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Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Book III ~ Chapter 9 ~ Busy in Berlin

14-Aug-2019 – 18-Aug-2019

Now, after having attended and written about Furry Conventions in New Zealand (see Book I ~ Chapter 13 ~ The Trip To Taupo) and Japan (see Book II ~ Chapter 21 ~ The Twofold Toyo Thuggery), it's only proper that I also write about the Eurofurence here in Germany, which is not only Germany's, but (as the name implies) Europe's biggest Furry Convention. This year around, the theme is…

It's not the first Eurofurence I've been to. In fact, it's my third after EF 20 and EF 21, both of which I attended before my travels began. As such, this is going to be the first one I attend in my new found role as the travelling fox. And befittingly, since Berlin is about 500km away from Munich, my adventures there should start with a journey. Once again, I'm heavily burdened, and fully fitting into my role of the Travelling Fox.

Little should I know that what lies in wait for me should turn out to be…

Day 1 ~ A Wretched Welcome


My journey today begins at Munich's central station, an extensive terminal station right in the heart of the city. With 32 surface tracks, and a total of 8 subterranean tracks, Munich's central station is the worldwide second-largest station after the New York Grand Central Terminal with its impressive 67 tracks. The sunny main hall alone houses 16 tracks, with the Holzkirchen and Starnberg wing stations housing another 6 and 10 respectively. A fun fact here is that the Munich central station doesn't have any tracks numbered 1 through 4 – those were originally part of the Holzkirchen wing station, but were eventually closed down.

And in front of the station, cutting through the city like a mighty river, are all those tracks leading to the station. About 250m across, this mighty stream of iron divides all of Munich from the central station all the way to Pasing, where the tracks finally split up into more manageable amounts.

What's the Shinkansen to Japan is the ICE (Inter City Express) to Germany. These mighty dichromatic red-and-white iron snakes are capable of reaching speeds of up to 300 km/h, and allow one to comfortably travel between all the major cities of Germany at a speed that is comparable to flights… and much more environment-friendly. The first ICEs started operating in 1985, which means they are only two years older than me.

Compared with the Shinkansen, the ICE has some advantages, and also some drawbacks. For one, since it's part of the Deutsche Bahn, that means it's pretty unreliable and tends to have delays, which is also partly due to not having its own network (but mostly due to organisational failures). On the upside, however, that means that the ICE often runs along scenic tracks with great views on the surroundings – an advantage that is only further enhanced by its big windows, which stand in stark contrast to the Shinkansen's tiny airplane-portholes.

Altogether, this journey should take me only four hours, and take me past Ingolstadt and Nürnberg, across the Mittelgebirge ("middle mountain range"), through Erfurt and Halle, and finally to Berlin.

And thus, my journey begins, taking me out of the city an through the countryside at amazing speeds. At first, many noise barriers obstruct my view, but soon enough the train takes me further into the countryside where the view on fields is unobstructed. Quite in contrast to Japan with its endless rice fields, here in Germany wheat, rye, barley and oat are the four most common crops to see on the fields, and of course Bavaria in particular has extensive hops plantations as well. Eventually, as we cross the Mittelgebirge, the tracks briefly run parallel to a highway, giving me an impression of just how much faster than even the fastest speed demons we are travelling right now. After that, we proceed through the significantly flatter northern part of Germany, which is home to seemingly endless fields that are sometimes dotted with windmills.

It is around noon when I arrive in Berlin, specifically the station Südkreuz ("Southern Cross"), and transfer to a train of the aerodynamic Berlin S-Bahn, which takes me the rest of the way to my destination.

Just like the JMoF, the Eurofurence takes place at a big hotel with a convention centre, namely the Estrel, which is located near the S-Bahn Station Sonnenstraße ("Sun Road"), located in the district of Neukölln ("New Cologne") in the southeast of Berlin.

