Skærbæk Chronicles

Now, I know it's written with those strange A/E hybrids, but my keyboard doesn't have them. I could write even Skärbäk but that might be misleading, so I'll stick with Skaerbaek. You can check the right spelling on the post name. Another note is that there's lot of pictures, and as I don't have pictured from every day (Monday, at least) they're all over the post to evade huge walls of text.


When Jan Beyer and LEGO House team contacted me about bringing my models to the Masterpieces Gallery, they also recommended me to take part in Skaerbaek Fan Weekend. This felt natural. I'm a LUG active (currently 2nd chairman and secretary) of Palikkatakomo. I've taken part on dozens of exhibits and events during the past ten years. I'm relatively recognised builder on some parts of online community. But I had never been on foreign event before. Actually, I told to several people that Skaerbaek was my first international event, and that isn't completely true. I was in Worldcon 75 in Helsinki couple of years ago with my fellow LUG member Samppu and that, if something, was very international event.  But there were only handful AFOLs (We met three guys from Poland, Texas and Ireland) and it was by no mean a LEGO event; fantastic one anyway.

 For years, I had been watching pictures from Brickcon, Brickfair, Bricks by the Bay and even Skaerbaek, but never took part. Why? No particular reasons. I sometimes travel abroad, once or twice a year. But somehow I want to use those trips on something that can be done with my partner or family, and spending several days with bricks is not easily integrated. And I want to cut down flying in the future, too. It's not that Denmark would be far away; The Baltic Sea just sort of separates Finland from the rest of the Europe. One can take a ferry, but they're probably worse than flying. Going through Russia and Baltic countries is one option, but infrastucture leaves something to desired; Or one can go through Tornio and Haparanda to Sweden and take a long way south. Not too bad, actually - might consider that next year.

My native LUG Palikkatakomo has around 50 members, something like 20-30 of them that I know personally, and we have several events a year. We're active LUG with the better RLUG tier. Even still, I was the "only Finnish guy" in whole Skaerbaek. I explained this one a lot; It's not so easy because of certain marine qualities of the landscape in between Denmark and Finland (Germans get it easy) and, above all, we had our biggest event - Pii Poo's building event in Messukeskus, Helsinki, biggest event revenue in Finland - at the exact same weekend. What a shame, I'd liked to be there. But between that and this excellent possibility to get to Skaerbaek with very good additional reason to come to Denmark, Skaerbaek was a natural choice.

It was a good choice, too. Fan weekend was fan-tastic.

Friday 27th September

Last writing left me in my AirBnb in Bredebro. On the next morning, I got up late - it was only the set-up day. I eat some of my currywurst-esque pizza and took the train to Skaerbaek. I walked to the Skaerbaekcentret where the event was taking place. It was maybe raining or cloudy at least. I found the registration office. I arrived at noon or around one, and they were leaving for lunch. I met Jan Beyer again and he said that there is a map somewhere so I can find my spots; the event had two medium-sized sports halls to be filled with creations. I found the map and found the spots, they were on (I think) hall two, the one with the cafe. I built my Japanese Garden tea ceremony scene and Kiirus Ögonblick with Carp Speeder on the other side of aisle and The Mole on the other side; It took maybe 45 minutes, as they were quite well-preserved in my rucksack and I had set them up for events in the past, too.

I went to the registration office, dig up the prints for my creations and signed up, receiving Year of Dog gift set, special custom printed minifig and printed 1x8 brick - and the name badge, which was 4x8 plate with name stickered to tiles on top and pin glued on the otherside. I walked out of the office, tried to put the badge on and boom, there was a horrible accident and it broke down. I got a new one, though. I wandered around the hall and met Jonas Kramm again. I was amazed by his Game of Thrones and Stranger Things models. There were also some other younger AFOLs hanging around. I met Jaap, who had come there with short notice as some of his LUG mates had cancelled and Jaap had gotten the spot and coupons and everything. He was a nice fellow and I spend hours with him during the weekend, discussing anything from MOCs on display to city culture or housing options or local food. He also had few excellent castle-themed models on display, including some built for New Elementary's parts festival. I recognized his mushroom house immendiately.

