What's the difference between U.S. and European LEGO events?

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Skaerbaek Fan Weekend is the biggest fan event in Europe, when close to 1000 AFOLs from all around the world descend on a small town on the west coast of Denmark on the last weekend of September.

I'm excited to be attending for the fourth time this year. It's a great time filled with trips to the LEGO House, seeing some great MOCs, and attending seminars and workshops. Of course the best part is seeing old LEGO friends and making new ones!

Prior to attending Skaerbaek for the first time, I was curious to see how similar LEGO events were on the other side of the Atlantic to U.S. LEGO events. After having attended three Skaerbaek Fan Weekends, and several shows in the U.S., I'll discuss some of my observations after the jump.


What's the same

Not surprisingly, there are many, many similarities between LEGO events in the U.S. and Skaerbaek Fan Weekend (SFW).

  • There are terrific MOCs. This is one of the motivating reasons for people to attend LEGO events, and it's certainly the reason why the public attends. There are talented builders everywhere. It's amazing to see the creativity in our community, not to mention to see just how far the brick medium can go.
  • GBC displays are very popular. Seeing the GBC at work is mesmerizing, and it never fails to be one of the areas in the display hall that draws the largest crowds, particularly during public display hours.

View image at flickr

The GBC display at Brickworld Chicago

  • There are really two events: one is intended for the general public to view the MOCs, the other is a full conference for registered attendees that includes the seminars, socializing, ability to display MOCs, and more.
  • With registration, there's a small package that includes the brick badge and/or minifig custom printed for the event, and generally a small LEGO set - sometimes a polybag, sometimes a recent GWP.
  • There are multiple seminars and workshops for registered attendees. The LEGO community is generous with its knowledge, so at any one event you will find sessions than range from subjects such as how to design/transport a large MOC to LEGO photography to building techniques. It's not unusual to have LEGO designers or staff give presentations, too.
  • For attendees of the conference, there are social lounges available that allow you to meet other AFOLs away from the display hall. It's a lot less noisy and a great way to make new friends.
  • Don't plan on the "early to bed, early to rise" motto. LEGO events seen to coincide with late nights, with LEGO conversations going on late into the night - see the aforementioned lounges for a good place to find one of those discussions.
  • Since it's a LEGO event, you can buy LEGO! There are vendors present selling everything from bulk bricks to custom minifigs.

View image at flickr

Discounted LEGO on sale at Skaerbaek

  • Most importantly, you meet all kinds of friendly people! I've found LEGO fans on either side of the ocean to be a friendly group. While the MOCs are terrific to see at the events, the best memories at each event are the people I meet. I don't think I've ever attended an event without coming home with new friends, bonding over things from a shared hair dryer to the best recipe for chili (and an interest in LEGO too).

    One of my favourite memories from a couple of years ago at Skaerbaek happened at the LEGO House Day for AFOLs. I was admiring the builds next to a fellow attendee (who I'd not met before), and we both happened to bump into Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen (who neither of us had met before). Kjeld was gracious as always, took pictures with each of us, gave us his minifig. Afterward, my new friend and I looked at each other, locked arms, and having no other way to express out excitement, jumped up and down, saying "We met Kjeld! We met Kjeld!" like a couple a little kids. And we've kept in touch ever since.

View image at flickr

One of two exhibition halls in Skaerbaek


What's different

There are also a few differences that I've noticed between continents. Granted, my sample size for Skaerbaek is a lot smaller than North America, so feel free to correct any misperceptions in the comments:

  • There are a lot of different MOCs, but in the U.S. you will see quite a few military themed MOCs. Sometimes it's replicas of firearms, to very elaborate recreations of battle scenes. There are enough military themed MOCs that they're often given their own space in the display hall, and have their own award. You don't see those kinds of MOCs at Skaerbaek; it's in the MOC guidelines that replicas of weapons are not allowed.
  • There are awards for MOCs in U.S. shows - quite a few, and generally grouped by category. The categories often vary by show, but generally they include: Castle, Train, GBC, Military (as mentioned above), Bionicle, Art, etc. The prizes are brick built trophies - and sometimes there is an award for the best trophy. At Skaerbaek, there are no awards - sometimes the MOCs are grouped by category, sometimes not.

