(First things first: If you don’t know what the title is referring to, go watch the excellent Danny Kaye movie musical Hans Christian Andersen. This post will still be here when you finish.)
I’m in love. I’ve never felt as strong an urge to stay and live in a city as I did in Copenhagen. I can’t quite explain why. The beautiful green spaces? The good infrastructure? The fish-based cuisine? The lingering traces of Kierkegaard’s presence? I know it gets awfully cold in the winter, and I probably wouldn’t like that, but on this trip it seemed like the perfect city.
Authors, philosophers, and other famous people
Have I mentioned on this blog how much I love Kierkegaard? I know it’s one of those totally unoriginal teenage obsessions, but I can’t help it! So of course tracking down Kierkegaard-related sites was a priority during my time in Copenhagen. I didn’t go quite as far as this author, but I made sure to see his grave, his statue, and the exhibit about him in the Museum of Copenhagen. The latter was small but really cool—it organized paraphernalia from his life into different categories of love. These were paired with relevant quotes from his works (of course, Works of Love and his notes played a large part) and with objects and stories submitted by current Copenhageners. The Regine Olsen episode of Kierkegaard’s life is fascinating, so I loved how much emphasis it got. The city’s other famous author, Hans Christian Andersen, is in the same cemetery. One of his stories is also commemorated in the city’s most famous attraction (supposedly the most disappointing attraction in Europe), the harbor statue of the Little Mermaid.
Beautiful buildings and views
Copenhagen is just plain gorgeous. Somehow, the parks, the old buildings, and the super-modern architecture all fit together into a cohesive, superbly livable whole. Compare the different styles of the three theaters in my pictures below. Marvel at the 17th-century facades in Nyhavn. Take in a few of the stranger examples of Copenhagen’s distinctive spires. (The Church of Our Savior—the one with the spirally spire—has been voted by residents as providing the best view in town. But to see that view, you have to climb the spire. On an external staircase. For someone with a mild fear of heights like me, that was quite the adrenaline rush.)
And then there’s Christiania. Its legal status seems to be frequently changing, but at the moment it’s sort of legally part of Copenhagen and sort of autonomous. It’s somewhere between a slum and a utopian hippie commune. It seems really run-down, with a lot of trash piles and a lot of buildings badly in need of repair. But it also has cool public art, and housing is provided free of charge to successful applicants. I didn’t take many pictures; they’re not allowed in much of the city because of the “green light district”—essentially the marijuana market. Selling marijuana is technically illegal (though it’s not at all a secret and is tolerated by the authorities), so they don’t want it documented.
Castles and treasures
Rosenborg Castle is the definition of overdoing it. Ornately carved furniture in front of paintings in front of elaborate tapestries… and don’t forget to pattern the floor and paint the ceilings! Silver lions guard ivory and silver thrones. The Danish crown jewels glitter in the crypt. Whole rooms are full of priceless porclelain and Venetian glass treasures. But it’s also one of the best laid-out museum-castles I’ve seen, because it groups furniture and art and knick-knacks by era and offers a chronological walk through the history of Danish royalty. So you can see fashions and decorating styles change with the decades and centuries, from the 16th century to the 19th century. Somewhat suprisingly, the earliest rooms are the most ridiculous. The Baroque rooms are actually a relief—they look relatively plain compared to what came before!
Castles, part two: Elsinore
On my final day in Denmark, I ventured to Helsingore (also known as Elsinore) to see the castle where Hamlet would have lived. Hamlet is fictional, of course, but several of Shakespeare’s friends visited this very real castle (and it’s possible he did, too, though we have no proof). Some of the details in the play (like the “gunpowder toast”) are based on real castle traditions. And Hamlet is staged at the castle at least once per year, often featuring great Shakespearean actors from around the world. I wanted to take the dramatic tour led by “Horatio,” but unfortunately, Horatio was sick today. However, the general introduction to the castle was interesting, too. We learned about its transition from medieval fortress to modern Renaissance castle, the source of the Danish king’s wealth (Sound Dues charged on ships passing through), and the constant battle of one-upmanship going on between Danish and Swedish royalty at the time. (For instance, after Sweden’s king had art made boating of his 50 predecessors, Denmark’s king had tapestries woven showing him as the 100th Danish king—even though he had to throw in legendary, Biblical, and purely made-up kings to get there!) Northern Europe’s largest ballroom was also appropriately grand and impressive.
To sum it all up: I’ve decided that I want to live in Copenhagen someday. At the very least, I need to come back and see the Viking ships, visit the Tivoli gardens, and simply laze in the city’s lovely green spaces. But for both the living here and visiting: only in the summer!