The Home of Happy People

The Danes always rank near the top of living in one of the “Happiest Countries in the World.” Frank and I were happy to spend time with two of those happy people!

We met Marie and Anne-Mette on a two-day boat trip to Vietnam’s Halong Bay,

When looking for a place to stay, I knew our first digs were meant to be — the name of the street was Bagerstræde! Although the host did not have UW paraphernalia, he did have a bunch of stuff from Ohio University and the Masters golf tournament!

Our Vesterbro neighborhood is just west of the central touristy area. It’s pretty trendy with lots of cafes, shops, bars and restaurants.

The 1930s white concrete buildings in Vesterbro’s Meatpacking District once housed huge butcher halls. Now it’s the place to go for some of the best restaurants on town.

Copenhagen is dotted with colorful streets in many different neighborhoods.

When Frank and I got back from our side trip to Norway, we stayed at Marie and Anne’s home in Nørrebro. We really enjoyed our time in this multicultural neighborhood — so eclectic with lots to see and do.

• The Lakes are three rectangular lakes in the middle of the city. The area is popular for walkers and bicyclists.
• Movies are never dubbed in Danish, although they are sometimes subtitled. Candy and beverages are self-serve, paid for at the counter. (Guests must be pretty trustworthy!)
• We saw many young people wearing captain hats and discovered they were recent high school graduates. On the weekend after graduation, each class rents a vehicle to take them from family home to family home to eat, drink and celebrate! (Liquor is legal at any age with parental permission.)
• I like the way cemeteries are utilized as quiet public parks. Assistens Kirkegård cemetery is the burial place of some of Denmark’s most famous individuals including writer Hans Christian Andersen, composer Karen Jønsson and philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.

Superkilen is a public park designed by an arts group, along with local architects.

Food, Drink and Shopping

Danish style

When we got to Copenhagen, one thing that struck me was the absence of balconies (we had seen so many in Berlin). They are, in fact, plentiful but are located in the back of the house, often overlooking pretty courtyards rather than busy streets. Once inside, we came to appreciate the minimalist lines of Danish/Scandinavian design. The sleek lines in the kitchen with the built-in refrigerators and hidden drawers created a very clean, uncluttered look. On the beds, there is no top sheet. Two comforters (with washable duvets) all but eliminate the “stop taking all my covers” scenario.

So, why are they so happy?

Colorful neighborhoods. Simple, cozy homes. Good food, drink and shopping. Healthy, outdoor lifestyle. What else? Taxes are high but Danes don’t have to worry about health care or education costs. It seems they also have a very healthy work-life balance. Many employers offer at least five weeks of vacation and employees can often work from home. This allows more time for family and friends — friends like us — who they meet and who come to visit their happy friends in this happy place called Copenhagen!

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Copenhagen

Bikes, Bikes and More Bikes!!!

When we were in Berlin, I thought there were a lot of bikes. That was nothing compared to Copenhagen! Biking here is a religion. Over 60% of people use their bikes to go to work or school. 

The Christiana Bike with the front cart was invented in Denmark. You’ll often see children, pets and everything else being wheeled around in them. I wondered about the lack of helmets on cyclists but noticed many wearing these thick black collars. The Hövding are actually airbags that activate in a fall! (Click here to see a funny video, especially around 2:30)

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em

Frank and I decided to do a bike tour. We were lucky in that we were our guide Rune’s only two clients for that day. Biking with the masses was a bit daunting at first, but we quickly got the hang of it. What a fun way to see the city!

We met up with Rune in Kongens Nytorv and rode to:
• Rosenborg Gardens, a 17th century castle surrounded by colorful gardens.
• Nyboder is a complex of historic yellow row houses that once housed marine families. The area is unique in that these homes are well-preserved and have not been destroyed by fire.
• Amalienborg is the residence of the Danish Royal family. (Did you know that the Danish monarchy has the world’s oldest lineage? Queen Margrethe II’s heritage can be traced back more than a thousand years to a king born in 958!)
• A Danish foundation donated the money for the Royal Danish Opera House, which is one of the largest in the world. The only stipulation was that they would build it on an island in direct line with the Cathedral, the Royal residence and a park (the four tenants of society: religion, monarchy, nature and the arts).
• The Church of Our Savior is one of Denmark’s most famous churches. Each year more than 60,000 people climb the 400 steps to the top of the spire (we weren’t two of them!).
• The Old Stock Exchange dates back to 1625 and is one of the oldest buildings in Copenhagen. 
• Kastellet is one of the best preserved fortresses in Northern Europe. It is constructed in the form of a pentagon with bastions at its corners.

. . . and Copenhagen’s most famous sight

Almost everyone who comes to Copenhagen pays homage to The Little Mermaid. The original story by Hans Christian Andersen (lower left) is much darker than the version by Walt Disney.

