A note about the pictures: All are in JPG format, and all are 600x800. They are meant to be viewed on a monitor that is set at 1024x768 resolution or better. If you do not know how to do that, right-click on your desktop, click [properties], then [settings], and look at "Screen area." It might also be helpful to close some of the menus at the top of the browser screen (Netscape and I.E.) so that the full picture is shown, without the need to scroll to see all of it.
One must give credit where credit is due. Anthrocon may be the largest furry convention in the world, but I do believe that Eurofurence X managed to beat us in quality this year. The sheer amount of ingenuity and creativity that went into their performances utterly dazzled me. Things ran as smoothly as silk, or at least appeared to, which is all that is important. I met some incredible people, enjoyed the hospitality of some fine and proper German friends, saw some incredibly talented fursuit performers, enjoyed a jaw-dropper of a puppet show, and ate more sausage than any American should.
I hope that I do not inadvertantly neglect to record some of the remarkable events of August 25-30, 2004. This is being written a week later. I blame US Airways and the Boeing Corporation for failing to install laptop power ports in their 767 aircraft, which is the type that brought me home. I was not able to keep my laptop going long enough to record my thoughts when they were fresh, and the airline has no sort of writing paper, not even a scribble-pad, available for passengers.
More on that later.
I left for Germany on the evening of August 24, having scored, to my delight, an upgrade to First Class. We had a brand-new Airbus 340, with comfy electric seats that reclined almost fully flat. After dining on a lovely hot meal I dozed off, and did not wake up until breakfast was served. We landed in Frankfurt nearly on schedule.I should mention at this time that my good friend Jumpy had made the reservation for me, and originally I was scheduled to fly via München (Munich). Somewhere along the line the reservation got quite FUBAR'd. After a number of strange changes and contradictory reports from the airline and travel agency, Jumpy finally called them to make sure they had it right.
"Everything is in order," they told him. "Dr. Konway is arriving in Frankfurt at 10:30, and then departing München for Düsseldorf at 11:00."
"What?" Jumpy said. "He's arriving in Frankfurt but leaving from München?"
"Er...yes, that's what it says here."
"That is in ORDER? Can you explain to me how he is supposed to teleport from Frankfurt to München??"
The travel agent agreed with him, and things finally got settled. I arrived in Frankfurt to find that I had a three-hour layover. Not a challenge -- I had a first class ticket, which gets one into the "Envoy Lounge." When I arrived in Terminal C, I asked where I could find the Envoy Lounge.
"Terminal A," they said. Well, I had three hours.
To get to Terminal A I had to go through Passport Control, since Terminal A is apparently inside the European Union, and Terminal C is still located in a portion of the Warsaw Pact region. After a nearly 15 minute walk I finally got to the Envoy Lounge, where I was told quite sternly, "You may not come in."
"But I have a first class ticket."
"You have a first class ticket on US Airways (these words uttered with a sneer). This is a Lufthansa lounge. You can only come in here if you have an outgoing first class ticket on a partner airline, but you have an incoming ticket."
"Well, drat. Where can I find the US Airways first class lounge?"
It was not worth my while to walk 15 minutes back, go through Passport Control in the other direction, and then reverse the process to get back to Terminal A. I wandered about the airport for a while, then, poking my nose into the Duty Free stores and whatnot, until finally my flight to Düsseldorf was called. That one was quite short, about 30 minutes in the air, and before I could get my ears to pop we were back on the ground.
I had something of a scare in retrieving my luggage, which was the very last bag off the carousel.
It seemed for a while that we would have a repeat of the great luggage fiasco of
Once I had my luggage I went out through Customs (nothing to declare? Then move along, please) and found my friend Fairlight waiting for me. This was odd, since it was to have been Nightfox greeting me. Nightfox was there, all right; he and Big Blue Fox (hereafter, BBF) were on cel phones and were quite upset. They own the two big jeeps that I have seen at the last two Eurofurences, and the poor fellows had collided outside the terminal. BBF had crashed into Nightfox's rear bumper. He was beside himself. "Good lord, are you hurt?" I said. "How bad is the damage?"
