Friday-Friday, November 24-December 1, 2017
After our first day when we performed our self-guided tour of Copenhagen we generally added one to two sites to our daily to-see list. Much more and our brains explode. Not really, but by the third site, especially a comprehensive museum, we’re so google-eyed and slack-mouthed it’s a wonder we don’t leave a trail of drool as we stagger from one display to the next.
Since this month typically brings usually damp and cold weather, time spent outside involves scurrying from one interior to the next. Add in short and shorter daylight hours and our touring ran between 10 to 4 with a snack or street food for lunch, then home to the grocery store and condo for dinner. Yes, it’s pretty luxurious!
We did walk by Tivoli Gardens, which sits opposite the central train station and bus depot. This historical amusement park opened in 1843. Hopefully, the rides have been updated, for some look pretty frightening. With so many other sites available, we didn’t pay the entrance fee so our views of this famous park were limited to snapping a shot on one side as we walked to the station
then snapping a second shot when walking from the station another day.
As I mentioned Copenhagen offers plenty of places to capture your interest, and one of these is its National Museum. Eager to learn more about Denmark’s history we entered a lovely 18th-century building, a 1700s royal residence for King Frederik V (1723-1766). We decided to work from the ground floor up.
We began with the Bronze Age (1700-500 B.C.E.), travelled through the Iron Age (500 B.C.E.-800 C.E.) and ended up at the Viking Age (800-1050 C.E.). Small rooms with a mix of large signage and glass-encased displays told the story of Denmark’s early inhabitants. Burials provided the richest information with amazingly well-preserved items, including bodies. The museum explained how the wet, oxygen-poor environment kept everything from rotting: a lidded oak coffin was placed in the ground with turf, its grassy side downwards, built up and over the coffin forming a barrow; a stone wall was then added around the base of the water-saturated earth, which created an iron-bearing layer. I knew bogs kept bodies well-preserved but never knew how sod graves did.
Highlights of this floor included:
The “Egtved Girl”, 16-18 years old from 1370 B.C.E. buried with a small child age five or six, which is not likely her child according to the archeologists…
her outfit of a short blouse and cord skirt would have looked like this (brings to mind a hulu skirt):
Bronze Age lurs, bizarrely, curving wind instruments, used in sacred rituals then tossed into bogs as sacrifices themselves… these are distinctly part of Nordic cultures and, to me, something you’d see in a Dr. Seuss book:
A remarkable sun chariot from the Bronze Age whose disc displayed illustrations of the sun’s mythological daily path:
The woman of Himlingøje, 40-50 years old from first half of 3rd century C.E. found with a Charon’s coin in her mouth (money to pay the ferryman for the ride to the underworld)… she also had quite a bit of jewelry buried with her, including rings and bracelets on her fingers and arms:
The Chieftain’s grave at Hoby dated to just after Jesus Christ was born… one of the richest in northern Europe with two silver cups from Italy engraved with scenes from Homer’s Illiad and the name of “Silius” carved on the bottom of one… one guess is that Silius, a Roman commander of the Rhine army, presented this cup as a gift to the local tribal leaders:
The Viking Age display showed their trading routes as well as their voyages in search of resources and loot… always a bit startling to see just how far these guys went in their open, wooded ships (no thank you very much):
Having spent over an hour just in this one area we were anxious to see later history, so we climbed to the next floor covering the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. After the richness of the early ages, the following historical periods seemed less cohesive and flooded with religious artifacts. Although some pieces stood out, such as…
Some runes: the pine stick in the background being the longest runic inscription in Denmark with a magic spell against ‘trembling’ sickness (aka, malaria); the one marked “P” in the lower left is the remains of a lead box, which held altar relics and a hidden, lead strip with a magic inscription in Latin from the 1200s that exorcised the ‘elf men and elf girls and evil spirits’ in the name of the ‘Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’ (talk about a mix of beliefs); and, the “Q” item is a strip of lead with meaningless runes because runes, themselves, were powerful:
These drinking horns from the 14th & 15th centuries whose absence of mounts meant whatever one was drinking meant to be gulped in one big inhale… after shooting one of these down the throat I can only envision a bunch of guys stumbling about trying to blow these horns…
the cope of King Hans (1455-1513):
Frederik’s II (1534-1588) ring; his son Christian IV’s (1577-1648) dagger; and, a gilded silver tankard with a great inscription: “My name is called a rose, my coming should be approved, guests with my talents I will, when the clear wine is poured into me, truly help to drive away sorrow so all will be joyous. So take me up and drink in faith this is the ancient custom at court.” This ‘rose’ is a couple’s christening present to Christian IV in 1577:
One of the magnificent tapestries of the 43 that Frederick II had woven for the Kronberg Castle (the one Shakespeare called Elsinore in Hamlet); they ended up in the Frederiksborg Castle where most were lost in the 1859 fire; 15 have been preserved with eight on display in this museum:
And, an astrology globe depicting the constellations:
Just to remind us we were in a gender-aware country we passed a specific section set aside for nursing one’s child.
Some of the rooms, especially the ones covering more modern times, were so stuffed with artifacts and displays I didn’t know where to focus.
Frankly, I think if we had read the descriptions of each period on the museum’s website we would have gotten an excellent overview of Denmark’s history without touring the other floors; yet, we accomplished a quick walk-through then an exit back into the cold and home for the night.
