Friday, September 23, 2016

Går rundt Copenhagen del en

We left Dallas at about 5:00 PM and arrived in Copenhagen at about 1:00 PM the next day.
Absalon on horseback
Since we’d spent 13+ hours traveling, the first thing we did after getting settled in our hotel was to go exploring. And we found that Copenhagen is the most confusing city to get around in. Dave is usually really good about map-reading and finding what we're looking for, but we were lost more than we were found. This is because the streets start and stop, then begin again in unrelated places – or at least that was our reasoning for our confusion. We did finally find the Tourist Information center and got our Copenhagen Card (museum passes), along with a better map; it was more detailed and prettier (okay, maybe not actually a better map). Thank goodness there were lots of folks around who spoke English and didn’t mind tourists asking for directions, or at least to point out our current location on our map.

Our hotel was in the old part of Copenhagen, so everything we wanted to see should have been within walking distance. And it would have been if we could have found it. Our room
Stock Exchange Spire
was tiny, which is typical for European hotels and Scandinavian ones in particular. It also didn’t have any air conditioning, but the window open, so we were pretty comfortable. The bad thing was that it was the weekend and there was a Gay Pride festival going on. We were treated to really bad rock music along with screaming fans, but it all ended at 11:00 PM. We could also hear the city clock striking every 15 minutes. It quits at 11:00 PM, also. However, we'd walked so much that we didn’t hear either once we went to sleep. Walking is pretty easy except for the bicyclers; they come out of nowhere and zip by so closely that you think they are going to hit you. It's not as bad as Amsterdam, but almost. There are a few streets where cars and bicycles are restricted so we tried to stay on those as much as possible. Copenhagen is an old and an elegant city.

Recent archaeological finds put the age of Copenhagen at somewhere in the 11th century
Niels Bohr
with actual historical records of the city dating from the end of the 12th century; and there are flint tools from the area that indicates some sort of settlement about the time of the Stone Age. From other artifacts, it is apparent that the abundance of herring and the natural harbor attracted fishermen early on, with at least a seasonal settlement populated by Vikings. The robust fishing industry was the driving force for the development of Copenhagen, also attracting pirates and other raiders who wanted a piece of the wealth without working for it. By 1416 the city became the capital of Denmark with Eric of Pomerania (makes me wonder if he had a dog) moving his headquarters to Copenhagen Castle; the formation of the University of Copenhagen came 60 years later, making it the oldest institute of higher learning in Denmark, and one of the oldest in Europe. Religious wars followed and the University, that had supported Catholicism, became a bastion of Lutheranism. These wars didn’t seem to deter business and trade, so the city prospered; by the 17th century there were both an international trade company and a stock exchange. However, the 18th century brought disaster. In 1711 the plague killed approximately a third of the population. This was promptly followed by two major fires that devastated much of the city’s infrastructure. Rebuilding began and prosperity continued throughout the 19th century, allowing Copenhagen to become an international center for industry and business. However, from 1940 until 1945 the Danish people endured the occupation of Nazi troops. In 1945 the British Royal Airforce and the Danish underground attacked Gestapo headquarters, destroying all their archives and rescuing 18 political prisoners. The city was officially liberated by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery who oversaw the surrender of 30,000 Germans positioned around Copenhagen. Despite the bombings there are still many historic buildings still in the old part of the city, including the stock exchange with its serpentine spire.

On our first full day in Copenhagen we went to the National Gallery of Denmark and saw the history of Dutch painters through their works. I didn’t like some of it (the newer paintings) but
Coffee shop
most of it was wonderful. We also managed to find The King's Garden and the Copenhagen Botanical Garden; both of those were lovely. We did go over to the Tivoli Gardens, the second oldest amusement park in the world still in operation. Of course it's been updated to look a great deal like the midway at the Texas State Fair, but there are some gardens and a pond that retain the original design. There are also some sculptures that were very nice. Everywhere we walked there were coffee shops; not many of them were those familiar to Americans. But the first thing we did this morning was to take a Canal Tour. Not only was it informative, but it was supposed to help us figure out where we were going and orient us to the city. Informative, yes; orient us to the city, not so much! 

Canal Tours Copenhagen is a nice introduction to the city and to the philosophy of
Top: Queen's yacht
Bottom: Helix spire
environmentalism that is part and parcel of the Danish culture. These citizens are serious about reducing their carbon footprint, so there is an emphasis placed on alternative energy, recycling, and only using what you need. What startled us on this tour was that these boats fit through the bridge openings with only inches to spare. You can literally stretch up your hand and touch the ceiling of the tunnel or reach out to the left or right and touch the wall. As in Amsterdam, there is a hearty house boat culture on the waterways; there is even a ‘hippie town’ that has grown up near the entrance to the harbor. While I love doing these types of tours, the highlight for me was seeing the Queen’s yacht and the helix spire, designed by Lauritz de Thurah, for the Church of Our Savior. It was also nice to identify which buildings we’d been taking pictures of and their relation to the history of the city. Although the day was warm and fairly sunny, which seems to be a rarity for Denmark, I spent most of the tour putting on and taking off my jacket – I was really glad I had dressed in layers. Even with the unsettled weather, we enjoyed our voyage through the canals and the harbor.  Once back at the dock, we grabbed our new, better map, headed out to the National Gallery of Denmark…and promptly got lost, again.

