Harry Potter Festival 2016

Last year when I wrote about the annual Harry Potter Festival here in my hometown Odense, Denmark, I was looking for someone to take me to the Hogwarts Ball for students aged 16+. Unfortunately nobody volunteered so I didn’t get to go to the ball this year either, which was rather a shame as it was one of the few festival events that I wasn’t too old to attend!

Faithful readers of my blog will know that when the festival was launched fourteen years ago, it was about children Harry Potter’s age going to Hogwarts. Over the years the festival expanded, enabling kids to go to Hogwarts during the week, taking classes with Snape, McGonagall, Mad-Eye Moody and the rest of the Hogwarts professors and then at the end of the week a Diagon Alley/Hogsmeade market opened at the town hall square. Here everyone could attend, even me who is much, much older than sixteen and besides, everything was free. It was truly magic.

In recent years, the festival has grown too big and commercial for its own good, unfortunately. Hogwarts has been closed, and instead the many Harry Potter activities have been spread out all over town, most of them being either very expensive or aimed at kids aged three to eight years of age - or both. Some of the events are even off limits if you are over fourteen, which of course means that the core audience of the Harry Potter books are banned as they are too old. This year my sister had asked me to take her to the festival and as she is much older than me, honestly I wasn’t sure what we would be able to attend!

Odense Central Library, Odense Municipality and Odense City had arranged the festival as usually, but like last year it only lasted two days - Friday the 21st and Saturday the 22nd of October – instead of a week. My sister and I headed to town Friday morning as a new event – a Quidditch show match between Norway and England arranged by the international Quidditch Association – was to take place in Kongens Have (King’s Garden) between 11.30 and 12.15. We arrived by bus at 11.45 only to witness that the final whistle blew, the game ending with England winning 180 to 30 over Norway as their seeker had caught the snitch. It was a bit disappointing that the match ended so soon, especially as per international rules, the snitch isn’t to be released until eighteen minutes into the game. Oh, well, it was raining cats and dogs and the pitch was muddy, so maybe the players just wanted to go home. In any case, the little I managed to see of the game seemed exciting like some weird kind of handball, but I was disappointed that the players did not use proper broomsticks, but very short PVC pipes. I know it is legal, but it takes away the wizard-element and I had expected better from IQA.

In pouring rain and with one wet sock (my left), my sister and I then trotted on to the museum Brandts 13, which turns into the most magical of all the Harry Potter Festival places each year. On the ground floor, there are two new exhibitions each year and on the top floor you can always find Madam Puddifoot’s pink Tea Shop. The Fat Lady, who carries her own frame, admits entrance to the visitors and my friend Professor McGonagall is always there to greet me.

This year the two new exhibitions were the Forbidden Forest and Fluffy. One room was turned into a creepy forest where you had to force your way through darkness, trees and giant cobwebs with just as giant spiders to reach a pool of orange (?) unicorn blood. In the other room a huge Fluffy made of green velvet was guarding the trapdoor, snoring to harp music, but sometimes opening one red eye. Unfortunately, both rooms were so dark that it was impossible to take good pictures, even of Hagrid who hung around between the two rooms, so we went upstairs to Madam Puddifoot’s for hot chocolate, cake and a rest in her pink three-room tea salon.

As my sister didn’t have any Galleons, I ended up paying for us both and that set me back a bit. Our next stop was thus the affiliated Gringotts bank in the nearby Jernbanegade (Railway Street). Usually you get five hundred Galleon for DDK 30/£3, but this year we could only get 1,000 Galleons for DDK 50/£5, which was a better deal. You can easily spend 1,000 Galleons as just two cups of hot chocolate cost two hundred Galleons. The Gringotts goblin at the bank was quite nice, by the way, as he only admonishing me to spend the Galleons on books instead of candy. Usually you get a regular scolding when you visit Gringotts!

As the Magic Market is situated next to Gringotts at Graabroedre Plads (Grey Friars Square), we went there next. The market is such a weird place as most of the Diagon Alley shops have relocated to the market square, among them Eeylops Owl Emporium, the Daily Prophet and Ollivanders. St Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries is there as well and so is Professor Sprout and her Herbology classroom, not to mention a Forbidden Forest for toddlers complete with unicorn ponies. While we were there, we bumped into Professor Trelawney, Professor Snape and Professor Dumbledore. Trelawney was spot on, but Snape had put on a lot of weight, and Dumbledore was a skinny Richard Harris-version.

Because of the rain we hurried on to Snape’s Potion Class that had been moved from the dungeons by the Library of Local History to the more remote location of the old convent for young noblewomen. Inside it looked very much like a dungeon and we not only found Snape and his helpers teaching Potions, my sister also got sorted (into Slytherin of course – I myself am Ravenclaw) and we had lessons in care of magical creatures by a Slytherin student.

