Copenhagen rocks ... I love it.
23/08/2010 - 27/08/2010
On Monday 23 August we caught the train for a 4 hour trip from Århus on Jutland, crossing the island of Funen to Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital on the island of Zealand. Copenhagen is a wonderful place to visit – vibrant, welcoming, very easy to find your way (can walk to most of the central attractions), full of history, architectural splendour and beautiful sculptures. Copenhagen rocks ... I love it.
We were lucky to obtain cheap accommodation through Rikke’s brother-in-law’s brother!! The complex in which he lives has an apartment which residents can offer to family/friends when visiting the city. However, I stress the ‘cheap’ - A$20/night. We could not refuse such an offer, could we? It was very easy to find, just a 15minute walk from central rail station and situated in the middle of what used to be the red light district of the city (with some ladies still remaining). Hmm! We had a 24hr massage parlour across the road, and many sex shops displaying their wares along the street to town. The accommodation had everything we needed (eg beds, lounge, kitchen, toilet) however I found it a little disconcerting to have to go outside the building to two doors along the street to use a communal shower. (This has a funny story which I will share if you remind me when I return). Apparently this is not uncommon as it is a high density city with accommodation sometimes difficult to acquire. While basic, we did appreciate having accommodation in central Copenhagen as that fantastic price.
Copenhagen has a very European feel - vibrant, stylish, cosmopolitan. And the place to go to be part of this is the Stroget, the pedestrian street, called the ‘spine of the city’, which consists of five streets which wind their way through the inner city. This is the shopping area where you will find famous brands like Cartier, Tiffany, YSL, the traditional Danish icons like Georg Jensen and Royal Copenhagen, as well as many restaurants, souvenir shops, street buskers and stalls. On arrival we stored our luggage at the station, and headed there to just feel the energy, people watch and check out the shops. One can stroll aimlessly through the little alleyways and side streets and have a wonderful adventure just looking. For example, in one of the squares we came across a fantastic exhibition of large photographs (2mx1m) depicting children's initiation rites of various cultures around the world. Fantastic.
Chas and I visited many of Copenhagen’s main attractions on our last visit – for example The Round Tower, Nyhavn Canal, and Amalienborg (the Royal Palace), as well as the iconic symbol of Copenhagen, The Little Mermaid. I thought it interesting that if you visit Copenhagen this year from May to end of October you would not be able to see The Little Mermaid,. This beautiful statue depicting Hans Christian Andersen’s famous children’s story which has sat for the last 96 years on her stone at the harbour has left home for the first time to be part of the Danish pavilion at World Expo in China. However, the Tivoli Gardens amusement park in the city has a copy of the original which you can see (at an entry cost). I think they should have left the original (which is free to visit) and taken the copy to China!!
However, as we only had a few days we decided to visit selected sites, some with a more cultural focus. Our first was Rosenborg Slot, a small but beautiful royal palace built 1606-34 by Christian IV as his summer residence. It remained the residence of kings for the next three generations until Frederik IV decided he wanted a bigger palace (Frederiksberg Castle built in 1710). Rosenborg then became a storehouse for royal heirlooms, regalia, thrones etc. The Royal Danish Collections of objects relating to the Danish monarchs over the last 400 years are stored here, however, it is unique in that the royal collections have been open for display to the public since 1838. As expected, the decoration, furnishings, and objects-de-art are lavish, with magnificent craftsmanship and beauty.
The castle is also home to the Treasury and well-guarded Crown Jewels and Crown Regalia which is still used by Queen Margrethe II at state functions. It is awesome to see. While the Crown Jewels and Crowns are magnificent, there are also other items such as the royal baptismal font and basin and a water pitcher and two candlesticks – of pure gold. I was also impressed at the superb embroidery and detail on the 'blanket' for the horse which Christian IV rode for his coronation. It was beautiful and must have taken many hours to complete. The castle is also surrounded by beautiful gardens and more magnificent statues.
Our next stop was the Statens Museum for Kunst, National Gallery of Denmark. The museum building is magnificent, but its beauty was hidden when we visited as the front entrance was draped with massive banners advertising their current exhibition by Bjørn Nørgaard. Definitely not appealing. Chas was interested in seeing a photographic exhibition which was also on display. Unfortunately we found it very disappointing also.
The museum is very large and houses a significant collection of European art. While we wandered through the galleries enjoying the many beautiful art works it actually became somewhat overwhelming (as you can see). However, I was especially impressed with a preparatory sketch by Reubens for an alterpiece titled Ascent to Calvary . There was so much to see but unfortunately I felt our visit on this occasion was disappointing. I will have to visit the museum another time so I can revise my opinion.
(ps re Bjørn Nørgaard .. considered one of Denmark’s most notable artists, reflected by his commission by Queen Margrethe in 1990 to create a series of 13 tapestries depicting the history of Denmark to present day. We actually saw these on our last visit. They are stunning. However, I haven’t yet got over also seeing his piece titled The Horse Sacrifice (1970) where they slaughtered a horse, carved it up and preserved pieces in 199 jars. I found it quite confronting and not my idea of art!! Though (in his defence) I have read that this piece was intended as a protest to what he saw as the Danish population’s uncaring attitude at the time to the horrors of the Vietnam War. Needless to say, he can be somewhat controversial.)