Freetown Christiana

Freetown Christiania is Copenhagen’s “alternative hippie neighbourhood.” Although we stopped here on the bikes, we got a more in-depth visit when we went with Marie and Anne. The community collective of around 1,000 people has its own flag and rules. You can’t drive cars here so there are plenty of bikes (including the Christiana bikes invented here and mentioned above). The vibrant mix of homemade houses, galleries and music venues is a photographer’s dream but you are warned not to take pictures in certain areas, especially around Pusher Street because they sell pot there! (illegal in Denmark)

Another Perspective

Our “Hey Captain” tour was a blast, complete with a fun group of people — and a couple bottles of wine! Sam took us to some off-the-beaten path sights, including UN City which houses seven departments of the United Nations and some cool houseboats.

Next up: Copenhagen — Home of the Happy People
(neighborhoods, homes, food and shopping)

We like Oslo very Munch

Things don’t always go as planned. We had hoped to get together with a few friends in Oslo but that didn’t pan out. We did, however, manage to get a little taste (literally and figuratively) of Norway’s capital in our two days here. Let me share a few of our favorites. . .

The Opera House
The lively Aker Brygge area along the harbor. In the background on the lower left photo is Oslo’s City Hall, where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded each year.
Akershus Fortress and its medieval castle were built in the early 1300s.
The fortress withstood a number of sieges throughout its history.

The Oslo Street Food Market was a photographer’s dream — plus, they had good food!

My favorite place in Oslo was the Munch Museum. The exhibit was entitled Exit! as the collection will soon be moving to fancy new digs. I was fascinated by Edvard Munch’s life and his generosity in gifting his massive art collection to the city of Oslo. The museum itself was storied. There were interesting displays regarding its conception, its ultimate neglect and the brazen robbery of two of its most famous works, “The Scream and The Madonna, were snatched from Oslo’s Munch Museum in August 2004 in a daring daytime raid by two masked and armed robbers. One of the men tore the paintings from the walls while the other held terrified security guards and tourists at gunpoint.” Fortunately for Oslo (and for us!), the paintings were eventually recovered and restored.

The Edvard Munch Museum
The Scream is iconic.

Beautiful Bergen

Bergen is known as the “gateway to the fjords.” Their port is Norway’s busiest, with cruise ship after cruise ship depositing tourists anxious to journey onward to experience the majestic splendor of the fjords. The city itself is worth a look, too. Surrounded by seven hills and seven fjords, Bergen is beautiful and has a rich history. It was once the capital of Norway, as well as a very important port during the Middle Ages. Original wood buildings line the shore and colorful old houses climb up the hills.

Today, Bergen is the country’s second largest city with a metropolitan population of 420,000. It has many museums, its own philharmonic, a university and an active food scene. The modern transportation system of trains, trams, buses and ferries is well connected with easy transit to their state-of-the-art airport.

The weather? They say Bergen is one of the wettest cities on earth with an average 240 days of rain.

As a visitor to Bergen, you plan for the weather. We walked around with umbrellas, ducking into unique shops and eating our way through the outdoor fish market. The back streets, however, were where we found the city’s magic. The hills and stairways led to vibrant alleyways of gardens, pockets of street art and cozy, little cafes. Along with the fog, you become enveloped by this “gateway to the fjord’s” charming, village-like vibe. People are friendly and smile in spite of the weather. “This is Bergen,” they say.

Even on a rainy Sunday, our views were pretty!
Apollon Record Store and Bar

The Seafood Market!

The Song of Norway

I’ve dreamed about Norwegian fjords since I saw the “Song of Norway” in grade school. (I can’t tell you much about the 1970 movie but IMDB says it was about composer Edvard Grieg and starred Florence Henderson before she was in “The Brady Bunch.” Reviews were horrific but what can I say, I was 10. All I remember is the fjords.)

Our friends Marie and Anne-Mette joined Frank and I on a weekend to Bergen where we took in the popular “Norway in a Nutshell” tour. Did the fjords live up to my dreams? A picture perfect day with some of the loveliest scenery we’ve ever seen — you bet they did!

Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens

Tivoli Gardens

Is it worth going to Tivoli Gardens if you’re not a “ride” person? The amusement park is always near the top of Copenhagen “must-see” lists and is just down the street, so we decided to find out.

Built in 1843, Tivoli Gardens is the second oldest operating amusement park in the world (the first is also in Denmark). I read that it “was founded by Georg Carstensen who told then King Christian VIII ‘when the people are amusing themselves, they do not think about politics.’”(!) From the beginning, Tivoli included a theatre, band stands, amusement rides, cafés and restaurants.The area was illuminated at night with colored lights and there were frequently fireworks.

It’s not much different today. There are many stages and performances are held often. Movies are shown outside, too. Evenings and weekends draw huge crowds.

