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Fan Experiences: Eurovision and Me

Sascha Stolp, London, United Kingdom
Sascha Stolp
Growing up in a town in South Africa, I never would have imagined that there would one day be this annual event where I would go when I grew up, meet hundreds of new people from around the world who I have such an instant connection with that I leave having made dozens of new close friends, and then spend 11 months looking forward to the next year.

I have been lucky enough to attend a few Eurovision’s now, and each have been extremely special for me for their own individual reasons. My first contest was Athens in 2006. At the time I wasn’t an OGAE member (I’d never even heard of them) and I arrived in Athens the day before the final, not knowing what to expect. I remember the excitement when I arrived at the Olympic Village, greeted by thousands of Eurovision fans dressed up and waving flags. The Eurovision bug had bitten me hard!

My next contest was not until 2011 however – Dusseldorf. By now I had joined OGAE and had received my tickets through them and sitting with my fellow OGAE members in a group waving our flags and cheering our song as a group was a fantastic feeling. And then Azerbaijan won – and that just seemed like the perfect excuse for a truly exotic holiday.

Baku was just magical. Completely different to where I had been before. Beautiful, friendly but a little chaotic. And it was this small element of chaos that actually made the trip. The organisers insisted that the tickets to each show had to be distributed to the various OGAE club on the day. This meant we had to meet up as a group on a daily basis, and it was at these meet ups that I made some of the most fantastic new friends.

It is these friends who convinced me to go to Malmo the next year (I’d always intended to only go every few years, unless it was hosted somewhere really cool), and I am very glad that they did convince me. Malmo was lovely. Not very big, but big enough. And Eurovision took over the city. It was everywhere, and it carried a level of excitement that I hadn’t felt at the other contests.

Last year, Copenhagen really put on a show. It may have been in the middle of nowhere, but it was spectacular when you did eventually get there. It was also the year I got my first Fan Accreditation, which meant that I could now go to the official Eurovision Party headquarters, EuroClub. It even allowed me to go into the Press Centre, and seeing how things worked a little behind the scenes.

So what will Vienna bring? Who knows, but I can’t wait to find out.

Rodrigo Romero Hidalgo, London, United Kingdom
Rodrigo Romero Hidalgo
The Bubble

It all began when, on the night of the 14th of May 2011, it was announced that Azerbaijan was the winner of the Eurovision Song Contest. Reactions from fans all over Europe varied from rage to acceptance to expectancy. Most of us wondered whether the contest would actually go as far East as it could possibly be thought of or whether it would be forfeited to a more “adequate” country. In the end, it was confirmed that Baku would be receiving the thousands of devoted fans that year after year make the host city their place of pilgrimage.

And so the adventure started taking shape. Facebook and twitter alike became places to exchange all sorts of thoughts, from accommodation to visa information, from prices to political issues. The difficult situation lived in the Caucasian country put off many fans who preferred to skip this year and watch from home instead. Others, like myself, decided that what we had in front of us was the opportunity to explore a place that, otherwise, we would have never imagined visiting.

As the months came by, countries started confirming their participation and by September Slovenia had begun their remarkably long journey to select their act for the 57th edition of Europe’s favourite show. December came and the first song was selected. The excitement could only grow from the moment when Switzerland became the first country to have an act ready to be performed on the stage of the Crystal Hall. And from then on everything came and went so fast that it is hard to believe that “the next Sunday” it was all over.

Flights, accommodation, visas, all was sorted out by early May. And so, plenty of us were ready to begin the journey. Little did we know of what we had ahead of us. And little did I know of how pleasantly surprised I would be by the time I left.

Many kept repeating that it was all a fantasy, that it was nothing but a pink bubble that had been created for us to see exactly what the government wanted us to see. I am not naive enough to believe that this is not true. But I am also reluctant to surrender to acknowledge that all we lived there was artificial. You could force people to erect walls around buildings you did not want tourists to see; you could push people to reconstruct the areas of the city that would most likely be visited by devoted fans; you could threaten people to show up for the shows making up for the reduced number of travelers that year; you could avoid visitors seeing the slightest sight of a demonstration. But you could not force people to smile, be warm, be helpful, share their culture, their food, their country and, ultimately, their love for music. There is no government powerful enough to corner its citizens to reply with a smile every time we pronounced our terrible sağ ol; I refuse to believe that the guys in reception in our hotel were artificially warm to us; I will not give in to accept that the guy that remembered after the second night what I wanted to eat when arriving drunk at 5 am from EuroClub did it out of fear of retaliation. No. There was something else. There was a magic called Eurovision.

Only those who have experienced it live can attest to what happens there, to the transformation that for two weeks all of our lives experience. Only running around the press centre all chasing the same artist for an interview, casually running into delegations walking around town and sharing thoughts as old friends would do, dancing the night away at EuroClub to the rhythm of our favourite tunes, sharing a bit of our lives with each other (showing off how wonderfully amazing a kid is, for instance), can someone truly begin to understand what Eurovision is all about. It is a music contest, yes, but it is also a life-changing experience. It is the fortnight when we all leave our troubles behind to share the moment, feel our hearts beat and light our fire.

It is the moment when we inevitably build a pink (no pun intended) bubble around us. We all do it. And what a wonderful bubble it was. We vibrated with rehearsals, discussed potential winners, disagreed with heated passion on which songs were better or worse. And then we ate and drank together, and danced, and laughed, and sang, and sang again. We walked around, shopped, took cabs that had absolutely no idea of where we wanted to go, met artists, laughed, became friends, and sang again. We bet, exchanged repeated albums just like when we were kids in the school yard, drank coffee, and sang again. We ended up with a mother, brother, some even a lover, in every corner of Europe.

For me, it was the first time that my favourite entry eventually took the crown. Baku will always be special for that. But it will be even more special for the people I met. Writers from fellow sites, members of national broadcasters, part of the contest organization, fans. I simply cannot tell you what it meant to me that you were part of my 2012 bubble. To the amazing team of escXtra, you have no idea how honored I am to have had the pleasure of sharing this adventure with you; not one of us is really a journalist yet we managed to have an extremely professional outcome; and beyond that, the chance to get to know each one of you just a little bit better is something I would not trade for the world. To that particular Norwegian who rocked my world and became so much more than just a friend, I cannot tell you how much I treasure each and every one of our little chats.

So yes, Baku was in a way a bubble. The one they created for us and the one we built for ourselves. But I would not change one single second of everything that happened in my days in Azerbaijan. Not one. Little pieces of my traveled back to places where I never imagined I could have friends. And a piece of my heart will always stay in the land of fire.

Fan Experiences: Copenhagen 2014

Edward Till, London, United KingdomEdward Till

Each Eurovision Song Contest has a ‘moment’ that defines that year. For me, the best moment in Copenhagen was the Thursday night semi-final when Conchita sang. I think most of the audience had seen and heard Conchita at many times in small clubs and at events, and she had become ‘ours’. And there she was, suddenly on a huge stage and we were all supporting her together – more loudly thank I’ve ever heard a crown cheer. Even then, I had no idea that she could go on to win; I assumed the audience at home would no get her.

Even when that joy happened a few days later, I was surprised to see the Austrian flag projected at the back; OUR Conchita was actually representing a country, not just us! I’ve never felt such a good atmosphere after the event before either. I rang my brother from the hall, who was at the show in Birmingham in 1998, and he said that there was a similar atmosphere when Dana International won all those years ago. Magic!