Category Archives: Denmark

A Hop-On, Hop-Off Boat: Cruising the Canals of Copenhagen

It was Monday morning in the old maritime city of Copenhagen.  Smiling Danes walked briskly past us or whizzed by on their bicycles all looking like they had places to be and things to do.  However, our big question on this Monday as tourists was, “What to do when many of the museums and tours of major attractions are closed?”  The answer?  Take a canal tour and view the city from the water. There are actually several different boat tour companies operating along the canal but the tickets for the hop-on, hop-off boat tour are good for 48 hours and can be combined with a land-lover’s hop-on hop-off bus trip of the old city.  You can choose between a boat with a covered top (to protect you from Copenhagen’s unpredictable weather) or take an open air boat like we did and chance the cloud bursts.  Some of the tours offered a guide but our boat had an audio tour where we could pick the language of our choice to learn more about what we were seeing.  Since the audio that accompanied our cruise was scratchy, difficult to listen to and just plain distracting, we pulled the cheap earphones off and enjoyed the quiet ride of the boat’s electric motor, guessing our location from the free maps we’d been given.

Watch your head - low bridge!

Watch your head – low bridge!  Check out the centerpiece carving below ↓

Tongue out troll! On center arch of marble bridge.

A welcome or a warning?

A blend of different architectural styles

A pleasing blend of different architectural styles.

The Opera House

The Opera House

And more lovely buildings along the canal.

More picturesque buildings along the canal.

Another old and low bridge. Head down and all body parts in the boat.

Another old and low bridge. We kept our heads down and all body parts in the boat.

We caught the boat at Gammel Strand which was about a five-minute walk from where we were staying and cruised along the wide canal for a bit, admiring the variety of very old and new buildings lining the canal. While motoring down a narrower canal, we instinctively ducked every once in a while as the tour boat navigated its way through centuries old, low and arched bridges. Gradually, as we entered the Nyhavn area, the 17th and 18th century homes became more colorful and vibrant, like something from a picture postcard.  Once home to artists, ballet dancers, poets and writers like Copenhagen’s favorite son, Hans Christian Andersen who lived at #67, the 17th century waterfront also had pubs for thirsty sailors and ladies of the night to provide a little company. Translated as “New Harbor,” Nyhavn is in fact a canal that was excavated from 1671-1673 by Swedish war prisoners. For the next 300 years, ships brought their cargo into the city to King’s Square for unloading.  With the decline in the importance of small ship transport, the area gradually faded but underwent an urban revitalization beginning in 1977.  Now the trendy streets lining Nyhavn are filled with upscale restaurants, pubs, street food vendors, cafes with outside tables and specialty stores and the area is lively with both locals and tourists day and night. We hopped off our tour boat to stroll the streets, window shop and gobbled down a tasty Danish hotdog from a street vendor’s cart while we people watched.  After our impromptu lunch, we jumped back on another boat belonging to the hop-on, hop-off Gray Line fleet to continue our cruise and admired the beautiful wooden boats, old schooners, yachts, and small vessels that filled the canal. Nyhavn - Copenhagen canal boat tour- photo by No Particular Place To Go

 

Nyhavn - Copenhagen canal boat tour- photo by No Particular Place to Go

 

Copenhagen canal boat tour - Photo by No Particular Place To Go

 

Lovingly refurbished wooden boat

Lovingly refurbished wooden boat

And then we were cruising by Copenhagen’s iconic statue, The Little Mermaid, by Danish sculptor Edward Ericksen who used his wife as a model for this life-size statue.  Inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, the bronze sculpture was completed in 1913 and receives more than a million visitors a year.  For some reasons not quite understood by us, the pretty and innocuous Little Mermaid seems to be a source of ire and controversy and has been beheaded three times, covered in paint twice, had an arm removed and knocked off her pedestal.  She’s the most photographed statue in Denmark but unfortunately, when we had a chance to take her picture free of all those annoying tourists (besides us!) who insisted on posing with her, our photo turned out to be a blur of her backside.  You can find a great photo here.The Marble Church, Copenhagen photo by No Particular Place To Go

