Mingling with the danes

Canal in København

One place we had never been in on our previous visits to Copenhagen was The Black Diamond, the modern extension to the Royal Library of Copenhagen. As a public building, it catalyzes people’s relationship with the water, as it provides an outdoor living room under its protruding black glass volume. It was late in the afternoon, and having wandered the gigantic hallways of the library and having checked the exhibitions that were there, we were just about to call it a day and return to Lund. Outside we were approached by two friendly characters: “Are you enjoying Copenhagen? Would you like to tag along and party with us?“. “Yes” on both counts. We tagged along!

Christianshavn

Turns out we had just met the two most friendly men of Copenhagen that were on their way to meet the two most friendly women in Copenhagen. We sat on the cobblestones by the canal in Christianshavn, drinking Danish beer and getting to know our new Danish friends, waving hello to the canal tour barges.

Amager Øst

When we got hungry, we walked. We walked until we had to stop in another canal to alleviate ourselves from some beer by-product. I distinctly remember a rickshaw being involved in the affair, but that’s another story. Along the way, the beer buzz made us the best of friends. There was a grocery store, there was hurling boxes of cookies like a frisbee, there was chilli con carne and guacamole. There was good music and funny stories. And then it was midnight. Fearing our two-day ticket wouldn’t be valid for the return, we rushed to the subway, then to the train, then we were home, yet another layer of Denmark revealed.

On Utzon’s trail

Susan the hostess

Susan was the best of hosts! We discovered her house in Airbnb, it lay fifty meters from the shoreline and less than a thousand from Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. She immediately made us feel at home, she already had recommendations for our dinner – a quaint little restaurant in the Nivå harbour – booked a table, lent us bikes and we were on our way. Back home after a solid and delicious Danish burger, she offered us tea and wonderful conversation until midnight.

Humblebaek

In the morning, after a sunny breakfast that she’d left us before going to yoga, we went to visit the neighbourhood’s private jetty upon the Øresund. The sun was shining bright and the reflection on the gently wavy water turned it into a yellowish-green up close, or a blinding white far away on the horizon, where a faint silhouette of Sweden’s coastline and a less faint contour of the cliffs of the isle of Ven (Hven in Danish) could be seen.

After a short train ride to North Copenhagen and another north-westward from the city, we reached Bagsværd, a suburb of the capital chosen to become the site of a church designed by Jørn Utzon in the sixties. The design, having little resemblance with a church from the outside, had the natural light as it’s best friend and ally. It’s one of those designs where everything seems obsessively drawn by the head architect, from the free-form concrete ceilings emulating clouds in the sky, to the door plaques and the detailing of the exhibiting cases upon the hallway walls.

Bagsværd church

Benefiting from a lot of glass ceilings and being mostly built with prefabricated blocs of white concrete and white ceramic casing, we had to wander the long hallways with sunglasses on. While it is nordic and timeless in the process – almost everything seemed prefabricated! – it was international and time-framed in its layouts and free-form ceilings – reminding Le Corbusier’s Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp or several of Niemeyer’s works. It’s a daughter of modernism and a spearhead of Frampton’s critical’s regionalism.

Louisiana

Train to Humblebæk

After a few hours spent in the holiday-deserted streets of Helsingør, we caught the train southward to Humblebæk, an otherwise unremarkable small town on the western shore of the Øresund – using the Danish spelling here. What really puts this town on the map is Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, an outstanding building, landscape and institution in the outskirts of Copenhagen. It’s been around since the late 50s, harbouring works from all kinds of well-known artists from all around the world. The exhibitions that were there weren’t exactly my cup of tea, but I rejoiced seeing the tiny permanent Niels Wessel Bagge collection of pre-columbian art. Such objects were there to remind me of the wonders of simplicity in patterns, shapes and colours and also that humour belongs in art! Like three-dimensional caricatures The more we stared at some of the objects, the funnier they got! I love to find that in art.

Louisiana

Outside lies the true richness of Louisiana: it’s carefully designed gardens, with (litterally) tons of sculptures and peaceful viewpoints over the sea. The sun was already low so we took advantage of whatever picnic leftovers we had and called it a day on top of the natural grassy amphitheatre. But our wonderful hostess – whom we hadn’t met yet – still had something in store for us.

Crossing the Öresund

There is a great way of travelling around the strategic waterway known as the Öresund: the Öresund Rundt ticket. It gives access to all the trains around the strait on both sides, subway in Copenhagen plus two trips across the strait, one through the Öresund bridge that connects Copenhagen to Malmö, and one via the Helsingborg-Helsingør ferry. For the westbound trip, we chose the latter.

Øresund

After crossing the gate from the huge access ramp to the deck of the ferry, we gasped, and then we wondered whether we were already on the boat or if we had one more gate to cross because that didn’t look like any boat we had seen before. It was nothing short of a food court in a shopping mall. Mind you, it was not that impressive of a food court, but we were on a friggin’ boat, not a mall! It seemed all the more surreal since the trip would only take about fifteen minutes. I tried to imagine finding the time to place an order, get the food, find a spot to sit, chug the meal and wash it down with coffee before ropes are thrown to the pier. Plus, an ad read: alcohol sold in Danish waters, tobacco in Swedish waters.

Feeling that our memories of an actual ferry experience, filled with the stench of diesel fuel and enamel paint rusting away from steel joints and bolts were being washed away by that glorified image of super-sized lattes and crispy sanitized hot-dogs, we rushed to find an outer deck! Didn’t stay long though. Too cold outside. Wind was blowing from the Skagerrak. But at least, it took us back in touch with an actual ferry experience – the bottom deck loaded with lorries, the seagulls hovering, the old customs buildings and the horns – all things that the inside of the boat was designed to obliterate from perception.

Fishermen on the shores of Kronborg

On the Helsingør docks, we proceeded to Kronborg, a 16th century fortification with a knack for drama. It is better known as the source of inspiration for the setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But in a more prosaic perspective, it was the fortress responsible for charging dues from passing ships inbound to the Baltic and a great source of wealth for the Danish crown – going as high as two-thirds of the crown’s income at times. Around the fortress, a short strip of rocky shore surrounded by green grass, was home to idlers and leisurely fishermen. We settled, had our picnic with some Portuguese wine, harboured from the winds by the rocks.

The duty to sketch the common things

Merchant at Mårtenstorget

Thomas is a good sketching mate. He is patient and disciplined, which I am not. So, by a subtle sense of duty and companionship, he drives me from home (even when it’s freezing cold) with the challenge of street sketching.

View from Stortorget

Different things flow from the pens and pencils when such a companion puts you outside of the comfort zone. He usually sits exactly where I wouldn’t sit and sketches what I wouldn’t sketch, because I wouldn’t find it interesting or exciting enough. He does so, and so do I after spending a few moments in the tranquillity of everyday sights. The ability to permeate such sense and determination impresses me.

Ebbas