Travel Report: Copenhagen, Denmark.
July 2002. I was never supposed to end up solo in Copenhagen. There should have been a girl with me. But as was so often the case it didn’t work out and I ended up making the trip alone. At any rate it wasn’t long before another lady caught my eye. She was sitting atop a cluster of rocks, just off the footpath of Langelinje Pier. This famous bronze statue, inspired by the beloved Hans Christian Andersen character, was unveiled to the city in August 1913.
She was a gift to the capital from the Danish brewer Carl Jacobsen. I remember being surprised at just how diminutive the statue is. I mean, I know she’s The Little Mermaid, but still. To add insult to injury, she turned out to be another woman unwilling to give me the time of day. In fact, this girl wouldn’t even look at me!
Back in those days I wasn’t an experienced traveller. So much so that I hadn’t even done my homework on the Danish capital. Hence I found myself simply wandering the streets, a man without a plan. Along the way, I recall stopping by Frederik’s Church, aka The Marble Church.
The building dates back to 1749 when King Frederik V ordered its construction as part of a grand plan to build a sparkling new city district called Frederiksstaden. However, the project was riddled with troubles, including the death of its architect and funding problems. Eventually, it opened in 1894. Approaching the church that afternoon, I remember thinking how those eyes lining the base of its distinctive copper green dome were watching me!
It pains me somewhat to think of all the things I didn’t photograph during my days in Copenhagen. And yet, somehow, I felt moved to snap this street artist and his Incredible Singing Dolls. He was performing on Amanger Square, his plastic creations head-banging to Megadeth and Metallica. I recently tried Googling him to see if he had any online footprint. But alas this shot is possibly the only evidence of his existence.
In all my years travelling the globe, I have never seen anything quite like the so-called Free State of Christiania. A group of hippies established this Copenhagen commune in 1971 as a way to keep hold of an abandoned military barracks they’d been sleeping in.
Gradually, there followed an increase of new residents. Over time, this tight-knit community declared themselves independent from the rest of the country. Amazingly, the Danish government opted to leave them be, treating the group and their district as a social experiment.
Not that the relationship between Christiania and the authorities has been a happy one. Often, the police would sweep in to clear the place of drugs. Moreover, these raids often resulted in violence, leading Copenhagers to question why the community is still tolerated.
On the day I walked into Christiania the atmosphere was friendly and relaxed. It was a fascinating car-free zone of rickety houses, workshops, art galleries, organic food stalls and cafes. I was really enjoying the experience until… suddenly… the chilled out vibe shattered with the sound of police sirens, shouting voices and stomping boots.
With people scarpering in all directions, I simply froze with no idea what to do. Within minutes the police had control of the place, forming a human barricade through Pusher Street. They then proceeded to carry our raids on all the buildings. A few people got handcuffed, one woman was screaming manically. In defiance of the no photography signs peppered around me, I managed to sneak my camera out of my coat pocket and grab a quick shot.
I can’t think of a greater contrast to the Christiania experience than Tivoli. Opening its doors in 1847, this wonderfully innocent and nostalgic place stands as the world’s second oldest theme park. I spent a few hours wandering around and hopping on a few rides.
I’ll also remember Tivoli as the place where I first tried Smørrebrød, a traditional Danish snack. It’s basically a thick platform of dark rye bread topped with butter, cold cuts and cheese.
What to See & Do Copenhagen.
February 2005. I returned to Copenhagen for a second visit just a few years later for a winter perspective. Insanely, I’d come to visit the same girl as before. And… lo and behold… things failed to work out again. Talk about a sucker for punishment!
This time at least she was living in Copenhagen and I didn’t have to go exploring alone. Among the highlights of that second trip, we took a crisp, wintry walk around Frederiksberg Gardens, the 64-hectare expanse that surrounds Frederiksberg Palace.
The gardens date back to the 1690s when King Frederik VI added them to his palace grounds. In the mid 1800s they morphed into a pubic park, although amusingly access was not granted for “sailors, dogs and people in poor clothing”. I’m not sure if I would have gotten in back then with my appalling coat.
There was a threatening atmosphere to the grey afternoon sky at Frederiksberg Gardens that afternoon. The ghostly linden trees seemed to be protecting the palace like poised soldiers. “I hope you don’t feel like you wasted your time coming here,” said the girl. Somehow, her words fit the vibe perfectly.
The day before I left Copenhagen it snowed. Thus it was bitterly cold during our walk along Nyhavn waterfront. There was an eerie silence in the air, the frozen canal and its framed townhouses looking to me like players in a ghoulish painting. The girl and I didn’t speak much that night and, instinctively, I knew I would never see her again.
For more on my adventures in the country, check out my other reports from around Denmark.
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