In so many ways the countries of Scandinavia seem alike. And in others
they are so different. Copenhagen seems less plagued by the modern construction
that occupies so much of Stockholm. It's full of the kind of fairy tale
architecture you would expect from the land of Hans Christian Andersen,
even if he was far less well adjusted than the way Danny Kaye played him.
Of course I had to go and find the Little Mermaid, who seems
rather more pensive and brooding than Disney would ever have dared to
portray. I think the sculpture was the best part of the city. That may
have come from spending a weekend in a town where everything but the
bars close at two on Saturday afternoon and stay closed until
Monday. But then again, maybe I'm just an art lover at heart.
One of the surprises of Copenhagen was how colorful it could be.
This row of brightly painted houses (now mostly restaurants) along a
canal seems far too cheerful for my image of the Danes. Now I
understand; like the
Chiloeans at the other end of
the earth they're just trying to keep their spirits up during a long
and depressing winter. But it must be said that at least a few
Danes do have a sense of humor. How else to explain this
used bookstore near the main shopping street? Here I was, walking
along and minding my own business, when I spotted this fellow who
had taken a tumble down the stairs. Certainly got my attention,
which I suppose was the point. More to the point, it got me to stop
and browse. I'm a sucker, I guess, both for old books and for
There are more pictures from Copenhagen on my digital camera
My second trip to Denmark came just a few months after my first. This time I got beyond Copenhagen, as we gave seminars at universities throughout the country. Our second stop after Copenhagen was Odense, famous as Hans Christian Andersen's home town. That's his house on the left, turned now into a museum. Nearby is a restaurant called, predictably enough, the Ugly Duckling. You'd think the guys on the right would be concerned about becoming tonight's entree, wouldn't you? Or at least have their feathers ruffled by the insult of the establishment's name. Hey, who you calling ugly?
After Odense came Århus, home of another major university.
Since we had the morning free we paid a visit to Den Gamle By, a
historical village composed of buildings rescued from all
over the country and then lovingly restored. Every trade is
represented here, from clothing and
saddle making to printing and photography. The brewery was one of my
favorite buildings, even if it wasn't operational. (Hey, this travel
thing is thirsty work!)
Helsingør's is a small city on the northeastern coast of Zealand, the island that also contains Copenhagen. Its greatest significance is as a transfer point to Sweden, a mere 4km away by ferry. As a result of this proximity and the differences in Danish and Swedish governmental policies, the town does a fantastic business selling alcohol and other goods that their Swedish neighbors are trying to tax out of existance. Kind of reminds me of my visits to Boston and the liquor stores New Hampshire runs right across the state line. Although if people in Taxachusetts think they're put upon, they should spend some time up here!
People in this part of the world are justifiably proud of their
seagoing heritage. And despite a short season and high prices many
of them practice that heritage. But some take it to extremes. Like
this little entry. I've heard of houseboats, of course. But this
is the first one I'd seen that was more house than boat. And when
was the last time you saw a houseboat with a garden? I guess some
people don't really want to get away from it all. They'd
rather take it with them!
To the rest of the world Helsingør is famous for another
reason. Under the mangled name of Elsinore it's the setting for
Hamlet, Shakespeare's great tragedy of indecision. There
is a castle at Helsingør. But not a royal
residence; this castle existed to persuade merchant ships crossing
from Sweden that they really did need to pay their taxes. Which
doesn't keep the locals from taking advantage of Shakespeare's
version, as you can see from this particularly hideous bit of
sculpture outside the castle grounds. At least I assume they're
to be Hamlet and Ophelia. Who else could they be?
Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California