Located at the shore of the Neuköllner Schifffahrtskanal ("New Cologne Shippery Channel"), the Estrel is the largest convention centre in Europe, and with its 1,125 rooms the largest hotel in Germany…

…which regrettably is still too small to quarter all attendants of the Eurofurence, and rooms are usually gone faster than you can say "Oh divine dragon the registration servers are up!". In fact, a common problem that by now does not surprise anyone other than the sysadmins is that the servers explode the second that registration opens, and all those fuzzers looking for a room in the hotel a greeted with a familiar German warning that goes on for, oh say, 2d4 hours.

Unfortunately, this time around I did not win the EF Estrel Laden Time Lottery, so instead, I'm staying here.

This is a little Airbnb place nearby that is sufficiently clean to be healthy, and sufficiently messy to be homely.

In that homely little place, I have rented a tiny little room, even smaller than most rooms I stayed in during my stay in Japan that yet has everything I really need: A desk, a chair, and a bed in the loft. The construction is quite interesting and space-efficient.

From there, it's about a 10-minute walk to the Estrel that takes me across a highway that is not yet in use…

…as well as a train track that is not in use anymore.

Quiz Time!
In the age of global warming, with the climate crisis not only on our doorstep, but all the way into the living room and lolling about on the couch, we're still building new highways for dirty cars while letting tracks for clean trains fall into disrepair. Where's the problem with that?
a) OMG
b) WTF?!?
c) WHY?????

As I approach the Estrel for real this time around, it becomes blatantly obvious that I am approaching a Furry convention.

And then, I'm there, in this wonderful, magical paradise full of hugs and fluff and friendliness.

Or so much for the theory, because I should get a hearty punch directly into the trust organ right there and then at registration. Do you remember the Kitsune outfit that I was going to have worn at the Tsukimi in Weßling (see Book III ~ Chapter 7 ~ Home), which at this point is mysteriously simultaneously in the past and the future (because, hey, Fractures in Time!)? It may not be all that fluffy except for the tail (and I swear, in the name of Dragon, someday a certain someone whom I commissioned fluffy arm pieces from for that thing is going to get her stuff together and finish them), but it sure is difficult to put on, and you can't properly breathe under the mask either. As such, I have naturally registered it as a fursuit, and myself as a fursuiter.

The punch happens at the time when I go to pick up my suiter badge, and it's not there. And after a bit of research from the registration staff, it comes to light that my fursuiter application got rejected on account of "that not counting as a fursuit" in the eyes of the head of the fursuit lounge.

That's great, isn't it? I put that much effort into assembling it, and it gets rejected just like that, and on the whim of a single person. Little does it matter that I planned to hold my three panels this year in that outfit, or that I don't have a room in the Estrel to change. By the divine grace of a single person, I have been judged, and deemed unworthy. Begone with ye, you wannabe furry! You do not belong in this place!

And to add insult to injury, over the course of the Eurofurence, I should also learn that even though my outfit does not qualify as a fursuit in the eyes of that person, the Dalek attending this year was granted a fursuit badge, and all the privileges that go with it, but not me.

Hence, this wonderful convention begins with a lovely little breakdown for me in the "huddling in a remote corner and crying"-variety. At that time, I should be doubly upset, once at the injustice of the situation, and then again at myself for letting this get to me when I expect myself to be stronger than that, especially after my extended journey, but analysing it from a more distant point in the future, it should become clear to my why this shattered my psyche, and burned every last PP of mine to a crisp in a matter of minutes: It was a betrayal. A betrayal of the worst kind. A betrayal of trust. I had believed, truly believed, in the Furry community as a place of trust and acceptance, and even though I was aware that there were valicious corners of the fandom, I had believed that at the very least those running events like these from leading positions would be of the Flirial variety, shining their light out to create a heartwarming community of trust and acceptance.

Instead, I find myself rejected like that, my hopes and dreams for this community shattered in a flash, and I just want out. I want to go back to New Zealand where the Furry community was just that, loving and heartwarming. Instead, I am now stranded in this forsaken four-star hotel, surrounded by thousands of Furries, and yet without a soul to hug me at a point in time when I would need it most.