When checking Jonas's models I also saw Huw Millington. I had recently won the Brickset's Huwbot contest, and as he's the founder and root admistrator of Brickset, he was the guy I wanted to meet. I ended up spending some time with him too, here and there. He had some interesting GBC models on display. In the other hall, I greeted Caz Mockett (she gave me a copy of her sig fig - thanks Caz!) and met Oscar Cederwall and with him some other Swebrick members; in addition to Jaap, Bogdan and some UK-based AFOLs they were the ones I spend most time with, as Swedish sounded almost homely (Finnish people have to learn Swedish in school). Oscar had great scifi models on display, including some constraction figures, re-imaged Millenium Falcon and his unique, new SHIP. We had cool discussion about scale, theme and colours with him and I think Matt Goldberg; Jaap might have been present too.

At some point I went to Skaerbaek town's main street to find something to eat. I ended up - surprise - burger/steak place. They also had a selection of Chinese food and I got some, event though the personnel didn't speak any english and I didn't speak any Danish (looks like Swedish so I can mostly read it, though). Spring rolls had meat in them, and that tells something about the cuisine of Danish countryside. Meat to everyone! At least it wasn't a hot dog so I was somewhat satisfied. I went back to the event place, probably hung around with Jaap for some time. I talked  while with two AFOLs who were assembling huge Tintin's rocket moon landing diorama next to my models. After a while took a train back to Bredebro before dark - I guessed (right) that I'd be spending plenty of time in the event location during the weekend..

Saturday 28th September

The event was opening around ten so I got up earlier, made some porridge I had bought yesterday and took the train to Skaerbaek. I looked around, found Jaap who had just woken up (he was staying the cabins on-site). We went to check the opening speech, which had some useful information and usual welcome things - but most interestingly they told us that we would fail if we didn't have at least two new friends in Sunday! Fortunately that wouldn't be the issue.

After the speech, I had time to look at the shops. For the main shop there was a huge queue, and they only had sets for moderately reduced prices, so I wasn't that interested. People were also lining their Brick Boxes, big boxes of semi-random bricks alike those TLG used to give to LUGs before some re-organizing. On the other hall, there was a guy selling used, non-washed pieces for 2€/100g or something; I went through the boxes for half an hour, maybe, and found some pretty useful things like printed "Tank Droid" trans-neon-orange 10x10 dishes, random curved slopes and T-bars (I need more of those); in total the parts costed 3,5€. It was like poor man's Pii Poo; Fortunately things are well in Finland, so to say. I also bought some earrings from British handcraft sellers for Pinja.

At the cafe area, there was people with bags full of white 2x4 and dark blue 2x6 bricks. I knew where they were from - they were disassembling some huge LEGO ship (not SHIP but actual vessel for crossing water areas) somewhere, and selling the pieces very cheap. The guy told me that people were like hyenas. I checked it later on, but wasn't interested enough. The parts were partly glued, and it seemed such a fuzz about getting some bricks. But it was interesting sight, seeing people hacking it to pieces and checking blocks if they're glued or not. That happened outside, probably in slight drizzle.

At twelve'o'clock I went to see LEGO User Lab presentation. It was about some new official program for using fan innovations to develop new product ideas with TLG... Or something. It wasn't entirely clear, but it was full of charts with arrows pointing to balls with words. It was something we call "pöhinä" in Finland. When talking about it with some people (whose names I won't mention here but who appear elsewhere in this post...) I noticed that I hadn't been the only one who had missed the point. I think it was aimed to someone who has a company that makes light kits for LEGO products, or LEGO-oriented storing systems, but not for builder and hobbyist like me.

