After our little trip to Leeuwarden we returned to Sneek for yet another refit – this time of our exhaust system. We were moored in the boatyards just outside of the main city where we saw some amazing boats from solar racers to De Valk cruisers – boat heaven for those who believe. We bought a new toy for our boat – a very small used outboard (3.5 hp) for the dingy so we are now mobile in the lakes with islands and the inner cities that have canals.
It took a day to get it out, an afternoon to have the new stainless steel pipes and flanges made and then another day to put them in. Every so often, men in blue overalls would come by the boat, look into the open holes, stroke their chins, mutter in Dutch then leave, to return a few hours later. They did work hard at their boat yoga bending and twisting into the bowels of boat to install this piece of hardware.
It was a bit like living in renovation for a few days (about 4 to be exact), and then a day or so of clean-up. By Friday we were ready to go………..so we got into our little 1997 Toyota Starlet – now called Scarlet because she is red, and set out for the wilds of Denmark.
After a couple of years of watching Danish television; programs like ‘Borgen’ and ‘The Bridge’ are brilliant series highlighting the complexity of Danish politics and detective stories, I was curious about Denmark. If you haven’t watched them – I would say they are really worth your time – subtitles and all.
We planned to go last year but time – always the enemy – did not allow us to get there. We intended to go when we first arrived back in Europe but my mum needed help, so she came first. Now we were back in the Netherlands with a few days between visitors, and Denmark isn’t that far (about 350 kms each way).
We set out on Saturday afternoon having booked a hotel near Hamburg so we could head down to the Fischmarkt again on Sunday morning. The fish market did not disappoint – we arrived around 8:00 am and the market was in full swing, yes; live rock music, eggs, chips or assorted fish sandwiches with beer and wine flowing like the Elbe River. We felt like old hands at this place, and took time to look at the produce and baked goods. We bought a huge basket of tropical and northern fruits for €10 including the African basket, and three loaves of black bread for €3.
We had breakfast (beer and eggs and chips) followed by coffee then continued our journey to Denmark.
It was Sunday and the middle of a long weekend for most of Europe, so the roads were relatively quiet. We crossed the border just north of Flensburg Germany (where the BC ferries were made), but there is no border just a large sign saying Welcome to Denmark and the EU flag. However Denmark is NOT on the euro so we had to find a banking “hole in the wall” i.e. an ATM, and get some Danish cash (about 5 Kroner to a Canadian dollar), otherwise no coffee for us!
This year Martin and I joined Servas. It is an international organization dedicated to peace building through cultural understanding and discourse. People, seemingly of like minds, open their homes for a couple of nights for travellers like us to share experiences, ideas and cultural understanding. We had joined Servas in Victoria and were able to access the lists of people who were hosts in Denmark. Indeed we found out that there are many hosts in Denmark (over 250 in this country of 5 million) and it was the birthplace of this Servas (apparently started by an American living in Denmark). We made some enquiries via phone and the internet and were welcomed into the homes of two hosts – one in a town on the island of Zealand called Slagelse and the other in Copenhagen. This gave us a delightful insight into everyday life in Denmark and allowed us to learn so much from conversations and exchanges of information.
Denmark is a remarkable place – a northern archipelago made up of a mainland peninsula of the northern European plain (Jutland), and an archipelago of 407 islands; 70 are inhabited and the largest of which are Funen and Zealand. The kingdom of Denmark stretched from the North Sea eastward into the Baltic Sea – with Copenhagen at the furthest easterly spot – seven miles from mainland Sweden. Denmark has a long long history as a seafaring nation (think Vikings) that once dominated the Baltic Sea and included parts of modern day Estonia, Sweden and Norway. The shift of geo-political boundaries over about 400 years (between1397 and 1814) resulted in an independent Norway (in 1814), Sweden (1523) and Denmark’s capital located on the far eastern side of the country. The Danish empire has been much reduced, but the autonomous regions of Greenland and the Faroe Islands still look to the Queen as their head of state. Since 1849 Denmark has been a constitutional monarchy, ruled by Queen Margrethe II since 1972, and currently run by Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt – the country’s first female prime minister (back to ‘Borgen’ – the Danish political drama series).
The Danes are the masters of architecture and design, and for a small country have had a major impact on the world, think of LEGO, Bodum coffee press, Menu kitchenware, JYSK, beechwood chairs by famous architects like Arne Jacobsen, Hans Wegner and Finn Juhl, other Danish Teak furniture (highly prized these days). Other major contributions that Denmark can call its own: Hans Christian Anderson our favourite fairy story teller, the Maersk mercantile empire – which happens to be the largest shipping company in the world, Bang and Olufsen – an electronics company with shops in almost every town in Europe and, of course, Hamlet (Shakespeare’s Prince of Denmark whose story was based on a Jutland legend).
