The 11th Harry Potter Festival took place here in Odense, Denmark on October 17-19, 2013. Over the years the festival has grown larger, but not necessarily better. When it first started in 2002, it was just a magic day at the local library attended by 40 kids. Then it grew to become a regular festival that lasted for a week and had up to 4,000 visitors. Three hundred of the kids went to Hogwarts each year in our old town hall where they were sorted into the different houses and tried to win the House Cup. They also had lessons in Transfiguration, Defence Against the Dark Arts, Charms, Potions, History of Magic, Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures taught by McGonagall, Snape, Hagrid and the rest of the staff. They got their wands at Ollivander's and fought off dementors and inferi and all in all it was an amazing experience for the kids. The festival also included The Forbidden Forrest, The Hogwarts Express, Hagrids Hut, The Chamber of Secrets and a two day Diagon Alley/Hogsmeade market in the town hall square. For many a Harry Potter fan, it was indeed the highlight of the year!
Then in 2010 J. K. Rowling visited the festival and Hogwarts was closed, as she needed the building to have lunch with the local notabilities. Hogwarts never opened again and as the number of visitors had increased to 10,000 the market days in the town hall square were abandoned and replaced by other activities in different places in town. This year even more visitors attended the 15 different "activities", but to be honest, the magic was gone.
The thing is that Hogwarts was always the core of the festival and with Hogwarts gone the heart of the festival is gone. Maybe that's the reason why the festival has been cut down to only 3 days and the Harry Potter activities scattered all over town. The good thing about the "old" festival was that all of the activities were situated next to each other, so when you entered the festival, it felt as if you had stepped into a magic world. Now there is no core to the festival, so you are still just in the real world with only occasional pockets of magic popping up here and there.
Oh well… What about the activities, then? Three of them I didn't attend. One was the Hogwarts Express that was sold out in advance (and limited to kids 8-12), the other a Harry Potter role-play for kids aged 8-15 and finally the Harry Potter Concert with Odense Symphony Orchestra. These three events are the same year after year and they are pretty expensive too and at least the Hogwarts Express is - according to my daughter - one of the dullest rides ever!
What I did attend, though, was the new Chamber of Secrets in the museum Moentergaarden. Here you went through a guided tour of the Middle Age Exhibition of the museum and ended up in a library with potions and clues. Then you had to follow the spiders to a cellar where you had to crush some basilisk eggs and get a diploma. The very young kids found it funny, but the rest of the visitors did not. And this is one of the problems with this "new" festival. It aims at an audience aged 3-8, much younger than the average Harry Potter fan and much younger than the age limits at the Hogwarts Express and the Harry Potter role-play too.
Anyway, I went on to the next activity: School start at Hogwarts. Now that Hogwarts is no more, Odense City and Odense Library (the ones in charge of the festival) are using the Library of Local History as a "replacement Hogwarts" so that kids are able to experience the sorting ceremony and meet Dumbledore and Snape anyway. To get there, you have to go through The Forbidden Forrest and that was quite fun, as I was attacked by a dementor, but Hagrid came to my rescue.
In The Forbidden Forrest you had to find some letters and then when you went upstairs to the Library of Local History you had to find more. On your way you'd meet moving portraits and Argus Filch with Mrs. Norris.
The Library of Local History had been turned into a kind of Great Hall where you'd be sorted into either Gryffindor or Slytherin. For some reason Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw didn't exist anymore! As I'm Ravenclaw through and through, Dumbledore and Quirrell had to put me in Slytherin along with all the other intelligent people! Oh dear! Anyway, in order to get more letters I had to meet four different challenges like play music to Fluffy and make potions for Snape. This year the "usual" Snape had been replaced by a young lad, which was rather sad. The guy was probably okay, but I always used to have a chat with the old Snape, so I really missed him! In the end I got all my letters (which spelled "Alohomora") and I was rewarded a diploma and a wand.
From there I went to the nearby Eventyrhaven (Fairy Tale Garden) park where you'd find Quality Quidditch Supplies and be able to play Quidditch and fly a broom. Not much was happening when I was there, so I went on to find the other HP activities.
