Denmark - An Ancient Kingdom with Modern Attractions
By David Yawn
Yes, it bears similarities, with the many bicyclists and the occasional windmill in the countryside; but the only-in-this-country features are enough to serve as its own magnet.
With few natural resources other than the earth and sea, Danes have always valued education and creativity. Denmark is a country of many islands, though traveling among its various sightseeing landmarks usually takes one or two hours. Even the middle of Denmark is only an hour’s trip to the sea, at most.
Creativity still abounds here. This is the land of authors Hans Christian Andersen and Karen Blixen, philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, and of museums such as the Louisiana Modern Art Museum.
Nearby Malmö, Sweden has its own tradition in design and its Form/Design Center is housed in Hedmanska garden or court in the old Lilla Torg entertainment district in that Swedish city. The buildings enclosing the courtyard date from the 16th century. In about 1850 a merchant had a large granary built, which today houses the center that opened in 1964. Svensk Form, the Swedish association of crafts and design founded in the 1800s operates the center.
At least two dozen food establishments, some eight formal ones, dot Tivoli ’s grounds. The park’s season extends through September. The Copenhagen Jazz Festival is held in July at Tivoli Gardens and at other venues around the city.
In the summer of 2000, the Øresund Region created a long-awaited bridge link, connecting Copenhagen, Denmark and Malmö, Sweden directly. The Øresund Bridge connecting the Danish island of Zealand and the Swedish Scania region is the longest combined rail/road/tunnel in the world. With two decks (cars on the upper and trains on the lower) and four car lanes, it was built over five years at a cost of $3 billion. The result is a uniting of 3.5 million citizens living within this Scandinavian urban region. The bridge in effect links the whole Danish island of Zealand and Skåne, the southernmost tip of Sweden.
The region extends across one of Northern Europe ’s more vibrant development areas in which a range of networks enables business, research, science and the arts to pool resources. Many international corporations within life sciences, biotech, foods, tourism, trade and distribution fields, not to mention IT, media and communication, have located their operations there.
Copenhagen Kastrup Airport operates out of a new terminal, completed a little over five years ago. SAS, Europe ’s sixth largest airline, is the main tenant at the airport and is networked with other airlines through the Star Alliance system. Air-rail trains are located an escalator ride from the main airport concourse. The seven-mile trip takes 11 minutes to the Central Railway Station, nexus for all other points in the area. The $3-$4 fare is a lot more favourable than a $29 taxi ride.
Traveling times within the region are short. From the middle of the Øresund Bridge, you are no more than 90 minutes from the farthest corners of the region. Traveling times from the Copenhagen Airport to Odense on the island of Fyn is an hour and 45 minutes and to reach Aarhus in Eastern Jutland is three hours and 10 minutes.
Cruise lines gather at dock at Langelinie Pier – not far from the Little Mermaid on the rock. Passengers arriving in Copenhagen have access to the Cruise Information Center at the pier where English-speaking staff provide them with comprehensive information. Cruise passengers also have a hospitality lounge in the heart of the Stroget walking district.
Public transport in the Øresund Region is reliable and cheap. Copenhagen has the fastest and cheapest airport-to-city-center rail link of any European capital - just 13 minutes. You can also travel directly by train from Copenhagen Airport across the Øresund water channel, via the Øresund Bridge, to Malmö in southern Sweden in 22 minutes. Trains and buses are frequent. In addition, Copenhagen ’s new Metro system opened last year. Taxis are tightly regulated and operate with fixed prices. Travel times by train between Copenhagen and Malmö are about 35 minutes.
Considering its latitude, the region’s climate is somewhat mild. From early April to late September the city’s cafés and restaurants move their tables outdoors. Sunbathers hit the parks as soon as the temperature rises. The climate is comparable to Amsterdam or London: January and February are the coldest months, while July and August are the warmest.
The towns around Copenhagen hold their own mystique. Koge is one of the best preserved medieval towns. Roskilde features the Viking Ship Museum, a music festival and an ancient church where royalty still is buried. Hundested is a town where sea and fjord meet.
Much is to be found in the outlying areas on northern, coastal Zealand. The Viking Museum in Roskilde features the reconstruction of the Skuldelev ship. The curators hope the results will contribute to the cultural and historical understanding of the Viking period, especially that of the maritime culture. The reconstruction venture also contributes to the knowledge of materials, working techniques and design principles of benefit to specialty craftsmen.
