Road To Hell, Grave Digger Gasse, a Slayer Street or Bauer Uwes Heimweg (“Farmer Uwe’s Way Home”) for one week of the year. For me, this one was the Bokelrehmer Strasse, with majorly the festival inflield on my right.

To the left, the area is huge, majorly used for camping and parking, but also additional stages and sale booths like the Wackinger Village or the Food Court and merchandise. Apart from a wodka bottle and the W.O.A: Tower, nothing would suggest that these acres are sacred grounds of rock of music – until you run into huge maps of the area, based on the 2023 layout or even barriers, which seem to have no use but waiting in November for their following duties in August 2024.

There are some interesting spots, like the sign below (which is also teasing Wacken on the motorway), which is likely a favored photo spot. The soil still feels to recover from the terrible weather in 2023, which for the first time forced the organizers to lock out a part of the audience. Thus, I did not want to explore all the scenic spots, but at least had a visit to the Ronny James Dio Monument, which feels a bit of lonely for 51 weeks of the year. However, there is festival spirit all year. I have rarely been to a more friendly place where almost everybody is greeting you and helping you if you have a question. And yes, also in November, you run into locals having their evening walk in W.O.A. rain coats. That’s the special thing about Wacken – they love their festival, up in the North of Germany.


Waiting for 2024

I passed by some “storage area”, where obviously some signs and similar things have their winter rest until they are needed next summer. That’s also in the area where you have key facilities like the backstage area, press facilities and similar. That was also the area where you could see the damage on the rather soft soil best – the grass there is likely not too unhappy that the festival is just once a year – even though I am sure that even the meadows miss the hard guitar riffs somehow. I walked along a rather residential area, passing the local soccer stadium, but also the Wacken Foundation, The festival is a huge commercial thing for Wacken Town – and there are a lot of franchises around it.

Finally, I did, what you have to do: have a look at the ground of Wacken brewery and the famous supermarket, which is selling a hell of drinks and food on that one weekend. There is also a specialty store for role playing armory and similar items. A walk through Wacken would not be complete without saying hello to the base of the Wacken Firefighters, who are traditionally one of the opening acts of the festival (playing brass music!). On the way I also passed the local Wacken Tattoo studio – how could Heavy Metal Town exist without one? From there, it is just a short walk back to the bus – which was just gone. Luckily, the local döner store is a treat and gives you a really enjoyable wait for the next one – and sufficient time to think about whether you go for tickets next time.


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