Wacken Stories: Gerhard Tolksdorf

10/10/2018 created by Christof Leim

Almost 30 years of W:O:A lead to many, many great stories – crazy, heart-warming, revealing, or just plain funny. To collect those stories, we have talked to the people that live, work or party around the „Wacken Holy Ground“. Their experience illustrate the festival’s extraordinary spirit, so have fun with special anecdotes which you won’t find everywhere else: Here are the „Wacken Stories“!
Gerhard Tolksdorf (Ordnungsamt Schenefeld, guardian of public safety, former choir singer)
„On three occasions the festival was really close to being shut down because of the weather“

With all the Rock’n’Roll going on in Wacken, someone has to keep an eye on public safety and a general sense of order. Since the very beginning, this person has been Gerhard Tolksdorf, head of the „Ordnungsamt Schenefeld“, a department at the collective municipality. Of course he was surprised when in 1990 two longhaired rockers came to his office and ask for approval for a „party“…

„Sometime in April 1990, Holger Hübner and Thomas Jensen showed up in my office and announced their plans for a „party“ in Wacken with a small stage, something for the younger population. They didn’t expect more than 300 people, just like the biker gatherings happening all over the villages in the area back then. So in the beginning, their event didn’t seem to be any cause for concern. They officially put in the application, and I let them know about the rules and regulations they’d have to keep in mind.

At first, both worlds had to get accustomed to each other. Mr. Hübner took care of the organization, and there have been some heated discussions between the promoters and the authorities. The first years were tough at times, but things kept getting better and people kept coming in larger numbers. At some point the festival’s production was handed over to Thomas Hess, and things improved significantly. Even though he was an expert in his field, I had to get used to his appearance, I have to admit. I had no clue about Metal – I used to sing in the school choir!

The „Ordnungsamt“, the public department for safety and order, basically has to take care of all the regulations, be it pyrotechnics, traffic, youth protection, illegal employment, environmental laws, building laws and so on. The main objective is to keep the event safe and take the interest of both the public and the festival promoters into consideration. We are the ones that have to give or deny permission for the festival to go on. But we’re living in a very rural area, so I appreciate any efforts to make something happen, be it a Metal open air or the „Schleswig-Holstein Musikfestival“. I’m not looking to prevent events from taking place, my attitude is rather positive. But there are certain rules: Every biker club has to submit an application, and even the youth clubs have to put forward their security setup. I also coordinate with all the relevant authorities, be it the fire brigade, the police or the emergency medical services.

We need to keep the people in mind who actually live in Wacken: They moved to a small, quiet village – and every summer all hell breaks loose. During those early years there were many, many complaints from residents. The organizers invited them to talk about it, but only three people showed up at first. But if everyone is willing to surrender a bit of their position regarding the festival week, a compromise is possible. Over the past decades, the mutual understanding has increased considerably.

As you know Wacken is situated close to the coast, so we experience wind, storm and heavy rainfall on a regular basis. On three occasions the festival was really close to being shut down because of that. But the bosses invested millions to keep the event running. I would like to emphasize that the promoters are great. They put safety before revenue. Because if a safe festival can’t be guaranteed, only one decision would be possible. After all, everyone should arrive and leave unharmed.

Of course, I ask myself every year: What am I doing here among all those crazy Metal fans? I said it during the press conferences many times, and I stand by it: The fans are something special, great people. We have the best audience in the world, and I mean it. Just take a look at events with 15 year old teenagers – that’s hell! I like the Metalheads, because they pay attention to the information we give them, they take advice, they take care of each other, and in general they can handle their alcohol. Of course there are those who have a couple too many, but usually people in Wacken know their limits and do not end up in the hospital. The fans rule. I love their readiness to help others and their open mind regarding authorities and especially the police. The officers patrol the grounds in full uniform – and they are celebrated, lots selfies are being made. That cannot be said of some other events where the police are considered a nuisance, not an entity that helps and supports the festival. By the way, my favourite complaint was when someone called to tell us the noise was barely tolerable. We asked: ‚We are you?‘ The answer: ‚Camp ground C.‘ I loved that!

Mr. Hübner and Mr. Jensen keep coming up with new ideas – like the festival counselors. I had strong doubts back then, but the counselors are great. They take a lot of pressure off the emergency medical services, which is a very real benefit. That’s awesome. We talk about ideas like that in advance, so the organizers do not have to put in applications that I might have to reject, and I’m thankful for that.

One year the Scorpions were on the bill on Thursday with a curfew at midnight. But they were experiencing some technical problems and even filmed a DVD that night, so they had to play longer. 30 minutes before curfew Mr. Hübner came up to me and really made sure I was comfortable. He brought some coffee and mentioned in passing: ‚We need to talk…‘ Of course I was fully aware of his problem, but I enjoyed his thoughtfulness and played along. I knew very well that we couldn’t just abort the performance at midnight. I was fine with the band playing ten minutes longer than approved. Over the years we always managed to find an appropriate solution for any problem.“

Gerhard Tolksdorf’s wish for the 30th W:O:A, if anything was possible:
„As far as bands go, pretty much everything is ok for me. I’d rather have Thomas Hess back (who suddenly passed away in 2018 - Ed.). He was really missed this year. We had known each other for 20 years, we became friends, and I learnt quite a bit from him and vice versa. We were able to make it work with out him, though. The new people in charge of the production did a wonderful job so everything went well, not at least because of the great weather.“

Text: Christof Leim

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