View image at flickr

Brick built trophies for MOCs to be awarded at Bricks by the Bay

  • At U.S. events, it's a general expectation that builders stay with their MOCs at least some of the time during public hours to interact with the public and to answer questions. For me, that's been one of the best ways for me to meet other AFOLs, as I talk to them directly about their builds, and it usually segues to another conversation later in the event (or afterward). The display area is typically set up to allow this - there are spaces behind the tables where the public can't access where the builders can stay. Perhaps due to space constraints, this hasn't been the case in Skaerbaek, and it's been relatively rare that builders stay with their builds. There are some wonderful MOCs that I've seen that I've never been able to express my admiration to the builder.

View image at flickr

A terrific MOC at Skaerbaek Fan Weekend. I never got chance to meet the builder to tell them how much I loved it

  • Upon looking into the registration package at a U.S. show, I've always discovered a grab bag of random bricks in addition to a polybag or small set. I've not had that (at least in my registration package) when attending Skaerbaek.
  • Parts drafts - these are a key activity at a US event. At some of the larger events, there are sometimes multiple drafts going on at the same time, and at a minimum there are several a day. I've yet to see a parts draft at SFW.
  • Similarly, games are also a big activity at U.S.events. While SFW has some games, such as speed MOCing - I've not seen the line up of games that I see at U.S. events. Build-in-a-Bag, Speed building, Dirty Brickster, Left Hand Right Hand, and my personal favourite, The Yelling Game - I'd love to see these at Skaerbaek! They're also great ways to make new friends.
  • Speaking of socializing, the U.S. seems to structure their socializing a bit more - they have social mixers. I haven't seen one yet during SFW, though word has it there will be a mixer for members of GayFOLs this year.
  • Because there are so many countries within relatively short driving distances, there's a very international flavour at SFW. Over 30 countries are represented and there are AFOLs there from as far away as Australia, Asia and South America. The first year I attended, I was surprised to learn I was the only American there. That's certainly changed every year since! While there is some international representation at U.S. events, you don't get the same diversity of languages and countries as you do at Skaerbaek, which is one of the reasons it’s such a great event.

I love the memories that I have from each LEGO event I've attended, no matter where it is. It's the main reason I'm so looking forward to returning to Skaerbaek next weekend.

View image at flickr

Chalet accommodation on site at Skaerbaek.

Those of you who have attended events on either side of the Atlantic, what do you think? Did I miss anything? Let us know in the comments.

If you're attending the event too, be sure to come and find me to say hello!

41 comments on this article

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By in United Kingdom,

One of the things that disappointed me about Skaerbaek was most of the builders set up their displays and then just left the hall and went back to the cabins. As someone with motorised displays that need a careful eye on, I found there was no personal space to stand behind the display, nor much anyone else around to talk to. I appreciate space was severely limited, but that seemingly no-one stuck around I found odd.

The original LEGOWorld in Zwolle in the Netherlands (since moved) and STEAM in the UK are much better organised for exhibitors, with display tables in loops so the exhibitors can stand inside. Though that can go a little too far the other way as the place can get packed with visitors and leave you less opportunity to move about the show itself.

I'm not keen on contests and prizes for the MOCs on display either. Public votes always swing towards the GBCs, and other prizes always seem to go to whoever has the most bricks. It's also discouraging for people who are maybe exhibiting for the first time or don't have the same time or resources to put into building.

That's not to say I'm against other forms of contest. Speed building, 'Rory' Building (2x4 bricks only), alternate set builds, blindfold builds, build-in-the-dark, build-in-the-bag competitions, longest bridge, tallest tower, etc. are always great fun, but at least everyone then has the same opportunity.

