Wednesday, 03-06-2015. Day 287.
Fountains, Vikings, Bishops ... and more Hygge
This was our first full day in Copenhagen, and that meant it was time for us to go on the Sandeman's Free Walking Tour of Copenhagen! Unlike some of the other cities we've been in where there are two Sandeman's tours each day, there was only one in Copenhagen, So we headed down to the Town Hall Square (just across the street from Tivoli Gardens) for our 11:00 tour with Julie.
While we waited for the tour to start, we checked out the large bronze statue of a bull fighting a dragon that sort of dominates the city square. Julie didn't talk about the statue, but I did a little research and found out it dates back to 1889 and was crafted as part of a contest for a fountain to be placed in Amager Square (a central shopping square in Copenhagen). It didn't win (that honor went to a stork statue, more on this later), but it did get placed it here, in front of city hall and across the street from Tivoli Gardens—which seems to me to be a more prominent location.
Copenhagen Town Hall
Julie started our tour started right there in Town Hall Square focusing on, naturally, the Town Hall, initially built in 1905.
One of the most prominent features on its facade is a gilded statue of Bishop Absalon, who founded the town that would become Copenhagen in 1160. Julie promised us his story, and a better statue, later on in the tour. Before we left the square, she pointed out the polar bears that crown the gables of the Town Hall.
Now this might seem a bit unusual because there are no polar bears in Denmark—they're traditionally a symbol of Greenland—until you realize that Greenland is a Danish territory.
So we mentioned this in yesterday's update, but since this theme park dominates a huge chunk of Copenhagen (82,000 square meters—that's 20 acres) and it's right across the street from the Town Hall, we'll mention it again.
It gets something like four million visitors a year, making it the third-most popular theme park in Europe (after Disneyland Paris and Eurpoa Park—according to Wikipedia, Phantasialand is 14th, in case you were curious).
The Lur Blowers
Before we lef tthe Town Hall Square behind, we had one last stop, the statue of the Lur Blowers, which rests atop a tall pillar on the eastern side of the Town Hall Square. The lur is a huge bronze horn used in ritual ceremonies.
The statue was given to the city by the Carlsberg Foundation (we talked about them on a previous post) in 1911. There's a myth that states the horns will blow when a virgin walks by. During our stay, they remained silent.
Brief History of Denmark
We took as short stroll over to Copenhagen City Court (a building that used to be city hall until the one we'd visited was built) where Julie gave us the quick geographical history of Denmark using members of the tour (including our children) as props.
The Danes were great explorers, traders, and conquerors—taking over areas of the Netherlands and even as far south as France (these settlers would come to be known as the Normans who conquered England in 1066) and they even controlled England for a time. The Danes converted to Christianity in 965 under the rule of Harald Bluetooth (yes, the Bluetooth in your phone technology is named after him), whose territory included Denmark, Norway, Sweden and parts of the Netherlands.
Things got pretty confusing for awhile, and after periods of relative peace and colonialism (through the Danish East India Company—everyone had an East India Company it seems) until the Napoleonic Wars when Britain ravaged Copenhagen to prevent the French from using the Danish naval fleet to attack Britain (or maybe it was revenge for centuries of Danish raiding and occupation of the British Isles). And from there, the whole region rolled right into World Wars I and II. There's a little more to it other than that, but this is already getting pretty long, so we're going to move on.
After our history lesson, we walked by Slotsholmen, a tiny island in the center of Copenhagen where we saw Christianborg Palace, the headquarters of Danish government (Parliament, the Prime Minister and the Supreme Court are all located here). Before it was the Christianborg Castle, it was the site of Absalon's Castle. Appropriately enough, our next stop was the nearby equestrian statue of Bishop Absalon that stands in front of the Copenhagen Contemporary Art Center.
It's not often you think of a bishop as being a bad-ass, but Bishop Abaslon was one bad-ass bishop. He waged war against a group of non-Christian people (the Wends) living in the greater Baltic area who had been ravaging Danish lands and peoples for decades.
After winning a decisive battle, he toppled an idol representing the Wend's war god. When he wasn't struck down with retribution, the Wends converted to Christianity and submitted to Danish rule. But Absalon wasn't done—he sailed for the capital of the Wends. When he arrived (with only 12 soldiers to back him up!), his had reputation preceded him. The enemy forces surrendered immediately, and when he toppled the statue of another of their gods and lived, the entire town converted to Christianity and were subjected to the rule of Abslaon's Bishopric. Not a bad bit of work for a decade of fighting.
Hans Christian Andersen
We stopped in front of the Royal Danish Theatre to hear a little bit about the life of one of Denmark's national heroes—Hans Christian Andersen.