The five or so million people who live in Denmark are reputedly the happiest people in the world. They did seem relaxed and confident – I must say, friendly helpful and very hospitable. Certainly this would apply to our Servas hosts. We met Henny and Karl when we arrived in Slagelse on late Sunday afternoon. The drive from Hamburg took about 5 hours as we stopped here and there to check in with our new country (coffee and cake in Kolding ) and driving the most incredible ( and most expensive) bridge I have ever seen.
The first half of the bridge, which is a low rise viaduct goes to a small island in the middle of strait, then it changes into the third longest suspension bridge in the world (single span of 1624m). Ships going under this bridge are sailing to all the ports in Baltic including Copenhagen, Lübeck, Stockholm, Helsinki and St Petersburg to name a few.
The bridge was quite a sight and became even more awesome the next day when we sailed under with our Servas hosts. The East and West Great Belt bridge connect Funen and Zealand and is 15 kms long and costs around CAN$45 to cross (now that is a toll!). In my home town, the Humber Bridge is now 7th longest in the world, has a toll of £1.50.
Our hosts Henny and Karl served us a lovely dinner. They had become Servas hosts as their son Carsten had travelled the US and Australia on this program and they wanted to return the kindness – to other strangers. Karl was an orthopedic surgeon who had travelled quite a bit in his work. He was also a hunter and had recently been to Vancouver Island to hunt big game so was a little familiar with our island. His time was spent mainly in the bush so he didn’t make it to Victoria. We talked until late and enjoyed several bottles of lovely red wine – then the Scotch came out and the discussion became more interesting.
The next day our hosts took us out to Trelleborg – a Viking fort built by King Harald Bluetooth (oh so modern) in about 986 as part of the defences against the northern European hordes. It was an earth works built in a perfect circle. The displays included a communal house with communal cooking and living, boats, sheep pastures and clothing . The pastoral scene was deceptive because the Vikings were conquerors of the northern world including England (especially near my home town – where any name that end in ‘by’ like my mothers name and any town names like Selby are all of Viking origin).
In the afternoon we were taken on their very nifty 7m boat out to the Great Belt bridge – driving underneath the single span and its engineering marvels. The pictures tell all. Then we drove over to a small island called Agersø where we walked to streets of a small village. It felt a little like stepping back in time. The warm sun and the spring flowers (lovely fields of poppies) were a delight to the senses. We had decided to have supper on the island – fresh plaice, potatoes and beer – for five (Carston was the boat driver). So Martin and I decided to buy dinner for our hosts – we were a little aghast when this simple meal cost $250. It is only money and the joys of the return trip, watching the evening light of the Scandinavian sea over the land, the bridge and the water was lovely and very much appreciated.
The next day we set off for Copenhagen where our hosts were out until 6:00pm and it was only noon. We parked Scarlet in front of their apartment building in the municipality of Frederiksberg, and walked with Kerry downtown. Denmark is not as dog friendly as the Netherlands but we found Kerry was more of an attraction rather than a liability.
The walk downtown was about 30 mins, and we needed to stop to get some more Danish money. I walked into a bank, asked if it was a bank and then asked to change some money. To my surprise the staff member said the bank did not have any money in it and I would have to go to the railway station to change money. I did laugh at the idea of a bank with no money.
The hop-on hop-off city-bus tour was very useful taking us to the places so that we could decide where that to return to later that day or the next day. The tour dropped us at the Little Mermaid (which is very small), and Christianborg – the royal courtyard.
Weatherwise it was still quite warm so when we arrived at our host’s apartment around 6:30 they suggested dinner in the garden. Jan and Birgit lived at the top of 56 stairs which we climbed quite a few times (talk about fitness program). Jan was a cardiologist and Birgit was a social worker – both interested in design (like many Danish people). We had a sunny dinner and talked the evening away. They had been to Victoria and travelled many places and were active in Servas, therefore had had many visitors.
They had a dog – a cute Shitsu called Karla. Our dog Kerry is not very good with small dogs, especially females so we kept them apart as best we could. But Karla was no slouch – she understood that another dog was in her territory and was prepared to defend her turf.
Copenhagen was founded about 1200 AD and the name stems from the Danish words for a mercantile harbour. It grew with the trade and was a part of the Hanseatic League (more about that later). Copenhagen became the capital city of the Danish empire in the 15th century. It cemented this position as capital and trade centre of Scandinavia until 18th century when this city experienced a number of plagues and fires that almost destroyed its inner core. It also suffered military defeats in the early 19th century that reduced the size of the Scandinavian federation leading to the independence of Norway and Sweden. During the latter part of the 19th century the city rebuilt itself in a neoclassical style that is evident in the central core. Since then Copenhagen has developed as a major creative and financial centre in the Baltic. The city’s population is about half a million (2014) but if the suburban areas are included then it bloats to 1.2 million.