We drifted by and caught a rear view of Amalienborg Palace, the winter residence of the Danish royal family since 1794 and the Marble Church, officially named Frederik’s church, with its distinctive copper green dome.  The church, begun in 1749 and finally completed in 1894 after many stops and starts, is open to the public daily and a popular site for weddings on Fridays and Saturdays.  Amalienborg Palace is actually a complex of four identical separate palaces constructed in the 18th century and built around an octagonal courtyard.  The stately residences were first occupied by noble families but bought by the Danish royal family in 1794 when their Christiansborg Palace burned down.  Various kings and their families have occupied the four palaces over the years and the Amalienborg Museum is open daily, including Monday.  We can highly recommend a leisurely visit to this area (we went the next day) to watch the ceremonial changing of the Royal Life Guards, view the inside of the Marble Church and take a tour of the Amalienborg Museum in one of the Palaces.  The museum will show you how the rich and famous lived with rooms lavishly overfurnished furnished in various styles, all reflecting the refined taste of former inhabitants that lots of money can buy. (Here’s a peek below.)

abundant luxury

abundant luxury of a bygone era

We made our way to Christianshavn Canal, founded in 1618 as a fortress city and home for merchants, later incorporated into Copenhagen.  Here we admired beautifully refurbished houseboats and yachts.

Christianshavn along th canal tour - photo by No Particular Place To Go

 

Copenhagen canal boat tour - photo by No Particular Place to Go

 

Copenhagen canal boat tour - photo by No Particular Place To Go

Hopping out we wended our way through the lively neighborhood of residences, restaurants and 18th century warehouses to the Baroque-style, Our Savior’s Church, circa late 17th century.  The exterior spiral stairway was added later in the mid-eighteenth century and contains a daunting 150 stairs up to a panoramic view. Topping it all is a golden globe with the figure of Christ wielding a banner.

Our Savior's Church, Copenhagen. Photo by No Particular Place To Go

With our canal boat tour approaching Gammel Strand once again, we passed by the Brygge Harbor Baths, open-air swimming pools right on the canals, that had us reflecting that the Danes are much hardier people than us.  There were the swimmers basking in the Copenhagen summer weather while we glided by in our jeans and light jackets thinking about anything but a dip! Copenhagen-swimming pool by canal - photo by noparticularplacetogo.net

A canal cruise is a terrific way to begin your visit to Copenhagen, see many of the city’s highlights and tourist attractions and orient yourself to where the sights you want to see are.  The trip takes about 65 minutes for the whole loop through the canals and boats run a regular circuit with intervals of about 10 to 15 minutes between pick-ups.  And, lucky us, we liked cruising along Copenhagen’s canals so much that we did the circuit with its hop-on, hop-offs twice!

By Anita Oliver and Richard Nash

Copenhagen Boat tour in blue (Source)

Copenhagen Boat tour in blue (Source)

Them and Us: Mitzvahs and The Danish Jewish Museum of Copenhagen

Danish Jewish Museum Copenhagen photo by noparticularplacetogo.netIt’s a small space, consisting of three oddly shaped rooms, starkly modern and contrasting sharply with the building in which they are housed on the ground floor of the seventeenth-century, ivy-covered, brick building that was once the Denmark Royal Boat House.  The walls are not square, the floor is not flat and the severe angles and planes of the geometric spaces, passageways and vaulted ceilings have you tilting slightly as you move about the museum.  The design, by Polish-American architect David Libeskind, is based upon the four Hebrew letters spelling Mitzvah. Translated into “A good deed” or “The duty to do the right thing ” the museum has an inspiring story to tell: the rescue of the Danish Jews in October of 1943.Danish Jewish Museum Copenhagen photo by noparticularplacetogo.net

Although a lot of the focus of the museum is on World War II, this is not a museum that emphasizes the horror of the Holocaust.  Instead, this museum begins its story in the seventeenth century when the Danish King hit upon an idea to improve the country’s economy and extended an invitation to wealthy Jews in many countries to settle in Denmark. (We couldn’t help but notice a parallel to many countries today who extend “Golden Visas” to wealthy applicants willing to buy property or invest in the economy in exchange for a visa.)  Many Jews, seeking more opportunities or fleeing pogroms and rampant anti-Semitism, accepted the offer.  In Denmark, they were allowed to practice their religion and were able to move about freely rather than live in designated areas (ghettos) common elsewhere in Europe.  In exchange for these autonomies and for agreeing not to compete with the established professions, the selected Jews were granted entry. The immigrants were encouraged to engage in other trades, such as textiles and tobacco production, marketing coffee and tea and trading fur and hides as well as financial activities like collecting fees for the national lottery.  Over the centuries, and with the occasional influx of new Jewish immigrants, the Jews assimilated into the country, interweaving their culture and traditions, intermarrying and living peacefully and prosperously as respected Danish citizens.

