Founded in 1990, Wacken Open Air - commonly referred to simply as Wacken - is the world's largest heavy metal festival and an important meeting point for fans of hard music from around the world. The three-day event, which attracts some 80,000 fans, is held in early August with more than 100 bands appearing on four stages. Here are a few highlights from the festival dubbed 'Louder than Hell.'
As most festivals do, Wacken has grown annually since its rather humble beginnings in 1990. Then, a mere six bands played for less than a thousand visitors. In recent years, visitor numbers have leveled at around 75,000. In 2011, however, an estimated 80,000 metalheads attended. Throw in the number of personnel on site, and it turned Wacken into Germany's biggest festival.
For the duration of the festival, the official street signs in Wacken are covered with these temporary plastic replacements. Needless to say, they are an attractive memento for heavy metal souvenir-hunters and despite efforts by town planners and festival organisers, by the end of the weekend, they've usually all been stolen!
For a town - or more accurately, a municipality - as small as Wacken (there are less than 2,000 permanent residents), the arrival of some 75,000 heavy metal fans may take some getting used to. However, the event is generally tolerated by residents and the festival-goers certainly add to the coffers of the region.
One of Wacken's quirkier annual traditions was established in 2002: the festival is opened by the musicians of the local fire brigade, known as the Wacken Firefighters. They take to the stage to perform a repertoire of traditional songs. It may be a musical change of pace, but it doesn't stop festival-goers from trying to head-bang along to the music!
Needless to say, Wacken's program of heavy metal, thrash and hard rock is not to everyone's taste. Peter Harry Carstensen, then Minister President of Schleswig-Holstein, the state that hosts the festival, said at the opening of the 2009 festival: "I didn't come here for the music, but I can identify with the festival." It may have been a diplomatic way of saying: "I can't stand this racket!"
Countless bands, both national and international, from the heavy metal, thrash, gothic and hard rock genres, have taken to the stage at Wacken since its launch. One highlight of the 2010 event was a primetime appearance by American shock rocker Alice Cooper. best-known for the hits "School's Out" and "Poison."
Slayer, W.A.S.P, Napalm Death and Motörhead are just some of the bands to have appeared at Wacken - proof that the festival attracts some of the biggest names in music. British heavy metal pioneers Iron Maiden were arguably one of the more eagerly-awaited bands to play at the 2010 festival.
Such is Wacken's status as Europe's key heavy metal event that it has been the subject of TV documentaries several times over the years. Among the best-known films are South Korean director Cho Sung-hyung's 2006 "Full Metal Village," and Thomas Greiner's two films "Metalheads" and "Nordland," celebrating the festival's 10th and 15th anniversaries respectively.
Visitor numbers to the festival were set at around 75,000 in 2010 but 80,000 are alleged to have attended the following year. It might be hard to imagine just what a crowd like that looks like. This aerial shot gives a good idea of just how many people attend the festival…it's a colossal figure, bearing in mind the town of Wacken has just under 2000 residents!
There's not much we can say about this picture other than a festival just wouldn't be a festival without lots of mud!
An out-of-court settlement of a recent noise complaint case means that - with minor compromises - the 2013 Wacken Open Air will go ahead much as it always has. No doubt the 80,000 metalheads due to attend this year will breathe a collective sigh of relief that their favorite festival will remain 'Louder than Hell.'
Highlights from more than 20 years of the Wacken Open Air Festival.