The visit to the convent was probably the highlight of this year’s festival, mainly because of the above mentioned Slytherin student, who knew everything about the creatures that we were able to see and pet if we wanted to. They included a turtle, a python snake, tarantulas, stick insects and Madagascar hissing cockroaches. I took a liking to a green stick insect that was ever so cute. I want one for Christmas!

From the convent, we went to the dungeons at the Library of Local History that had been turned into a haunt for dragon handlers like last year. We hurried on to Eventyrhaven (Fairy Tale Garden), where we met Hedwig’s relatives, live owls that kids could pet. One owl was hardly bigger than a budgerigar! In Eventyrhaven kids were also able to play Quidditch, make brooms and try a ropeway across Odense River and even S.P.E.W. had opened a branch by the river. Here you could donate a sock to free an elf and for a moment I thought about donating my wet one, but I suppose it would have been too gross.

Our next destination was the Leaky Cauldron in Smedestraede (Blacksmith Alley), a place that my sister had looked especially forward to. This year the visit to the wizard pub was not a pleasant experience though, as the butterbeer tasted awful, there were no Quibbler or Daily Prophet to read and furthermore Tom and his colleagues were very rude to their customers in an unpleasant way so we quickly drank up and left again.

Just opposite the Leaky Cauldron, the festival has placed Honeydukes, so we queued up there to get some Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans. While waiting in the queue, Lord Voldemort turned up along with Fenrir Greyback and some Death Eaters and Dementors. I didn’t know that they had a sweet tooth! In Honeydukes we bought a bag of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, a chocolate frog and a liquorice wand and had to paid almost four hundred Galleons. I little steep, in my opinion!

Next stop was Diagon Alley, which is situated in Vintapperstraede (Tapster Alley). We ran into the Malfoy family as soon as we entered and other HP characters in the alley were Gilderoy Lockhart and a Michael Gambon version of Professor Dumbledore. As for the “real” Diagon Alley shops, only Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions is left and then Borgin and Burkes from Knockturn Alley. Instead you’ll find the Mirror of Erised in Diagon Alley as well as several workshops that have nothing to do with Harry Potter such as a Merlin’s Workshop and a Pumpkin Workshop. Furthermore, there is an English pub, the Tipsy Toad, but at least it has a magic cauldron with a self-stirring spoon! On the other hand, they were out of butterbeer and there was a two hour wait on hot chocolate, coffee and tea. Needless to say that we didn’t stay!

Gringotts Wizarding Bank and Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes that are usually situated in Diagon Alley had been moved to Slotsgade (Castle Street). Like last year, George operated a Wheel of Fortune and organised ring toss and hit the can for children, instead of doing tricks. I guess he feels lonely without Fred, but we never had a Fred at the festival, only George.

Our last stop was supposed to have been the Chamber of Secrets at Brandt’s Amphi Square, but as it turned out to be a crowded, wet tent, we didn’t go. In the nearby Brandt’s Passage, we saw a Harry Potter cupcake workshop, a female dragon handler and a few photo ops including dementors and magical plants, but the festival was about to close and it was still raining, so we decided to call it quits. The festival closed at 4 p.m. – an hour earlier than usual – and as we went home, I once again had to admit that it is still drowning in age limits, long queues and steep prices. And this year in rain as well, as it rained solid both days.

I find it strange why everything at the festival has to be so expensive, why there are so many events that only young kids can attend and why the festival is only open 2 x 5 hours when it has more than forty events spread out all over town in fifteen different locations. There is no way that the annual 10,000 visitors can attend them all and that is very frustrating to a Harry Potter fan! Personally, I missed out of the Hogwarts Express, a Daily Prophet journalist school, Madam Malkin’s Robes workshop and a “zoolomagic” after dark sail up Odense River to face dark forces in Odense Zoo this year due to age limits. I didn’t attend the Harry Potter film marathon, a family dinner in the Great Hall or the Harry Potter Concert with Odense Symphony Orchestra either because it was too expensive. Furthermore, I didn’t get to see the Triwizard Maze, the Chamber of Secrets, Hagrid telling stories in a church, a wand workshop, tealeaf reading, the Room of Requirement and the Forbidden Library because of queues.

I’m sure that Odense Central Library, Odense Municipality and Odense City can do much better and I hope they will next year for the fifteenth anniversary of the Harry Potter Festival. Please, let the festival last longer and be less expensive and remember, true Harry Potter fans still want to ride the Hogwarts Express and fight against the dark forces even if they aren’t eight years old anymore. In fact, they were never eight years old when they were fans of Harry, because the books are meant for kids and young adults aged eleven to seventeen!

© Lise Lyng Falkenberg, 2016

P.S. I still need an escort to the Hogwarts Ball, preferably Ravenclaw like myself or maybe Gryffindor? You have to be a Hogwarts student to attend. The next ball is in October 2017.