Recently I had some time to explore the streets of Copenhagen. It’s the capital of Denmark, an old seaside city with a distinctly fairy tale look. Every Dane is blond, blue eyed, in great shape, and is born with a bicycle in their hands. If you forget someone’s name, you can just call them “Christian Christiansen” and there’s a 95% chance you’ll be correct.
Important fact: Danes tend to speak English fluently. I had to ask people “Do you speak English?” now and then, but the answer was always “Of course!” The majority of the time Danes sized me up immediately and spoke to me in English before I could even say hello. Something to keep in mind if you’re unilingual.
Of the museums and such, I had a great time in the National Museum, the Round Tower, the Thorvaldsen museum, and the Rosenborg Palace. Of those, the National Museum is always free and has an impressive section on early human history. If you enjoy Romantic Era art, the Thorvaldsen museum is a must. Each sculpture contains enough symbolism to make a liberal arts major’s nipples explode with delight.
There’s two towers you can walk up in and get a view of the entire city: the Round Tower (Rundetårn) and the Church of Our Saviour (Vor Frelsers Kirke.) Since after a cramped airline flight and a lot of walking my knees were on their last legs (so to speak) I went with the Round Tower — for the first 3/4 of the way up the tower it’s a pleasant stroll up a winding ramp. After that there’s 2-3 flights of stairs and you’re out on a deck overlooking the city. Tickets are only a couple of bucks and the view is worth the price and hike.
The airport has a bicycle tire pump. I’d heard biking was big in Copenhagen and sure enough the airport bike pump was key evidence #1. There’s bike rental places are everywhere but it seems they welcome you to bring your own on the flight over.
It wasn’t until I saw rush hour during the week that I realized how many people bike in Copenhagen. The bike lanes fill up with congested traffic, bicyclists tailgating one another and riding side-by-side. But for the most part the lanes were clearly marked and people tended to obey the rules.
Bicycle fans, rejoice at the following facts about Copenhagen:
- Mail is delivered via tricycle
- The busiest bike lanes have their own traffic lights
- Steep car and gas taxes encourage cycling
- Second only to Amsterdam in terms of bicycle friendliness
- Danish clothing companies design clothing for hipster bicyclists
The first thing to notice about Copenhagen’s Metro is the drivers: there aren’t any. It’s like an airport tram, you can sit in the front and watch it move down the track on its own. The underground stations have interior doors for safety. (Coincidentally, we had two deaths on the subway tracks in San Francisco while I was away. Is this something we should be doing?)
90 minute transfers on the bus/Metro system are pricy at around $5-$6, but it’s cheap compared to a cab. The iOS/Android app makes it easy to buy an electronic ticket.
The system is entirely proof of payment. Only once did anyone check my ticket, a friendly older guy who looked well past “retirement” age and well into “Wal-Mart greeter” age.
Currently there’s a whole new Metro subway line under construction that makes a ring around the downtown area. The ring should be completed in the next couple of years. Oh, and did I mention that all Metro trains run 24/7? To put it bluntly, Copenhagen’s Metro makes Tomorrowland look like Frontierland.
Ostensibly I was in Copenhagen for Ultra Dork Summit Ubuntu Developer Summit (UDS), held at Bella Center. The hotel convention center reminded me of the old Metreon, with its striking design and strikingly ill-conceived layout.
This was the event where Valve announced the beta of Steam for Linux. Soon, children might not need a copy of Microsoft Windows to play those damn video games.
When I was in school we were taught that Halloween was an American holiday. While religious harvest holidays in the Fall dated back thousands of years, we were taught that Trick-or-treating and jack-o-lanterns were American traditions. But in recent years, I’ve heard of these traditions cropping up in places as far away as South America and the UK. And now I’ve seen American-style Halloween activities in Denmark with my own eyes.
At first I thought the jack-o-lanterns in near my hotel (the Nyhavn neighborhood) might be aimed at American tourists. But I didn’t see many American tourists. And I kept finding Halloween merchandise at local markets that were off the beaten path.
I visited my co-worker’s place on Halloween. He rented via AirBnB in a more suburban part of town. That night, the streets outside were crawling with costumed children going door to door! Who knew?!
If you enjoy hippie communities, you won’t find many places that fit the bill better than Freetown Christiania. It’s an authentic 70’s hippie commune neighborhood that makes Haight Street feel like Union Square. Sure, there’s little boutiques and cafes, but there’s also a few genuinely dive-y beer gardens, stages with live music, and not to mention the “Green Zone” where people sell marijuana in an open market.
Christiania is a beautiful little neighborhood, with winding streets that you can aimlessly explore for at least an hour or two. Despite the laissez-faire attitude, they do have many rules, one of which is that photography is (understandably) only permitted in certain areas. I wish I could have taken more photos, but I think rules are a good thing for communities like this; self-policing means less interference from the government. As the sign says when you exit, “You are now entering the EU.”
Denmark is big on wind energy. My hotel claimed to be 100% wind powered. Given that the nearby winds often felt like being tackled, I can believe it.
The photo to the left above is a boat designed for installing offshore windmills. The thing is massive, about the size of an oil platform. The right photo is a view of the coast. The windmill installation boat in the middle. If you look at those small white pillars just offshore, each one of those is a windmill.
Denmark doesn’t have any oil so wind makes sense. But I suspect another reason behind all the bicycling and clean energy: the entire country is flat and nearly at sea level. If the sea were to rise two meters they’d have a Kevin Costner scenario.
If it wasn’t obvious from everything above, I really enjoyed Copenhagen. It’s one of those places that’s both welcoming and foreign at the same time. And most importantly, more often than not the Danes make a great cup of coffee.