An hour’s drive south of Hamburg in the unassuming village of Scheeßel (pronounced as ‘seashell’ would be after an oral anaesthetic), dotted in one of lower Saxony’s rolling emerald fields lie the festival grounds of one of Germany’s many badass and beery music festivals.
Hurricane Festival has grown remarkably in its 15 years, establishing itself amongst Europe’s biggest by accommodating 75,000 and attracting international attention and attendance. It caught my own attention this June and, as a regular British festivalgoer, I naturally assumed the role of ambassador to Germany’s organised revelry and couldn’t help but compare it to that of the British.
Although the festival ‘vibe’ remains true of every large European festival – music, booze, camping and general chirp – there were unmistakable differences between the German and UK experiences. A very surprising and welcome difference was that everything at Hurricane… worked. Not to riff on the tired stereotyping of Germans as an ‘efficient’ people, but effing Nora, there were toilets. Toilets! That flushed!
Eating was enjoyable; the food tasty, even. Prior to Hurricane I’d considered a hearty festival breakfast to be a soggy baguette wrapped around a shred of rubbery bacon and a tent-warmed Carling with which to force it down. Not so in Germany. Courtesy of the well-stocked pop-up Supermarkt on site, I was treated to some meaty bratwurst sausage for breakfast; evenly cooked on a cheap disposable BBQ (German festivalgoers are trusted with fire, you see); and a fresh salad with choice dressing as a side… washed, not forced, down with a tent-warmed Becks.
The camping areas were a metropolis of well-set tents and gazebos steadied and shielded by pegging and windbreaks, perfectly soundtracked by beefy speakers and beery singing. I felt short-changed by my years of barely sleeping in a tent (for ‘tent,’ read: leaky tarpaulin sleeping bag) to the tune of raspy Brits trying to salvage another “oggy, oggy, oggy” chant at four in the pissing morning. Though admittedly, it’s part of what draws me to festivals: escaping the sanity and sterility of the 9 to 5 for the scarcity; the sordid and debased nature of shivering in a muddy field after a day of cumbersome dancing in heavy wellies.
That’s what festivals are all about: letting loose. Getting ‘loosey goosey,’ as a friend of mine says, and the Germans are much looser geese than their national stereotype would imply. The Germans actually lead in the amount of paid holiday taken annually, globally, and make no mistake – they know how to party.
That being said, I was a Brit out of water in their well-facilitated land – I hadn’t paused to modify my British festivalgoer behaviours. By trial and error I discovered variations in the standards of ‘looseness’ considered acceptable by the British festivalgoer and their German counterpart.
I have a fond memory of Reading Festival 2013 that exemplifies one such ‘variation:’ after queuing to use a urinal (read: knee-high trough), I sandwiched myself shoulder to shoulder with my urinating compatriots and burped. It started a chain reaction of belching Brits competing for the most impressive volume and duration – it was magical. Hurricane Festival: I march into position betwixt fellow revellers filling their flashy, urinal-caked troughs; loudly and proudly and in full festival swing, I fire a spectacularly long and tuneful burp, more than worthy of compliment and reply. Not so in Germany. I was treated to awkward stares and looks of contempt as I retreated, ashamed.
Then there was the music, something everyone and anyone could agree on over the weekend. As the name might imply, Hurricane was once reserved for the hardcore rock and metal fans of Western Europe, but as the festival has grown, so with it has the range of musical taste catered for across the four big stages. In three days of music I listened to Canadian EDM (Deadmau5), German metal (Madsen), South African alternative (Die Antwoord), American rap (Big Sean), Irish indie (Catfish and the Bottlemen), British rap/drum and bass (Dub Phizix) and even a Bavarian brass band (LaBrassBanda) to name a few.
The German’s have got it to a T. For me, it was a fairytale retreat; an eclectic choice of acts plus all the beloved simplicity of a British festival sans unwelcome reminders of what the UK has become: cash-obsessed (you prepay festival funds to a cashless wristband (trialled at UK’s Download Festival – the system crashed)), full of cringe-worthy lager louts (hypocrite!) wearing the same clothes, haircuts and tattoos; listening to the same poorly manufactured ‘music’ in a communal state of excessive inebriation.
That being said, the local chirpers were surprised I’d opted to fly two flights and board three trains en route to their local event. Why did I choose to travel so far when there are “better” festivals on my doorstep?
Perhaps our countries’ merrymakers are missing what the other has. I can picture a utopian Anglo-German festival: one can burp and piss in chorus, smelling sweeter smells and eating tastier food… washed down with some tent-warmed beer.