Monarchical Enchantment

My own country was founded on the desire to separate from monarchs and royalty at all costs. Yet the feeling of passing a smørrebrød restaurant to be not-too-gently surprised by Frederiksborg Castle rising in the distance is awe-inspiring.

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It’s not quite an illogical leap for me to imagine how a Dane could feel incredibly proud of this architectural feat, overlooking its incredible cost. Doesn’t get much worse up close, either.

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Just another vacation home for the King or Queen, about 40 minutes north of the main palace in Copenhagen. Now it serves as an extensive gallery of multiple centuries of art depicting Danish royalty. And look, Denmark’s most famous king, Christian IV, decided to make an appearance!


My goal is to be able to recognize a dozen or so Danish monarchs just from their image. Certainly won’t be forgetting that ghostly white visage any time soon.

Following up on last week’s post about Islam and Danish xenophobia, I came across some interesting photos in an art gallery this week. At first I thought it was some sort of ill-fated attempt at capturing the strangeness and brutality of war, but it was actually something quite a bit more bizarre. The pictures were taken at a Danish military training facility, which is a small town that is constantly reworked to look like whatever enemy the Danes may be fighting at the moment. It is the last step in military training before actual combat, and is supposed to provide an immersion-like experience. The photos showed ruins of buildings, livestock scattered around dirt roads, and Danish men and women wearing fake black beards. Pretty interesting, and I wonder what we do in the US to immerse our soldiers in a new environment.

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Wacky. Here’s the sculpture o the week:

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My Danish teacher called it “the most dramatic day in Denmark since World War II.” Two innocent people died and six were injured, a tragedy. On the same day, a man named Eric Roman expired on the way to a New York City hospital. His death from multiple gunshot wounds ended a new record: 12 days without a homicide in New York City, the longest streak since the city began recording homicides in this way in 1994.

Denmark is different than NYC, certainly. It has fewer people, for one. But it also sees itself as the safest country around. No dangerous terrain (highest point in the country stands around 700 feet!), no dangerous animals, no dangerous weather, and no dangerous people. Danish police are primarily trained in communication rather than use of lethal force. In a picture that perfectly sums up how many Danes want their police force to be used, officers stop traffic to let a family of swans cross the road:×768-desktopnexus-com.jpg

Clearly this was not the scene on Saturday afternoon and evening, as a man freely unloaded bullets from his three semi-automatic weapons not far from where the image above was captured. More interesting than the actual event, in my belief, will be the aftermath. Denmark prides itself on being a trusting society, yet it was surveillance cameras that helped police capture Saturday’s shooter. When I toured Denmark’s main parliament building earlier this week, my host dad was quick to point out how different it was from touring the White House. Anyone can get in, no reservations, no security checkpoint. Will this continue to be the case? Will babies continue to be left in prams as trusting mothers pop into a cafe for a cup of coffee? Will police officers be a common sight? Hours of walking around Copenhagen will generally bring you within view of one or maybe two. Have Denmark’s lax security measures arisen from an actual cultural difference, or simply the good fortune to have gone this long without commonplace violence?

view of the synagogue (site of second shooting) Monday afternoon

view of the synagogue (site of second shooting) Monday afternoon

Secondly, there is the issue of race. Much of Denmark is entrenched in xenophobia, and I’ve heard many racist comments spoken about the recent influx of Arabic immigrants into Denmark. The Danish political party with the most representatives in parliament, the Danish Folkeparti, is headed by a man who recently suggested a boycott of the ubiquitous grocery store chain, Fotex. Fotex had recently posted an advertisement in one of their stores in Arabic, and many Danes took offense to this. The same Danes, likely, with which I am able to speak English freely. While talking to a Middle Eastern man on a bus recently about this issue, he told me that Danes have a word similar to our N-word that is used on all people of color as a blanket derogatory term. Another man, this one white, suggested that it would be easier and much preferred to kick all the Muslims out, rather than increase security measures in response to Saturday’s attack. On the other hand, many thousands of Danes turned out for a rally in support of Muslims on Monday night, just two days after the shootings. They wanted to make sure that Muslims in their communities were not victimized for the act of one individual. Only around 50 people showed up for a counter rally by PEGIDA, Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West.

Interestingly, the whole conversation of immigration and its obvious ties to race issues takes on a whole new framework in Denmark. While the underlying understanding in the US is that we are all descendants of immigrants, the same is not true in Denmark. Danes have been on this small land mass for over a thousand years, and they are a direct descendant of the original inhabitants of this place. How much does this matter? Does this place belong to them in some way?

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The Fundamentals

If I’m going to be a part of the tribe that is Denmark, a proud clan of flag-waving Viking has-beens, I’ve got some studying to do. The harbor in downtown Copenhagen is called “New Harbor” (Nyhavn, in Danish). It’s a century older than the United States. The world’s oldest monarchy presides over the country, and names of towns and streets still pay homage to deities worshiped more than a millennium ago. Scratching the surface of this extensive cultural history would likely take a lifetime, but in the last week I’ve been giving it the old college try. First up was Roskilde, about 20km (80,000 miles? something like that) NW of Copenhagen. I visited the Roskilde Cathedral, the burial site of every Danish monarch since before the Danish monarchy- the Viking king Harold Bluetooth was buried at the site at around 960 AD. Dozens of decadent marble caskets now lay thoughtfully scattered around the ever-expanding cathedral. Different wings of the building have been constructed throughout the thousand year history to accommodate centuries of revered royalty. I have heard on multiple occasions that 70% of Danes support having a monarchy, even though their power is symbolic and their taxpayer burden real. Tradition seems to be the most often cited reason for its retention, and it was nice to feel momentarily “in the know” about this particular part of Denmark’s history.

A one-night trip took me to Odense (named after Odin, a Viking god) and Aarhus, Denmark’s third and second largest cities, respectively. This also got me off of the island of Zealand and onto the other two regions of Denmark: Funen and Jutland. Hans Christian Andersen is Odense’s (pronounced oo-en-suh, I’m just as confused as you are) claim to fame, as he was born and raised in the poorer sections of the town. Both Odense and Aarhus are centered around a pedestrian-only walking street, twisting and turning through shops and cafes, in a very similar fashion to Copenhagen’s walking street. Only Odense, though, houses this lovely lady:

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Another Odense highlight was one more striking reminder of the overbearing regulations the welfare-state government has placed on Danish citizens:

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Aarhus is a city huddled around a rather pleasant canal. At the end of said canal is this exceedingly friendly-looking sculpture. It rotates around silently wherever the wind pushes it.

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During the week, I had a three day field trip with my Environmental Science of the Arctic class. We went to an island in south Zealand (Zealand being the larger island that Copenhagen of which is a part) and saw the power of the sea in creating massive cliffs over the rocky and chalky beaches. Here’s some chalk right here! Funky stuff:

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The island is called Møn, giving me a much needed opportunity to practice my pronunciation of that bizarre crossed out o. It’s pronounced like “oo”, or more appropriately “œ”, though replacing one weird letter with another doesn’t help much. You kind of pucker the lips a bit and fall and then rise in tone.

A police officer was shot a couple hours ago just north of downtown Copenhagen, and I am interested in watching the aftermath of this event. More on that next week, probably.

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