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By in United States,

I know the difference! One's in Europe, one's in the US!

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By in United Kingdom,

Excellent write up!

> At U.S. events, it's a general expectation that builders stay with their MOCs

This is true of the two UK shows I've exhibited at, so I don't think that's a US/EU difference, as such.

> Parts drafts

What's a draft? I'm guessing it's like a competition, like a lottery?

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By in United Kingdom,

In a 'Parts Draft', multiple copies of the same set are procured and sorted into piles of individual parts. Participants take it in turns to take a pile of parts. Sets may be provided by the organiser, with turns then taken at random, or more organised with smaller groups getting together to purchase sets and agreeing who gets some of the parts in advance.

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By in Canada,

Please explain "The Yelling Game".

Of all the events that I have heard of or participated in, I've yet to come across that one.

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By in Canada,

@osmium - @joefish described it well. What I’m familiar with is that a set is announced and everyone brings a copy. All the parts are sorted, and then through lottery/other means of order, each participant can take all of a particular part.

@Dodge - the yelling game requires teams of two, and the goal is to build a set. One person has the bricks in front of them, and the other has the instructions out of sight. The second person needs to tell the first person how to build the set from the instructions - no pointing, no gesturing, just verbal instructions. The first person can’t see the instructions. At random times the two people can switch to make it more interesting.

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By in United Kingdom,

I've used a variant of "the yelling game" as a warmup in training events. A structure is built out of sight- only one person from each team can go and look at it- and they have to go back to the team and give verbal instructions of how to build the structure. There isn't any yelling involved though. I think Europeans are a bit less yelly than Americans :)

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By in United States,

only one difference that i can think of is the coin of the realm they use.

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By in United States,

Great article! I appreciate this kind of reporting, connections with AFOLs is what makes this hobby uniquely brilliant.

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By in United States,

The differences are easy: In Europe, you take the lift down from your flat on the first floor, put your luggage in the boot, and head to the event. In the US, you take the elevator down from your apartment on the second floor, put your bags in the trunk, and head to the event.

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By in United States,

If they hold the event in north skaerbaek does it suddenly become for adults only? NSFW?

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By in United Kingdom,

@MeganL, what the heck is Dirty Brickster?

At most UK events you are encouraged, or at least provided with space, to stand behind your MOCs, as @JoeFish says. Skaerbaek and the Paredes De Coura fan weekend in Portugal are the exceptions because the public display is secondary to the AFOL events running in tandem.

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By in Germany,

Fascinating report. I have never been to a LEGO event and some of the activities you describe I don't get.
For example I still don't understand the meaning as well as the idea behind the "parts draft". I mean what's the point?

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By in Germany,

I have attended many LEGO fan events both in Europe and the US. The game culture is much more evolved in the US and we try to bring some of these games over to Europe. Works well sometimes, sometimes not. Playing Dirty Brickster with 8-year-old German boys can be a nightmare cause the don't understand the idea of stealing sets from each other.

At Dirty Brickster every attendee brings a 10-20 $ set, wrapped in paper so you can not see the contents. Numbers are selected among the attendees. No. 1 grapes a set and opens it and shows it to all others. No. 2 is next, either opening a new wrapped set (not the set itself) of stealing the set which No. 1 has opened. And so on ... A set can be stolen two or three times, then it is locked and the attendee takes it. If a set is stolen, the attendee without a set either picks a new wrapped one or steals another set which is not locked. Great fun! You might, with luck, steal "your" set back in another round. Some people choose even wired stuff like Playmobil, Gallidor or stuff like this. Or really cool rare stuff. You never know.

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By in United States,

@HoMa Thanks - basically a white elephant gift exchange, but with Lego sets. (That's a term most Americans who work in an office would understand.)

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By in United Kingdom,

I'd love to attend Skaerbaek, if anyone is up for walking me through process/links/forms/advice etc i'd be grateful. Particularly if anyone exhibits and needs a hand.

