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Raiding the Icebox a visit to countries in which I've often thought about living

back in the big time

DENMARK | Friday, 20 June 2008 | Views [565]

Thoughts on two and a half days in Copenhagen:
First and foremost, it was exhilarating to be back in a city. Crowds of people beget a buzzing energy (along with other things, certainly). After a while, the bustling crowdedness of big cities usually weighs on me, but not this time. Although that may have been due to the fact that, despite the ever-filled main street(s) and squares, parts of the city are empty. Nathan and I agreed the city could use maybe 200,000 more people to really feel full (in a good way) (and of course, we have no idea how we decided on 200k).

The city itself is beautiful. Really exquisite architecture, lots of open squares filled with people, many streets that are mostly inaccessible by car. These are just features that I don't find in most American cities. There's a culture of being outside - of sitting in cafes to pass hours.

Far and away my favorite thing about Copenhagen is the prevalence of people on bicycles. Prevalence isn't even the right word. Bikes are ubiquitous. There are HUGE designated bike lanes. Bikes like every street: personal bikes and public bikes waiting to be unlocked and rode around for a small deposit. A few years back the city made these public bikes widely available. Genius. I have never seen more cyclists. They outnumbered cars.

Far and away the strangest thing was the prevalence of 7-11's. Every single corner, man. No joke. Six of them along one main street. I don't get it.

Another great thing, that may not be about Copenhagen, but just about the days we happened to go to museums, is that the two big museums we went to - the National Art Gallery, and the Glyptotek (sculpture) - had other, musical, events going on: a piano recital, and a performance of a famous Danish composer's works. A veritable smorgasbord of culture.

Three things in particular I want to mention. 1) Our second night (Saturday) we went to Tivoli Garden, which is a large garden/amusement park just outside the city center. It was glorious. It had been so many years since I'd been on rides, and never had I been on rides more or less in the middle of a city at 11pm (Copenhagen is further south than Iceland, so it actually got dark for a couple hours, maybe between 12 and 2).

2) Sunday afternoon we walked around town and made our way out to part of the city called Christiania. It's not really "part of the city," though, as in 1971, after it was vacated by the military that had been using the area as a barracks, a contingent of homeless and young persons moved in and declared it a "free city." It operates autonomously of the city. I'm not sure how that works in terms of schools and other social services, but I do know they self-police. In the 80s they internally took care of the growing heroin problem in the neighborhood. Each winter they open up the community and shelter hundreds of homeless people - a task the city proper does not do. The main differences you see between Christiania and the rest of the city are that one, there's more garbage laying about (and I don't mean trash-garbage, just stuff-garbage: heaps of dirt, piles of branches, stacks of unused insulation), and two, drug use is public. It certainly has your stereotypes: I was greeted by a few stands selling hemp clothes, and blaring Bob Marley) but I was struck by the fact that all sorts of people were there. It was actually the most diverse part of the city.

3) Sunday night we watched the Turkey v. Czech Republic EuroCup match. Before this trip I may have watched a total of two hours of soccer in my life. Now, it's an almost nightly event. Anyway, Czech Republic was up 2-0 on Turkey at around the 70th minute when Turkey scored to make it 2-1. Then in the 88th minute Turkey scored again. Bang, 2-2. Then, just as the bonus time started, in the 90th minute, just two minutes after they had scored, Turkey banged another one home. Boom, 2-3. Comeback complete, and Turkey goes on to the quarter finals. Easily the most dramatic soccer game I'd ever seen. Now, I hadn't seen too many Turks around Copenhagen, but they came pouring out of the woodwork after the game. A pack of a dozen guys rolled past the bar singing, so we followed them out and down to the main square. There were more people wearing Turkey gear, and waving Turkish flags in the square, and many, many cars driving around honking their horns, waving their flapping Turkey flags out the windows. I don't care about the EuroCup at all, but it was pretty exciting. Exciting by osmosis.

And that's Copenhagen. So, same question: could I live here? Originally I thought yes, but after seeing Stockholm (where I've been now for three days) it's hard to still feel that way. It'd be a great place to come back to for another, longer stay, but by comparison it's still a small city. If I'm going to be in a city I want a thriving, cosmopolitan metropolis. Copenhagen is a little too provincial for me.

Tags: amusement park, bicycles, cafes, citylife, copenhagen, denmark, squares, tivoli

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