In the seventies I spent some time travelling around Denmark visiting geographically diverse relatives but in a couple of days there was no time to repeat that, so this was to be a quick trip to two places that I remembered as standing out in 1970's: Copenhagen and Roskilde.
An increasing number of Danes are my progressively distant cousins by virtue of my great aunt marrying a Dane, thus contributing my mother's grandparent's DNA to the extended family in Denmark. As a result, these Danes are my children's cousins too.
Denmark is a relatively small but wealthy country in which people share a common language and thus similar values, like an enthusiasm for subsidising wind power and shunning nuclear energy, except as an import from Germany, Sweden and France.
They also like all things cultural and historical and to judge by the museums and cultural activities many take pride in the Danish Vikings who were amongst those who contributed to my aforementioned DNA, way back. My Danish great uncle liked to listen to Geordies on the buses in Newcastle speaking Tyneside, as he discovered many words in common with Danish thanks to those Danes who had settled in the Tyne valley.
Nevertheless, compared to Australia or the US or even many other European countries, Denmark is remarkably monocultural. A social scientist I listened to last year made the point that the sense of community, that a single language and culture confers, creates a sense of extended family. This allows the Scandinavian countries to maintain very generous social welfare, supported by some of the highest tax rates in the world, yet to be sufficiently productive and hence consumptive per capita, to maintain among the highest material standards of living in the world.
The impact is very evident in the shops and in cost of accommodation. Denmark, like Sweden; or Australia; is not a cheap country to visit. On the positive side our accommodation was excellent, a self-contained apartment, allowing us to visit the supermarket to buy food for breakfast and our evening meals - tak for mad.
As in England, once out of the capital prices fall dramatically. Thus in Roskilde we enjoyed an excellent restaurant meal, including a bottle of wine, for a very reasonable price.
A central attraction in Copenhagen is the Tivoli Gardens, that are said to have inspired Walt to imagine Disneyland. One pays to enter and more to go on the rides. These are very challenging and adrenaline charged but not cheap. In addition, like Disneyland there are many opportunities to eat and drink inside the park; at suitably inflated prices.
Nearby are the National Museum of Danish Culture and Christiansborg Palace a royal palace that is open for guided tours. We visited the first but not the other, as time became a factor. Like the fox proclaiming the grapes sour, we justified this by reassuring ourselves that there is just so much old furniture; bone china; gold and silver knick-knacks; and painted ceilings; that one can gawk at in a day. Wendy went shopping. We are of course reminded that, like Australia, Denmark is a Constitutional Monarchy and even has an Australian (Crown Princess Mary) as future Queen Mother and Queen apparent.
Royal accoutrements, anthropology and natural history
Heading back, near Tivoli, I went to the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, a fine art museum featuring 19th century Danish and French art, in addition to a large gallery of Roman sculpture. The current visiting exhibition was of works by Gauguin. Their impressionist collection includes Degas' - 'Toilette after the bath' (pastel and paint on paper) and they also had a large number of Degas maquettes, together with Degas' 'dancer', which I took to be a replica, unless it was on loan from the Met in New York, and 'The Tub' that is also in the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. In addition there were works by Van Gogh, Cezanne and Monet, amongst others.
Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek
Later I persuaded Wendy to come to the Tycho Brahe Planetarium only to find I had been misled by the name. I expected this to be a planetarium featuring the life and work of Denmark's most famous astronomer, with whom Kepler was apprenticed, and as we walked there I went on at some length about Kepler's importance to Newton and Galileo, only to find that it's just an IMAX theatre that apparently runs a short film about Tycho before each session. Customers have to commit to a full two hour IMAX movie session to see it.
In addition to trying to learn a little more about Denmark from it's excellently curated museums, we wandered in the shopping district along Stroget and adjacent streets that are closed to normal traffic for what seemed an interminable series of stops to go into this or that retailer, for 'just a minute'. Click Here to see it in Google Street-view.
I was still recovering from my earlier illness and found my stamina for this waning. So while Wendy explored Zara, or was it H&M, I went into a complex to look for a coffee shop and found a Danish institution: Joe & The Juice. Here the language got the better of me but I discovered that if you want a particular combination of juices like apple and orange, you have to order something like 'Sex me Up' (apple and ginger) and get the orange as an extra. It then costs twice as much as you would pay at a fruit juice bar anywhere else in the world. I didn't expect to have to use my global money card to pay for a fruit juice. Nevertheless I understand that they will soon be in a place near you - think IKEA.
On two occasions we bought take-away food for lunch and ate in one of the squares that abound in the city. In this one there was a temporary art installation featuring very large posters of naked girls. One day we watched as the carpenters completed the structure then, the following day, the opening speeches. Unfortunately there was no free wine on offer. Although it is not unusual in office block foyers in Sydney or, obviously, an art gallery, I'm not sure that a similar exhibition would be permitted in a public square with children passing.