Yet somehow, I still manage to drag myself to the opening ceremony, which is filled with hundreds of Furries that are significantly more cheerful than I at this point.

The opening ceremony itself is… considerably more elaborate than the one at the JMoF was (see Book II ~ Chapter 21 ~ The Twofold Toyo Thuggery), and really manages to integrate the concept of time travel in a creative and awe-inspiring way, featuring first Cheetah, the chairman of the Eurofurence, and then a younger version of Uncle Kage, the chairman of the Anthrocon in the USA, which moved to Pittsburgh in 2006. This display of creativity almost manages to break through the cloud of depression clinging to my soul. Almost, but not quite, and despite how awesome it is, for me, it should always bring back the awful memories of that day.

However, it is enough to deter me from going back to my Airbnb place right away, and so, even though it feels like Sludgies are already all over my soul, I get myself an original Berlin Currywurst with fries, ketchup and mayonnaise, which is one of those north German specialities that you can't really get south of the Mittelgebirge (at least not in that quality)…

…and proceed to what should become my regular evening pastime during this year, the Furry Pen&Paper RPG Panel. Today, I would end up playing a Special Agent-themed RPG by the name of "Night's Black Agents".

In the end, it's after midnight by the time I leave, and 1:30 by the time I finally make it to bed, hoping that the next day will be a better one. After all, I'd have to tell a tale…

Day 2 ~ Of Faith and Foxes


The next day I wake up feeling… well, "refreshed" would be wrong, but at the very least better. I got precisely enough sleep to fulfil protocol 6-2-1, and set out on my daily walk to the Estrel… and since I don't like taking the same route twice, I choose a rather roundabout approach, during which I should also achieve my only Geocaching find in Berlin this year.

And as so often during my Geocaching Strays, I should unexpectedly run into a piece of history, this time in the form of the Berliner Mauerweg ("Berlin Wall Path"). For you see, this is where the wall dividing West Berlin from East Berlin used to stand just a little bit more than 3 decades ago. Both my Airbnb place as well as the Estrel are located in what once was West Berlin, though today the city has neatly grown together again, leaving only the Mauerweg as an admonitory scar. A particularly nice touch are the benches made from parts of the original wall.

By the time I arrive, the hotel's halls are already filled with Furries, happily embracing one another's company. I am still miles from being happy myself, but at least the fact that I manage to meet up with Slaïre, a fellow fox whom I last met many years ago, somewhat lifts my spirits.

Today, I should hold the first of three panels about my time in Japan, which would be about foxes and Shinto faith in Japan. The other two panels on the following days would be about the animal places of Japan, as well as Japan's Kemono community. So imagine my surprise when I find out we have a delegation from Japan over at the Eurofurence this year, and one of them is holding a panel about Kemono on this very first of days! What were the odds? Naturally, I have to go check it out, and if necessary make adjustments to my panel later on such as to avoid repetitions. However, fortunately it turns out that the Kemono panel of Mangaluca – as he is called, and whom I actually ran into at the JMoF half a year ago – is sufficiently different from what I have planned that no last-minute alterations will be necessary.

The day proceeds, and before long, the time of my own panel is at hand. Together with Slaïre as my trusty helper, I manage to set up the presentation as well as my little mobile Inari Shrine that I somehow managed to bring here all the way from Munich, and then even get dressed in time. My thanks here goes to the Eurofurence Security who allows me to use their nearby office to get dressed, since I'm not allowed into the Fursuit Lounge due to reasons.

And then, it's time for my big entrance. The room is filled with maybe 50 people or so, and I'm quite nervous. Still, I manage to make a good first impression with my unconventional entrance setting the Japanese theme while Slaïre takes a video. And I even managed to get it almost completely right, messing up only a few select times. And let me tell you, balancing on these Japanese Geta sandals is tricky enough even without wearing a voluminous vulpine tail.

After that, in the sign of people actually understanding a word I say and me not fainting from lack of oxygen, I take off the mask and hold the remainder of my panel in English. I'm amazed with how many people came and am happy to answer their questions as best I can, even though there are some tricky ones among them. If you're interested about the presentation itself, you can find the slides on SlideShare.