After the presentation I hurried around to find the speed MOCing compedition I had signed in. It was one of the things I had looked forward the most - to get building! I'm somewhat competitive, but not massively; But I wanted to show my skills a bit, and just build. After some wandering and consulting info office (they weren't sure) I found some organizers who told me the place (the cafe). There weren't anything about the contest, but I find some other AFOLs waiting for it. I sat with them, ate a cookie I had got when I arrived to Billund (my eating habits weren't very good during the trip but honestly, there weren't many good options) and waited half an hour with them, until one of the organizers came in a told us that it would be tomorrow in LUG Lounge, as the guy who usually organizes it had got a baby and therefore wasn't here to do it (it's a good reason, of course).

Being vacant, I knew exactly what to to. I went to yard and walked to the big tent, where there was På Kloss Hold, a talk show interview program hosted by Are J. Heiseldal whom I met in LEGO House in Thursday. He was interviewing Alice Finch, who is known for her massive Hogwarts MOC; her descriptions about the process were exciting, and way she's been using bricks on feminist and social issue programs was very interesting; I would have liked to hear more about them. After Alice Are interviewed Jonas Kramm, who talked about analyzing pieces, his unique techniques and, naturally, the Iron Builder Dublo grass piece, which is rather familiar to me... Sadly I missed the interview of Rod Gilles, a Scottish builder and The Brothers Brick blogger.

This drawback was fixed right after the show when Rod and Tim Johnson invited me to their cabin. They had salad, too! Real fresh salad. I also made some toast and always burned it with very badly designed toaster (blame the hardware). They also had plenty of different cakes; It might be a British thing. We talked about hobby and everything. Jan Beyer visited us and Huw came there too; it was like a secret meeting place, and the most extreme (and nicest, too) example of Skaerbaek spirit. Their ginger cake was most excellent.

After leaving the cabin I went back to the halls and hung around with some people, maybe taking photos. I was hungry but there wasn't that much point eating, as the BBQ was going to be soon. Slightly before it I met Bogdan and his Croatian friend and we went to the big tent for the barbeque; We sat near the food tables with some German TECHNIC builder. It turned out to be bad move as we were the last ones to get food (but we got it eventually, so no harm done). Personnels confiscated my bottle that had maybe one desilitre of lemonade in it, as it wasn't bought on spot; understandable action, but they were far from polite and it left a bit foul taste in my mouth, far from Skaerbaek spirit. The food was all right; sausages had some texture and taste and salad was good and bread fresh, but the pulled pork, which was something like the main dish, lacked taste and was unconfortably somewhere between warm and cold dish. But I had nice time anyway, talking about architecture with Bogdan, for example. There was also a quiz (the results were never announced) and after the food there was silent auction on various LEGO-related things. Nothing too interesting for builders, so me and my company dispersed into the night. I took a train to Bredebro and had good night's rest.

Sunday 29th September

After refreshing bowl of porridge and quiet Sunday train trip I arrived to the event area. I left my baggage under my table, checked that my display was ok and headed for Japan's Kobe Brickfest presentation. I arrived a bit late (sorry) but the presentation was nice. The host kept saying he's annoying but he was quite funny actually. Akiyki, a famous ball contraption builder, was also present. They told us about the Brickfest and its customs and how LEGO hobby is different in Japan: Bricks are expensive and apartments are small so creations tend to be smaller but packed with detail and techniques. The difference is big compared to Skaerbaek which was quite full of large castle and town dioramas and some big SHIPs. The program also had bird plateing (or something) contest, which aim was to connect as many as possible Friends birds to a 32x32 baseplate in one minute. The birds were from some RLUG support package few years ago, my LUG got mostly puppies and bright light orange squirrels. They had three rounds, and one Japanese Bionicle builder (who had a cool, brick-built Kamen Rider -esque helmet) was the fastest, but they gave the prizes to the visitors. I didn't participate, but I picked up their little zine about the event.

It ended at twelve'o'clock, and as I knew my timetable for afternoon would be quite hectic, I went to Skaerbaekcentret's restaurant. Their selection wasn't, unsurprisingly, very wide. I ended up ordering a bratwurst and went to sit with some Swebrick guys. The "bratwurst" turned out to be a hot dog (welcome to Denmark). For a bratwurst I'd expect white colour, somewhat strong taste and, above all, texture - telling that it's made of different ingredients with some sort of recipe, hopefully with green bits you hope to be herbs under the gut. What I got was and ordinary frankfurter and separate, white wheat bread. It wasn't good by any means but it went down fine with mustard and kept the hunger away for a while, leaving me with a feel that the Danish should study the art of sausage a bit more closely. 

