How different this place must have been in 1864, the year of the terrible Danish defeat against the Prussians. As a result of this war they lost a sizable chunk of their territory and an even bigger chunk of their pride. The pill was so bitter that for the next one hundred years they recoiled back into themselves, and the world heard very little of this proud people, who had been at one point so full of themselves that they had their legend recount how the Danish flag had descended to earth as a gift from the Almighty…
Well, the Danes are back! They are proud once more, and they have reasons to be. With global successes in businesses like shipping (Maersk) and livestock industries (Danish Crown), from design and fashion to Film (Lars Von Trier), from gastronomy (Noma) to street food (Danish Rolls and Hot Dogs).
And now I have to say it: I never liked them much. There, I have said it, it had to come out. But I immediately take these words back and I humbly apologize. Because I know of course that my premonition comes from just a few chance contacts I had in my professional career that I then extrapolated to the rest of the population. In reality, the Danes are exactly like the French, who are very similar to the Americans, who are not unlike the Germans, who are uncannily close to the Chinese and the Zimbabweans. What unites us is so much more than what divides us. It is amazing how similar we think, how much, beneath a thin veneer of cultural divergence we are all exactly alike, the African, the China-man, the Dane and me. We have good and flawed sides. You know, I’m from Belgium, therefore, boy, do I know something about flawed sides.
So, with that out of the way, we’re off to Copenhagen for a three day city-trip. Prove me wrong, you blond boys and girls from the North. Vera tells me that most of you are not even real blondes. You tattooed vikings of the North (Vera tells me that many of these tattoos are fake too. Sigh… at least, show me that it was wrong to tell myself that the only good Dane is a Great Dane.
Hmm, the Marriott Copenhagen is not the worst of places to start off for this trip. With the clear night sky mirrored in the clear water of the canal and with a gin and tonic in my hand, I listen to Vera’s stories and I happily take the plunge. Good times!
I’m not going to stipulate all the venues and bars and coffee shops we visited ( Better go look for yourselves!) but I will say this:
The people: The Danes we met, pretty much all of them, were a very friendly bunch and very helpful too. It is uncanny how they all (really all) speak English as if it were their mother tongue. Their self confidence is remarkable, infectious even, but at the same time it may give them an air of arrogance. They may also seem a little uptight at times, but they don’t mean to be. I think that is just because they talk in a very direct way and don’t use many words, Also, many of them are quite tall (Luckily not yet quite like the Dutch, who are simply ridiculously tall), so it is not their fault that they have to look down and that they have to speak up just to be heard.
The food: Wow! The Danes do go for quality. And yes, quality comes at a cost. But even in Copenhagen, if you get off the beaten track, you will find places that offer an excellent deal at an affordable price. We found several such cool spots.
But of course, there also is the other Copenhagen. The one you find when you get suckered into the tourist traps. Or when you believe that the best deal in town is an expensive wobbly chair in Nyhaven. Or when your idea of sightseeing is getting squeezed by the masses, stumbling forward, with little more to gawk at than…well, each other! That is when the sounds and sights of beautiful Copenhagen get smothered in nauseating chatter, that’s when smells of sugary waffles and stale spilled beer sicken your senses to the core.
I trust that this is not you, so, move out, take the next street left, or leap to the right, Move away from this hypnotized pack of sheep, and again you will be able to breath, and again you will discover and see that Copenhagen has so much more to offer.
The weather: Like a box of chocolates. Unpredictable, full of surprises. We were in luck as a cold Northerly wind swiped the clouds away and left a deep blue canvas with bright sunshine to paint our day. Under such circumstances and with traffic light because of the holiday weekend, bicycling through town is a joy. The broad bicycle lanes, the peaceful canals, the beautiful green parks and lush gardens, the fresh air and the sun in our face…
The streets: Clean, spotless. The traffic, orderly, civilized. And to my surprise, hardly a beggar in sight. But if you look a bit harder, you do see them, also Copenhagen has their untouchables. I don’t know about crime, it seems invisible, but it isn’t. We witnessed two guys steal something from a restaurant (The thieves had disappeared before I could unzip into my Superman suit.) I saw some homeless people stare in a void, I read the pickpocket warning card in the shop, I heard the waiter complain about his stolen mobile.
Construction: Endless. There are more wharves here that I have seen in any other city. It seems that they want to expand the city from the current center all the way up to the international airport, near the Bridge to Sweden. They are well on their way of doing just that.
Conclusion? Three days is hardly enough to understand all, but it is enough to understand something.
So, here are my new held believes: The Danes are great, they are a fun bunch, they should be proud of themselves and of their capital, which is really wonderful. The Danes, contrary to their endless boasting about it, are not the happiest people in Europe even though they may be among the happier specimen to roam this continent. Carlsberg is definitely NOT the greatest beer in the world, and smorrebrod will not make my top five hit list.
Other than that, I give them a big and sincere thumbs up,for their strive, for their efforts, for their ambition, and for their dry tongue-in-cheek sense of humor.