The Little Mermaid Statue

Greece/Denmark: Day Ten — Exploring Copenhagen 2

Normally our guided tours consist of a driver and a tour guide, but today’s 5 hour tour of Copenhagen was based out of a rather large bus, for just the 2 of us. Odd. But, at any rate, the guide was excellent.

I had completely forgotten that Hans Christian Anderson was Danish. At the age of 14 he came from Odense, Denmark, the poor farmlands of Denmark, an orphan I believe, to Copenhagen. He wanted to be on the stage but had no education and was not successful. Apparently some of the local Danes admired his enthusiasm for the arts and provided him with an education. He was soon to realize his talents lay in writing, not stage performance.

The Little Mermaid Statue
The Little Mermaid Statue

He wrote, among many things, the fairy tale of The Little Mermaid. We went to see the statue of the mermaid in the harbor. Apparently Disney took artistic license with Han’s story, because the mermaid dies in Anderson’s story, having been rejected by the prince. The statue features a very sad mermaid just before her death. Tragic!

The area around the seaside mermaid is a beautiful ramparts park once used to defend the city. Apparently Copenhagen was attacked numerous times throughout the centuries. Having always assumed the Scandinavian countries were more sensible than the rest of the world, I was actually surprised to learn of its frequent wars and bloody history.

We then spent time around the Opera House, the 4 royal palaces, and the marble church (Lutheran). This is a very beautiful area. The Opera House was built with a €300 million donation from Maersk with the understanding that the CEO of the company had complete control over the design and location of the opera house. He located it at the prime location in the city, the palace area, and it is a thoroughly contemporary design completely inconsistent with the architecture of the area, upsetting many Danes.

We watched the changing of the guards here at the palaces. Their hats were indeed… large, very, very large! Their routine was less affected than the Greek changing of the guard, and these guards do not have to remain still for an hour. They periodically march about for their 2 hour shift.

I loved the fact that Danish school children were “on assignment” here practicing their English. Several adorable girls, probably 12 or 13 years of age, came up to our tour guide and ask him in English if they could ask him some questions. When he replied to them in Danish, telling them that he was not a foreigner, they were so mortified. They did that totally teenage girl fall apart thing, slinking away, laughing that innocent, embarrassed laugh only children that age can so authentically manufacture.

The Lutheran church, a beautiful building, took 159 years to build, not because it is enormous (it’s not, really) or fanciful, but because the country was in financial ruin during the whole of that time.

Next we went to the old little harbor, which reminded me a lot of Bergen. It still has 2 old businesses remaining from “back in the day” when the more raucous sailors came in to port: a tattoo parlor and a strip club. Otherwise, the area is filled with numerous upscale bars, restaurants, and cafés.

Next stop: a tour of the castle where the Crown Jewels are on display. Of course, I found the castle far more interesting than the jewels, which are located in an underground vault. I was glad to get out of the vault, actually. If it had locked us in, we would never have gotten out! In the secured vault is a collection of old wine, rescued from a war with the Swedes, who attacked and stole the wine in the 1600s. To celebrate its rareness and it’s historic value (?—to each their own), the royal family drinks one bottle every year. It must be vile!

One other interesting fact from the castle visit: the crowns are never worn by the king or queen. They are displayed next to their body in repose upon their death. The crowns haven’t been worn since democracy was signed into law by the king back in the 1700’s. Unlike the French, or perhaps using them as a cautionary tale, they kept their heads.

We stopped by the new addition to the library, called the black diamond, made from black marble from Zimbabwe. It’s on the water and is a gorgeous building. We then walked around the “modern” government buildings, the seat of power in modern Denmark. The buildings are beautiful. We saw the parliament, supreme court, ministry of Finance, and stock exchange which has a dragon spire (signifying wealth).

I really had never realized that Denmark has only one land border, with Germany; otherwise, the country is a large collection of islands. On a clear day you can actually see Sweden across the sea from Copenhagen.

At the end of the tour we drove by the university and the oldest observatory in Europe, the round tower, which is physically connected to a beautiful church. That afternoon we walked up the tower with Tim, who had explored it while we were touring in the morning. It’s a fascinating structure. I can’t wait to post pictures of it.

The old tower featured a privy on the side of the spiral walk about half way up. Because it was built some 300 years ago, it didn’t, however, have running water. The story is that for hundreds of years, the stench in the tower was unbearable. In 1921, when running water was installed in the tower along with actual toilets, the Danes removed 9 truck loads of 300 years worth of excrement from the privy. I just can’t imagine the horror of such a thing!

Again, I want to celebrate the Danish sense of design and style. I simply love it, feel a magnetic attraction to the energy of their style.

Happiest People in the World

I mentioned in a previous post that Denmark was recently named the happiest country on the planet. I wanted to get some sense of the Danish perspective on this recognition. Did they think they were the happiest people on earth? And if they did, what made them so happy. So, I asked our tour guide. His answer really intrigues me!

He said that they had had a lot of conversation about this after the survey came out and concluded that they were in fact a very happy people. He thought the greatest reason for their happiness is that everyone in the country feels personally secure. In fact, one of the first things the driver who picked us up from the airport told us was that Copenhagen was a very safe city. We didn’t need to worry about our physical safety at all.

When asked what made them feel secure, our driver said that they paid 70% of their income in taxes but then never had to worry about anything. When they get sick, they go to their doctor and are taken care of. They never see a bill. If they need to go to the hospital, they go and never see a bill.

They never worry they will be hungry or homeless. If a person is hungry or homeless in Denmark, they have actively chosen not to have assistance. Several times he used the expression, we “live together as one people.” He was proud of this fact.

He stated in Denmark that their are very few really poor people and very few really rich people. They live together as one people. Their education from their youngest years through college is all provided to them free of charge.

In other words, these people, unlike the discontents/malcontents in the US, believe their government provides them with value, with security. While their taxes are high, they want for nothing. Theirs is an egalitarian way of life, a living together, pulling together, we’re all in this thing together as a civilized and supportive society.

I didn’t see lavish displays of greed, bling, “it’s all about me,” fear or jealousy. I saw fit people, riding bikes, pulling together as one community without the fear, the insecurity, the worry of need. There weren’t surveillance cameras on every building, every street. Unlike the United States my ultra conservative friends are destroying, this community resonates with me. It is far more humane than the so-called “Christian” US. I would prefer to live in a society like this hands down, any day!