Andersen came to Copenhagen at a young age to become an actor. He failed in this, though, but he was accepted into the Royal Danish Theatre—at least until he got older and his voice changed. That's when he concentrated on his writing and produced the work he's best known for, classics such as The Princess and the Pea, The Ugly Duckling, The Emperor's New Clothes, and The Little Mermaid.
We did briefly talk about his notorious his love life—or lack thereof—which he wrote about extensively in his journals. Much of his popular stories seem to be about the many women he loved from afar. He sounded like a conflicted man with a high degree of social anxiety. For many years he lived alone at Nyhavn, which was the next stop on our tour.
Probably the most famous image of Copenhagen is that of the colorful buildings along Nyhavn, or "new port, " a place that dates back to 1670 when Danish King Christian V had the waterway dug out to connect King's Square to the sea.
It became a center of commerce and a place where fishing boats and cargo ships could unload their wares. With the ships, of course, came seamen. And after being at sea for long periods of time, seamen need a place to blow off some steam, so came the booze and the prostitutes.
Eventually, as ships got larger, Nyhavn was supplanted by the new Port of Copenhagen and this area became neglected. But over the years, it's been restored and many old-style wooden ships sail and moor here. It's a popular tourist destination and entertainment district—as well as a place where the well-to-do have homes.
After we left Nyhavn, we walked toward the Amalienborg Complex, a square surrounded by four identical buildings built around an axis that serve as the residences of the Danish Royal Family.
The castles in the area were homes to Danish nobles, but, when the former royal palace (Christianborg Castle) burned in 1794, King Frederik V (the same gent who built Nyhaven) convinced the nobles to sell and the royal family moved in, where they've lived ever since. The area is guarded by the Royal Guard, elite soldiers who look a lot like the British Queen's Guard.
Frederik's Church (The Marble Church)
Started by Frederik V in 1749, this Evangelical Lutheran church wasn't finished until 1898, due in part to death (first of the architect, then of Frederik) and also by rising construction costs and lack of funds.
After much, the church was finished. Ironically enough, it is built mostly of limestone and not marble as called for in the original plans, but it retains its impressive copper dome, commonly thought to be based upon the dome at St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.
Copenhagen Opera House
A.P. Møller, the founder of Maersk (the largest company operating container ships in the world—you've probably seen the name on their blue shipping containers at some point), commissioned this new building and paid for it and donated it to the city.
There was a bit of drama around the building of the Opera House that had to do with the Freetown Christiania, which was founded in 1971 by a group of squatters and remains a community, independent of Copenhagen government, of about 800 people today. It's a somewhat interesting place that you can tour (a visit is included in Sandeman's Alternative Copehnhagen Tour)—we didn't visit it, though.
Anyway, Møller, being a capitalist sort, wasn't a fan of this hippy commune, which is geographically adjacent to his opera house. But architect Henning Larsen, allegedly angry with Møller for the latter's constant insistence on design changes, just may have the last laugh. At night, when the lights are on inside the opera house, they're lit up in a way that resembles the flag of Christiania (three yellow globes on an orange background). Or maybe it's a total coincidence. We didn't get to see this ourselves, but you can judge for yourself over at Prattle & Jaw.
A lesson in Hygge
And that brought us to the end our our tour. But before our group broke up, Julie took a moment to go deep in the concept of hygge (pronounced something like hyoo-ga), the Danish idea of comfort. Hygge is a word that the Danes made up, and it describes, at its simplest, a way for being comfortable indoors. It's hard to describe to foreigners and it's different for each person, but being hyggeligt usually involves candles (Danes use more candles than any other country), sweaters, home-baked bread, and humility. If you want to know more about introducing a little hygge into your life, check out this bit from Danish Life.
As we walked back toward our apartment, we decided to walk along Strøget, Copenhagen's longest pedestrian street (some say it's the longest in the world), that Julie had pointed out to us on our tour.
The establishment of this three-kilometer stretch of street as a car-free zone in 1962 started the city's rise of bicycle and pedestrian traffic over car traffic (although there is still plenty of that, but not as bad as in other major cities we've visited.) These days it's lined with restaurants, public art, and plenty of shops.
One of those shops is the Lego Store ... of course we had to stop in.
So at the top of this really long post, I mentioned that a Stork Fountain beat out the Bull vs Dragon fountain in a competition to sit in a place of honor in Amagertov (Amager Square), which can be found as you wander along Strøget (and not far from the Bishop Abaslon statue). So here it is.
It was sort of neat to see, but we actually liked another piece of public art near the square a little better.
It's called Moment I, by Steinunn Thórarinsdottir. We have no idea what the deal is with this statue, but it sure was fun to hang around it.