This past weekend I was in Copenhagen. In November I would generally rather take trips to a sunny clime like Nice in southern France, where I could swim in a warm hotel pool, but I decided to brave the fabled cold of Scandinavia and head off to Denmark.
Miss W’s sister went to Copenhagen last spring and she told me she thought it was nice but boring, but that she thought I would love it. Not sure what that says about my level of street cred, but she was right. I landed in Copenhagen on Saturday afternoon and went back to my friend’s place in Fredriksburg where I was staying. We grabbed some smørrebrød salmon sandwiches and went out for a walk. During this time of year it gets dark fairly early in Denmark, around 4pm it was already twilight, so we didn’t see great deal that afternoon.
That evening we had booked a table at the Marv & Ben restaurant which means marrow and bone in Danish. This restaurant, which appears in the Michelin guide serves simple modern Danish dishes made with ingredients from their own garden at Hanebjerggård in Nordsjælland. I went for the mackerel and I have to say it was delicious. The plate, which they had named classic with a twist consisted of mackerel, celery & black cabbage (see below)
My dessert was very simple yet delicious again. This dish was called Soul Mates and consisted of: ”tykmælk” fromage(Danish dairy product), pears and yoghurt. It also had little meringues on the top. I was really impressed with the flavour combinations and the quality of ingredients in this restaurant. The decoration was simple but elegant in that unique Scandi-chic way.
On Sunday the sun was shining so we headed out to Assistens cemetery to visit Hans Christian Andersen’s grave. The cemetery itself was leafy and full of people walking, riding their bikes and running. It took quite a while to find his grave as there seemed to be signs pointing in all different directions. When we reached it Miss W was quite underwhelmed. I had expected an ornate grave with characters from the Andersen fairy tales chiselled into the head stone, but no, once again a sign of the simple and clean Scandinavian style.
Now if you haven’t noticed already I’m sure you will be left in no doubt after this post, that Miss W has a very sweet tooth. I love anything with sugar, and if it has cinnamon or any kind of aromatic spice, then all the better. So Danish bakeries are a bit like Miss W’s version of heaven. Not only do they have a huge variety of delicious bread, but also they sell Danish pastries! These have nothing to do with the dried up swirls of dough that Tesco sell, they are moist, full of cinnamon, and absolutely moreish. I could have eaten thousands of these.
In Copenhagen I also did a spot of shopping. Clothes are ultra cool here, and it seems like Danes also value quality over quantity. Clothes are very expensive in comparison with the UK, but I love the pared back basic style that seems to be in fashion there. I also noticed that women in Copenhagen have a penchant for large scarves, which I must say I do very much like, so I almost felt obliged to buy one.
My absolute favourite part of Copenhagen, other than the pastries and the lovely coloured houses, was an area called Christiana. It is a self-proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood of around 900 people. This former military area was taken over in 1971 by residents from a nearby area when they broke down the fence to create a play area for their children. Christiania was declared a self-governing “freetown” where each inhabitant is responsible for the collective well-being of the whole community. Christiania residents created their own rules and until this day they hold regular consensus meetings where everything has to be decided collectively.
The other curious thing about Christiania is that there is an area called pusher street, a little avenue with huts where marijuana is sold in its various forms. Since this isn’t legal in Denmark, the “pushers” walk around with their faces covered. The huts are draped in camouflage fabric, and there are empty oil barrels doubling as fire pits dotted around, giving the whole place a distinct air of post-apocalyptic Detroit. Pictures aren’t allowed in the so-called green zone because of the clandestine nature of their operations. I was told by one of the stall holders that every so often the police come down to pusher street and raid the place, and they once closed it down, but then realised the drug dealing spread all over the city and brought crime with it, so they decided to turn a blind eye to Christiania because at least the drug activity is contained there.
My friend told me that in Christiania people didn’t pay tax and that they had a special status. As Miss W is incurably curious she decided to approach someone outside one of the houses and ask about their way of life. I spoke to Marieke, a young mother who was born and brought up in Christiania and who has always lived there, so who better to clear up any myths on this “hippie town”.
She told me that at one time Christiania didn’t pay tax, but now they pay building tax to the city of Copenhagen. Everyone in Christiania pays rent: every adult above the age of 18 pays a monthly fee of 1.200 Danish kr. (around £120), but if someone under 18 wants to move out they can get a place free of rent. However, the house you live in doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to the community, so any improvements you make are out of your own pocket and you don’t get any payment for them when you move out. The water and electricity in Christiania come from Copenhagen, but they have to manage their own sewage system which she told me could get expensive. Marieke’s young daughter was riding around outside her house on a little bike, and I asked her how she felt about bringing up her child there. She told me that in general she was really happy in Christiania and that she wanted her daughter to stay here, but that if when she grew older she decided to leave it was up to her. Marieke said she sometimes worried about pusher street, because even though it is an accepted part of Chrisitiania, she said sometimes it brought crime.
She said one of the most annoying parts of living in Christiania as an adult was the consensus meetings, apparently they go on for hours and it is quite hard to get everyone to agree. One of the nice parts of living there, Marieke said, is that everyone knows each other. She used to work in one of the nurseries in the free town and she said she knew all the children and so it was a really close-knit and caring community, and from what she had seen the outside could be isolating.
An interesting thing about Christiania is that the residents don’t rely on the police for protection. Marieke told me that once there was a guy that was attempting to assault young women so between all the residents they sorted it out.
I was really happy to have managed to speak to a resident about the reality of living in Christiania. Marieke was really friendly and forthcoming about their lives, and showed me that they don’t really live very differently than people on the outside do.
I loved the haphazard nature of Christiania, and how a military base was turned into a place where people run their own community without the intervention of the state. I totally fancied myself as a resident of Christiania, but apparently you have to present your cause in a consensus meeting and convince the rest of the residents that they should accept you as one of them, and of course, everyone has to agree, so maybe not the easiest place to move to.
The other fun part of the weekend in Copenhagen was on the last day when we went into a little restaurant to have yet another smørrebrød. There was a man sitting opposite us dressed in a stripped prisoner outfit. At first he was sitting with other people, but eventually they left and he started talking to us. He told Miss W that she had beautiful eyes (who doesn’t like being told that, huh?) and launched into a soliloquy on the how the eyes are the windows to the soul etc… and how Miss W would never get old because she had beautiful eyes, and therefore, according to him, a beautiful soul. Well, sometimes Miss W thinks of her soul as a shrivelled black thing, but I hope he was right!
When Miss W asked him why he was wearing a prisoner outfit he said that he had decided to wear it until the president of Denmark stepped down. He cradled a doll with strange boils on its face, and said it represented the president. He argued that all politicians lived in their heads too much and that their hearts had been cut off from their heads, and that this had made them into cold blooded people, just like reptiles, and that this was the cause of all the world’s ills.
He argued that the three fundamental things a society needs are love, truth and rights. Miss W very much agreed with him on this point, and was starting to think he was truly wise and enlightened until he told Miss W that he was best friends with Miley Cyrus… Oh well…
So there you go, Copenhagen was a great weekend break. I will definitely go back someday just to hang out in all the cool indoor markets and hope that some of their scandi cool rubs off on me.