Legoland Denmark! The best day of my life

Legoland Denmark, Billund

Prams majestically sail through a boiling mass of humanity. With bright yellow Legoland™ bags stowed on parental masts, squawking toddlers circle these crowd-fairing vessels like seagulls. Massive billboards entice young explorers and overwhelm their developing senses. Made entirely from small, primary coloured blocks, the signs scream out; ‘Atlantis!’, ‘Pirate Splash Battle!‘ and ‘Crabzilla!‘ each exclamation mark promising a more intense sensory high than the last. Smaller signs in Danish and English dot the park with interesting facts; ‘Mount Rushmore contains 1.5 million blocks’, ‘the model German town would have taken a lone lego engineer twelve years to complete.’ They have Lego engineers…no one told me that when I was mulling over career choices as a confused youth.

Many parents believe that Lego stands for Lethally Edged Gouging Object1, or “Ouch” when you stand on a stray block in the night. However, when naming his invention Godtfred Christiansen employed a contraction of the Danish; ‘Leg Godt’, literally meaning ‘Play well’2. ‘Play well’ also serves as the company’s motto3. The Lego group were later to discover that the word Lego appears in Latin, fortunately translating to ‘I put together’4 and not sibling warfare. Christiansen first arrived at the idea of Legoland when small Lego displays in his showroom drew more attention than his factory tours. This led to the building of the original Legoland Denmark in Billund, Denmark in the 1960’s5. Since 2005 Legoland theme parks worldwide have been operated by majority shareholder Merlin Entertainment6.

grey Legoland Denmark! The best day of my lifeLegolands in Germany, the UK, Holland and Denmark each entertain over 1.4 million guests a year7. Plans are underway for new parks in Florida and Malaysia8. The original 1950’s design is used in production of standard blocks, a block from 1958 will connect to one bought yesterday9. This toy box staple has not lost its appeal to either children or parents, on average every person on earth owns fifty-nine Lego blocks.

Ice cream melts onto my wrist as I look around this pixellated world. A small gorilla sits quietly above a green ‘Safari World!’ sign. He peers at me thoughtfully through square eyes, exuding plastic contentment from his perch out of reach of sticky fingers. Small, uniformly grey badgers peer from under bushes at feet scuttling by. A Lego block roller coaster leaves a lingering scent of rail grease as it whooshes screaming passengers by. Feeling as though I have stepped into a 1980s cartoon I check my hands, they have not changed, still flesh, non-pixellated.

A group of denim clad university students walk past drinking beer and discussing their employment options. Drinking a bit too quickly and laughing a bit too loudly they seem to clutch at fading childhoods. Chased by looming responsibility they melt into the crowd, leading their respective alcohol buzzes to the next ride. A lone father leaves a pram moored to the care of his partner and frantically searches the prepubescent crowd for a wayward explorer. A background hum of adrenalised young voices is ever present, an untuned radio of feverish excitement. Tinny salsa music from an animatronic band wafts past a young costumed worker. The pirate, covered in pimples and foam, stands awkwardly, sweltering in the heat, desperately hoping to avoid detection by holidaying peers.

Walking to the canoe ride I am constantly checking my sneaker tread for chewing gum and small children. My girlfriend Jette, a Danish veteran of Legoland, wants to face her fear of fun park rides. We wait in a serpentine line which winds around play stops. Children break formation to toil at these lego stations without thought of parents, who hold line position in draining heat. I can practically hear young synapses connecting as I watch these civil engineers stacking their blocks higher, experimenting with novel designs. The children work together in a private world without regard for colour. Multicoloured towers reach for the sky as bricks are passed between little White, Black and Hispanic hands. I imagine Christiansen smiling and watching these children ‘playing well’ I can only hope that the adults who emerge from this innocent cocoon do not lose their admirable colourblindness.