German troops parade in Copenhagen. Source

German troops parade in Copenhagen. Source

All that was threatened with the German invasion of Denmark on April 9th, 1940. In the space of a few hours the Danes conceded to the inevitability of Germany’s superior force and, hoping for a peaceful occupation, entered into a period of cooperation with the enemy.  The King retained his throne while many sectors of the government were still allowed to operate.  But, right from the beginning, Denmark asserted repeatedly that “special measures” and attacks against her Jewish citizens would not be tolerated and time after time denied any “Jewish problems.”  Incredibly, the Germans, who valued the meat and agricultural products that were shipped from their “model protectorate” back to Germany and didn’t want to jeopardize the precarious balance, backed down.  While deportations of Jews from the rest of occupied Europe to the concentration and death camps began in March of 1942, the Danish Jews were unbelievably free to continue a more-or-less normal life under the German occupation for a while longer.

Danish and Nazi Germany flags fly side by side Source

Danish and Nazi Germany flags fly side by side Source

By the summer of 1943, however the cooperation between Denmark and its occupiers was wearing thin as most Danes believed that an Allied victory was imminent.  The Danish resistance gained momentum, labor unrest and strikes spread throughout the country. Several German military targets and businesses cooperating with the Germans were sabotaged by the underground resistance movement. The Germans clamped down, arrested several prominent Danes and, by the end of August, martial law and a curfew were in effect.  The period of cooperation was over and, for the first time since the German invasion, Denmark’s 7,800 Jews were at great risk for deportation.

But here’s where Denmark’s story becomes unique when compared to much of the rest of Europe and the Mitzvahs deserve to be counted and remembered.

  • Several anonymous Germans warned their Danish contacts of an impending roundup of the Jews, scheduled for October 2nd, 1943.  When word of the imminent arrest and deportation of this vulnerable segment of the population reached the Danish Resistance Movement on September 28th, they warned the head of the Jewish community, C.B. Henriques who began spreading the news.  At early morning worship services the following day, the general alarm began to circulate throughout the Jewish population urging all to go into hiding immediately.
  •  Neutral Sweden, realizing that the Danish Jews were in immediate danger, announced that they were prepared to accept all of Denmark’s Jews to Sweden.  With this timely offer of asylum towards its neighbor, Sweden threw open it’s safe-haven doors (that most other countries had slammed shut) in an exceptional act of humanity and generosity.
  •  Passage to Sweden, by whatever means and transport available, became the goal for most of the Danish Jews who began to make their way to the fishing harbors along the coast.  They hid in the rural cottages of friends and in the woods, in the homes of their Danish neighbors and in village churches while awaiting their rescue out of Denmark.  In a massive group effort between the Danish Resistance and a substantial number of ordinary Danish citizens, almost all of Denmark’s Jews (7,200) were smuggled out of the country over the course of the next few weeks.  They navigated the Øresund strait from Denmark to Sweden in rowboats, kayaks, small boats and large fishing vessels.  The Danish Resistance smuggled those refugees deemed too young or too old and weak to withstand the rough sea passage through choppy waters inside freight railcars that had previously been sealed by the Germans which were then resealed for passage across the strait on regular ferries.

    Source

    Boat headed for Sweden in October 1943 Source

# 6 Source

Fishermen sailing refugees to Sweden  Source

At the end of this extraordinary endeavor there were about 580 Danish Jews who remained in the country and some of these stayed in hiding until the end of the war, died in accidents or committed suicide.  The majority however (464 people) were captured by the Germans and deported to Theresienstadt, a concentration camp in German occupied Czechoslovakia.