There was maybe three Swedes to beging with on the table but they kept piling up and I ended up sitting with eight of them in the end. We talked about difference of the hobby between the Gulf of Bothnia and why there aren't other Finns than me (I talked about this at the beginning of this post). Swedish devils use our modular base for their collaborations, their LUG is larger than our (Sweden has around two times as much people than in Finland). We talked mostly English but I also spoke some Swedish in slow, articulate manner - I've even got "good skill level" of university Swedish both in oral and written form - as I occasionally want to test my language skills. There were eight Swedish AFOLs around the table and one Finnish AFOL and still there were 100% of Finnish AFOLs in Skaerbaek present and maybe only 40% of Swedish AFOLs. The Swedes (and also some others, including Jan I think) found our LUG name Palikkatakomo very amusing. For me, it has always felt very natural, and I'm also big fan of the fact that our LUG's name is unique in style and in Finnish.

I had still twenty minutes before my next planned actions so I infiltrated a room where New Elementary's new part workshop had ended fifteen minutes ago. There were Tim Johnson, Jonas Kramm and Sven Franic among other. I marveled at the new pieces they had around there, especially the Batman greeble connectors. I helped them sort the pieces for a while. It would have been brilliant to take part in the workshop, but it had been booked full very fast, before I noticed that the timetables were published. Fortunately I was going to get my taste of new parts bustle very soon... Five minutes to one I headed for the big tent.

In the tent Are was preparing his På Kloss Hold session. He had contacted me about taking part of it, and I gladly accepted the offer - I quite like interviews and overall telling about my hobby which should be clear by now, so I was about the get interviewed in few minutes. I would have been after Paul Hetherington, but as my speed MOCing contest had been changed for Sunday, Are moved be to the first slot to make sure I'll make it to the contest.

Are asked me about my first sets, my few-months-dark-age, Finnish LUG activity, difference between building original characters and real people, usage of Bionicle parts, Iron Builder against Jonas with Dublo grass and so on... Are had made is background work well, as he namedropped things like "pikkulegot" in his questions. I think it went quite well, the only word I forgot in English was "subconscious" and maybe that's acceptable. Jason Alleman and Kristal Dubois said later on that my pronunciation was alright. But you can judge it later on, as Beyond the Brick filmed the show. I didn't find it yet, but I suppose they'll publish it later on.

I was able to see Paul's interview. It was very interesting, as he's been an AFOL for around three decades - his first set bought as an adult fan was a M-tron Vector Detector from early 90s. After Paul Are interviewed Anne Mette and Lasse Vestergård, mother and son Danish builders who have been doing some architecture things for famous Bjärke Ingels Group. Unfortunatelt I had to leave for the speed MOCing so I only saw the first ten minutes.

I headed for the LUG Lounge for some extra sitting around. The first group hadn't finished yet, and it took some time for the organizers to arrive. In the end, the task was simple. There were few crates on pieces, almost all white, probably from some architecture workshop thing. We had to build an animal or a creature in one hour. It was quite casual, there were people eating snacks and reading magazines in the lounge. There was maybe seven participants on each ground, as problems in the organizing had taken its toll. It was very enjoyable session anyway - there was nice variety of pieces, even with the dull colour scheme. I began with the head, to give my creature some much-needed character. It ended up looking quite worrying thing with a snout akin to elephant shrew, asymmetrical, floppy ears and eyes made strangely with levers; The head was built in 45 degree angle. I continued towards the torso, which ended up very dinosaur-like, more specifically looking like some bipedal meat-eating dinosaur. Jaap and Bogdan stopped to say hi at some points.

