Last year I went as a first time exhibitor to the four day long Fanwelt 2012 LEGO show in Cologne. I registered a 7m x 2.5m area for my LEGO train layout which is quite large considering I only come out of my LEGO "dark age" in 2012.
For transportation I asked my friend to help. We rented a van and drove to Cologne one day before the show. At Cologne I also had help from my mom who came for the whole duration of the show. She is not an experienced LEGO builder, but it would have been impossible to do everything alone for such a large exhibition area.
We arrived around 1pm to the exhibition hall and had until 10pm to build. It was quite a challenge considering I didn't have time to finish everything at home. We had a few boxes just with bags of different bricks and base plates.
At the end the layout was a last minute simplified fallback solution with four independent circles. This also made it easier to power the trains with separate digital boosters.
On the two large circles there was three-three trains running simultaneously. The switches were motorized and remote controlled, but I didn't have time to automate the process. It needed human interaction to switch to other trains. In total I built 18 trains from which 8 was running all the time.
During the 9 hours we managed to unpack and build something working. At the end we were also surprised how far we got. There were some flaws like not being able to cover the tables with base plates at some areas, but the trains were running and we were ready for the exhibition opening on the next morning. Some details like flowers and trees were added later during the show.
On the whole trip we had little time to sleep. Each morning waking up around 7am, having breakfast and heading to the exhibition. During the days I was mostly busy managing the trains, answering visitor questions. My mom helped with guarding, moral support and lot of smaller tasks. She also added the finishing details like the trees, flowers and minifigs. Each evening we went to the hotel, eat dinner, had beer with other exhibitors. On Saturday we went to the AFOL evening with all the other exhibitors.
Additionally at nights I was programming in my hotel room. The first day it took all my focus to control each train because I only had a simple command line application and had to adjust manually the speed of each locomotive to keep a distance. On the last day I was able to use my iPad as user interface and had two RFID sensors to automate the speed adjustments. It made a huge difference.
The organizing was great. For a smaller fee we had lunch and some cookies at the exhibition in a separated area. Only minus was the hotel being very far away. It took around half hour by car, but at least it was cheap and there was an organized bus transporting us in the morning and evening. Basically I never had to go outside of the exhibition hall or hotel. I had no time to visit Cologne as a tourist :)
On the weekend we had lot of visitors. Many times they completely surrounded our tables. Compared to other exhibitors our creation was not as detailed and finished, but kids loved the eight trains running simultaneously in this relatively small area. This was only possible thanks to the digital controlling. Most popular were the two ICE trains.
All in all we had a great time and I consider it a big success. I thank all the Fanwelt organizers and helpers. I hope we can make it again next time in 2014 with a more detailed and fully automated creation.