Thursday, July 25, 2013

Day 46. Architecture, Part 4: Free rein.

I went with my coworkers to Ørestad, a neighborhood in Vestamager that has seen a recent boom in ambitious and wildly designed buildings. Up-and-coming designers like Bjarke Ingels (<<website is awesome) have been given relatively free rein to dream up and construct living spaces and office buildings that Europe often shies away from, a result of strict zoning that prevents bold new architecture from mingling with quaint old architecture.

With tons of open land and license to experiment, architects have bent glass and steel into crazy apartment blocks like 8TALLET and the Tietgen Students' Residence. Honestly, the trip to Ørestad felt a bit like a trip into Orbit City - all that was missing was a Spacely Sprockets factory.

Inside 8TALLET

Ørestad Plejecenter: the coolest nursing home on the planet?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Day 45. Architecture, Part 3: Cultural buildings.

This is part three of four. My architectural knowledge is sorely lacking, and you're probably over it with the buildings.

Like any good European city, Copenhagen has its fair share of public cultural spaces, including art museums, libraries and concert halls. The most grand is the Operaen, the Opera House, financed by the family behind Mærsk, Denmark's most powerful corporation. Built at a cost of over $500 million, the Operahuset København is imposing and flashy in its place along the main harbor. It's just one of the many striking cultural spaces scattered around the capital. The Royal Library's new extension, nicknamed Den Sorte Diamant (the Black Diamond), is another.

Operahuset København
(thanks, Jefferson, for these pics)

Det Kongeliget Bibliotek (The Royal Library), a.k.a. Den Sorte Diamant (The Black Diamond)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Day 44. Architecture, Part 2: Churches.

The grand cathedrals of Europe often marked the dawning or even the apex of a particular architectural era. Notre Dame de Paris is a temple to the gothic, Rome's Church of the Gesù to the Baroque, Imperial Russia's Smolny Cathedral to the Rococo. Churches are simply the best indicators of architectural standards before, say, World War I, because money and talent flowed to these projects.

The same can be said for the churches of Denmark. I've already included a few churches, including one from Amager, a traditional stave church and Grundtvigs Kirke, all of which have unique character. Even when conforming to period-specific architectural forms, the Danes made their churches distinctly Danish.

The corkscrew spire of Vor Frelsers Kirke, Copenhagen, Baroque
St. Albans Kirke, Odense, Neogothic

Monday, July 22, 2013

Day 43. Architecture, Part 1: Row houses.

Modern apartment blocks dominate much of "new" Copenhagen, especially the district of Vestamager and along the main harbor. Glass and steel are the materials of choice for Denmark's current batch of architects, and the buildings they design are incredibly imaginative. I'll write about these soon.

Conversely, most of "old" Copenhagen (especially Indre By, where I live), is a charming mishmash of row houses that crowd the streets and sidewalks below. They're filled with character, slanting and spilling toward each other, and yet they're very often expensive to purchase or rent. Never do two adjacent match in color and rarely do they match in size or detail.

This is the Copenhagen tourists love.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Day 42. Sommerferie.

The average Dane takes five to six weeks of vacation a year. Most take half or more of that time off in the summer. My drycleaner is but one of the small businesses - restaurants, salons and bakeries, too - that decide to simply close their doors for sommerferie, summer holiday.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Day 41. Hven.

One of my Danish friends grew up on the coast of Zealand, forty minutes north of Copenhagen. A handful of us headed up to her house, borrowed the family boat and set sail (well, motorboat) for Hven. Sitting just about halfway between Denmark and Sweden on the Øresund strait, Hven is a Swedish island with little on it besides summer homes, an old church and harbor, and a lot of wheat fields.

At one point we waded into the Baltic Sea, but we spent most of the afternoon along the beach, grilling and hanging out. Remember hygge? Yes, this was a day full of hygge.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Day 40. Earth berries.

Factoid: The Danish word for strawberry, jordbær, literally translates to "earth berry." Now you know.

