Denmark: It's time to forgive the Vikings

By Paul Charman

Paul Charman advocates an 'excellent adventure' in Denmark.

Copenhagen is one of the world's beautiful cities. Photo / Paul Charman
Copenhagen is one of the world's beautiful cities. Photo / Paul Charman

How about those bike-riding, pastry-eating, beer-guzzlers from the flat islands north of Germany?

Yes, the Danes — here are some nice things we learned about them while visiting Denmark last month.

With a national flag flying from every second building, citizens of this country are quietly but almost universally patriotic.

Royal guardsmen retain the 'Viking glint'. Photo / Paul Charman
Royal guardsmen retain the 'Viking glint'. Photo / Paul Charman

Years of living in an equal society, under successive left-leaning Governments, seems to have reduced stress levels to almost zero.

And despite "conking out" on average a year-or-two earlier than us — due to the national love of pastries, hot dogs, beer and smoking — the Danes are proof life expectancy ain't everything.

For though its people are a little po-faced and reserved, Denmark regularly gets voted the happiest country on earth.

And — though not exactly smug — the confident Danes seem to know all this too...

But that my wife and I had such a great time among them is surprising in one way, I mean considering our shared history.

Debra is Danish-Scottish — while my people came from England — so half of her ancestors and all mine once feared these "North Men".

For nearly 300 years their dragon boats crossed the North Sea to visit us, and it wasn't exactly to play rugby league.

They repetitively sacked our abbeys; burned down our villages and carried off our women.

And you can laugh if you like, but I assure you it's all true . . .

From the late Eighth to the mid-11th Centuries, these axe-wielding pagans made life miserable for the un-walled villages of coastal Britain and France.

Copenhagen has numerous spires to climb. Photo / Paul Charman
Copenhagen has numerous spires to climb. Photo / Paul Charman

Personally, I'd happily drag Denmark to the Hague over what the Vikings did to Lindisfarne Monastery . . . except for one thing.

About 1000 years after all that raping and pillaging — in 1801 to be exact — the British Navy blasted much of Copenhagen into smoky ruins.

England waged the so-called Battle of Copenhagen to improve its chances of winning the Napoleonic Wars, plus to steal Denmark's naval fleet, but I suppose 'what goes around, comes around'.

So with that awful shared history, it's nice that we're such great friends today — helped along no doubt by plenty of shared culture.

Almost every Dane speaks English, many doing so better than us Kiwis.

England's most famous play — Hamlet — and its oldest poem — Beowulf — are set, or partially set, in Denmark.

Denmark's most popular TV series, Midsomer Murders is set in South Oxfordshire.

And, after being such a nuisance in the past, this country has further atoned for its many sins by providing the world with Lego bricks, Ecco shoes, Bang and Olufsen hi fi and Carlsberg beer.

But the crucial figure in all this is Danny Kay.

Our Copenhagen guides were our nieces Maja and Emily. Photo / Paul Charman
Our Copenhagen guides were our nieces Maja and Emily. Photo / Paul Charman

The whole world went crazy over Kay's 1952 movie Hans Christen Andersen, whose signature tune Wonderful Wonderful Copenhagen put Danish tourism on the map.

Many of us rate this musical the best ever made, but regardless of that — you can't go wrong booking a holiday in Denmark.

The country is clean, safe and beautiful and the accommodation quite reasonably priced.

So given that you're going to have a great time in Denmark, perhaps just a few things to watch:

The diet

Having made some kind of Faustian bargain the Danes seem to have traded longevity for pleasure. But eating lots of hot dogs, pasties and cakes; washed down with litres of great beer, still doesn't work well for foreigners. I tried it for two weeks and collapsed with kidney stones, just as I boarded the ferry for Germany — so I nearly escaped but not quite. Though my condition was not thought to be caused by rich food, I took it as a kind of "cosmic warning" anyway. And my conclusion: Danes have a dreadful diet, but it's also dreadfully tempting. So partake with great care.

Danish lunch can kill you. Photo / Paul Charman
Danish lunch can kill you. Photo / Paul Charman

The bicycles

Copenhagen is one of the safest cities in the world to cycle but what is good for bikers and what's good for pedestrians are concepts which do not exist in the same universe. Copenhagen is so great for cycling that the supremely confident bikers there travel at about twice the speed you would expect. Jump off a bus, or step from the curb, and you're immediately on "their" cycle track. And if a bike is coming at you at the normal-for-Copenhagen speed of about 40km/h, expect no mercy.

Cycling is great - but speedy bikers  threaten pedestrians. Photo / Paul Charman
Cycling is great - but speedy bikers threaten pedestrians. Photo / Paul Charman

Sister Mary Elephant

With so many beautiful buildings it is tempting to take a boat cruise around Copenhagen's many inter-linking waterways. But the low-profile craft only just fit under the city's many low bridges. Stand up to take a photo at the wrong time and you might lose your head. To be fair, there's always a tour guide, who sounds a lot like Sister Mary Elephant to remind you to sit down in time. She says it gently at first — then bellows it out. But these cruises are great, we went twice.

Be prepared to duck if you take a boat tour. Photo / Paul Charman
Be prepared to duck if you take a boat tour. Photo / Paul Charman

Pusher Street

Freetown is a small portion of Copenhagen which was taken over by hippies many years ago. I don't question the decision to allow the city's misfits to congregate in just 34 just hectares of the inner-city. It's probably useful to keep an eye on them. But I don't see any need to visit them there either. On Pusher Street we saw young thugs disguised in ski masks, apparently guarding the large blocks of hash on display for sale. Meanwhile, some signs in Pusher Street confusingly remind you that that is "illegal" to purchase drugs there; while others forbid taking photos.

But the place is great

Yes, it would be unfair to end without stating categorically that — despite having given one tiny portion of its main city to the hippies — Denmark is wonderfully safe for tourists. This applies all ages and both sexes, and (allowing for some common sense) the place actually seems far safer than New Zealand. Danes are polite and friendly; the countryside is lush and attractive — if a little flat; buildings and housing stock are far better looking and much longer lasting than ours. A village church we entered was 950 years old, with walls half-a-metre thick. And it's safe to predict nothing being built to alleviate Auckland's housing crisis will last that long.

Buildings in Denmark are high among the reasons to visit. Photo / Paul Charman
Buildings in Denmark are high among the reasons to visit. Photo / Paul Charman

- NZ Herald

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