Elfia Haarzuilens

A lot of fun, despite a number of cancellations.

Elfia Haarzuilens Netherlands
Steampunk enthusiasts in Elfia Haarzuilens, the Netherlands, April 20 (Bert Van den Wyngaert)

Elfia (previously known as Elf Fantasy Fair) Haarzuilens is the eldest and “bigger” one of the two (the other one takes place in Arcen, also the Netherlands, in September). Generally seen as “the main one”, this year’s edition was quite fun. But…

A lot of things got cancelled last minute, which is of course no fault of the organization, but it did make that the event could feel quite empty at times. While you could find some roaming or small set-up entertainment outside of the main stage, such as the inquisition section where a guy was talking about burning heretics at the stake and buying off your sins for a small donation as was common in the middle ages, the event felt sadly lacking in things to do. The only troop or roaming musicians we encountered was when we actually left in the evening and they were standing outside of the castle.

There was a LARP battle and even a Quidditch tournament both on some of the side fields slightly off the beaten path.

So of course there were things to do, it’s just that they weren’t always that visible and it was hard to figure out what was still one and what wasn’t if you weren’t using mobile internet to access the site and facebook.

In general, Elfia Haarzuilens is an event you go to with friends to have a good time, or to shop, or to simply admire and/or photograph the many costumed visitors. Or visitors wearing J-fashion, which is getting increasingly popular at these events, we saw several girls wearing several styles of lolita fashion (the big three of classic, sweet and gothic in particular), a cult party kei group (Japanese style, not Western), dolly and mori and some shironuri as well as a whole lot of aomoji kei, but due to the nature of the fashion that may have been by accident. It comes to no surprise really, as there is always a fine portion of Japanese culture represented at Elfia. This time there were demonstrations on martial arts as well as how to wear a kimono correctly to name but a few things. The group wearing traditional Japanese garb looked absolutely stunning, and we regret we only encountered them while taking part in the fantasy parade, because we’d have loved to share photos with you.

To get back onto the costuming. While it is a fantasy event, you can see literally all types of fantasy or fandom inspired outfits to full on costumes. There’s people cosplaying, people dressed up as fantasy characters, furries, Star Wars characters (who always come with their own section at the event), pirates (who have several sections) and steampunks (who may or may not be actually costuming, but that’s a story for another time), who are also well represented with their own camp: a combined effort of international European group The Steampunk Objective and German group the Steampunk Expeditions Gesellschaft.

For the first time both camps had mixed rather than set up next to each other, and it has to be said that while they did a fine job of setting up and displaying all the aspects that makes steampunk so great: imagination with the creature cabinet, the social aspect where people could gather in the main salon tent, mad science with the potion (or should we say poison) stand, mechanical beasts, weaponry and future past that never was innovation full stop, having the rather overbearing (in feeling rather than behaviour, they were all rather nice people, let’s be clear about that!) Star Trek camp opposite them wasn’t the best choice of the organization when it came to neighbours.

Basically you had the end of a lane where you had the steampunks taking up the entire right hand side. Entering their section at the left hand side you had post-apocalyptic LARP groups that in look perfectly matched the steampunk camp as they either looked quite steampunk or dieselpunk themselves.

And then further on from them the Star Wars group had been lobbed in, which was rather distracting and plain taking away from the general atmosphere of steampunk camp. Why they didn’t put the steampunk pirates there is beyond me.

So hopefully next year they’ll get their own spot (come on organization, there’s room right around the corner on that field!) so their area can also get filled up with steampunk things, which would make that entire section instantly so much more awesome.

We do feel that this year the organization did a lot better job on setting up the camps and shops in general. While last year everything got chucked together, which caused overcrowding issues in some part, this year everything was far more spread out, which meant that even though we’d say the Sunday this year was as busy as that of last year, people weren’t quite on a pile so to speak. It meant that browsing stalls was easier, you did need a little patience at some of the more popular ones, but generally you could get through and see everything quite well.

It was still hell to ride a penny farthing though, because most people would either not budge or think it’s a great idea to cross the road right in front of the wheels.

This also happened during the parade which the three cyclists were actually (and very obviously thanks to the Elfia volunteer in tabbard walking behind the last bike) closing. That especially, together with standing in the way on the road during the parade, was a special kind of social fail.

The food court was better organized, although a little more tables would have been great, and offerings were really very diverse, ranging from vegan to all out carnivore and everything in between. Prices varied of course, but in general the food at Elfia is a lot more economically priced than at the average convention. Only the drinks remain a bit haphazardous. The drinks themselves are priced rather reasonably but the €4 for a 25cl mug and €6 for a half litre mug in “loan” are getting ridiculous. It can really make or break the bank between being able to drink or not. And yes, you get that loan money back, but you need to be able to front it first. So I’d advise everyone that visits Elfia (or other fantasy events) to either bring their own 25cl or half litre pints or point blank their own drinks.

The event really lucked out with the weather, which meant that people that wanted to chill out could either find a spot at a bench somewhere, or just sit in the grass and relax. Had it rained we think it would have been ok, other than that it really does lack shelter, as most of the pathways are properly hardened or gravel, but still, it was great that the weather was so beautiful, that definitely contributed to the laid back atmosphere throughout the event.

A small final detail really worth mentioning because we thought it was awesome: a lot of the grass around the brooks, streams and ponds on the domain were roped off for all but the people having their camps or shops straight in front of them. Not to keep people off the grass in general, but to make sure the birds nesting there wouldn’t be disturbed. We saw a water hen’s and a swan’s nest behind steampunk camp, and it was really great to see how the organization had set up so the animals of the domain would be respected.

To conclude: Elfia Haarzuilens was quite a lot of fun this year, and the set-up had most definitely improved. It was fun to wander around and hang out with friends and photograph and the weather definitely contributed to it being a fine day out.

You can see more photos we took in this Flickr set.

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