I had to walk down to Jernbanegade (Railway Street) and Graabroedre Plads (Grey Friars Square) to find what was called "The Magic Market Square". Here some of the shops and offices from Diagon Alley were situated such as Ollivander’s, Eeylops Owl Emporium, Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions, Gringotts Wizarding Bank and The Daily Prophet. You could also find St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies there as well as Professor Sprout teaching Herbology, a potion workshop and unicorns!
The street and square also included 3 other "activities": a toddler area with an enchanted forest, Cáfe Hogwarts where you had to stand in line for 40 minutes to buy a sandwich and then Hagrid telling stories in the local Abbey Church. In my opinion the church should leave Harry Potter alone, so I refused to take part in this activity.
In the Funen Art Museum a little further down the road you'd find what was probably the best of the festival activities. In order to finish your education as a witch or wizard you had to answer questions and riddles in a 4 pages booklet. While doing so, you went though Madam Puddifoot’s Tea Salon and Dumbledore's office and met Professor Trelawny telling fortunes. There were both an indoor and an outdoor tea salon where you could buy tea, coffee, soft drinks, cakes and sweets using Galleons. In Gringotts you get 500 Galleons for DKK 30/£3 and that is DKK 5/50p more than last year, as the exchange rate is always DKK 5/50p more than the previous year!
In the Museum I also met Professor McGonagall and I was quite surprised to see that she was actually an acquaintance of mine! So now I can say that I've been hugged by Professor McGonagall and she also signed my diploma, so now I'm a fully qualified witch!
Anyway, you had to walk up all the stairs to the upper floor to find Professor Trelawny in a very dark room where she was reading palms. From there you could go on to Dumbledore's office and that was really great. There were ghosts in the room and it was so well done. Bravo!
Only two "activities" were left now and one was Diagon Alley. This is situated in a street called Vintapperstraede, which means "Tapster Alley". But this Tapster Alley has NOTHING to do with Diagon Alley, mainly because most of the Diagon Alley shops are situated in the Magic Market Square. Only a branch of Gringotts was there. You could also find the Mirror of Erised, where you could have your face painted, or visit the "Care of Magical Creatures" people and say hello to real snakes, tarantulas and giant snails. That was actually quite interesting.
The other activities in Diagon Alley consisted of Viola's Workshop where you could make toy owls or carve pumpkins and then a Merlin's Workshop where you could make your own wand. I found George Weasley at the back of Merlin's Workshop and to my horror I realised that they had actually closed Weasley's Wizard Wheezes this year, so George was out of a shop! We never had a Fred at the festival, so seeing George all alone in the back of a workshop that had nothing to do with Harry Potter was heartbreaking. At least he seemed quite content with doing magic tricks and I noticed that he'd got his ear back!
The very last stop on my Harry Potter activity list was to visit The Leaky Cauldron that had been relocated to a street called Smedestraede (Blacksmith Alley). The small, rundown house was perfect for The Leaky Cauldron and their butterbeer tasted great, but it was expensive: 50 Galleons per glass. After that I was ready to call it a day.
Attending the "activities" that I did took about 4 hours, where at least 1½ of the hours were spent going to and from the different "activities" and another 40 minutes on standing in line at Café Hogwarts. I really liked The Leaky Cauldron and the activities in the Funen Art Gallery, but the rest of the activities were aimed at a very young audience. Because the activities are spread out though the city, you no longer get the feeling of stepping into a magic world and you are not likely to bump into as many Harry Potter characters as usual. Some are simply not there anymore like The Weird Sisters giving concert or my friend Madam Rosmerta serving in The Three Broomsticks, as there are no Broomsticks or concerts anymore. Other characters are probably still there, but you just don't see them, as they are not at the same activity at the same time as you. I really missed Luna Lovegood, Victor Krum, Mad-Eye Moody, Madam Hooch, Rita Skeeter, Lord Voldemort, Bellatrix Lestrange and all the inferi as these characters are usually great fun at the festival, but I didn't see any of them this year.
I also missed a lot of activities and places, such as Weird Sisters concerts, the annual lookalike contest, Hagrid's hut, The Three Broomsticks, Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, Flourish & Blotts, Scrivenshaft’s Quill Shop and Snape's dungeons. And I missed SNAPE!!! I hope that the "real" Snape will back next year, so although I think the festival has started catering to pre-school children instead of Harry Potter fans, I'll probably be back next year anyway in the hopes that Snape is back as well!