Last week I wrote an account of this year's Skærbæk fan weekend, the biggest AFOL get-together in the world, that took place at the end of September. Now it is MeganL's turn to tell you what she thought of it.
She provides an interesting perspective, both as a newcomer to the event and as someone that has attended fan events in the USA.
It's a much better read than my effort...
I found out about Skaerbaek Fan Weekend through the Inside Tour, indirectly. A group of us have kept in touch since we went on the Inside Tour in May 2015. A conversation struck up earlier this year about staging a reunion. One of our number lives not far from Skaerbaek, and mentioned the Fan Weekend. Another two immediately said they would be there.
I had not heard of the Skaerbaek Fan Weekend (SFW) before, so I turned to my all knowing LEGO source. "Huw," I wrote, "have you heard of Skaerbaek, and is it worth going?"
All assurances to the positive, I booked airfare tickets and accommodation, using the justification that it was close to my birthday and therefore a good early birthday present. Having learned of the event just a few days before registration opened, I was not able to stay in the cottages at the Fritidscenter. However, there are many choices within a reasonable driving distance from Skaerbaek. I ended up staying in Ribe, a beautiful quaint Danish town that boasts of being the oldest town in Denmark, which was only 20 minutes away. It was a great base not only for SFW but for doing some sightseeing with family that had come to the area to visit.
I arrived in Denmark on Thursday, to give me a bit of time to get over some of the jet lag before everything started the next day. On Friday I made my way to the Fritidscenter in the afternoon, just in time to pick up my badge and registration packet, which included an event brick and minifigure.
Everyone was just starting the set up for their MOCs. The exhibition hall was quite large and quite spacious for all the models on display. I have been to LEGO events mainly on the West Coast where there are large rooms for displays, but so many MOCs that it feels rather cramped to get around (of course, the number of people in the room have something to do with that as well). One of the many very impressive displays there was the Great Ball Contraption that was composed of GBCs from several LUGs. The GBC took up at least a quarter of one of the two large exhibition halls and was endlessly fascinating to watch. I can't believe I did not take a picture, but I am sure the professionals have that covered.
My first task was to find some plates - fortunately I was in the right place! The organizers had asked representatives from each LUG to bring bricks to build their flag in a 9x9 configuration, and of course I had forgotten mine. In a stroke of brilliant luck, one of the vendors was selling bricks in red, white and blue colours. When the vendor saw that I was looking for bricks to assemble my flag, she did not charge me for them. That was the kind of friendliness I would see throughout the weekend. And I was able to put the right flag with BayLUG.
There had also been a request from the organizers for the attendees to bring snacks from their country for the LUG Lounge. So of course I came armed with the finest in American snacks, in this case Cheetos and Jelly Belly jelly beans.
Even though there were around 500 people in attendance, I had no trouble finding my Inside Tour colleagues, and shortly thereafter I found Huw. He was easily recognizable for many reasons, not the least of which was that he was wearing a T-shirt with a large Brickset logo on it. I am sure it will not surprise any Brickset readers to learn that Huw is just as charming and delightful in person as he is here on the site.
Saturday everything started at 10:30, with opening speeches by the organizers, who announced that there were some 520 attendees representing over 50 LUGs and 20 countries. I was (and still am) quite surprised to learn that I was one of the few who attended from the U.S. That gave me lots of opportunities to meet new friends from many different countries.
Representation from LEGO was impressive, as Huw has mentioned. I had the opportunity to meet three of the set designers that I met on the Inside Tour, and even more astounded to find that they actually remembered me (undoubtedly because I was the person who asked all the questions they mostly could not answer). I did not get to see Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, likely because I was attending workshops all afternoon.
I attended two of the same talks as Huw did, with Mel Caddick on extended product lines and Jan Beyer and Jamie Berard. Huw has covered those well, though the only additional nugget of information that I gleaned from the Beyer/Berard session is that LEGO plans designs for five years out for each theme. It does not guarantee that they will all make it to production, but every theme has five years of planned sets.
I also attended a session on LEGO Elves given by Wesley Alan Talbot, senior designer for the Elves theme and the set designer for 41078 Skyra's Mysterious Sky Castle and 41180 Ragana's Magic Shadow Castle. Wesley talked about the design process for those two sets, how the different elements of magic needed to be represented and how particular features of each set needed to be emphasized. He shared pictures of early designs of each set, which I enjoyed seeing how each set evolved.
