The timing for our trip was a little bit of an inconvenience for the kids, actually. Not only would they miss a few weeks of their sports and art classes, but also their birthdays and Halloween would fall during our trip, and every one of those would be travel days. Even on a trip to Europe, being hustled from train to train is not the most fun activity for a day you normally celebrate in other ways.
We had a one-day gap to fill between Ústí and Villingen, and I wanted to use it to do something really fun and special for the kids. That ruled out my own personal choice, Leipzig. I was looking across the map of Bavaria, searching for anything that could work. And then I saw it.
Randy and I kept it secret until only a few days before. It was so tempting to keep it from them until we arrived in Günzburg, but I knew we would need their motivated cooperation with some of the train connections and getting up early.
Some parents are not fans of the little plastic block toys, and I get that. They scatter easily. They hurt when you step on them. Now that they are sold more often in dedicated kits (and with movie tie-ins!) rather than ambiguous collections of bricks, some fear the creativity aspect of play is lost. Again, I get it. All of it.
Despite my understanding of the wide range of objections out there, I continue to be a fan of Legos, for both my kids. And given the chance to go to a theme park based on Legos….well, I was almost as excited as they were.
Booking a hotel in Günzburg was one of the easiest reservations we made the whole trip. Because of Legoland, nearly all the hotels could accept two-adults-and-two-kids without any problems. Sometimes in Europe we end up in two-room apartments (or once, even, two separate rooms) because of local laws regarding occupancy. If it is a hotel where we’ve stayed before, and we know the rooms are fairly large (like the hotel where we stay in Gorizia) we just put down one child. However, in the town that hosts Legoland, nearly all the hotels are very family friendly. Our hotel, Hotel Hirsch, even had a room that can accept more than six people! We didn’t need one that large, but it existed.
And unlike all of the other hotels we were in, the extra beds were not only converted sofas or roll-aways, but rather bunk beds!
Günzburg itself is a beautiful little Bavarian town, probably worthy of more exploration than just Legoland. Another time, I hope.
When we walked into the park, we were amazed by all the working cities in miniature constructed out of Legos.
Like a fully operational Hamburg container port. Or this model of the Berlin Reichstag, occupying 12 square meters, and featuring a miniature Angela Merkel greeting another head of state and escorting him to the steps, the press corp cameras flashing away.
Several of them had levers or buttons for the children to initiate some moving parts.
"Look," Randy pointed out to me. "It’s Venice! You said you wanted to see Venice!"
In a field of impressive structures, one of the most impressive was this of the Allianz Arena. According to Legoland, it is the largest Lego building in the world.
I was hoping it would show Der Klassiker, the battle between longtime rivals Dortmund Borussia (my nephew’s favorite Bundesliga team) and Bayern München. Instead, it was a match between the Allianz roommates. We were in Bavaria, you know.
While the kids and I were walking around the Lego models, I heard a family near us speaking Mandarin. They had two daughters, one about Myles’ age and one younger than Brigid. The little one was running near us, and I said, "小心啊!" That caused her to stop and stare, unprepared to hear her home language in this setting. The mother laughed at this, and asked me how I learned Chinese. I told her, and asked her if she lived near there (they did), and if her kids went to German school (they did), and she proudly told me the children could speak Chinese, German, and English so perfectly.
I caught up with Randy, and started to tell him about the family from Shandong I had just met and he interrupted me, amused.
"You really can’t help yourself, can you?"
(I guess I can’t.)
Of course, among the fun things are the rides built to look like they are made of Legos.
Myles geeeked out on all the nods to Star Wars, especially this giant X-wing fighter.
Brigid insists she does not like Star Wars, but she could not help herself in trying to take on Darth Vader.
For us, there were a few very special elements that made this more than just a day at an amusement park. Lego Fabrik was something we were all anticipating.
The manufacturing center started with a short video about Lego production that was followed by a walk-through a small but working version of one of the actual Lego factories.
This is where I geeked out, showing Myles (and separately Randy would do the same with Brigid) the moving parts to the tool, identifying the runners and sprues, and talk about venting.
Material handling and automation.
After this, of course the Big Deal was the ability to buy Legos by the 100 g increments.
The shop was lined with bins and bins full of Legos of every imaginable shape and color. Since we were there at the end of the season, there weren’t any mini figures, and some of the stock was low in popular shapes. Still, both kids were delighted to browse what was there and select a crazy assortment of Legos. I was surprised at their restraint. Between the two of them we barely hit half a kilogram. There was one adult in there buying up all that he could carry. He was a Lego hobby builder (I think I heard him say to the cashier) and was snatching up kilos and kilos of Legos.
The other part that was a nice surprise was the food! Legoland Deutschland had fantastic food available, like an anti-pasti bar, pumpkin soup, Spätzel, and wine!
It was a chilly and sometimes rainy day, but the perfect alternative to the birthday and Halloween parties they would not be having this year
This post first appeared on Jennifer Ambrose’s site on November 14, 2014
Jennifer Ambrose hails from Western Pennsylvania and misses it terribly. She still maintains an intense devotion to the Pittsburgh Steelers. She has lived in China since 2006 and is currently an at-home mother. With her husband Randy and children Myles and Brigid, she resides outside the Sixth Ring Road in Changping, northwest of Beijing
Photos courtesy of Jennifer Ambrose