Next year of course

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By in United Kingdom,

@HoMa, will you be at SFW this year?

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By in Portugal,

From what I see by pictures and media reports, via YouTube for instance, I think that on the US the fans build more train related MOCS, Sci-fi, and space in general. Town buildings are much taller, in Europe smaller however more detailed. In Europe we don't build stuff related with war in general, which is something cultural I believe, we don't appreciate guns that much lol I think that the passion and love for the brick is universal both ends!

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By in Ireland,

Great article!
However, you are actually comparing US Events to the Skærbæk Fan Weekend. Some of the features are common to mose European events, while others are unique to it.
Most events do expect builders to stay with their models most of the time. However, at Skærbæk there are a tiny number of public visitors, and the public display is not really the point of the event. However, I agree it can be a bit of an annoyance when you see an amazing MOC, and you never find the builder to talk with them about it.
One thing true of most European events is there isn't usually any judging or prizes for models. Personally, I prefer this, as it makes them events where fans come together as equals. As soon as you start awarding prizes, you create a hierarchy of builders, and create an armosphere that says some builders are worth more than others, which I personally don't like.
I think US events do tend to have more structured activities, while in Europe it's usually a bit more free form.

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By in United States,

Your right, Military Mocs are huge herein the US. It is one of my main Lego interests also:)
There is this company called Brickmania that makes some really excellent ones.

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By in Malaysia,

As a regular exhibitor in the UK, I thought I'd offer some thoughts, although these are specifically about most UK events, rather than about events on the continent:

There are a couple of UK builders doing military scenes, planes, tanks etc. Not many, but it's definitely noticeable. I suspect it varies from event to event whether they'll allow them.

As others have noted, at virtually all UK events, the exhibitors do stay with their MOCs for the majority of the time. It's pretty much expected.

Some UK events have games, but these tend to be quite limited - usually to speed builds. Brickish (UK LUG) has a 'Members Weekend' (for members only) in early April each year, at which a lot of socialising and game-playing happens.

'Dirty Brickster' sounds a little bit similar to an infamous game played every year at the Brickish Members Weekend, called 'Select, Swap, Steal'. Great fun!

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By in Germany,

@Huw, no, not this year. But you will meet more then 1200 other crazy LEGO fans.

Another aspect to compare could be the size of the event and how it is integrated in other events running at the same time in the venue.

When I started the LEGO hobby about 20 years ago I attended my first events with a total of 200 visitors and attendees. And there was only one such event a year in Germany. Today even a mid sized event has more then 200 exhibitors and far more visitors. Not so familiar any more as it used to be. And much more choices these days. Every second weekend something LEGO related will happen in driving distance.

I liked the shared event when Bricking Bavaria showed up at a huge Comic Con in Stuttgart some years ago. All the cosplayer had a good understanding for our hobby and creativity with bricks. I do not like these super huge hobby or maker fairs where 40000 visitors show up and squeeze themselves through large halls.

Drafts: the idea is to get huge numbers of parts or figures which are interesting for you. And others might be interested in other parts from this set. Kind of instance bulk order plus surprise if you get the lot you are looking for. Good playing this with others which have totally different interests, e.g. if you like minifigs, play with someone who looks for Technic elements ...

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By in Netherlands,

Hi, I wonder to how many other European events you've been. Skaerbaek is actualy completely different from the rest!

There are many smaller events of one weekend where over half of the show is sales, the rest is built up sets on display, and MOCs are relatively scarce. A lot of Dutch events are like that. Other smaller events have loads of great MOCs, and typically the display will be much nicer than at Skaerbaek. The same goes for the two big Lego owned events - both called Legoworld. The thing is, Skaerbaek is mainly an AFOL gathering, it's not really a show. So many people bring small mocs, and everything is extremely crammed up.