The Nordic countries love their berries. Strawberries, blueberries, lingonberries, raspberries, elderberries and on and on. The strawberries, on average, tend to be smaller but much sweeter than the ones found in American supermarkets. And no, not just because of pesticides or GMO or whatever (in fact, you won't find any GMO strawberries sold anywhere). The size difference is largely due to the fact that, in the US, California produces 80% or more of the domestic strawberry crop. There, the growing season is much longer and much hotter than in, say, Sweden. Either way, I love these Danish earthberries.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Day 39. Skyline.

It's rarely hazy in Copenhagen. Strong winds blow straight across the North Sea and meet little resistance passing over the flat, open lands of Denmark. Yesterday, however, the wind died down as I was biking from the southeastern part of Copenhagen back toward downtown. I stopped and faced the city. With the sun hanging behind and the air above it fuzzy, the famous spire-filled skyline was drained of most of its color. I drained it only a bit more for the silhouette.

The tallest of these spires the famous spiral tower of Vor Frelsers Kirke. Immediately to its left is Rådhus (City Hall).

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Day 38. Crow-steps.

Across Europe - but particularly in Scandinavia and the Netherlands - crow-step gables are a popular architectural detail. The design is most commonly found on churches, from the small one from Amager pictured below to the big ones like Grundtvigs Kirke and Roskilde Cathedral. It's a subtle quirk that adds a lot of character to these otherwise stark buildings, and I love spotting them throughout the city.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Day 37. Wind.

If one were to boil down the Danish economy into its four most profitable exports, it'd look something like this:
Since I'm probably not allowed in Novo Nordisk's laboratories with a camera, and I'd rather not visit a slaughterhouse or an oil rig, you get to read about wind energy. Vestas, based in Aarhus, is the world's largest producer of wind turbines and one of the country's largest corporations. Given the nation's love for all things eco-friendly, the company's footprint is everywhere in – and around – Denmark.

(Legos, incidentally, would be number eight on that list.)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Day 36. Chairs.

Denmark's talent for design: admirable. Denmark's love for funky chairs: a veritable smorgasbord of hazard.

Exhibit 1: Physics says no.

Exhibit 2: Ooooh, my coccyx.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Day 35. Hygge.

Growing up in Milwaukee, I'd often see references to Gemütlichkeit. It's one of those great German words that is somehow both long and concise. Gemütlichkeit, according to Wikipedia, means "a situation that induces a cheerful mood, peace of mind, with connotation of belonging and social acceptance, coziness and unhurry."

The Danes have something similar, and they're quite proud of it: hygge. Like 
Gemütlichkeit, hygge is a sort of state of relaxed and cheerful peace found in the company of good friends and family. There's evidence of it everywhere in Copenhagen: picnics, open-air jazz concerts, families relaxing in a park, and friends sharing a beer or a long meal. Sometimes, it's as simple as joining your buddies and watching boats pass by.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Day 34. Roskilde.

Roskilde is best known for its UNESCO-listed cathedral, its Viking Ship Museum, and its raucous music festival (don't Google Image Search it unless you want to see lots of naked folks). I saw the cathedral and the museum; sweaty-hippy music fests are my own personal hell, so I made sure to head to Roskilde a week later. It's only a 30-minute train ride west of Copenhagen, so I spent the afternoon strolling around.

The cathedral and museum were both impressive and well worth the visit. I'm sure the music festival is awe-inspiring in its own right. But as is the case with so many places that have become famous for a few sights, Roskilde is most charming when one steps ever so slightly off of the beaten path.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Day 33. Taxis.

A picture like the one below would come as no surprise to anybody who has visited Germany or much of Central or Northern Europe.

One hears a lot of sayings like, "You can tell a lot about a man by the shoes he wears," and so forth. I think one could derive similar inferences about nations from their Mercedes/BMW taxis. In Denmark's case, it would be expensive, exceptionally clean and detail-obsessed.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Day 32. Neighbors.

Danes and Swedes have a long and contentious past. Each group has taken the other over at some point in history, and the story of their relationship throughout time has been varyingly hostile and friendly.