At the end of the presentation, we come to the part that I'm most nervous about, namely the one where I want to give a short demonstration of a Shinto ceremony. I've watched the footage I took from the Shrine Restoration Ceremony of Shiragiku Inari Jina (see Book II ~ Chapter 3 ~ Living, Learning and Working) over and over again, trying to make out enough words to get at least a rough idea of what the priest was saying, and create a little prayer of my own based on what I can understand and what my heart tells me is right. I've reviewed and practiced it over and over again these last few weeks, so I'm as ready as I'm going to be. And yet, in the end, I still have to cut it short, simply because I'm not getting enough air under that beautiful but not very ergonomic mask. However, since no one actually knows that I planned the performance to be longer than this, I can simply bring it to an early close without anyone noticing.

In the end, the people enjoyed it, and that's all that matters to me. That feeling is finally enough to disperse the last few dark clouds around my heart and set me free again. Nonetheless, I first have to take a bit of a break after this panel. And while I do that I run into an old friend of mine whom I have not seen for years by now. Always busy, Wolf the wolf has been avoiding all my tries to visit him or have him visit me for oh-I-don't-know-how-long now, but since he's an official helper here at the Eurofurence, I suppose it is not entirely unexpected for me to run into him here, over 500km away from our respective homes.

Incidentally, Wolf has brought some nice Bavarian-themed inflatables which are quite popular with the fursuiters around here, and result in some really cute pictures.

Eventually, evening approaches, and it is time for the next role playing session. Tonight, I end up playing a significantly more furry-themed RPG by the name of Mouse Guard, where the players take the roles of tiny intelligent mice braving a world in which almost everything is bigger and scarier than themselves.

But there's also other games being played. In fact, there's an entire hall designated to be what was once a simple games corner, and it was in fact in one of those previous games corners, specifically at Eurofurence 21, that I ended up meeting Slaïre for the first time while playing one of my prototypes for a board game about the Chronicles of Ceal.

And on my way out for the day, I run right into something without which no furry convention would be complete: A proper Furpile.

Thus, my second day at the Eurofurence comes to a close, and I am glad to say that it was a significant improvement upon the last one. Now, I can happily look forwards to the next day where…

Day 3 ~ Animals Abound


The next day should not be quite so busy, so I have some time to look around and take in the sights of the Eurofurence, such as the silent but cute paperboys and girls of the Daily Eurofurence newspaper.

Also very thematically fitting is the food court boar.

And then, there's cute Furry-themed Posters all over the place.

All in all, I have fun that day, and before I know it, it's time to hold my second panel, this one being about the various animal places of Japan. This time around, there's not quite as many people in the room, but it's still about three dozen attendees or so who eagerly listen as I tell them about the cat islands, the fox villages, the snow monkey valley, rabbit island, and the city of deer. Again, you can find a copy of the slides on SlideShare.

Once again, holding that panel, and sharing my experiences with others makes me feel a good deal better. I wonder how many of them will end up visiting one of the places I mentioned? I for my part spend the remainder of the day roaming the Eurofurence, where I enjoy watching Fursuiters doing their silly antics not only with one another, but also with the Dalek, who, as I learned two days ago, apparently also qualifies as a Furry.

After that, I let the day come to a close with a round of the Monsterhearts 2 RPG, where each player plays a teenager, who in truth is actually a monster or supernatural creature, such as a werewolf, vampire, fey or demon. And then, I retreat back to my humble Airbnb abode. After all, I want to be fit for the great finale of the Eurofurence, which is tomorrow, and this year goes by the name of…

Day 4 ~ DemonHunterZ


The next day, I manage to arrive at the Eurofurence rather early. By the time I reach the hotel, it's only 8:15, and it feels like I have to hotel all to myself.

One of the reasons for my early attendance here is me wanting to participate in an impromptu Furry Entrepreneurship Panel hosted by Fyn, another of my old acquaintances from the time when I tried to publish my Chronicles of Ceal prototype as well as Ecchnasi.

