A wedding in the Danish town of Ribe

By Paul Charman

Paul Charman and wife Debra visit Scandinavia's oldest town for a family wedding.

The lasting image in my mind is of Maja, Bjorn and their daughter Astrid riding away in their wedding carriage. Photo / Debra Christensen
The lasting image in my mind is of Maja, Bjorn and their daughter Astrid riding away in their wedding carriage. Photo / Debra Christensen

Visiting Ribe was like entering some medieval movie set designed by Pieter Bruegel (the Elder).

In Copenhagen, upon boarding a train for the four-hour-journey to Ribe (say Ribe-ah), a lady scolded us for inadvertently chattering in the "quiet carriage".

Fair enough too, who wants to put up with disrespectful foreigners during a long journey — but then again it's just as well we made some noise on the train.

Later on, another woman just caught us as we hefted our heavy suitcases from the carriage to a station platform . . .

She'd also overhead us speaking, and so had realised we were getting got off at the wrong village.

The inner part of town is all cobbles and 12th Century architecture; a cathedral, great brick buildings and skinny three-storey houses constructed out of huge beams. Photo / Debra Christensen
The inner part of town is all cobbles and 12th Century architecture; a cathedral, great brick buildings and skinny three-storey houses constructed out of huge beams. Photo / Debra Christensen

That really reduced stress, as we'd become quite frazzled during the lengthy journey, which demands changing trains early on.

But once arrived safely in Ribe everything looked like a fairy tale by the master H.C. Anderson himself.

The inner part of town is all cobbles and 12th Century architecture; a cathedral, great brick buildings and skinny three-storey houses constructed out of huge beams.

There's plenty of tourist kitsch available to prove you've actually been there.

In the square we discovered our Danish whanau had already arrived and were already sipping cold Carlsbergs in the summer heat.

Before joining them we checked into the nearby Weis Stue hotel, a well-priced if quirky 800-year-old lodging.

This narrow castle-like inn had flights of stairs hidden behind narrow closet-sized doors.

We squeezed our way to the top floor, where — having used the Internet back in New Zealand — I'd booked two nights in a tiny attic room.

Our cots bulged, as if still containing remains of mediaeval house guests, but it was just the Danish habit of folding duvets so it looks like there's somebody already in your bed.

Not much chance of escaping from such a room in the event of a fire, but I can't say we worried about that much.

With more time in town we might have visited its Viking Museum, or joined the town's pike-carrying night watchman on his rounds.

It would have been enlightening to have heard how a town established the Eighth Century had survived into the present, to become the oldest in Scandinavia.

But we were there to see niece Maja marry her fiance Bjorn, so instead of tourist stuff it was off to Bjorn's parents' place, just out of Ribe.

The friendliness of a big Danish party is something to experience — with beef and potatoes cooked to perfection; good wine flowing; a festive cake and so forth.

But being a JAFA I'll get to the house values.

Groom and bride with their daughter. Photo / Debra Christensen
Groom and bride with their daughter. Photo / Debra Christensen

Bjorn's parents lived in a beautiful and roomy 80s-era home, on a leafy and immaculate-for-the-wedding quarter-acre section.

It would have been worth about NZ$400,000, compared to well over a million for the same thing near Copenhagen.

But the Dane's — who are a bit in awe of Auckland house prices by the way — have a secret weapon when it comes to affordable housing.

Back in Copenhagen Maja (who did part of her schooling at Otumoetai College) and Bjorn own a co-operative apartment.

This is a unique Danish arrangement, harnessing the combined purchasing power of a group to take out a mortgage on an entire building.

Tax breaks mean the arrangement has the huge advantage of allowing a couple to get into their own apartment relatively cheaply (say round NZ$300,000), but with the values kept deliberately low capital gain when selling is limited.

The professional couple getting married — Maja is a secondary history teacher and Bjorn a physiotherapist — were already considering shifting to the provinces, possibly Ribe, to live.

Relocating from city to the provinces would allow, just as in New Zealand, additional space for a growing family plus more resources for other things.

And besides, with Denmark's current push to shift Government admin services from city to provinces, prospects in the regions were looking better each day.

The simple wedding ceremony was in Ribe's 700-year-old town hall, with a carriage carrying the couple away afterwards.

There followed a long day of feasting and drinking, complete with festive door wreaths platted in green leaves taken from the forest.

The wedding breakfast featured piano recital, specially written songs and Debra performing "Hine E Hine" (the goodnight Kiwi song) and "Haere Mai, Everything is Kapai".

These Kiwi songs acknowledged Maja and her sisters' late Kiwi dad, Paul Christensen.

And there's certainly some odd and fascinating traditions at such feasts.

When either bride or groom leave their seats to visit the conveniences, seated guests line-up to kiss from the lone bride/groom left sitting alone.

The lasting image in my mind is of Maja, Bjorn and their daughter Astrid riding away in their wedding carriage. Photo / Debra Christensen
The lasting image in my mind is of Maja, Bjorn and their daughter Astrid riding away in their wedding carriage. Photo / Debra Christensen

When things get a bit slow, tap a fork on your plate and the couple must stand on their chairs and kiss one another.

Drum your feet under the table and the couple must get under the table and kiss — so they're up and down like yo-yo's.

Towards the end of the evening the groom got hoisted up by his mates, who removed his shoes to cut the toes out of his socks (at most weddings they do the tie too) with a pair of scissors.

The couple have a last waltz before leaving the party, during which those gathered closed-in, leaving them less and less room to dance.

The lasting image in my mind is of Maja, Bjorn and their daughter Astrid riding away in their wedding carriage . . .

No doubt — in Copenhagen just as in Auckland — yet another city couple is headed for a better life in the country.

- NZ Herald

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