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The Hamburg website describes Vogelball as “a bird-themed costume ball with electronic music” where visitors are “sure to feel free as a bird”. So what should you expect at Vogelball Hamburg?
For me, festivals are always the highlight of my summer social calendar. Dress how you like, meet a variety of people and dance for hours without judgement. You can drop your worries at the gate and embrace the sense of community that so many of us urban dwellers lack.
The German city of Hamburg clearly shares this sentiment. Between June and September, the canals become home to a series of festivals celebrating the art and music of many genres. I attended Vogelball – a queer electronic music festival that took place at the MS Dockville site on the bank of the River Elbe.
A weekend of inclusivity in Hamburg
I was struck by Vogelball’s unique character, nature merged with art and the industrial backdrop of the city. What started as an alternative underground event has now reached its ninth year and is a highly anticipated event every summer in Hamburg.
I spoke to the creator, Arne, about his vision for the festival. He told me the concept of Vogelball is to “have a diverse programme that is an inclusive space for all”.
Vogel means bird in German. And that means revellers are encouraged to dress up in feathers and embrace freedom and self-expression. Arne says when people dress up they feel comfortable enough to “act differently”.
The theme is open to interpretation, whether you want to douse yourself in glitter and feathers or don a bird beak – or none of the above. At Vogelball, anything goes and there is no pressure to look a certain way.
Speaking of dressing up, the ball takes place on the same weekend as Hamburg’s pride celebration. That means Hamburg’s vibrant LGBTQ community treats it as a place to continue the party after the annual Christopher Street parade.
What to expect at Vogelball
Strolling into Hamburg’s Vogelball, I was greeted by crowds masquerading as birds and graffiti-style artwork – all illuminated by a golden sun.
Although I was keen to explore this Neverland, I’m not one to do things by halves. Naturally, I headed straight to the Vogelball makeup artists to see how they could turn me into a bird of a feather. Since I had gone for a decidedly pink look, we agreed that I would make an excellent “bird of paradise”. Among our group, we had a peacock, some glitter beards and an abundance of feathers.
Masks, art installations, and open-air galleries are just some of the surprises that greet you while making your way around the festival site. The musical line up was skilfully curated, with a diverse selection of music played across the stages. Everything did fall under the electronic or techno category, which I do enjoy, but the castle stage also had “hip hop beats” for those less used to this music.
Before you go…
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Although named a “Ball”, I think a rave might be more appropriate. As is the custom in Germany, the party was an all-night affair. And there really is something quite magical about dancing under the stars.
Another thing to note is just how friendly everyone was! People were curious about where we were from and keen to welcome, drink and dance with us like we had known them for years.
What you need for Vogelball
What do you pack for a bird-themed festival? Here’s everything you should take for Vogelball Hamburg:
- Shoes that you don’t mind getting dusty and that work well on grass. I wore trainers and that was perfect for the MS Dockville venue.
- Cash. Cards were not accepted at Vogelball, so make sure you bring some Euros with you. With average food prices of around 7 Euros, 30-40 Euros should be enough for drinks and hitting the food trucks.
- Sun cream. Vogelball takes place in August and it got really hot in the day, so make sure you pack the SPF.
- A jacket or hoodie. Despite the sunny weather during the day, the temperature dropped at night. Pack an extra layer so you can keep dancing all night.
- A water bottle. There were taps to refill bottles throughout the festival so you don’t need to worry about wasting plastic. Pack a water bottle to do your bit for the environment. I recommend the HyrdroFlask, a vacuum insulated stainless steel bottle. Mine has been all around the world with me and never leaked once!
- Fancy dress. Or, more specifically, feathers and glitter. If I went again, I would be keen to take the theme a little further.
- Hand sanitiser. There are sinks by the toilets but the soap runs out quickly, so pack some hand sanitiser just in case.
- Tissues. Same as above – just to be safe. Matching them to your outfit optional.
Other Vogelball tips
If you’re planning a visit to Vogelball, here’s how to make the most of your time at the festival.
Keep hold of your cup. Once you get your first drink from the bar, you can use the cup for the rest of the night. As well as being eco-friendly, it will get you a discount on your next beverage.
Talk to the locals. They will be able to show you stages and things to do at Vogelball you might not find on your own.
Get there early. Vogelball starts mid-afternoon, so make sure to get there early enough to see the artwork in the daylight.
Go prepared. The phone signal is not so reliable to stick together and arrange a meeting point in case anyone gets lost.
Travelling to and from Vogelball
The easiest way to get to Vogelball is to book a couple of nights in a Hamburg hotel or Airbnb. You can travel to MS Dockville from Hamburg by taking the S-Bahn to Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg station. From there, you can use Citymapper/Google Maps to find a local bus to take you closer to the festival site. Or, if you want to make life even easier, grab a taxi.
Vogelball prides itself on being a green festival and I also noticed lots of people travelled by bike.
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On the way back, things were even simpler. A free shuttle bus ran from the road outside Vogelball to Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg station, starting at 10.30pm until the festival ended in the early hours.
Vogelball was beautifully put together, friendly and a lot of fun. I can see why it continues to grow each year. However, I am confident as more birds of a feather flock to this festival, it will never forget its ethos – openness, inclusivity, and freedom to be who you want to be. That is the key to Vogelball’s magic.
Tickets for Vogelball 2020 haven’t been released yet. If you want to get your hands on them when they’re released, sign up to my travel newsletter. I’ll let you know as soon as they go on sale, and send you some exclusive discounts in the meantime!
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