And talking about being busy as fox, right after that I have my third and final panel, this time about the Kemono community of Japan. As mentioned before, the content and general structure of my presentation differs notably from the aforementioned panel by Mangaluca of the Japanese delegation, and as such there's still about two dozen interested people in the room. Once again, the slides for this presentation can be found on SlideShare.

Other notable events of the day include the Motorfurs Meetup on the parking lot outside the hotel…

…as well as the tail contest, where a ringtail wins the prize for the longest tail without any notable competition.

You can say whatever you will, but that is a long tail.

After that, it's time for the main event: The queue for the PawPet Show, which this year around goes by the name of DemonHunterZ. This time around I have arranged to stand in line together with my friend Siggi, who has also recently joined the Furry side of life, and is at the Eurofurence for the first time of his life this year. As such, it is an honour for me to introduce him to the joys of standing in line for the inevitably delayed PawPet Show.

And believe it or not, Siggi and I are in the shorter sponsor queue. The even longer regular queue starts back there.

Incredibly enough, the PawPet Show (which is preceded by a short closing ceremony) opens its doors relatively on time, which means Siggi and I can sit down while waiting for the obligatory delays to pass.

As we wait, we come to observe a fancy new sport by the name of camera fishing. That is, people hold up their cell phones with cute or funny pictures and hope that the cameras, which are already active, zoom in on it and project the contents on one of the big screens.

Eventually, however, the closing ceremony begins, and Cheetah briefly thanks everyone who made this convention possible, and announces the success of this year's charity event, which hosted the Lutreola Foundation, and organization dedicated to the conservation of the European Mink, which by now is critically endangered. Here's hoping the 42,000€ we Furries managed to donate makes a difference. As for me, I emptied my entire loose change into the donation box near the end of the convention.

The closing ceremony ends with a short remix video of the highlights of this year's Eurofurence…

…and after that, a countdown to the long awaited PawPet Show begins. It's actually not all that high, but then again, I figure they took care of most of the big stuff during the wait for the closing ceremony, and now just have to set the stage and flick the final switches.

Now, it is not much longer until the final seconds tick by, and this amazing event starts to run its epic course.

What follows is an epic tale of drugs, rock, and the dark side of faith. As Cheetah so fittingly put it, this year it tackles some really heavy stuff, but somehow, that makes the resolution at the end only feel that much more satisfying. I won't go into detail about it now, but if you want to spend an evening watching this amazing show, then you can find it here.

Of course, such a long performance has its share of breaks. During these, short funny videos are being shown, such as the revenge of Schrödinger's Cat.

Apart from those, there are also a few other background gags integrated into the PawPet show itself for the observant viewer. For example, in one scene, there's a picture ton the wall that says: "I've got 99 Problems, but ◌ Laden… ain't one!"

And then, it's time for the great finale and closing show, featuring the full length version of the amazing Metal song "My Faith is Me!"…

…followed by an appearance of the entire cast that made this amazing show possible, and reaping a well-deserved never-ending cascade of applause.

With that, this fourth and most amazing day of the Eurofurence is coming to an end. It started pretty crappy, but now I'm glad I came after all. However, after all this it's now time to be…

Day 5 ~ Returning for now


Befittingly, the day of my departure is rainy once again.

There aren't any big events again anymore, and either way, my train is going to depart soon, so I only briefly stop by the Estrel to say my goodbyes to whomever I might run into…

…and then I'm off back to Munich once again, taking the train back along the same route I came here, in lack of any other feasible and ecological options, zooming past forest, fields and towns, all in one go until I arrive back in the Bavarian capital of Munich. Before long, we leave the gloomy weather behind, and the majority of the journey takes places beneath wonderful blue-white skies.

Thus, my furry busy visit to Berlin is coming to an end. But naturally, there's still so much more for me to do here in Germany. My next adventure should take me on a hike in the Mittelgebirge, and I shall go into detail about that in the next chapter of the Travelling Fox Blog!