Copenhagen strategies

We’ve both just returned from Copenhagen: a conference trip for me, a birthday holiday for K. Denmark is an oddity: much as Finland looks Scandinavian when you squint, Denmark looks a little Germanic when you don’t.

The capital city is wonderful in a lot of ways: it has London’s green lungs, and a brilliant public transport system. Every morning’s journey to the conference was across the King’s Gardens from our apartment, then onto the lovely if rather minimalist two-line metro system. Copenhagen also seems to have a road-using majority of cyclists, with most minor roads feeling almost devoid of cars. In the UK drivers always want cyclists to stop being cyclists, in the mistaken assumption that they’ll then magically disappear rather than become a car driver taking up more space; in Copenhagen it’s been made clear that encouraging cycling, certainly beyond a particular point, helps everyone including drivers, as the roads become more civilized, free up, chill out, and function once again as thoroughfares for everyone.

K. spent much of her time wandering the city with other conference widow(er)s, and that gave her insights I didn’t really have the chance to make. Whereas much of Scandinavia is renowned for its acceptance of families and especially young women with babies, K. felt that there was a little bit of officiousness in a lot of organisations—museums, large shops—that meant that a woman with a buggy would be inconvenienced for no good reason. Maybe the faint bureaucracy is the Germanic cultural influence, or maybe it was coincidence. Certainly they were also unhappy about crossing roads away from zebra crossings, which in a cycling-friendly city seems out of place.

We saw the national museum, the Rosenberg castle, Rodin’s The Kiss in the Glyptotek, elephants both in the zoo (visible from a nearby green lung, cheerily dusting themselves with a bath of dirt) and as enormous parts of the Carlsberg factory gates; and we went on trips to Christiania and a wide, ranging boat tour around Copenhagen’s harbour. We found fabulous vegetarian restaurants—semi-Lebanese food, naturally—and threee really remarkable semi-dives: the Bo-Bi Bar, frequented by chainsmoking journalists according to our guidebook and the evidence of our stinging eyes; Onkel Bobs Hytte, a local Danish pub opposite the cheap-as-chips Indian restaurant in Friedriksberg, with a hilarious, gregarious barman—Uncle Bob himself from that video, I think—and a welcoming atmosphere; and the Cafe Selina jazz bar, appropriately on the scat-sounding Skoubogade, feeling like an English pub in the 1980s and indeed owned by an Edinburghian, serving good food and playing trad/swing, with a live gig apparently about to start upstairs as we left to carry on shopping.

It’s an intriguing place, with its blends of cultures and oddly minimalist-yet-cosy design. Frankly, we could both do with being back there again. Either that or we’re going to buy lots of plush blankets and cunningly combine them with Ikea pine, just in time for autumn.

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