Copenhagen, Denmark

  • Date
  • 8 October 1999

8 October 1999 – Copenhagen is a joy to explore. We began with Den Lille Havfrue (The Little Mermaid), which is a 1913 bronze tribute to a Hans Christian Andersen creation that is perched in one of Copenhagen’s many canals. Carl Jacobsen, the son of the founder of Carlsberg Breweries, gave the diminutive statue to the city. Most guidebooks and locals say the statue is over-rated but I think her petite size and lack of ornate additions add to her simple beauty.

Gefion Fountain is a short walk from The Little Mermaid. A myth still told and portrayed in the fountain tells that Goddess Gefion was told she could have as much of Sweden as she could carve/plow. So she turned her sons into Oxen and carved Zealand (the island that includes Copenhagen) for her own.

In front of Frihedsmueset (Resistance Museum) is an armed car built by a resistance group in North Zealand that was used against Nazis in 1945. Inside the museum are videos, uniforms, maps, weapons and stories of the horrors. A multi-colored stained glass window pays tribute and homage to the soldiers.

Amelienborg is the official residence of Queen Margrethe II (born 1940, she is the youngest Queen in the world reigning over the oldest kingdom) and Royal families have lived here since 1784. There are four matching buildings/mansions surrounding a square, which has in the center the equestrian statue of King Frederik V by Frenchman Jacques Joseph Sally. Supposedly the statue amounted to more than the four Rococo buildings combined.

The Thorvaldsen Museum, established in 1848, is another treasure of our trip. Jim and I walked in awe through the three floors of museum viewing the scores of neoclassical sculptures and plaster models Bertel Thorvaldsen created during his lifetime, 1770-1884. I was taken with Venus, a ravishing work of art, as well as Three Graces with Cupid. But most impressive for me was the Jesus plaster model Thorvaldsen used to create the marble Jesus that stands in the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen. Jesus stands on high looking down at you with his arms outstretched to his 12 disciples that stand on either side of him.

Bertel Thorvaldsen spent most of his life in Rome before returning to Copenhagen with much pomp and fanfare. The museum opened in 1888, only four years after his death. Thorvaldsen’s grave sits in the center of the museum.

The drug-selling village of Christiania in Copenhagen shocked me. This ‘free’ colony established in 1971 offers a street with stalls of ‘entrepreneurs’ (they use this term) selling hashish and marijuana. A few shops have CDs, T-shirts and of course, pipes. Teenagers and adults of every color smoke and drink together.

The eyes of many selling and buying looked glassy and glazed. At one point we stood waiting to buy postcards and the three men running the stall just stood and smiled at us. The entrepreneurial spirit that is hyped as a part of Christiania is perhaps stifled by the drug intake. When we entered two of the bars we saw even more drugs for sale with people of every age drinking and smoking. The haze and smell of the smoke is powerful – a few too many minutes might give you a high or at least a serious stench.

Christiania promotes itself as a social experiment – diversity in people existing and thriving together. An older woman offering hand-made jewelry told me the police raid only four times annually ‘to let everyone know selling the drugs is illegal’. But most of the year, the police allow Christiania to exist as a paradise for the soft drug user.

A sign posted at the main entrance and exit of Christiania reads: ‘No weapons. No slogans/insignia. No bullet proof vests.’ It should include ‘No photography’ since pictures are strictly prohibited due to the locals peddling drugs openly on the streets and in the bars. And also ‘No hard drugs’ since several signs inside the compound attest to the prohibition of hard drugs.