During the Q&A session the question was asked as to whether it has been considered to have the Elves theme marketed to boys - the consensus from the audience that while boys are not interested in Friends, many of them think Elves sets are pretty cool. It appears that no change in marketing is planned and that Elves is still considered a "girls" theme. (Editorial on gender typing on toys best saved for another time….). I also asked whether, as Jamie had mentioned, there was a five year plan for Elves. There is, which makes me very happy as Elves is rapidly becoming my favourite LEGO theme.
Attendees have an opportunity to buy a Brick Box, which consists of bulk brick straight from LEGO. You never know what you are going to get, and in one of the boxes there was a very special set signed by Kjeld. It was not in mine, unfortunately, but it was still 10 kg of brand new LEGO. One of the enjoyable parts of the weekend was dumping out the contents of the boxes with several new friends (in my case, Huw and some of the English contingent) and swapping for parts that you did/didn't want. I think it worked rather well for me since there are not many people who want bricks in Elves or Friends colours.
Saturday night there is a dinner which impossibly had 420 people in the same room. Unfortunately jet lag caught up with me so I left straight after the dinner; I was not able to witness the auction nor the party afterwards. Oh well, it is always good to leave something for next year…..
After a shopping opportunity on the Monday morning I then had the task of trying to fit the contents of my Brick Box and everything I had bought into my suitcase in the middle of the store parking lot prior to going to the airport. Sadly, I had to leave empty boxes behind, the first time I have ever had to do that. But I managed to get everything home relatively intact.
Skaerbaek is a great event to attend. It has a high level of support from LEGO with attendance from designers and employees. If you are traveling a long way (such as crossing an ocean), it is definitely one of the key motivating reasons to attend. The other would be the diversity of attendees - as Huw mentioned it truly is an international event, and you will meet friendly LEGO AFOLs from all over the world.
Other observations about Skaerbaek, in no particular order:
- I was surprised that there were not more MOCs, considering the number of attendees. I imagine that the distance traveled by many of the attendees (including me) is the reason for this.
- However, the quality of the MOCs was superb. I have noticed in other events there are always a few MOCs that seem to be a recognizable set with a few tweaks. There was nothing like that here.
- The GBC was truly impressive. It really spoke to cooperation between several LUGs to put that together.
- Because of the LEGO involvement, the workshops are one of the primary attractions (for me at least). Marcos Bessa, Jamie Berard, Mel Caddick, Wesley Alan Talbot - what a lineup! And that was just on Saturday - Sunday was just as impressive.
- I have heard that there are those from North America who are reluctant to attend because of concerns about whether they would be able to understand the language. On that count, no worries, everyone - attendees and locals - speaks English. I am very envious of many Europeans who speak more than one language quite well when I struggle with about one and a half.
- Everyone was just so friendly! I have always found LEGO fans to be a friendly bunch, but the group at Skaerbaek went above and beyond in this area. As a result of Skaerbaek, I have new Facebook friends from Germany, Denmark, Italy, Serbia, Australia and Japan, among other places. Another example: I noticed the store onsite was selling boxes of Series 14 minifigures. They had sold out in about five minutes in my part of the world, and I mentioned to someone next to me that I would love to have a complete set to populate my Haunted House but did not want a whole box. Sure enough, the next day, two people who knew the person I had remarked to presented me with a bag with the complete set - all in in their original bags - they had sorted them by feel. And sold them to me at a reasonable price!
- There were not many games played at Skaerbaek. There was a speed build competition and a build competition in the LUG Lounge, but that was it. Other US events I have attended have had a full day or more of games for attendees of all ages. I have found some of those games (what we call the yelling game, for instance) a great way to meet and get to know other AFOLs. However, with everything else going on, I did not necessarily miss the games here, though it might be something to consider for next time if there is space.
- Similarly, I did not notice any judging of the MOCs, and there was not an overall theme for the event. That is pretty common at the shows I have attended here. Many people create MOCs specifically for the event and some of the prizes awarded during the event are based on how well they fit with the theme.
Would I go again? Let's just say the request for a reservation for a cottage at Skaerbaek has already been sent.
Many thanks to Huw for introducing me around to the English contingent (including Mr. Fairy Bricks himself! - unfortunately I did not score any of the bricks the Chief Fairy was handing out) and many others I may not have had the chance to meet.
Most of all, thanks to Lluis, Caspar, Stephan and Thomas for doing a terrific job of organizing the event. I am happy to hear they are already planning for next year.