There is evidence of fishing villages existing for millennia on the shores of the narrow stretch of water that separates the modern countries of Denmark and Sweden. In the 12th century, the locals called upon Bishop Absalom to build a fort on a small island in order to protect them from prowling pirates. A city eventually took root there, built upon the wealth of the herring fishery.
In the 15th century, København (‘købe’ meaning ‘the buy’ and ‘havn’ meaning ‘harbour’) replaced Roskilde as the capital of Denmark. The city was transformed by the flamboyant King Christian IV (1588-1648). He controlled most of Scandinavia from his capital, but he eventually bankrupted his treasury with his international forays and ambitious building projects. By the early 19th century, other empires surpassed the once mighty Danes.
Today, Copenhagen is considered the ‘cool’ capital of Scandinavia. The beauty of the historic buildings is intermixed with cutting edge modern architecture. The skyline is filled with copper spires; the attractive squares are still paved with cobblestones but the hippest of cafés and Michelin-starred restaurants vie for attention with world-class museums and stunning glass buildings leaning at all angles against the sky.
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
We left the heavy rains in Bergen, Norway and flew directly into Copenhagen’s sunshine at noon. A state-of-the-art metro (no drivers on the trains) quickly took us the 10km into the city, passing by our station at Christianhavn before crossing the channel into the core. We had booked a small apartment two blocks from the metro station, and after picking up the keys at a neighbouring café, we settled into our new home for the coming week.
I’ve wanted to come to Copenhagen ever since I met a lovely woman named Lisa Anderson in the Metropole Hotel in Khartoum, Sudan in 1973. I was briefly on my own in Khartoum, and when I emerged from my room I saw this older woman sitting in the lobby pouring a glass of cold beer for herself. I smiled at her warmly and she asked if I would help her out by sharing the large bottle of beer with her. It must have been nearly 45C that afternoon, and I was both thirsty and a little lonely, so I happily accepted.
I learned that Lisa and her husband had retired from their jobs in Copenhagen, and had come to the Sudan to volunteer in the middle of almost nowhere. Tag Anderson had been a bricklayer, and he had come to teach his skills to the villagers in a rural district. They had been in the Sudan for several months already, and Lisa had come on her own to the capital to stock up on supplies for the months to come.
We saw each other over the course of the next few days, and then Lisa set off to rejoin her husband. We kept in touch with annual Christmas cards for the next twenty years or so, and then the cards stopped. Lisa wrote to me when her dear husband died, but as they were childless, there was no one to inform me when she passed away. I never did get the opportunity to see her again, and that’s unfortunate. I regret that I no longer have her address; it would have been nice to walk by her house and see where she had lived all those years after returning from Africa.
Our first morning dawned bright and sunny and we heard the carillon chiming every hour from the tower of the Church of Our Saviour right next door. We set off along the nearby canal, reminded a little of the lovely canals in Amsterdam, but as soon as we started across the Knipplesbro Bridge, it was clear we were in a very different city indeed. From our vantage point, we could see many dramatic modern glass buildings here and there along the waterfront and in between the massive brick and stone structures, crowned with towering copper-tinged spires.
We spent the next several days walking different routes through the city, ticking off the most famous sights, and enjoying the streetscapes and the little out of the way corners that most tourists miss in their rush to see Copenhagen on the fly. The Old Stock Exchange, The Christianborg Palace, The Stork Fountain, The Tivoli Gardens, The Rondetaarn, The Carlsberg Glyptotek, Nyhavn, The Danish Design Museum, The Royal Library (Black Diamond) and last but not least, The Little Mermaid.
We loved the apartment we rented and especially its proximity to all the major sights in Copenhagen, so when we learned that it was available for an additional two days, we decided to extend our stay so that we could make at least one day trip out of Copenhagen in order to see the striking Louisiana Museum of Modern Art and the castle made famous by Shakespeare, Elsinore at the town north of the city called Helsingør.
After nine nights in Copenhagen, after feeling like we had only begun to scratch the surface of this fascinating city, we purchased train tickets for the 5-hour journey to Stockholm. We would be able to take the train directly from the Central Station, cross the fixed-link bridge and make our way across the southern part of the Swedish peninsula, from one capital to another.
There is clearly so much more to see in Copenhagen, and in Denmark as well, however, Sweden, Finland and the Baltic States are beckoning and with the leaves on the trees beginning to turn colour, we knew we couldn’t dawdle any longer or the snow would be flying before we made our way into Eastern Europe and south into Poland and Hungary.