  • The Danish Government, far from forgetting its unfortunate citizens, persuaded the Germans to allow the Danish Red Cross to monitor the welfare of the Jews and accept and distribute packages of food and medicine to the prisoners.  Lastly, they exerted political pressure on the Germans not to deport the Danish Jews to the extermination camps.
  • At the end of the war, Europe was in shambles and the great majority of the European Jews were refugees, neither wanted nor welcome in their home countries.  The homecoming for the Danish Jews from Sweden and from the concentration camps was different however, as many returned to Denmark to find, in a final Mitzvah, their homes, possessions and even pets had been cared for by their neighbors during their absence.  (A separate exhibition called “Home” at the museum gives some valuable insight about their homecoming and the difficulties of resuming a normal life after experiencing the trauma of persecution and exile.)

    Celebrating the liberation of Denmark May 5, 1945 Source

    Celebrating the liberation of Denmark May 5, 1945 Source

In the news, we hear and see devastating examples of the hatefest called THEM versus US daily.  It was heartwarming as well as inspiring to learn about a small country that displayed formidable courage and performed multiple Mitzvahs: a country that remembered its duty to do the right thing in small kindnesses and large deeds and stand up for its most vulnerable citizens.

Note: In the end, the Jews of Denmark had the highest survival rates in Europe following the war (greater than 99%) and Yad Vashem, the international organization which researches, documents and commemorates the Holocaust, records the remarkably low number of 102 Danish Jews who lost their lives to the Germans during the war.

By Anita Oliver and Richard Nash

 

The Pursuit of Happiness: First Impressions of Copenhagen

Historic Copenhagen - photo by noparticularplacetogo.netWhile Denmark had always been on our “Bucket List,” we’d been quick to group it in with the other Nordic countries as simply too expensive to visit in the near future.  However, fate, in the guise of two Canadian friends, extended us an offer that we couldn’t refuse: a place to stay, a kitchen to cook in and a list of inexpensive things to do to get the most bang for our buck.  It took a mere few seconds for us to glance at each other and start googling air fares.Historic Copenhaven - photo by noparticularplacetogo.net

A four-hour bus trip from Lagos to Lisbon was a convenient way to reach the airport and the 3-hour flight to Copenhagen made our rather impetuous decision to visit the city of Hans Christian Andersen seem pretty darn reasonable.  We still had that “pinch me, I’m going to Denmark” feeling when we flew over the wind turbines of Middlegrunden offshore windfarm, less than 4 kilometers off Copenhagen’s shoreline, with the skyline of the capital rising up in the background.

Like any good travelers with an interest in history, we’d done some reading about Denmark, land of the Vikings and especially the origins of Copenhagen, a 10th century Viking fishing village located on a natural harbor with a teeming supply of herring.  The fishing industry boomed, the village became a town became a city and a fortress was built in the 12th century to protect the coast from Wendish Pirates (Baltic Slavs).  The kingdoms of Denmark, Sweden/Finland and Norway formed a union (1397-1523) in part to block German expansion northward and the University of Copenhagen opened in 1479, making it one of the oldest universities in the world.  In the 16th and 17th centuries Catholicism yielded to Lutheranism following a three-year civil war, the Plague was responsible for the deaths of 22,000 inhabitants and the fire of 1728 burnt down almost half of the medieval city.  The beginning of the 19th century saw Britain unleash some particularly brutal attacks on the city to neutralize the Danish fleet during the Napoleonic Wars and yet, despite the warfare and national bankruptcy, Copenhagen entered into a period called the “Danish Golden Age (1800 -1850) where neoclassical architecture, paintings, sculptures and music by Danish artists thrived.  And the history, while fascinating, gets even more complicated from thereon so, in the interests of brevity as well as getting on with our story, we’ll leave you dangling in suspense. (Wait, wait, we’re just about to get to the electrification of the city …!)Copenhagen near the Amalienborg Palace, photo by noparticularplacetogo.net

 

The Marble Chapel

The Marble Chapel

At the airport, we exchanged some Euros for the Danish Krone, stopped by the tourist information booth to pick up a city map and headed in the direction of the bus stop to catch the 5A bus to our stop, Klaksvisgade-Langebro – our tongues and memories both had a hard time wrapping themselves around the names – and meet our friends. And the location of their sublet apartment (furnished of course in Danish modern with some Ikea influence thrown in) couldn’t have been better, within walking distance to everywhere we wanted to see.  Arriving in any city for the first time can be a disorienting blur but a walk about the area our first day gave us a kaleidoscope of impressions to mix with the factoids we’d picked up about this charming city.