Another difference is the ubiquitous use of pushbikes. There are vast numbers of these in Danish towns. Many are very utilitarian everyday bikes, with quick locks, handlebar baskets and hub gears, rather than cable locks, panniers and twelve or fifteen speed derailleur gears. The low gradients obviously don't require many gear ratios, unlike Sydney or say, San Francisco. Very few people, except children, use helmets as bikes don't generally go fast and bikes and cars don't mix as they do in Sydney. Although there must be some bicycle couriers or athletes somewhere I didn't see anyone in a lycra 'go-faster' suit, de rigueur in Sydney.
Denmark has two million less people than New South Wales but has the advantage of higher taxes to pay for better infrastructure and a much flatter landscape. This makes high quality roads and fast rail less expensive to build. The highest point in the Denmark is officially 170.86 m above sea level (561 ft). Centimetre accuracy is obviously important when you have so little.
To get to and from the Airport to central Copenhagen and then to Roskilde we used the trains from the central railway station that was 5 minutes walk from our hotel. There were a couple of tricky moments due to the language differences but most Danes speak English so we came away unscathed, despite one train being faulty and taken out of service and another resembling a sauna, due to faulty air conditioning.
Roskilde is an historic town about 35 km from Copenhagen. The train trip takes less than half an hour.
Roskilde was at one time the capital of Denmark and has a 13th century cathedral, Roskilde Domkirke, which during the Reformation became Lutheran-Protestant. Possibly because it is built out of red brick it gives the impression of being much more modern. It's the principal cathedral of the Church of Denmark and the burial site for Danish monarchs. At one stage, as in many Danish churches, iconoclasts whitewashed some of the objectionable imagery, judged to be anathema to the Jewish and Protestant second commandment: 'Thou shall not make any graven image etc'. The Roman Catholics have their own. But following rationalism in the 19th century this art and culture has been been progressively restored by cultural historians. Imagery is now tolerated or even encouraged in many Protestant churches, provided it is not idolised or prayed too. But then this is cultural heritage and it's important to see where we've been, if only to avoid repeating ourselves.
Like all of Scandinavia and most of Northern Europe, Denmark is now very secular. Less than 20% of Danes regard any of these issues to be religiously important. In 2009 in answer to the question: 'Is religion important in your daily life?' 80% of Danes polled responded: NO. Similarly in 2012, a survey of world atheism found France; Germany; Netherlands; Austria; and Australia in the top ten. Among very religious countries was the US that ranks with Saudi Arabia and is more religious than Israel. Yet the US is a big country and around 128 million Americans do not regard religion to be important in their lives. This number is increasing, particularly in the better educated parts of the country. Yet they are a long way from a Presidential candidate being able to openly declare that they are not religious.
While we were in Denmark the US Presidential race was in full swing on our nightly news. Crowds filling huge stadia in gigantic rallies, alternated with scenes of people shot dead; and rioting in the streets. Donald Trump's strange spin on Christianity and his reading, or not, of the Bible left many people bemused. European commentators alternately exhibited puzzlement, alarm or hilarity, as the clowning Trump tromped about; Hillary justified the status quo and pettifogged; and all the while in the background police cars and ambulances wailed. Apparently the majority of Americans still believe that this is all part of God's mysteriously obscure divine plan.
Apart from the Cathedral a principal tourist attraction in Roskilde is the Viking Ship Museum.
This contains the remnants of several Viking ships and a great deal of information in both Danish and English about the range and achievements of these raiders, warriors, traders and sometimes settlers. Together with their Swedish cousins the Danish Vikings ranged from the Mediterranean to England Ireland and the North Atlantic, conquering a good deal of England and creating settlements in Ireland, around the Baltic in Greenland and Russia.
It's a pleasant walk through a park from the main town down to the museum at the harbour. I'd been there in the 70's when it was very new and before the present additional features were added. These include actual working replicas that enthusiasts sail, reliving the actual Viking experience, save for the fighting, raping and pillaging. In a workshop young children of both genders, hammer and saw, making their own little ships, potentially whacking thumbs and cutting fingers off. But as in Germany children are apparently expected to learn not to hurt themselves early on: Oh look, you've whacked your thumb, be more careful next time!
The Viking Ship Museum is well worth a visit as an insight into both ancient and contemporary Danish culture with lots of families
Back in Copenhagen I'd recovered from my whatever had ailed me and we agreed that this had been a very pleasant excursion to a most civilised and relaxing part of Europe that lacks the challenges offered by less 'familiar' cultures. So before our train back to the airport we spent some time just relaxing, instead of going down to see the Little Mermaid yet again. We'd both been there before.
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