I gave my creature also sturdy and beefy legs similar to those on Elves dragons. They were even poseable, as I managed to create sturdy enough joints with the available pieces. I think that gave the creature some extra quality, as it felt substantial but still not blocky. I rendered the shapes with 1x2, 1x3, 1x2x2 and 2x2x2 slopes, with help by inverted 1x2 and 1x3 slopes and 1x3 curved slopes. The creature got also small arms and SNOT-built tail. I named it Snörk and declared that it lived in southern Poland. One of my fellow participants asked me if it was related to Snork (Niisku), a Moomin character. My Snörk looked actually more like Sniff (Nipsu). Other participants had built two polar bears, kangaroo, scorpion (with nice eyes), cat, deers, space spider, owl, another bird and some others.

After the contest there was still couple of hours of event left. I mostly hung around with Jaap taking photographs. I also talked with Rod Gilles and his steampunk ship. It was interesting to hear how he alters the layot for every new exhibit. Before the closing ceremonies there was the "dark hour" when they set the light off to show builds with light effects in their full grandeur. It was great and I walked around with Jaap, admiring builds on this new perspective. An apartment block collaboration, M-Tron portal and electronic music festival looked especially nice. I had to use very slow shutter speed, but got some excellent shots. At some point my battery died, so I didn't get everything on film, but that was alright.

They put the lights back on and it was time for end speech. I had done well, as I had got at least two new friends. They told us that it had been the second biggest AFOL event ever and the most international; I was happy to hear that, as the only Finnish guy. They also announced the results of speed MOCing contest and I was happy to hear that I got indeed the first place! It had been judged by some set designer. There were three sets to choose from - City minifigure pack, Emmet's house and Hidden Side school bus. I picked the bus, as it felt most substantial with plenty of nice bright light orange pieces. We also returned our name badges.

After the speech it was time to pack up our models. Jaap gave me his Rayman with nicely executed floating effect (thanks Jaap!), and after some pondering I gave him one of Törö lantern shrines of my Japanse Garden scene, places on a mossy rock. I packed the rest to my rain-soaked boxes, stuffed with the bags from Hidden Side bus. I took a while to find a recycling spot for its box, and there were many goodbyes as I ended up stumbling upon people several times. Upon finally leaving I met Jan Beyer again, and he asked about what I'm going to to tomorrow. I said I'll be travelling to Billund, two trains a one bus. He offered me a ride from Skaerbaek. I was happy for it, even though it meant I had to be in Skaerbaek at seven'o'clock in the morning. Jan also said that I can come in to the P-Shop in Billund - it's the employee store of TLG. I hadn't signed, because of some uncertainities about it, but I agreed to come.

 I was very hungry and it was raining outside big time. I went to the restaurant where I had eaten chinese in Friday and ordered a fish fillet - it was a huge dish. Then I returned to Bredebro for the last night. I hung my clothes and rucksack's rain cover for drying, packed up my things, ate some porridge and the last of somewhat-currywurst pizza, set the alarm to 6:25 and went to sleep.

Monday 30th of September

I woke at 6:15, was happy that I still had ten minutes till alarm, and realized that to be at Skaerbaek at seven I should have put my alarm to 5:25. Argh! I got my stuff together, dressed up, forgot my rucksack's rain cover and stepped into the darkness. I made it to my train in time and Jan picked me up at Skaerbaek station. Fortunately he had hot dogs so I got something to eat. It was a pleasant hot dog actually, but I guess anything would be if you've miscalculated you alarm and woken up in middle of nowhere at 6:15. It was also nice to talk with Jan while he drove through the Danish countryside. Biking network (well designed and built and completely unused) gave some local insight to my urban planning studies.

We arrived at P-sho at eight'o'clock. Jan took my luggage in so I didn't need to look after it in the queue. Then I lined. I had no sense how long the queue would be, as the place was bit of a maze. It was very cold day, by far the coldest during the trip. Luckily it was raining only barely and there was even some sunshine. It wasn't that bad time - I read for couple of hours and then listened to some music. The Hungarian devils skipped the line (and they hadn't even returned their fan weekend badges). Otherwise people very nice, and honestly, that was the only negative AFOL experience of the trip.