Seven years as a pharmacist has me viewing children as carriers of illness, I try, but fail to avoid small dirty hands as we queue. I don’t want to catch anything from them. A shy child behind me patiently waits and watches her peers play, getting confused she grasps my hand. Looking up she sees a smiling bearded stranger instead of her babysitter, instantly her contented smile melts as hand and eyes dart to find safety. The mood is contagious as our line slithers toward the small gurgling river. Contracting the children’s excitement I barely resist using toddlers in front as stepping stones, to dash through this queue so I can experience this ride now. Happy babbling slowly morphs into silent nerves as the waiting ends.

Wet bench seats soak through our shorts as we clunk to a start. Behind me Jette is becoming increasingly anxious, I can sense her aura of nerves as a conveyor jerks our canoe skyward. Clunking off the conveyor our intrepid expedition begins by floating serenely through a plastic savannah. We see wolves frozen halfway through their plastic meal and small prairie dogs on poles, they poke square heads up inquisitively as our canoe drifts silently by. They seem almost curious to see who has invaded their perfect, unchanging Eden.

grey Legoland Denmark! The best day of my lifeWe enter a tunnel adorned with prehistoric Lego cave paintings. Jette does not appreciate the pixellated art as I do. Her stiff attention is focussed on the muffled booming of a waterfall, reverberating from nearby downstream. The rumbling spells impeding doom for our expedition.

Blinking in the sunlight we turn a corner and unexpectedly bump to a stop at the back of another canoe, a giggling Korean expedition to these mystic lands. Their canoe is abruptly snatched by a conveyor and rattles upwards, before snapping out of frame with a discordant scream. The conveyor grasps at our canoe as I swivel on my soggy tail to film Jette’s face.

The conveyor stops abruptly and a voice booms, seemingly from the clouds, making me jump. “Is this ancient landscape an old Indian burial ground?” I wonder. The omnipotent voice from above directs me; “In the blue shirt, please face forward…” I oblige sheepishly and we begin our climb. For a split second we falter on the crux, Jette’s silent anticipation is replaced by an ear splitting scream as we plummet. Her scream is cut short when our vessel carves a wave out of the pool at the bottom and the ride finishes without ceremony. Wet legs climb out of the canoe, a stern gaze follows my progress; “Hey, there goes that punk who risked everything by sitting backwards”.

Continuing the plastic-world theme, we drown plastic hamburgers with generous squirts of ketchup in a futile effort to reanimate our long dead theme park staple. I give up and simply sip my sweating coke, contemplatively watching nearby tables.

A disabled girl in a wheelchair being lovingly fed by a gentle sibling, an elderly couple sharing a midday beer, twins fighting over a Jedi knight. I watch a large ‘mother hen’ gathering her perfectly presented brood away from a lonely child with grubby dark skin. Under her watchful eye they can no longer share their gift shop bounty. It is sad to see this Mecca of childhood innocence tainted so.

Giving up on rehydrating our ‘food’ we follow the Statue of Liberty’s beckoning wave. 1.4 million Lego blocks form this nine meter high centrepiece10. The island which she so solemnly guards is also home to a small White House peacefully coexisting with famous Arabic and Asian buildings. I wonder if the significance of their placement is accidental. We walk amongst 2.5 million lego blocks carefully arranged to form a perfect German town11, complete with working aqueduct, tiny busses driving and ships sailing. Combined, these busses travel an annual distance of three times around the equator on their plastic wheels, the ships sail from Copenhagen to Australia12. I wonder if their labour is fruitless.

We wander to the stuffy LegotopTM and silently ascend a bright, thirty-six meter tower.

The mood is that of a pilgrimage ending. I look down over 59 million Lego blocks13 comprising this joyous land and remember my first flight into Denmark. I also peered through a small window over a vast, model-perfect world. I too saw a new world full of possibility and excitement, brimming with the same twitchy excitement that has overcome the small pilgrim beside me.

Maybe the heat is affecting me but I start to wonder if all those years ago, Christiansen simply wanted to display the capabilities of his invention or, if maybe, he wanted to build a world where adults can learn from children. A world where little hands can pass building blocks without seeing imposed boundaries. Maybe the efforts of the sailing ships are not wasted, they give life to Christiansen’s world where children learn to play well.

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