Today, they share a national airline (with Norway, too), opened up an incredible bridge connecting their borders and the personal and commercial ties are deep.

Really, any sort of animosity between Sweden and Denmark is basically playful. In Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche's Found in Translation, a nonfiction book filled with linguistic anecdotes, the authors note that (Swedish company) Ikea named a toilet seat after the strait dividing the two nations and several doormats after Danish towns. Of course, it goes both ways. I got a laugh out of this drawing...

found in Helsingør, on the wall of a children's area in a museum

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Days 30 and 31. Half-timbers.

Though they're more common in smaller towns, Danish half-timbered buildings do still exist in Copenhagen. Spotting one in the middle of a modern city, with cars and buses buzzing past, always reminds me of when somebody superimposes an old photograph on a present day scene. Spatially, the buildings fit, but they're entirely anachronistic with their sagging frames and bright colors.

central Copenhagen


near Christianshavn, Copenhagen

Monday, July 8, 2013

Day 29. Rosenborg again.

I keep coming back to the Rosenborg Castle grounds. Yes, the castle itself is beautiful, the lawns are perfect, and the gardens are striking. What stands out, though, is how consistently peaceful it is despite the fact that it's always filled with people.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Day 28. Jazz.

Copenhagen loves jazz. It's like the forgotten, cold-weather, European cousin of the Mississippi Delta... except with socialized medicine and such. Louis Armstrong visited, recorded and played live (amazing video in that link, by the way). So did Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie and the Giants of Jazz. Dexter Gordon made CPH his second home. Jazzhus Montmartre is the closest thing, east of Paris, that you'll find to the legendary jazz clubs of Harlem.

Every July, the city itself becomes festival grounds, and jazz musicians pop up in parks, in city squares, in courtyards, at music halls, along canals and in cafés. The Copenhagen Jazz Festival began Friday, and bands from near and far descended upon the town. Already I've run into multiple shows that seem to have sprouted up spontaneously and attracted a steady swarm of onlookers.

There's a jazz band under that bridge.  I promise.

Day 27, Part 2. Ice cream forbidden.

My friend and I stopped at a cathedral in Helsingør and saw this sign:

After seeing this, I'm torn. Helsingør is either...
  1. the worst place on Earth because its churches explicitly ban ice cream;
  2. the best place on Earth because so many people eat ice cream that its churches feel the need to post a sign banning its consumption.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Days 26 and 27. Helsingør.

GUILDENSTERN: Prison, my lord?
HAMLET: Denmark's a prison.
GUILDENSTERN: Then is the world one.
Hamlet - Act II, Scene II
Shakespeare's most-performed play takes place at the Castle of Elsinore in Denmark. Prince Hamlet's legacy lives on, and tourists flock to see the castle (Kronborg) and town (Helsingør) on which the play is based. Still, the real story of Helsingør is compelling in its own right.

For nearly three centuries, the Danish Kingdom controlled much of present-day Sweden, and the Realm's most valuable geographical asset was the Øresund strait. This thin stretch of water joined the Baltic Sea with the wider Atlantic Ocean. With few alternative shipping routes, the success of the Hanseatic League depended almost entirely upon the safe passage of cargo through Øresund, not unlike the Panama or Suez Canals of today.

At Helsingør, the Sound reaches its narrowest point, with Helsingborg, Sweden, less than four kilometers to the east. In the 1420s, Denmark built Kronborg as a show of strength and positioned a battery of cannons on both coasts. Any ship passing through the strait would pay a toll or face a barrage of cannonballs from either or both directions. The tax was wildly successful from the Danish standpoint, and the collections were used to build castles, roads, churches and buildings across the country.

Believe it or not, the system lasted from 1427 until 1857, when an American ship refused to pay the tax (our distate for taxes is practically hereditary). This exchange set off an international trade conference, which resulted in the abolishment of the toll.

The courtyard of Kronborg. Helsingborg, Sweden, sits across Øresund.
A proper fortress.