The next day we planned to spend the afternoon and evening with Rikke’s aunt and uncle (Aase and John), so we only had a few hours in the morning to explore. Chas chose to visit Our Saviour’s Church (Vor Frelsers Kirke), unique in that it has a spiral staircase of 400 steps which runs around the exterior of the spire. While it was no contest for me (if climbing 400 steps (up and down) wasn’t sufficient detriment, my vertigo would have been), Chas couldn’t resist the challenge. It was quite a windy day. When he finally returned to earth, Chas said that going ‘up’ was fine as you had the support of the rail. However, going ‘down’ was scary as it appeared that you were being pushed into nothingness when the wind was behind and pushing you forward. He was thrilled that he was able to reach up and touch the bottom of the globe on top of the spire. It is Copenhagen’s 2nd highest panoramic viewpoint from 90m high. The church itself was also worth the visit with many beautiful pieces. Built in 1696 the altar is magnificent, as is the 3-storey organ (dating from 1698) which has over 4000 pipes and is supported by two giant elephants. A very enjoyable morning.
After afternoon tea with Aase and John, and catching up on news since our last visit, we headed out for a walk through Copenhagen. Firstly to the ‘free state of Christiania’ which has been in existence since 1971 when a group of squatters took over some deserted military barracks and established a commune. The local authorities initially tried to force them to leave, but as the community’s numbers grew, the government decided to treat Christiania as a ‘social experiment’. Today it has over 900 residents, with its own schools, infrastructure and system of government which are financed in part by proceeds from its cafes, restaurants, and the sale of locally made handicrafts. Christiania was initially linked with the hippy drug culture (they even have a street called Pusher Street), but the sale of cannabis was outlawed in 2004, and other hard drugs are not tolerated. It is one of Copenhagen’s biggest tourist attractions and contributes economically to the state. It is also amusing to see the sign as you leave Christiania which says “You are now entering the EU”.
All this walking is hard work, so Aase and John took us to a new cafe which they have found just off the Stroget for a beer and sit down. It is called Cafe-retro. It is a non-profit organisation, staffed by volunteers and targeting Copenhagen’s student community. With 20% student discount on beer, tea and French coffee, free wireless internet, live music, art exhibitions, and more, I will be very surprised if this cafe is not a goer. Not to mention it is very groovy. Reminded me a little of The Three Monkeys in West End which some of you may know - dimly lit, little nooks and crannies where people can sit in privacy and lots of atmosphere. And ... all proceeds go to support selected small projects in Africa. And very friendly staff. We sat at an upstairs table and when John and Chas went for refills, Aase and I were surprised to see both of them behind the bar helping the staff to open a keg!! Very cosy.
And there’s more ... we then walked to Denmark’s biggest tourist attraction and most famous and favourite destination, the Tivoli Gardens. I have visited the Tivoli on each of our trips and I never get enough of it. Opened in 1843 it is the 2nd oldest amusement park in the world and 3rd most popular in Europe. With rides, entertainment, concert hall, pantomimes, a magnificent lake and gardens, fantastic food and restaurants and wonderful atmosphere. Unfortunately I haven't got a good-enough pic which shows the magic of Tivoli as we always visit in the evening. If interested in seeing more log on to http://www.tivoli.dk/composite-3351.htm. After dinner we watched the laser show across the lake, had after-dinner drinks at Rosie Macgees before heading home to bed. A wonderful night, great fun and fantastic hospitality from Aase and John, as always.
The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek (a collection of sculpture) founded by the Danish brewing magnate, Carl Jacobsen was our destination the next morning. I had passed this magnificent building many times but had not taken much notice of it. The museum has over 10,000 pieces with its main emphasis on the cultures of the ancient Mediterranean world, as well as Danish and French art from 19th and 20th centuries. Very impressive. For example, it has 35 works by Rodin which is the largest collection of his works outside of France. I was interested in the Edgar Degas exhibition, Studies in Bronze (the museum’s own complete collection of his sculptures), Carl Jacobsen’s sculpture collection which he donated, and the French Impressionists art.
The Degas exhibition was interesting mainly reflecting his focus on ballet dancers and horses. The Glypotetek sculpture collection is spectacular. It was a pleasure to just wander through and enjoy their beauty. And the impressionist collection impressive. It was wonderful to see works by Cezanne, Matisse, Toulouse-Lautrec, Picassso, Degas, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Rodin, many of which I had learned about in my very brief foray into art at school (way back when!!) .... though I only saw one Renoir, my favourite artist. I also loved Degas’s sculpture Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer where he actually used real tuille for her dress and attached a silk ribbon around her hair. Beautiful.
However, the building itself is impressive. It consists of two main buildings, completed and opened in 1906, which are linked by the Winter Garden which has sub-tropical palms and plants under a glass dome. A third building was added in 1996 to house the growing collection. Walking into the Winter Garden is magic. It is a lovely area - beautiful, peaceful, and, for me, totally unexpected (I even saw maidenhair fern growing in the garden). And the beauty continued throughout the museum. It wasn’t only that we were surrounded by most beautiful art works, but the building itself was beautiful (in structure, design and the materials used), and also the way the art was presented. It was also peaceful. I have just read on the net a little of the history of the museum which quotes Carl Jacobsen himself saying of his museum “With a beauty all its own”. I think that is exactly what it does. It was a pleasure just to be there. For me this visit was one of the highlights of our trip.
This magnicifent sculpture, which is the feature in the centre of the garden, reflects the beauty and splendour of the museum.
Copehnhagen has so much to offer. We could not see everything we want to see on this short trip, so have left many more places of interest for our next visit.
Our next adventure, Spain. Stayed tuned and check out more pics in the photo gallery.