After three or four hours I made it to the door. I'm not sure, but Kim Thomsen was possibly there - if he was, he was the only person I had met before my trip, as he visited our LUG at Model Expo in 2013 or something. Anyway, I left my sack outside and stepped in. There were AFOLs around, and lot of sets, including some Legoland promos but no individual bricks. Everything was around half the price. It's not bad, really. I wandered around, met Bogdan again, and picked up LEGO Movie II party bus and Ideas ship in the bottle. I returned the ship in the bottle to the shelf. I went to the queue. I waited until I was guided to the next line and saw it continue into the depths of the warehouse. I felt I had enough, quit and returned the bus to the line.

It all made me nervous and sort of fed up. There were hundreds of people with huge sacks of products and I felt that it was not why I'm here, not why I'm meddling with bricks. It was too much consumption and product and brand. I'm not alien to concept of collecting and owning and materialism, but after all the creative discussion, works of art in the fan weekend and feeling of comradeship, the harsh buying-oriented ecstasy was too much. And, to be honest - 50% off from the Danish prices is about -40% off from Finnish euro prices, and I don't buy sets in Finland for -40%. The benefit from that relatively cheap set didn't pay for the another queueing in that atmosphere. It was very nice for Jan to give me an access even though I hadn't signed up, and I'm grateful that I have the experience of the legendary P-shop and knowledge that I don't need to line for it the next time.

I got my baggege from behind the counter and walked to the LEGO House. I got there maybe around one'o'clock and left my luggage into hold; My flight was leaving at 18:40 so I had plenty of time to spend. I ate a delicious salmon bread with a cup of tea and called home. Then I wondered around in the House's store, wondering if I should buy a cup from PaB. Miraculous recovery from the P-shop, you might say, but I didn't buy anything in the end. I felt there was enough LEGO in my bags. You can have enough. It was still nice hanging around. I met a young German AFOL who was smuggling trans-light-blue 1x2 tiles for his LUG mate. I don't remember the name, sadly. I also talked with Italian AFOL who had been one of the compeditors in the speed MOCing. He and his companion had had their first MOC on display in Skaerbaek, a cool sushi restaurant.

After some time I fetched my laptop from the hold and made my check-in. I also got some paper from the reception (thanks!) and made some sketches for course of traditional and modern structures and their repairing. When I returned my computer I met again Huw who told me that they'd be sitting in the cafe; there was Tim Johnson and Rod Gilles and other UK based AFOLs, maybe some from Ireland too. It was nice sitting and talking with them. I felt barely human at that point, and I think some others shared my feelings after the hell of a weekend. I also showed them some photos of my upcoming creations - there are plenty of them waiting...

Around five'o'clock I left, trying to find the bus station. I wandered around, didn't find it, went back to the House (which was closing soon and I had to push the spinning door), got new (same as before) instructions from the helpful personnel at information on counter and found the station - it was in the same spot with the church and libraby I mentioned in the last post. I took the bus to the airport, printed my boarding pass and baggage tag, left the baggage, went through security and checked the LEGO Store where there was several AFOLs (you can have enough). I went upstairs and ordered vegetarian pasta! It took it take away as my gate was already open. It wasn't actually, and I ate the pasta which was pretty good at the gate. The flight was late but I got there eventually, met the last fellow AFOL there and flew to Sweden. In Arlanda I had a 40-minute transfer. There weren't many passengers, so it felt bit stupid to fly such big machine; but I was happy to land in Helsinki. I had already tickets for the bus that took me to Tampere. Finally I wandered half an hour in Tampere centre before asking Pinja (who was sleeping) if there was any buses to take me home. There wasn't, so as the final phase of my travel, I took a taxi. The driver said that Monday nights are lot quieter than for example Tuesdays nights. He was a DJ.



Isaac Snyder said...

Thanks for sharing such a detailed account of your time at Skaerbaek!
Glad to hear Are continued his interview series, and I look forward to seeing yours when Beyond the Brick publishes it.

Josie said...
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