Hogwarts in Utrecht

Few things marked my childhood as much as Harry Potter. And not only my childhood, also (mostly) my teenage years. This isn’t that unusual for our generation, because we grew up with the heroes of this book and film franchise. In my last year of primary school, the 7th (and last true) Harry Potter book was published, while in the last year of high school, we cried as we said goodbye to the characters once again when the last movie came out. My point is this: when I found out in December that Harry Potter: The Exhibition was coming to the Netherlands, I knew I was going to go. Even though I currently have a slightly bitter opinion towards J. K. Rowling (but about this some other time).

The exhibition is in Utrecht, more or less in the middle of nowhere, and the building is surrounded by construction sites. Everyone who got off the train at the station was there with the same purpose as me. The surroundings, unlike Utrecht itself, isn’t particularly beautiful but had two facts to its advantage yesterday: 1) for the first time in a couple of days, there was no strong wind, no downpour, and we even had some sun*, and 2) every environment is better if it includes Harry Potter.

*The Dutch are so unused to the sun that if a day isn’t cloudy, they suspiciously look into the sky as if to say “what the fuck is that big yellow thing up there?”. Two statements that best describe the Dutch weather are: “summer is the best day of the year” and “when you cycle, the wind will always be against you”.

When I say that the exhibition is in the middle of nowhere, I’m not kidding.

Unsurprisingly, the huge space was crowded, even though the organizers (thank Merlin*) made sure that only a limited number of people can go into the exhibition space at once. Families dominated the crowd, but the number of visitors of my generation also wasn’t negligible. You just know who the biggest fans are.

*Because if you’re a Western wizard, you don’t thank God. You thank the greatest wizard of all time: Merlin.

The exhibition itself is … big. But it’s difficult to say (or even show with pictures) how funny you feel when you walk amongst the items you read so much about. Indescribable, even though I think other Harry Potter fans completely understand what I mean.

Dobby, the house elf who stole our hearts in the books and movies by claiming he is “a free elf”.

Even now, I read the books every couple of years. I laugh and cry every single time.

Fred and George Weasley (no, Miss Rowling, I will never forgive you for murdering Fred) love pranks and are the best characters. (All characters are the best characters, by the way.)

I also love to rewatch the movies every once in a while. My boyfriend and I created the tradition of watching them every half a year – before starting classes in September and at the end of the first semester in January. I can quote certain parts by heart. And no, I don’t think it’s a waste of time. It’s relaxing.

Nobody, not even Voldemort, is as hated as Dolores Umbridge. She and her bureaucracy showed our generation how much bad someone can do under the pretense of administration.

But no matter how relaxing the movies are, I have one piece of advice for you: don’t try to marathon all 8 movies. That’s 19 hours and 40 minutes altogether. If you start watching at 9 o’clock in the evening, like we did, you won’t succeed. You come up to the fifth movie and fall asleep. If you start at four in the morning and are well-rested … well, then it’s possible. But you sort of lose the will to live for a while.

Hippogriffs are beautiful. If I lived in Hogwarts, I’d definitely tried to ride a hippogrif and fly. I think I wouldn’t be as stupid as Malfoy and wouldn’t get bitten. I hope.

The exhibition itself lasted about an hour and a half, and it started with us visitors standing in a completely dark room while some poor unfortunate employee told us that we had to shout the spell Revelio into an empty wall if we wished to come to Hogwarts. This was followed by a starting ceremony, in which three children sat on a chair and got sorted by the sorting hat, based on some very obvious questions posed by a very awkward-looking employee. At this point, I realized that I might be too old for this part of the exhibition. (I still clapped for those kids, of course, I’m not a monster.)

How to make magic potions, part one.

How to make magic potions, part two (textbooks).

Marauder’s map shows you the location of anyone in Hogwarts. Luckily there is only one such map, otherwise the students would never feel safe. (Khem, as if Hogwarts was such a safe environment with Harry there … All Defence Against the Dark Arts professors died).

After the exhibition and a short shopping spree in a tiny Diagon Alley selling overpriced Harry Potter memorabilia*, I went to see Utrecht’s city centre.

*I say it is overpriced not because I wouldn’t want to have it, but because I already have some things as well as know their price on Amazon. Hint: it’s a lot less than at the exhibition. (And yes, I still bought a Ravenclaw badge. I’m predictable, so what).


Bikes and canal. Was anyone expecting anything else from the Netherlands?

I wish I could say something clever on the topic of Utrecht, but I can’t. By the afternoon, my feet hurt from walking and it seemed to me as if I was sightseeing any other Dutch town. Utrecht is pretty, but I didn’t have enough time to figure out what’s special about it. So my impression of Utrecht right now is mostly that it’s full of bikes, canals, open markets, bikes, clouds, and that weird statue of a flying dog that I forgot to take a picture of.

Canal. Bikes. Canal. Bikes. Shocking.

As my (Netherlands-born) boyfriend nicely pointed out to me: These doors on the canals, which now look like paintings, actually nicely show how much the Dutch had used canals in the past.

My Friday thus included Harry Potter, sun, and a romantic walk in one of the biggest Dutch towns. Gezellig.*

*Untranslatable Dutch word that encapsulates the heart of the Dutch culture and defines everything: cosiness; the time you spend with the people you love; puppies; comfort; community; wandering around with no worries … in short, everything that is good in this world.