"We are fine," BBF said, nearly in tears. "But the damage is extensive. It is bad, very, VERY bad."
Now, it should be noted that neither Nightfox nor BBF have children, so in the absence of such their beloved jeeps fill that role. When we got outside I had to be shown where the damage was. It amounted to a tiny crease on Nightfox's fender, and no matter how closely I looked I could not detect the damage on BBF's vehicle.
We were joined shortly by Timothy Albee, creator of Kaze: Ghost Warrior. He is a computer-effects artist whose credits include Babylon 5. I tried hard not to be fanboy at him, but I am not sure I succeeded. His one-man project Kaze is quite breathtaking, considering he did all of the effects and the voices by himself. He rode with Nightfox, and I with BBF. I was pleased to have the next 90 minutes just to chat with BBF, of whom I do not see enough. Naturally, as we arrived at the consite, the fellows stopped and put the light bars out and brought us in with sirens wailing, in proper Eurofurence fashion.
Arriving one day early (it was now Wednesday) turned out to be a miscalcuation on my part. Whereas my German hosts were thrilled to see me, they were all busy getting the convention set up. Originally I thought to just hang back and relax, but the volunteer-bug bit me again, and I found myself helping to wash the projection screen (which had gotten quite filthy in storage). Tim Albee also pitched in, good-hearted fellow that he is. I was astonished at the amount of sound and lighting equipment they had. Some they had bought, some they had rented, and some they had built on their own. BBF had rigged up a professional-quality camera boom from items that he literally had lying around the house. A bicycle handlebar controlled it, barbell weights counterbalanced it, and a standard video camera was lashed to the end. I had taken a picture of it but to my chagrin it was too out of focus to post.
The consite was located at Jugendherberge ("Youth Hostel") Biggesee, located near the city of Olpe in Northwestern Germany. My hosts gave me a two-person room, with bunkbeds, which I would share with my friend, the artist Gideon. It had a private shower, but the shower was haunted. No matter where the dial was set, the water would either be agonizingly, scaldingly hot or frigidly cold, and sometimes went from one to the other and back again without any apparent stimulus. It also had a water-saving feature: one pushed the big button and got 15 seconds of water before it shut off, at which point one had to push the button again. Each time the button was pushed it was a coin toss as to whether the water would be lava or liquid nitrogen.
When I awoke on Thursday it was raining. Then it was sunny. Then it was raining. Then it was sunny. Then it was raining. And all of this happened in the course of my ironing my shirt. That is summer in Germany for you. It's like Florida, only with fewer old people. The bulk of the attendees began to arrive, among them Gideon and another friend, Anthrocon board member Giza. There was a big lineup at registration, which involved not on the usual badge pickup but also room assignments. Staff member SomeWolf asked if I could help -- bam, zoom, there I was, handing out the room keys. I got one of the staff members to teach me some rudimentary German, which was hardly necessary because almost all of the congoers speak perfect English, but it was a source of great amusement to them as I stumbled through the words.
Thursday night supper is traditionally an outdoor barbecue, and thankfully the German summer weather cooperated. There was grilled pork and bratwurst and sausage and vegetables and cole slaw and potato salad, all washed down with the same generic red "bug juice" that we get in summer camp here in the states. Oh, and people began to give me gifts of wine. Bless their hearts! So as not to appear to great a lush, I began to try to disguise the wine by drinking it out of teacups over the course of the convention, and Uncle Kage's "tea" became something of a standing joke throughout the course of the convention.