Such a ship had a mast length of 14 meters and 60 oars. It was attended by a crew of some 60-100 men and an estimated speed of five to 20 knots -- not bad for the 1400s. Thanks to donations from the philanthropic brewery-built foundations of Tuborg and Carlsberg, the museum is able to accomplish this building of an ocean-going warship to scale.
Since 1982, the museum has built 10 reconstructions. The Skuldelev 2 is the largest built thus far. First the keel is laid, the stem and stern raised, and the bottom planking formed. The floor timbers are then put in, the lower frames and keelson fitted, the side planking built up and the remaining frame timbers laid in.
The reconstruction is being built of freshly hewn timber. Long planks are split from long, straight oak stems while the curved frame timbers are trimmed from naturally curved forms of growth from oak crowns. Iron, horeshair and hemp (for ropes), and linen (for sails) also are used. Remarkably, the ship is being built with copies of Viking tools such as axes, planes, chisels, drawknives, spoon augers and hammers based upon archeological digs from the period.
While in the town, be sure to visit Roskilde Cathedral on a hill only about three miles from the museum. Since the Middle Ages, this cathedral has served as one of Denmark’s most outstanding churches. Previous churches stood on the site, but in the 1170s, Bishop Absalon began erection of the brick Romanesque church with long and wide transepts. The construction was changed, though, by Peder Suneson (bishop 1191-1214) who was inspired by Gothic cathedral construction in France. The actual church was finished in 1280 but has added extensions through the centuries.
Before the Reformation in 1536, the cathedral was Catholic. Almost half of the interior formed a closed choir including stalls for all the canons and farther on the east side, the high altar. Spread in the cathedral and the chapels were furthermore a considerable number of side altars. After the Reformation the side altars were removed, new furniture was installed for a Protestant service, and the choir was opened to the west.
Since the Reformation all Danish kings, and almost all of the queens, have been buried there, many in elaborate royal sepulchral chapels. In the middle of the choir is situated a magnificent sarcophagus of Queen Margrete I (1375-1412). The cathedral now is part of UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
Frederiksborg Castle and Museum in Hillerod, Denmark, is a palace in its own right. This elaborate complex of vintage buildings serves as Denmark’s Museum of National History and has done so since 1878. The castle was built at the time of King Christian IV and was restored after a fire in 1859. In addition to magnificant sections including the Chapel, the Audience Chamber and Great Hall, the museum contains Denmark’s most important collection of portraits and history paintings as well as examples of rare porcelain and decorative art. The Chronological Collection illustrates Denmark’s history from 1500 until the present day.
The Louisiana Museum for Modern Art in Humlebaek is an inobtrusive linkage of buildings, both above and below ground that blend into the natural landscaping. On a recent tour, the works of American artists Louise Bourgeois were featured. Born in France in 1911, she was involved in the surrealistic influences of Paris. Later, she moved to America where her career as an artist gained momentum in the laste 1940s at a time when renowned abstract painters made their breakthroughs. Since the 1960s she has been a leading figure in the rebellion against precisely modernistic abstract art.
An exhibit that opened in late May features the photography of Arnold Newman as he recorded history with his camera. He was a photographer of Leonard Bernstein, Pablo Picasso, Marilyn Monroe, Georgia O’Keeffe, Igor Stravinsky and others.
The Karen Blixen Museum in nearby Rungsted memorializes the author of Out of Africa and other works on her own homestead near the Danish coastline a half hour north of Copenhagen. When the author set up a foundation in 1958, she directed that the acreage be maintained as a bird sanctuary with the main building serving cultural purposes. The governing board decided to open the house as a museum. This author of seven published books died in 1962. The museum chronicles this storyteller who represents one of the greatest Danish literary achievements of the 20th century.
The specific environment, both indoors and outdoors, provide a fresh perspective to her works. It is no everday home, rather a personification of her spirit with each room having its own mood, expressed in various colors. The writing rooms and most other parts of the house are preserved quite precisely as when she lived there.
Across the Øresund Bridge, Malmö, Sweden has the reputation of being among that nation’s most cosmopolitan city with scores of languages being spoken there. Its Old Town section (known locally as Gamla Staden) is encircled by canals. The Stortorget, or old market square, dates to the 16th century when most of the buildings were built under Danish control. The Radhuset (city hall) and the former Danish Trading Company buildings are impressive.
Now that the hands of Sweden and Denmark are once again clasped by a handy bridge, it is worth the minor effort involved to see them both in the same visit. Due to its compact geography and central location to northwestern and north-central Europe, the Copenhagen-Malmö area can be relatively covered in a four-day time period.
David Yawn is an independent full-time writer.
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