On most shows, people generally stay with their mocs during a big part of the time. Not so at Skaerbaek, because there's too much to see and do. The workshops etc. are not typical for Lego shows, they are typical for Skaerbaek. As is the international ambience: most shows may have a few foreign guests, Skaerbaek is very international indeed. That's why it's one of the world's three hub events (the other two being that Portuguese one and the one in Japan).

Oh, and military mocs are a big no-no everywhere (except, apparently, the US). Main reason? Lego won't have it. They don't want to associate with modern realistic warfare, so any event that they have some business with won't have military stuff. People have been asked to remove tank models at several shows I have been to.

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By in United States,

I hung out by my MOC quite a bit last year, around the US and in Skaerbaek as well, mostly because I've been campaigning for an IDEAS set; BUT I realized quickly what a wonderful opportunity it presented to meet fans and fellow builders. That project is what prompted me to start exhibiting, so this is all I've really known and I'm surprised to see it any other way. I'll be doing it differently this year though. Not exhibiting at all and going mostly as a social visit. It will be interesting to see how they compare! I actually enjoyed the European experience much more. I've never liked the idea of awards being associated with MOCs. There are just too many incredible builds for there to ever be enough awards to go around and they add an unnecessary level of competitiveness. I'm not into anything military so I don't miss that at all. Games are fun, but sometimes people take that a little too seriously as well. I'd much rather kick back at the cabin with a smorgasbord of international beer and snacks and try to learn dirty words in other languages. Thanks LEGO!

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By in United States,

Excellent article! I haven’t been to any in Europe, but I have attended and displayed at both Bricks By The Bay & Brick Palooza for several years now. No matter how you slice it they are super fun!!!

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By in Japan,

Japan Brickfest is run by Kansai LEGO User Group *not* JLUG!

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By in United States,

It'd be helpful to describe what a GBC is in the article too. Doing a quick Google search on it, I suppose it's a Great Ball Contraption?

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By in United States,

I've only attend one "Brickfest" event here in the US & I wasn't impressed with it at all. The Fan displays were the only good thing there. Very few Vendors & the supposed "VIP" bag I received didn't have any special gift, figure or anything other than a rubber bracelet & a sticker. After an hour I was done. Definitely wouldn't ever attend another event by that sponsor. I'm just glad I got a heavily discounted admission ticket because it wasn't worth the full price they were asking.

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By in Germany,

@HoMa: wow, thanks for the link. Those trains are amazing. How I would love to be able to build something as awesome as that TEE for example, or even those little Köf's. Amazing.
Perhaps I should indeed give it a try someday. At least I have already got your great book on the subject as a starting point... ;-)

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By in Australia,

Hearing that the US conventions have large focus on military and weapons is hardly surprising but still equally shocking. You'd think people would try to keep that sort of stuff away from children but, hey, I suppose it is their culture. From what I've seen in my local LEGO community, a lot of people really take LEGO's "no depictions of modern conflict" to heart, no matter what their stance is on guns. The last time I saw a MOC like that posted to an Aussie FB group there was a bit of a scene.

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By in Germany,

@Brikkyy13: it may appear shocking to us outsiders from the "old world" (I explicitly include Australia in that definition), but in the US, at least in certain parts of it, there seems to be a love of guns that is mindboggling.
I agree with everyone who finds MOCs depicting guns disgusting. Then again, I find all current weapons disgusting, no matter whether real or as a subject of a MOC. I would also not want a LEGO diorama based on something like a WWI or II scene, like the one about the D-day invasion I saw recently online. To anyone who knows a little about the subject matter, such scenes should never even be considered worthy subjects for a MOC. Basic decency towards those who perished in those battles imho.

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By in Germany,

I guess the difference between the US and Europe regarding the attitude to weapons, military and war stems from the personal experiences. In the US most people have experienced war only as portrayed by Hollywood, as an employee of a supplier or as a member of the largest and most well equipped army.

Meanwhile most of Europe has suffered through two world wars, with people dying by the millions, famine and pestilence, firebombs falling on the places we call home, etc. Half of those have then proceeded on to lose the war, only to have territories, populace, rights and anything worth something taken by force and having to pay reparations to the victors.