We returned to the Christianborg, where a royal block is formed by four great houses (of the wealthiest Danish families) face a central square. Guards all wearing busbies and red serge marched up and down as they do at Buckingham Palace. We thought we saw Queen Margrethe leaving her Christianborg palace and driving by in the back of a royal car (according to the number plate), apparently our sighting was quite normal. The monarchy is very popular in Denmark and the Queen is often seen on the streets of Copenhagen – very casual.
We walked by the elegant banking and stock exchange buildings built around the 1850’s, and sailed passed the best restaurant in the world – Nomi (where I am told you can eat live ants through a straw – yuk).
Modern developments like the Black Diamond and the new Mersk performing centre on the harbour are low rise buildings, as the city does not allow high-rise development (above 6 floors) so there are few tall buildings in the centre. The Danes are also great cyclists (Copenhagen is not car friendly), and cycling seems a major form of transportation as there are bike lanes on most roads. In fact Copenhagen is planning to be carbon neutral by 2025.
We took a trip to Christiana as Martin was interested in hippie architecture and the artist colony. We took the underground metro to the outside of Christiana, then walked around inside. At the gate where we entered, there was a notice for those leaving Christiana that said ‘ Please be aware you are now entering the EU’. Christiana has declared its independence and actually owns the land upon which this artistic colony lives and works. There are three rules in Christiana: have fun, don’t run and no photographs (sorry folks).
Luckily Martin has a great sense of direction so we were able to cover a lot of ground without getting lost (there were no maps in Christiana), especially as it was raining hard for about 2 hours while we were out, then back to sun (we are in changeable weather zone!).
We only had two days in Copenhagen, on our second evening Jan and Birgit took us to a suburb of the city to show a new housing development that Martin was very intrigued by. It was not a place I could live but the inhabitants had an incredible view of the countryside and I almost got to “the Bridge”.
The Oresund bridge connects Denmark with Sweden; it is about 7 kms long, two which are in a tunnel and the rest is a low bridge with a single span in the centre. The bridge connects Scandinavia by road and rail, and allows anyone in Norway or Sweden to drive directly to Germany, Holland and all the rest of mainland Europe. It was finished in 2000, but it may be a few more years before I actually drive over it.
Jan stayed home from work on our last morning – he and Martin took a walk with the dogs in the local park that also had a zoo (the population of which included some very bored elephants). I went shopping but not for long and not for much (cos this is a very expensive country to us – Danes have a minimum wage of $20 – $25 per hour. Then we drove to the south of the Zealand and caught a ferry from Robey to Puttgarten in Germany. It was about a 50 minute crossing with a boat leaving every half hour. We were the last car on the ferry (don’t you know that feeling all too well?), but we would only have to wait for 30 mins for the next one. Our ferry looked and felt like a BC ferry, needless to say, it too was made in Flensburg.
Our destination in Germany was the Hanseatic city of Hanse-Lübeck – another UNESCO world heritage site which did not disappoint. The importance of the Hanseatic League in this part of the world, and in our trading history could not be understated.
Lübeck was one of the main cities in the League, and was a restored legacy of this golden age. Just to remind you the Hanseatic League was a commercial and defence confederation of merchant guilds that stretched from London and Kings Lynn in England to the Baltic states of Estonia and Lativa. This ‘trading block’ began to work in earnest between 1227 and 1356, when Lübeck was the linchpin and centre for trade between the Baltic and the North Sea. Other cities joined this trading group, which offered tax-free status and protection in return for open trade – these included some of our favourites like Groningen, Hamburg, and Brugge.
The League became so powerful that it waged war against Denmark (an empire in competition with the free traders), and by 1370 had a monopoly on trade in Scandinavia. There was also a dust-up between the League and the Amsterdam merchants, but in this case the Dutch won access to Baltic trading routes in 1441. By 1669, after a few more wars, a few economic crises and the change of trading currency (from paper to silver) the Hanseatic League was no more.
The Hanseatic legacy is still in the name of Hansa-Lübeck (and also in the name of the national German airline – Lufthansa) and certainly this is an architecturally photogenic city. Everywhere in the down town core there was turrets, spires and galleries.
Martin walked around with his mouth open marvelling at the buildings, even the restoration of buildings was done with some ingenuous respect for the past and present tourism trade as this fifteen century ‘hospital’ and poor house really shows with its photoprinted scaffolding..
Lübeck is certainly worth a visit – beautifully restored, oozing with history and comparatively inexpensive (after Denmark). We stayed in a hotel close to down town and walked the city canals in the evening. After a morning of sightseeing i.e. just walking around looking at the buildings with awe, we were back on the road to Sneek to prepare for our visitors and the football World Cup.
It was a great trip to Denmark – it is an interesting country: economically very self-sufficient, advanced designers, entrepreneurs, hospitable, open minded, open hearted and forward thinking. Just in case you were wondering; we did have Danish pastries every day for breakfast. They were melty, nutty, cinamony, and not very sweet – quite perfect with a delicious cup of medium roast coffee.
Yes – Denmark is alright by me (and Martin) !