With many museums and other cultural attractions closed on Mondays, that weekday brings a welcome pause in our museum viewing. Which means we roam different areas, gazing at buildings while absorbing the atmosphere. Several architectural sites had landed on our ‘to-see’ list, one being Copenhagen’s Opera House.
So, on Monday we traveled north on the ferry to the center of the city, only this time got off on the other side opposite the mainland. Just an aside: we had seen an incredible amount of construction–primarily condos down towards our end–along this inner harbor, a channel created centuries ago to accommodate merchandise sent and delivered via water. But by the mid-1950s large containers became the mode of moving cargo, requiring huge cranes and big ports for loading and off-loading. Many city waterfronts lost their viability, leaving behind defunct infrastructure. Copenhagen began addressing this issue in 2000 with a comprehensive development plan. Enter: Copenhagen’s Opera House.
Built in 2005 on Holmen, the Opera House sits on an island facing the Royal Family residence. Like many modern creations, this structure created quite a bit of controversy from the get-go.
Donated by the founder of the Mærsk Shipping Line, A.P. Møller (1913-2012) and the ChastiseMc-Kinney Møller Foundation, the building came under fire by some politicians because the full cost would be a huge tax deduction to Mærsk (meaning the city basically paid for this $450 million project) and by the architect Henning Larson because of Møller’s demands. One major compromise that the architect hated involved Møller’s insistence on adding horizontal metal ‘strings’ to the glass bubble. And, just to give you an idea of the amount of ‘say’ the benefactor had, Møller also stipulated the height of the toilets along with other building requirements. What we would have called in ad business, ‘a client from hell’….
Møller also insisted it be built on Holmen Island, a former naval base which he had purchased in 2000. In addition to being a ‘gift’ of the most expensive opera house at that time, the lack of the normal competitive bidding process (the shipping magnate stipulated the architect) and Møller’s refusal to share any design details during the building only increased the controversy swirling around this extremely public place.
Obviously Møller wasn’t too concerned. A spokesperson for the businessman eloquently stated, “This is a gift and not a gift coupon.” (“High Drama at New Danish Opera House”,The New York Times, January 15, 2005). Nice.
When completed the architect thought it looked like a toaster. Yet, I read, once inside, the excellent acoustics drown out any concern about looks.
Holmen Island connects another area slated for redevelopment: Paper Island named after the printing industry which once inhabited this real estate. We heard you could eat great street food here, and, it being lunch time, we opted to drop in.
The evolution from paper to edibles (and other ventures) in 2012 came about due to the city taking a five-year breather on developing its valuable waterfront properties, Paper Island being one of them. The city opted for offering affordable rents to creative enterprises. Paper was replaced with food, and for the past four years Paper Island has drawn hungry locals and tourists.
Walking onto this island felt a bit like entering an industrial wasteland.
Once inside, however, the huge space transforms into fantastical food stalls with delicious aromas.
and tasty meals.
We were fortunate to experience this indoor food haven because at the time of this post Paper Island, as it stands today, implodes in six days. On December 22 the city takes its foot off the development brake and begins altering this landscape into something akin to the other properties we’ve seen up and down this waterway. As some critics state Paper Island will morph into a millionaire’s ghetto with public space (including a swimming pool) overlooked by high-priced apartments, replacing the current gritty, creative atmosphere with urban gentility.
Fortified from our sandwiches we stroll to the Isle of Amager, another island having a rich history where an are called Christianshavn became a naval port and mini-Venice with canals (modeled after Hollands) dug for water traffic. Here sits one of the oldest churches in Copenhagen, Vor Freezers Kirke (aka Church of our Saviour), with its iconic, twisting tower.
Christian IV’s grandson, Christian V (1646-1699), built the church in the 1680s with the impressive tower added in the mid-1700s. Copenhagen’s most visited site, this church offers a tremendous view obtained by ending your climb outside (!)–note the spiraling hand railing. I guess there is a god because fortunately for moi the tower was closed the day of our visit due to high winds (constructed out of oak it can sway a bit and, I gather, blow people off).
Like Paper Island, in Christianshavn another social experiment exists: Freetown Christiana. In 1971 a group of squatting non-conformers (think hippies, artists, etc.) took over part of an abandoned military base and proclaimed it a free zone. Rather than toss them out, the city agreed to their demands of self-governing, calling it a social experiment. Freetown Chrisitiana was born. And, in 1989 the squatting was legalized by a parliamentary vote.
As land became more valuable (think Paper Island), in 2012 the city decided to offer Christiania inhabitants the opportunity to purchase the land at a reduced rate. Despite their not believing in private property the independent-minded residents agreed to the deal.
Drugs followed the hippie-ish culture with “Pusher Street” selling approximately $150 million of hash annually, in spite of its being illegal in Denmark. Christiania began with a ban on drugs. Violence and guns were also prohibited in this communal space. Yet, a gunfight just last year shows violence has crept into this neighborhood.
Totally unaware of any dangerous elements we’re not even sure we walked down Pusher Street. We simply headed to the church then crossed to the mainland in the brisk cold.
Our ferry stop stood next to another homage to modern architectural, the ‘Black Diamond’ (due to its shiny facade), Copenhagen’s extension of the original Royal Library.
Normally I would have stepped inside to explore the interior to see how this library was adapting to the less-books-more-digital resources, but we were eager to catch the next ride home because, as you can see, it was frigid. Yet, our touring off-season generally means few, if any, tourist lines and plenty of reasons for more glüwein!
A little bit more Copenhagen’ng coming…