That would explain why we don't think "Yeah, that's a marvelous piece of equipment", but "I hope that thing won't hurt anyone" instead.

Ok, maybe exaggerated, and certainly not true for everyone.

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By in Germany,

It sometime happens to have military dioramas in France, there was a very nice layout of D-Day at Chelles exhibition (near Paris), it was more than 5 meters-long, and very impressive!
There was also nice WWII planes in Reims in March. So it depends of the AFOLs present at the show, as military MOCing is usually very expensive because of the need of custom minifigures and parts. So it's rather unusual.
I never got to Skerbaek, but all the exhibitions that happend in France were people sitting behing their layout. Skaerbaek makes me think rather to Playmobil exhibitions, which are more like this, with layouts in the center, and sellers on the walls of the hall.
French Lego exhibitions are more oriented toward MOCing and displaying than selling.

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By in United Kingdom,

^^ Acutally I think that explains the difference quite well.

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By in United States,

Most Europeans don't understand America and never will. The military MOCs are meant to pay tribute to the sacrifices made by those that served and paid the ultimate price to preserve the freedoms we all enjoy today.

Over 300,000 Americans were killed in Europe alone in WWII in order to liberate your continent. Be grateful for their sacrifice.

I'm sure this post will be deleted as was my previous one.

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By in Netherlands,

@jimmystang I find it interesting to hear your American POV on this.
Here in the Netherlands we are grateful for all the sacrifices made for the freedom we enjoy today. However, we express it differently. Here, far from all the deaths involving the wars were from soldiers. In Europe, nearly everyone suffered. That is why we often do not depict modern battles or scenes from the World Wars. Although we remember and pay tribute with regularity, we do so elsewhere, as we do not consider war itself to be anything but misery. Hence, we'll be more hesitant to make MOCs related to modern warfare.
(This is just another point of view by the way, I am not automatically representative of Europe or anything. Just my observations).

On a lighter note, my two cents on the cultural comparison is that the presence of MOCers with their MOCs depends on the kind of event, and the size of the venue. If there is room and the main point is to showcase the MOC instead of doing activities with other MOCers, they'll be there.

@Dare_Wreck, yes, they most likely meant great ball contraption with GBC. Those are usually a focal point due to their size and movement.

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By in United States,

@jimmystang

Well stated! You hit the nail on the head.

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By in United States,

Now seems like a good time to chime in with an apology for the generally perceived American attitude (and ego). Any mention of weapons is very divisive and a lot of Americans become easily triggered (pun intended). The people who love guns seem to be the loudest for some reason. So I just wanted to pipe up and say that I'm an American and just as confused and disgusted by the fascination with wars and weapons as anyone else. I get the historical and educational value; but using LEGO to depict and exhibit non-fictional massacres in an otherwise fun and family-friendly environment is bothersome to me as well.

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By in Germany,

@polyester333: thanks for your balanced point of view. It's good to know that there are not just Americans with attitudes like @jimmystang, whose apparent ignorance regarding those matters is horrifying. It's a perfect example of the kind of brainwashing that has been going on forever in the US when it comes to anything regarding war and weapons. The strong influence of the NRA is also not something that is helpful in that respect.
Thank god that there are still enough people (like @polyester333) who are strong enough to make up their own mind.

By the way, being grateful for the overall outcome doesn't mean one has to worship the liberators or their methods. Mass aerial bombings of civilian targets without any military value (Dresden, Würzburg as well as countless others) near the end of the war are also not something that makes being grateful easy, nor are other personal experiences with some of those victors as recounted by family members! So forgive me but I am still having a hard time appreciating the love of all things military, by whomever.

Pity we even have to discuss this in connection with LEGO. Otoh, it wouldn't be necessary if people would have enough decency and respect to not use LEGO bricks to MOC weapons or war scenes.

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