The original wooden roller coaster is still in operation. The rides have a truly vintage feel with the exception of several modern thrillers. The park recently added The Demon, a rollercoaster where passengers take a VR journey through a Chinese universe with fire-spitting dragons and exploding fireworks! 

I did go on one ride : )

In addition to a Food Hall that is also accessible to the public, charming restaurants, cafes and specialty sweet shops are scattered throughout the park.

There were many areas to relax among the beautiful flowers, fountains and lakes.

Tivoli Gardens and Georg Carstensen’s quote have me rethinking my concept of amusement park. While I am not particularly “amused” by rides, I am amused and delighted by colorful gardens, fun people watching and endless food and beverage choices.  During our time at Tivoli, we did not think about anything other than enjoying a wonderful day at a truly magical place!

Remembering the past

Remains of bomb-shelled Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church stands as a reminder of.the past.

Berlin has preserved and constructed many reminders of the country’s not-so-distant past in hopes that these memorials and museums continue to remind people of the horrors resulting from prejudice, hate, fear-mongering and war. There are at least 20 memorials to Holocaust victims in Berlin, including individual memorials for Roma (Gypsy), disabled and homosexual victims. The largest, on a site covering almost five acres, is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Two thousand-seven hundred-eleven concrete slabs of different heights are arranged on a wave-like concrete floor. The sheer size, openness and abstraction encourage visitors to individually and personally interpret the space. Do you feel anger? Sadness? Hope?

Even more moving to me, are memorials that are a million times smaller. As you walk around Berlin, you’ll come across small brass squares built into the sidewalks. The 10 square cm “stolpersteine,” or stumbling stones, have a simple inscription, “Here lived (name), date of birth, and fate (internment, suicide, exile or deportation/murder).” Each commemorates a victim outside their last-known freely chosen residence. Talk about making history personal! (Over 70,000 stones have been laid in more than 1,200 cities across Europe and Russia. Look for them when you travel.)

A City Divided

For some reason, I did not recall that Berlin was a “hole in the donut” rather than merely one city along a vast east-west Cold War border. I can’t imagine waking up one day to find myself literally walled off from family and friends, a job, my school. At least 171 people were killed trying to get over, under or around the Berlin Wall. From 1961 until the wall came down in 1989, more than 5,000 East Germans (including some 600 border guards) managed to cross the border by jumping out of windows adjacent to the wall, climbing over the barbed wire, flying in hot air balloons, crawling through the sewers and driving through unfortified parts of the wall at high speeds.

Most traces of the city’s division have been bulldozed over — streets, bridges and mass transit have been reconnected; districts have been realigned and merged.

The Oberbaumbrücke or Oberbaum Bridge connects the unified districts of Kreuzenberg and Friedrichshain. Do you remember it from one of the Jason Bourne movies?

(Answer: The Bourne Supremacy)

Brandenburg Gate

Mitte was once the heart of East Berlin. Now it is basically the city center due to its location, the fact that it remains the most urban-looking district and because Mitte is home to many of Berlin’s most popular sights

Celebrating the present

Berlin now prides itself on its inclusiveness and acceptance. Nowhere is this more evident than at the annual Carnival of Culture. The weekend celebration includes a parade celebrating the city’s diversity. We were among the million people that attended!

Hanging in Prenzlauer Berg

When the Berlin Wall came down, prosperity moved through East Berlin creating some of the city’s most popular areas. We are staying in one of them — Prenzlauer Berg. Once a Jewish ghetto, next a haven for squatters and artists, PB is now an affluent district brimming with young families (honestly, I have never seen so many buggies!). Elegant buildings which survived WWII, tree-lined cobblestone streets, playgrounds, countless small restaurants and cafes — all add to the area’s desirability. 

I mentioned the concept of ‘kiez’ in the previous  post. Berlin became a city by uniting small villages within a city environment. Prenzlauer Berg perfectly illustrates this village/neighborhood concept. Within a couple blocks of our apartment and tastefully integrated into the neighborhood ambience are a grocery store, a library and some day care centers. You don’t need to leave your neighborhood for anything but if you do, mass transit is conveniently located on a main street just a few blocks away.

The colorful East

Many of the districts in East Berlin seem to be more edgy and artsy. We see a lot of young people and there seems to be more nightlife. Street art is everywhere but Friedrichshain is probably the most famous for it. Here, the largest remaining section of the Berlin Wall is the world’s longest open air gallery (as well as a protected memorial).

East Side Gallery (Berlin Wall)

More street art in Friedrichshain

East Berlin —- always something happening

Bravo Berlin

We spent our last night with our friend Thomas and his Shakespeare Company Berlin for their opening night performance of “Love’s Labour Lost” at Schöneberger Südgelände. Bravo on a wonderful show and Bravo to the wonderful city of Berlin!