A touch of Woodstock

Whitsun is the unofficial kick-off for a special season in Germany, Austria and Switzerland: the festival season. Thousands of people, mostly young, dig into the camping lifestyle and leave running water and an unlimited power supply behind to enjoy their favourite music and get a bit of that Woodstock feeling.

Open-air festivals have their origin in the United States and have attracted more and more fans since their first steps in the early 1960s. Among the pioneers are the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island and the Monterey Pop Festival in California, which have set the path for artists like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, who were barely known at this time. The famous Woodstock Festival made these music gatherings a worldwide phenomenon and helped to motivate European promoters to establish festivals in Europe as well. Starting from Great Britain, the success of open-air festivals quickly spread over the rest of the continent.

Hurricane Festival. © hurricane.de, Melchior

The beginnings in Germany were not promising at all as the organisers found it hard to keep the balance between a good range of music artists and financial profitability. Yet after some start-up difficulties, numerous open-air festivals could establish themselves in the 1970s and the industry has continued to grow. One festival guide online lists over 400 festivals in Germany for 2016 and this collection does not even guarantee completeness. Over the years, some have developed to become the most demanded nationwide and enjoy international popularity. The following are the highlights no real festival junkie would like to miss.

Rock am Ring & Rock im Park

These twin festivals are the most famous and popular ones in Germany and offer a great variety of music genres from rock, metal and indie to pop artists and bands. They both take place on the same weekend in June, but Rock am Ring is located in Germany’s west, in Mending, and Rock im Park in the south in Nuremberg. The list of performers is almost identical and the headliners are international stars like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Korn and the Foo Fighters, but German top artists are of course well represented too. Consequently, the tickets are usually sold out within days and the price of almost 200 euros for the weekend ticket will not hold the fans back. The festivals can look back on a history of over 30 years and attract more than 160,000 visitors in 2015.

Hurricane & Southside Festival

Another pair of festival sisters stretch from north to south – the Hurricane and the Southside festival. The Hurricane festival takes place in Scheessel, a city located between the two big federal city states of Hamburg and Bremen. Its sister, the Southside festival, offers a weekend full of music in the small village of Neuhausen ob der Eck in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg. Established in the late 1990s, they offer a great mixture of rock, pop, electro and hip-hop performances. Apart from well-known singers and bands, newcomers in the music business also get the chance to rock the stage and show their talent to a big audience.

Hurricane Festival. © hurricane.de, Pablo Heimplatz

Open Air Frauenfeld & Electric Love

Switzerland is probably the place to be for all hip-hop lovers with the famous Open Air Frauenfeld. American stars like Kanye West, Macklemore and Wiz Khalifa perform as well as popular German and Swiss artists in front of 150,000 people. This enormous number of visitors makes it the biggest hip-hop festival all over Europe. The very young, but nevertheless successful, open-air Electric Love festival attracts over 100,000 people to Austria and will take place in Salzburg for the third time in July. Although both of these festivals do not have a very long history, they are in no way inferior to the events in Germany.

Wacken Open Air

Probably the most bizarre festival of all in Germany is the Wacken Open Air. Every year over 80,000 metal and hard rock fans make a pilgrimage to the small village in Schleswig-Holstein, in the very north of the country. The 1,800 citizens of Wacken are clearly outnumbered for several days, but they have arranged themselves with the world’s biggest metal festival being held practically in their front yard. They have even found a way to benefit from the festival lovers that run around their surrounding fields and meadows, by offering drinks and food or letting their bathrooms for a certain amount of time.

TEXT: MONIQUE AMEND

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