The National Gallery of Denmark, also known as the SMK, ‘collects, registers, maintains, researches and handles Danish and foreign art dating from the 14th century to the present
Left: We Go Together
Right: Mermaid
day’, and is an amazing place. We spent several hours there and I could go back and see it all again. The collections originally came from the Art Chambers of the Danish monarchs. This began in the 1750s when Frederick V made large-scale purchases of Italian, German, and Netherlandish paintings along with Flemish and Dutch art. Of course, he couldn’t keep it all at home, so a museum was built to store all of these fine pieces. Then, in the 1800s, additional purchases of Danish works were made so now the museum houses what’s called the Danish Golden Age works; and these are some of the most interesting pieces. Being rather illiterate in art, I had never heard of many of the painters, but Dave had and assured me that they were widely recognized, not just good because we liked them. The collection has also been enhanced by donations and long-term loans of art works. There is a large collection of French Modernist paintings and sculptures. One of my favorite areas is at the back of the museum. Here there is a glass cover that protects the original museum building. The museum was designed by Vilhelm Dahlerup and G.E.W. Møller in a Historicist Italian Renaissance revival style and is quite appealing. The use of the glass superstructure reminds me of the glass construction that protects the historical King’s Cross station in London.

Very close to the SMK is the University of Copenhagen Botanical Garden (usually called the
Left: Glass House
Right: Upper level Glass House
Copenhagen Botanical Garden). These large gardens and their historic glasshouses are used for research, educational, and recreational purposes. I was surprised to learn that although the gardens were created in about 1600, they were moved twice before coming to this permanent location in 1870. The gardens were probably created to protect the collection of Danish medicinal plants after the Reformation.  It was the job of one of the university professors to take care of the garden and to develop other plantings of foreign and rare plants. It sounds like a nice job for a professor. As the garden expanded (one of the reasons for moving it around), work was undertaken to collect examples of all of the native plants of Denmark and Norway as well as to create illustrations of each plant. Sometime after the last move, sculptures and ponds were added to the grounds, along with seating areas and walkways. In about 1817 a main building was constructed to house a botanical museum, a library, residences for the director and a botanical gardener, and for storing sensitive plants in the winter. The garden’s first greenhouse was erected in 1784, with more and more glasshouses added as time went by. These Crystal Houses are still in the gardens and in one you can climb up to the second level to look down on the tropical plants. Up on this level the humidity is very high, as is the heat, and you aren’t so much looking down as winding your way among the plants that are pushing their leaves against the roof.

Our path back toward our hotel took us through the Rosenborg Castle Gardens (literally The King's Garden) which is the oldest and most visited park in central Copenhagen. It certainly
Rosenborg Castle
had more visitors than the Copenhagen Botanic Garden; it also appears that this is a gathering place for younger folks. There were large numbers of people playing drinking games in full view of the local police. Evidently open containers are legal in city parks. But I digress… This was once the private gardens of King Christian IV's Rosenborg Castle. It has its origins in 1606 when King Christian IV attained land outside Copenhagen's East Rampart and created a pleasure garden that also produced fruit, vegetables, and flowers for the royal household. It’s still an attractive place with some nice plantings along with places to have a picnic or simply sit and commune with nature. The castle is still there, with its moat inhabited by fish and water birds looking for dinner.

Eventually we found our way to the Tivoli Gardens  that is across from our hotel (if you cross
Top L to R: Giraffe heads, Tivoli entrance
Middle: Tycho Brahe
Bottom L to R: Gulls and fish, Pirate ship restaurant
the correct street in the correct direction – yep, still confused in Copenhagen). This is the most famous amusement park and pleasure garden in Denmark. It opened in 1843 and is the second-oldest operating amusement park in the world. It’s also ‘the second-most popular seasonal theme park in the world, the most-visited theme park in Scandinavia and the fourth most-visited in Europe, only behind Disneyland Paris, Europa-Park Rust and the Efteling.’ This was one of two places Dave really wanted to visit in Copenhagen and I’m glad we did. I was certainly amused at this amusement park! Tivoli has always had unusual buildings, theaters, bands, restaurants, flower gardens, and mechanical rides. As we strolled through the grounds we saw all of these sights, the first being a set of plastic giraffe heads coming out of a mirror. This provided endless entertainment for children who delighted in climbing all over them while giggling hysterically. Howls of protest when up when their parents tried to drag them away. We were drawn to the alleyways that led to food areas decorated in oriental themes and to the midway rides that held dozens of screaming revelers, young and old. Of course I wanted to ride in the bumper cars shaped like rabbits, but this was only for small children, so I was over qualified being much too tall. We spent a good deal of time at the edge of a pond watching people feeding the ducks, seagulls, and fish. The fish were so dense that the birds were walking on their backs without getting their feet wet. A small blue heron sat on a sculpture nearby eyeing those fish, but couldn’t find a small one. As darkness fell the lights came on, making the park sparkle. We wended our way back through the Gay Pride celebration, down the correct streets and finally back to our hotel.

For reviews of What we did, Where we stayed and What we ate, see Går rundt Copenhagen del to, coming next week.

The Little Mermaid
©2016 NearNormal Design and Production Studio - All rights including copyright of photographs and designs, as well as intellectual rights are reserved.