Like a beer lover spending Oktoberfest in Munich, or a theater buff seeing a Broadway show, taking Wyatt, our 9 year-old, to Billund, Denmark this summer was nothing short of a pilgrimage.
It was in Billund in 1932 that Danish carpenter Ole Kirk Kristiansen created a company called Lego, which manufactured small wooden toys, stepladders and ironing boards. According to the company’s official website, the word LEGO is an abbreviation of two Danish words: “leg” and “godt,” meaning “play well.”
In 1946, Lego released wooden brick toys for kids. Three years later, new bricks with interlocking studs took their place.
In 1968, the first Legoland opened in Billund, just a brick’s throw from the Lego factory.
The Lego was passed down from Mr. Kristiansen to his son, who worked in the small shop since he was twelve, and then to his grandson, who still owns the company today.
Billund is still a small town with a population of just 6,000. It’s on the Jutland Peninsula where long stretches of green, bisected by two lane highways, connected by roundabouts rather than traffic signals are the norm.
Small farms and towns complete the feeling that you are actually in a simple Lego scene.
The day before we left, Wyatt was so excited, he couldn’t believe we would be sleeping in Billund the very next night.
“How long does shock last?” Wyatt asked me.
“It depends,” I told him.
“I thought my dream might come true when I was like 20 or something, not when I was nine.”
To make the dream even sweeter, Wyatt’s best friend and fellow Lego enthusiast, Derek, and his mom, Carla, joined us.
Although we have a Legoland here close to home, being at the one in Billund where it all began was the magical part.
By and large, there wasn’t much of a difference in the park: rides, gift shop, food stands, and intricate Lego creations at every turn.
But there was more, beyond the colorful binding bricks. Different languages were spoken in line for rides. We watched “Chima” in 4D, in Danish. We laughed when there was a big slab of salmon at the kids’ buffet where at home we might have had a tray of pizza or mini corn dogs.
Danish krone coins confused us when attempting to make simple purchases. In short, we were reminded over and over that we were very far from home.
One of my favorite parts of our stay was when our hotel hosted a Lego building contest. Kids submitted their best creations. With each entry, a small piece of paper which included the name of the invention and the country from which the builders came, sat next to each testament to children’s imaginations.
Young builders from Denmark, Estonia, Poland, Sweden, Norway, and Germany entered the contest. Wyatt and Derek were the only American entry. All of the entries really just looked like kids having a blast with Lego.
This is where the real power of Lego lies. These small bricks build huge bridges between children all over the world.
If we could only remember as we become adults to continue to “Play well.”