The gargoyles are enough to give the kids nightmares..
Last week was my third and probably last trip to Denmark this year. This trip was a quick ‘in and out’ due to the fact that I was missing home and I’m staring down the barrel of several other overseas trips (junkets, according to some) that I could honestly do without right now.
Just in case you think I am protesting too much and of course I am, because I love travel, up to a point, I am on the defensive. When I walked into the hotel, twenty minutes after getting off the plane, the barman called over and welcomed me by name. A good or a very bad sign, depending on your point of view. Last time we did the entire gin menu one and a half times and it was a gin bar, so I planned to take it easy this trip. I failed, of course.
I learned a few things about Danish culture this trip, firstly, when there is and invitation for a night out ‘on the company’ there is no end of takers. Seriously, they aren’t like your average English/Australian party crasher, they do it like it was a corporate takeover, with beer at the end. Under normal circumstances, they might go home at 23:00 and not mention the night before upon the morn, not even a “did you see how pissed Jerry was last night!”. Even if you paid yourself, there is no word for “please” in Danish, so don’t be offended if someone just nods assent for the massively expensive cocktail you have just offered them.
That doesn’t mean to say that the Danes are rude, far far from it. It’s just that I think their Viking origins somehow prevents them from saying it. In fact, it’s as if they’d much rather cleave your skull with a double headed axe than use that word. Upon questioning such linguistic differences with english, I was told that polite children are taught to say, “Må jeg bede om…” when requesting something, which translates to “May I beg for…”
You can also ask politely if people would “be sweet” and do things you would like them to do. When requesting that, say, your large bearded Viking neighbour in the open plan Ikea like office, remove his giant mountain bike from the space next to your desk where you bang your shins on it every day, you can say, “Vil du ikke være sød og…” or “Would you not be sweet and…”. Putting anything in the negative form makes it more polite in Danish. So, “would you please not be so sweet and move your f’ing bike” is apparently quite acceptable….
On this occasion, several of the striking Viking ladies of the office decided to accompany our small team of misfits out on the ‘toon’ It actually looked like we were being escorted by Lagertha the shield maiden and her sisters. Passers by stepped into the road rather than disrupt their determined stride. Needless to say, I became confused at some time during the proceedings and having a natural homing instinct, found my way to the metro only to wake up on numerous occasions, only to find that I had travelled the said metro, end to end several times. This time a 20 year old Valkyrie woke me and suggested that I actually get off the train at my stop. She was kind enough to point out the correct one and I made it back to my stylish matchbox of a room at 06:00. I remember thinking that I might be too old for this…
I had a really busy week, but I managed to take a few hours before catching the flight home and I decided to make like the tourist and wander through the centre of Copenhagen. There is long street called “Strøget ” that runs the length of the CBD, which is just over a kilometre long. It’s totally pedestrianised and is the place to be seen in Copenhagen on a sunny day and wonder of wonders, the sun was shining and it was a toasty 17 degrees.
Strøget starts at the ‘Rådhuspladsen’ or City hall square and meanders past some fantastically expensive clothes shops and also some delightfully tacky souvenir shops – think little mermaid tea towels etc. The buildings are lovely, thankfully not having been bombed in WWII.
Note the Tuborg wagon taunting me…
Strøget was converted to a pedestrian zone on 17 November 1962 when cars were beginning to dominate Copenhagen’s old central streets. Inspired by a number of new pedestrian streets created by the RAF in Germany, the town planners decided to make some changes. After the war, during the 1950s they closed to traffic for several days over Christmas and people liked it. The original closure was initially a temporary trial, but the change was made permanent in 1964, and the road has been pedestrianised ever since.
Not everyone liked the idea of banning the cars, as for some reason some people believed that the Danes did not have the mentality for the kind of “public life” envisioned by such a street, and many of the local merchants believed the move would damage their business. The gentleman behind the idea of a car free Strøget was Alfred Wassard, who was Copenhagen’s ‘mayor for town planning’ from 1962–78. The poor devil even received death threats for his efforts. On the opening day, police officers were present to protect against assassination threats, and unhappy car drivers blew their horns from the adjoining side streets to mark their displeasure even though the event was well attended and celebrated with dancing and music. The upmarket shops on the east end of the street were particularly angered by the change, and they lobbied to have the project restricted to the other end of the street, which was dominated by bars and cinemas at the time.
Unsurprisingly, it’s the bar and restaurant end of the street that intrigues me the most and it concludes at Kongens Nytorv (the Kings new square). There is a lovely harbour area with sea going barges and fishing boats tied up alongside the cobbled streets. Beautiful old buildings that would have once been merchants houses are now home to restaurants and bars with seating along the canal side.
Beautiful, but I’m not tempted to go for a swim…
I had a great seafood lunch and a cheeky glass of white wine, whilst people watching and due to Jerry Jnr’s allergy to shellfish, I felt no guilt at overdosing on prawns, scallops and crab claws whilst here. I’d really miss Australia but if Northern Europe ever did recall me, Denmark could become home for a while.