Gideon, the poor dear fellow, had not slept well on the plane and thus was terribly exhausted on his arrival. He went upstairs straightaway for a nap, and when dinnertime came I made up a plate for him and brought him his dinner in the room. Thereafter, we both went downstairs to mingle and meet people I was delighted to see Furvan, one of the most outstanding fursuit performers I know. He was in the persona of Kchierath, the catcoon, a remarkable suit with animated ears, big expressive eyes and an articulated jaw. The mechanics of the suit are impressive, but Furvan's talent really makes it come to life. It does not take long in his presence before Kchierath ceases to be a man in a costume, and becomes an actual living creature, so thoroughly is the illusion spun. I admire the man tremendously, as well as the catcoon.
I was also very happy to catch Mbala, the Czeetah, who helped with my arrangements for EF9. And, happy day, it was only a few minutes later that I saw Mbili, who was such a marvelous guide and companion when I was in Prague (note 1).
EFX had a nice art show with some very high-quality artwork in it, and a tiny dealer's room that was mostly taken up by Cougar's homemade flavored liquors. He had dozens of bottles with names (in German) like "Dog-nose Polish" and "Fox Party Starter," and with label artwork by Tani DaReal. I wanted to buy some, but then, I'd drink it, and I really do try to limit myself to wine.
They do not have a lot of programming at Eurofurence, but that is by design. Mostly it is a place for people to go and hang out with others. The events that I did go to were quite a lot of fun. On Friday morning I could not resist going to a roundtable discussion called "Francophone furries." It was entirely for French-speakers. After a while it sort of degenerated into "let's see if Uncle Kage can do a story hour entirely in French," but that was still a lot of fun. God bless you, Madame Cusamano, wherever you are!
For the rest of the afternoon I just hung out, spent time with people, watched the beautiful German countryside (when it was not raining), drank tea (you know...TEA), and generally had a nice relaxing time. I think it was that afternoon that I first saw Tani's fursuit, a very, very well-conceived snow leopard costume with an articulated jaw. The whole thing was quite delightful, and I think I took more pictures of her than any other suit. That evening there was a showing of Tim Albee's Kaze: Ghost Warrior and some other furry-type shorts, and then Uncle Kage's Story Hour. I hope that the folks had as much fun with that as I did. After that was the annual game show, which this year was patterned after Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. They had the video effects and sound and everything. These fellows do not do anything halfway! It must have taken hours upon hours of work. Afterward I was sitting on the floor next to Kchierath, the catcoon. A combination of too-little sleep and too-much "tea" had made me more than a little dizzy, and at one point I just sort of slumped over and half passed out with my head on the poor startled catcoon's lap. Of course, four thousand people immediately showed up with cameras and started taking pictures, so I really have no plausible deniability. I blame German tea.
Saturday I stopped by the Furry Music Cafe, and was utterly stunned to hear some of these people's voices. At least one of these folks has classical operatic training; the rest just have incredible singing voices. They could be on Broadway. They were just hanging around and essentially doing a jam session. The fursuit show was in the afternoon -- not many acts, but boy, were they good! There was a fellow in a Chester Ringtail costume (he's an American living in Sweden) was did a very jazzy keyboard piece while wearing the fursuit gloves. That impressed me to no end.
Saturday evening there was the art auction, which they asked me to conduct, and I spent an hour and a half picking everyone's pocket. After that came the highlight of the con: The pawpets! They must have put hundreds of hours into preparing this year's production of The Phantom of the Pawpet Show. They had fog effects and incredible lighting effects and picture-perfect stage direction, and the singing voices that I mentioned earlier were unbelievable. They did all of the songs themselves. I thought I was going to bust a gut when Lori deFolkmanis (the vixen starlet) broke into her solo version of "Phantom of the Pawpet Show," and when she hit a particularly piercing high note the chandelier broke loose and crashed to the stage. I had been wondering how they were going to work that in.
After the pawpet show -- and damn, was it ever a memorable performance! -- I was invited to join the staff and Mr. Albee for some late-night drinks. There was wine, and a selection of Cougar's liquors, and what must have been a three-gallon bottle of Absinthe. So it was that I am not entirely certain how I got to my room, only that when I woke up on Sunday morning I thought for certain that I had fallen and fractured my skull in my sleep. Ugh! Fortunately I always travel with a near-complete pharmacy, and was able to quell the headache and the rolling stomach in time for the big group photo at noon.