Church of Our Savior

Church of Our Savior

Copenhagen - photo by noparticularplacetogo.net

It’s a city that rightly earns its nickname, “The City of Spires,” and the skyline is dotted with these tapering structures.  Towers and steeples adorn many of the older government buildings, churches and castles – jutting towards the heavens, silhouetted against the sky.Copenhagen - photo by noparticularplacetogo.net

 

Copenhagen - photo by noparticularplacetogo.netIt’s a city with a multitude of architectural influences that mix, contrast and ultimately work together to blend the oldest section of its medieval city with eye-catching and exciting modern architectural designs that have been built since the millennium.  The skyline of the historical area is horizontal rather than vertical so that the contemporary architecture doesn’t overshadow the Baroque palaces that mingle with 18th Century rococo mansions along with beauties from the Dutch Renaissance.

The Black Diamond

The Black Diamond

Opera House

Opera House

It’s a city where you’re never too far away from the water.  Built on two islands in the Baltic Sea, Zealand and Amager, Copenhagen has eleven bridges spanning seven canals.  The water gives the impression that everything has just been washed and, when the sun was out, sparkling clean.Copenhagens canals - photo by noparticularplacetogo.net

 

Copenhagens canals - photo by noparticularplacetogo.netIt’s a city of wide avenues mixed with one-way streets of cobblestones and pavement.  A city where three lanes of traffic means a lane for cars, a lane for bikes and a lane for pedestrians. And that middle lane, the “bike path” was actually one of the most astonishing things to us, hailing from the land where the car is king.Copenhagens Bike friendly streets - photo by noparticularplacetogo.net

Here sturdy bikes, unadorned or topped with baskets or pulling kid-friendly conveyances, rule!  Copenhagen is a city of bicycle super highways and networks of lanes that connect the downtown to its outskirts.  In fact, more than fifty percent of Copenhagen’s residents use the bicycle as their primary form of transportation.Copenhagens bike friendly streets - photo by noparticularplacetogo.net

 

Copenhagens bike friendly streets - photo by noparticularplacetogo.netIt’s a city of changing weather.  We changed sandals for shoes and socks, shorts to jeans and carried and donned light jackets as needed.  The sky was brilliantly blue one moment, steel-gray the next and during our visit we experienced intermittent sprinkles mixed with downpours and moments of radiant sun. And yet, while we were scrambling to keep up with the fluctuating weather, the residents carried on according to the calendar, wearing the clothes suited for the month to catch the fleeting rays.  We even spied some hardy souls swimming in the pools adjacent to the canals, celebrating the short summer.Copenhagen-swimming pool by canal - photo by noparticularplacetogo.net

 

Happy and healthy in Copenhagen - photo by noparticularplacetogo.netIt’s a city where the number of daylight hours in the northern latitude carries a lot more weight than other places we’ve been.  The winter solstice has only 7 hours of daylight but our visit was just after the summer solstice, June 20th, and we were treated to a whopping seventeen-and-a-half hours of daylight.  Our first night saw us reluctant to end the day but fumbling for dark socks as make-shift eye masks the next morning when the sun rudely awoke us at 04:30.sculling on Copenhagens canals - photo by noparticularplacetogo.net

 

Copenhagen - photo by noparticularplacetogo.netIt’s a city that radiates health and happiness and has, in fact, landed on various surveys over the years attempting to define the elusive nature of joy as “The World’s Happiest City.”   It’s a “seize the day” sort of city where the inhabitants whizzed happily by us on their bicycles, walked with energetic strides about the streets, relaxed at outdoor cafés like they were posing for magazine covers, lounged about the various open spaces with picnics and drinks and engaged in all sorts of sports.  They radiated such an absurd amount of energy and happiness that we couldn’t help but hope it might be catching!  And, forgive us for mixing countries, cultures and metaphors, we couldn’t help but think of Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon to sum up our first impressions of Copenhagen, a city “…where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”

anchor street art

By Anita Oliver and Richard Nash