Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Vacation 2012, #6: Copenhagen

(The Eurodam at the Pier. I'm always shocked at the sheer size of these ships.)

Copenhagen. I've wanted to visit this place for a decade or more. Denmark exists in my mind as a nexus of Scandinavian urbanity, the center of secular governance and sleek, '60s furniture design. But as always the reality doesn't quite match the vision. It's a bigger and more conventionally urban place than I expected, crowded and with a certain cheerful frenzy. 

We were driven in from our pier to the Tivoli Gardens--a distance of four miles or so--and deposited there by 8:30AM. From that spot buses would return to the pier at 20 minute intervals for the remainder of the day until the last bus at 4:PM (as always, Holland America's services are brilliantly planned and seamlessly executed). Our plan was to meet a lifelong friend of mine from MN who had moved over to nearby Sweden several months back. He was taking a train down from Southern Sweden and was not due to arrive until 11:AM, so we had time to kill. We got the lay of the land and then headed North through the old city and its shopping district, making our way to the Rosenborg Palace Garden where a statue of Hans Christian Andersen awaited. By the time we'd seen that and wandered back (with a judicious snack or two along the way) it was nearly 11.

My friend arrived right on schedule. It's odd to meet a familiar person so far from home (I had the same feeling 15 years ago when my friend Chris arrived at our hotel room in Paris some 8 hours after I got there. Bizarre to start from separate familiar haunts and unite in an unfamiliar place some 5000 miles distant). From there we continued to wander. Susan was quite under the weather with a nasty cold--she really should have remained on the ship and in bed--so our progress was leisurely, but we still covered a good part of the old town. We ended up to the East on the little island of Christianshaven and had lunch there at a little sidewalk cafe (the Danes have not quite grasped nachos, but they do a passable croque-madame). 

On the way back afterward we stumbled upon the fascinating anarchistic mecca of Christiania (or freetown Christiania) and spent half an hour or so wandering its dirt paths. I had never heard of Christiania before doing a quick bit of research on Copenhagen in the ship's library prior to our visit. It's a piece of real estate, a couple strips of land separated by the water that shoots through the city, which was taken over by squatters in 1971 and declared a separate, autonomous entity. And so it has remained for the last 42 years, a kind of commune where the citizens of Copenhagen have agreed the usual rules and laws do not apply (A sign as you exit Christiania says "You are now entering the EU"). I only know what I've read in Wikipedia--our brief walk-thru yielded few clues about the real situation--but it paints a fascinating picture of an ongoing human experiment in self-governance and self-determination. 

I was immediately struck by the "three rules," which I could not help thinking were rather anti-anarchy: 1) Have Fun; 2) Don't Run (running causes chaos); and 3) No Pictures. The "no pictures" rule--very anti-anarchy!--was reinforced with signs everywhere, which I suspect is an attempt to keep people from documenting things that outsiders may use in a case against the enclave (and is responsible for you not seeing any photos of the place here). Apparently there have been many attempts to shut the place down, each of which has been strenuously opposed by the residents of Christiania and the greater public. Whenever a right-wing government is elected the threats increase, the lawlessness and prime real estate being kept from the hands of developers apparently being beyond the capacity of the right wing mind to tolerate. But so far the attempts have all been beaten back and the place remains. The selling of soft drugs is everywhere there, with Hash stands all over and people sampling the goods. We saw (and smelled) plenty of that. The rest seems very granola and Bob Marley, laid back and experimental. My friend was maybe a bit aghast, but I found the place interesting (not that I'm dying to move in).

We made our way back to the shuttle buses and sent my ailing wife back to the ship for a nap, and my buddy and I spent another 90 minutes or so catching up before we went our separate ways. We both agreed that this was a place we'd need to come back to.

One thing I didn't expect: the bicycle culture here seems very near to what we know from Amsterdam. I overheard a tour guide say that fully a third of Copenhagen's urban population gets around by bicycle. I don't know the figure for Amsterdam, and Copenhagen seems maybe a bit bigger a place, but the sheer number of bikes is striking. Another feather in this place's cap in my book. For that matter, we were told by our hotel clerk in Amsterdam that maybe the other place in Europe most evokative of Amsterdam was Copenhagen, and with the bicycles and canals and architecture I can see the comparison. Amsterdam is a singularity, but Copenhagen does share many of its charms

Next up: Berlin.

(Headed into our parking spot.)

(The Man Himself: Hans Christian Andersen.)

(Rosenborg Palace Garden. Lovely spot. This is the view enjoyed by H.C. Andersen's statue.)

(Very reminiscent of Amsterdam.)

(One of the entrances to Christiania.)

(A store with creepy "real men" underwear mannequins.)

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