People began to trickle home. It was a terribly sad sight, watching things get taken down. It has been a while since I have felt genuine Post Con Depression. I helped out where I could, and by late afternoon there was no trace that such a remarkable furry event had ever been. Nightfox drove me back to his home in Kettrig (I think I spelled that right) which he shares with Jayric, the convention's astonishing sound engineer. There we joined with Mr. Albee, Gideon, BBF, Cheetah, and a bunch of other staff members for a big dinner together in a nice restaurant. Sadly it was dark and my poor camera would not have worked, but we dined in a restaurant that had been built in 1745. It was in an ancient section of town that looked like it had been picked up and dropped there from Epcot Center. Gideon and I were astonished. "This isn't real!" we said. "This is a theme park. It's "Germanland" or something"! But no, it was an honest-to-goodness old time German town, centered around a 1000-year-old church. We had a fantastic dinner and chatted late into the night, before we all went our separate ways. Gideon, Mr. Albee and I stayed at Nightfox/Jayric's home. Our fine hosts refused to go to bed themselves until their guests were situated, event though they were nearly dead on their feet. Thank you, my fine gentlemen, and I hope very much to return the favor someday!
The next day poor Nightfox got up early and drove Gideon and I to the airport in Düsseldorf. It was there, while we were looking around for the Lufthansa ticket counter, that I was shown just how poor my German is. After wandering around unable to find it, we approached the SwissAir counter and in my best Deutsch I said, "Bitte, Fräulein, wo ist der Lufthansa Kartenschalter?"
"It's right at the end of the terminal, in that direction," she replied.
Only a little humbling. We bumped into Giza, who would be flying along with me the rest of the way home, and all of us agreed that we had just been through what may well be the best furry convention experience any of us had ever had. Giza and I left Gideon behind, since he was going through Frankfurt and we were going through München (for real this time). I managed to get a first-class upgrade again and left a forlorn Giza back in Coach while I lounged in the front of the plane. I at least sent a drink back his way.
The three of us arrived more or less simultaneously back in Philadelphia late on Sunday afternoon. We were still rather dazed from our experience, and quite sad that it had been so short. All of us wanted to go back, didn't want it to be over. All good things, though, must come to an end, and we comforted ourselves by looking forward to next year.
Coming through Customs was a great chore, even moreso than going in to Europe. I had to go through USDA inspection because a kind-hearted fan had given me a bunch of Dutch tulip bulbs to take home to Susandeer. Gideon himself got turned around a little after a Customs agent pointed him on his way, and he started to walk toward the wrong line. Behind him he heard a loud yell. "Yo, STUPID! I said THIS WAY!"
That's how we knew that we were finally home.
Thank you for reading. Now that you have reached the bottom of my long-winded narrative, I should at least reward you with the photos that I took. You could just as easily have clicked on the link at the top of the page, but I am grateful that you took the time to read through everything to get to this point. You can start looking through the photos with this link. Remember, they are 600x800, and you can click "next" or "previous" to cycle through them. And as an added treat especially for those devoted readers who got this far, you can get a special preview of the Eurofurence X DVD by clicking HERE (or, if you are on a slow connection such as a dialup, HERE).
1) I want to take this opportunity to thank both Mbala and Mbili one more time for their friendship as well as for taking such good care of me last year, and also to clear the record on EF9. I am guilty myself of making fun of "Czechnology," and the many equipment failures of last year. Sadly, that seems to be the only thing that people hear about. I was remiss in failing to emphasize just how much fun I had at EF9, how comfortable (if a little Stalinesque in appearance) the youth hostel was, how marvelous the scenery looked, how well the programming ran, and how hard the staff worked to make sure that everyone in attendance had a fine time. The equipment problems are the fault of the cut-rate supplier that was chosen, and I would hope that the community will not judge the entire convention on that single and truthfully very minor detail. (Return)