Sunday, October 23, 2011

Harry Potter Festival 2011

 The 9th Harry Potter Festival took place here in Odense, Denmark on October 20-22, 2011. During the first seven years of the festival kids were able to attend Hogwarts, where they took classes in Transfiguration, Defence Against the Dark Arts, Charms, Potions, History of Magic, Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures, the subjects being taught by McGonagall, Snape, Hagrid and the rest of the staff. Last year Hogwarts was closed because J. K. Rowling came to town and she needed the building for reading to children and having lunch with the notabilities of Odense. As Hogwarts is the core of the festival, we naturally expected Hogwarts to open again this year, but we were sorely disappointed. It seems that Odense City and Odense Library that finance the festival have decided to close Hogwarts for good and try other things instead. Bad decision, if you ask me!
 Thursday the festival took off with a ride on the Hogwarts Express. Kids aged 8 to 12 turned up in their school uniforms on platform 9 ¾ on Odense Station at 5.17 p.m. Here they boarded the old steam engine and at 5.43 p.m. they were off. My daughter was on the train and she wasn’t impressed. The kids were seated in three coaches, McGonagall, Mad-Eye Moody and Hagrid looking after them. After a thirty minutes ride, they got off at a small station and on a nearby parking lot they watched a short fire show, young people juggling and performing tricks with fire. Then it was back to the Hogwarts Expres for the return trip. The kids were handed apples and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans and at some point the lights disappeared and the train came to a stand-still. The kids were told that they were under attack by Dementors, but shortly after the lights came back and the train started moving again. According to my daughter the trip wasn’t worth the money (£7.50 for a 75 minutes ride).
 On day two of the Harry Potter Festival, Odense City opened what they called Diagon Alley in the city centre. This was a new feature. In town we have an old alley called “Vintapper Straede” (Tapster Alley) so obviously it had to be made into Diagon Alley. The problem was, however, that Odense City clearly hadn’t read the books! The only thing Diagon Alley-related in the alley was Gringotts Wizarding Bank whereas the rest of the alley consisted of workshops where you could make your own owl, halloween pumpkin, wicker baskets etc. You could play chess, draw pictures or learn magic tricks at a Weasley Workshop and there was a fortune teller and someone doing face paint, too, but nothing that had to do with Diagon Alley. Madam Puddifoot’s Tea Salon was there as well as Scrivenshaft’s Quill Shop (in fact they shared the same building), but as far as I know they are not situated in Diagon Alley, but in Hogsmeade! Furthermore Madame Puddifoot’s Tea Salon was far from romantic; in fact it was just an empty shop with a few plastic tables and chairs. Very disappointing. Oh well, at least Gringotts was amazing. The goblins were really scary this year!
 
In the evening Odense City and the library had organised a Harry Potter Concert. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to go, but friends of mine who went were duly impressed. Like last year during Rowling’s visit, Odense Symphony Orchestra played Harry Potter music while characters from the books entertained the audience. This year the music consisted of John Williams’ “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Suite”, Nicholas Hooper’s “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Suite” and Patrick Doyle and John Williams’ “Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire Suite”. The suites were arranged by Jerry Brubaker and directed by Per-Otto Johansson and consisted of 23 pieces of music all in all. My own personal favourite, Nicholas Hooper’s “Fireworks”, was not among them, which I found quite odd as apart from “Hedwig’s Theme” it is the most popular and most recognisable of the Harry Potter music. The concert lasted from 5.01 p.m. to 6.31 p.m.
 Saturday was the big finale, the Harry Potter Market, where the city centre turned into a cross between Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade for four hours, starting at 11.01 a.m. As usual Professor Snape gave potion lessons in his dungeons in the old town monastery and Professor Sprout taught kids how to pot young mandrakes in Herbology class, the kids wearing earmuffs as the plants were screaming awfully! Of course Professor Sprout had to give lessons in Diagon Alley as Hogwarts was closed. In the nearby park you were able to play Quidditch, and in the town square you could visit different shops such as Gringotts Wizarding Bank, Ollivander’s, The Daily Prophet, Eeylops Owl Emporium, Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions, Quality Quidditch Supplies and Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. As usual only George was there. We have never had a Fred. The Leaky Cauldron was open as well, but this year I think they had joined forces with Honeydukes, as they were selling candy, too!
 Like last year Hagrid’s hut behind Hogwarts was occupied by a fortune teller while Hagrid was away, doing guided tours on the Hogwarts Express. And like last year The Weird Sisters gave a string of concerts while St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies took care of the ones who had done “The Hippogriff” a little too enthusiastically. You could also visit the Mirror of Erised, duel Death Eaters or join a lookalike contest. As something new you were able to participate in a Harry Potter clue hunt using GPS, but not many did that as you had to hand in your mobile phone as security!
 Usually our Mayor plays the part of Dumbledore and the international footballer Thomas Helveg is Madam Hooch while the rest of the Harry Potter characters are played by professional actors, magicians, opera singers and of course loads of volunteers. This year most of “the usual suspects” were gone, though, only Snape, Hagrid and Voldemort being the same as usual, whereas new people played the rest of the characters. Some had just switched characters, for instance the guy who used to be Krum was now Mad-Eye Moody. Of new characters this year were Dobby and Bellatrix Lestrange, Bellatrix being extremely good. Her psychotic laughter could be heard all over the city centre, sending chills down people’s spines!
 The Harry Potter Market is always a huge success as it is fun, action packed and cheap. For £2 (that’s about $3.75) you get 500 galleons in Gringotts and that is all that you need in order to try out everything, eat at The Leaky Cauldron and buy wands, brooms etc. More than 4,000 people visit the market each year and this success is now threatening the squash the festival. The Harry Potter shops are simply too small and the volunteers too few, so visitors spend most of their time standing in line, waiting to be served, which is very frustrating, especially to the kids. I hope Odense City and the library are going to have the courage to think big before the 10 year anniversary next year as I’m sure the festival is going to draw even more people then. It would be fairly easy to use even more of the city centre area and to involve more volunteers and please, please re-open Hogwarts! Let’s make this festival the best of its kind next year!

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