Above: Rosenborg Slot in Copenhagen. For 10 bucks you can see where the royal family slums it!
Copenhagen is supposably one of the new, cool, second cities of Europe. Why? Well, riding on the coattails of Sweden’s ill-deserved reputation for design (thanks for the BILLY, guys!), these ex-Vikings are now also acclaimed for their cleverly-designed salt and pepper shakers. Boutiques line the main boulevard of Bredgade, each featuring solitary black dresses on polished chrome mannequins. Each dress is cut slightly differently from the others, and each dress was also more expensive than my freaking plane ticket. These dress shops are interspersed with “design shops” flogging the aforementioned salt and pepper shakers, foot stools, end tables, and coat hangers. This parade of design carries on all the way to the pedestrian zone, where you are then overwhelmed by the usual embassies of Eurotrash: H&M, Mango, Esprit, etc.
Copenhagen is also home to Christiana, a former military base which became home to hippie squatters, and somehow was autonomous from the rest of the city. If you believe the hype, Christiana is amazing! It’s a peaceful, creative commune! Harmony! Organic food! Patchouli! Blah! Blah! Blah! And what’s worse (according to Christiana supporters), the big, bad city government is trying to re-claim the area. One thing Der Spiegel got right is that the economy in Copenhagen is indeed booming, and people who work (and perhaps shower occasionally) need places to work and live. This political struggle seems to only enhance the myth around Christiana. Well, let me tell you, I’ve been to Christiana, and so let me separate myth from reality.
My verdict? If Christiana is mythical, then think Elvis. Think Elvis in his last few days of life: bloated, physically repulsive, cut-off from reality, and eventually lying in a pool of its own effluence. Like Elvis in his last days, Christiana’s Glory Days are well in the past. Whatever you may have heard or think of it, I’m telling you now that Christiana was more like a Mad Max flick than anything else.
Left: Christiana then … and Right: Christiana today
What I saw was a rainy, depressed, washed out public park. What I saw were sullen young men standing idle, hands in their hooded sweatshirts, with pit bulls by their side. Fires burned in waste barrels, emanating emaciated black smoke. More men stood by a few of Christiana’s cafés, sizing us up and finally muttering the mantra of every spoiled Euro-kid: “Hash? Hash? Hash? You want hash?”
We thought about actually eating in one of the cafés. The menus did feature things “vegan” and “whole food”, but when you walked in, you wonder if Christiana is governed by any health codes. As you feel the filthy, ruptured linoleum under the soles of your shoes, you wonder if they’re even governed by the generally accepted logic of basic sanitation. We lowered our expectations and figured on just having coffee, but the smell of skunk and patchouli was simply too overwhelming. Young euro-kids sat around us with long amateur roll jobs, puffing away intensely, self-satisfied grins on their faces.
We passed the obligatory hippie market with annoying vendors flogged the usual stuff: smoking accessories, spirit webs, etc. A bit further on we came upon a group of skinheads wearing their trademark Lonsdale sweats, earring, and vicious gaze. They were hanging out in front of a club house with a sign featuring a Wolfsangel rune and “Information Point” over the door. “Marvelous,” I muttered.
Lines from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome were going through my head by this point. (“Two men enter, one man leaves! Two men enter, one man leaves! Two men enter, one man leaves!”) We left and didn’t look back. The sooner the authorities bulldoze that place, the better.
The rest of Copenhagen wasn’t that bad – certainly not after visiting that dump. There are a number of palaces and churches, and neighborhoods full of colorful buildings
A friendly bartender at the Al Mercante bar on Bredgade gave us good advice where to go out and where to eat (he even told us Christiana would suck). Actually, Al Mercante was pretty cool in itself, but he recommended the area around Sankt Hans Torv, across the water from the University. He then performed a juggling act with the bottles whilst mixing drinks. It would have put Tom Cruise and that guy from “Thornbirds” to shame.
I also wanted traditional Danish food, hoping it would be something like reindeer or yak (“That shit’s Norewegian,” the bartender scoffed). But the Danes don’t do reindeer. The Danes do herring. About six different ways – even curried. The herring was great, especially when washed down with a shot of heart-stopping Aquavit. It’s delicious and highly recommended if you dig raw fish. Nothing else on the Danish menu stood out.
The only other disappointment was that stupid Little Mermaid. What is up with that? It’s a small statue for a minor fable few people outside of Denmark recall. They’ve even gone one step further and erected a “new and improved” Mermaid on the cruise ship pier just a bit further north of the original. The original Little Mermaid is a bronze statue of a demure, waif-like girl. It’s not much bigger than a full-grown man. The new Mermaid is a 13-foot giant; a stone Pamela Anderson-fish creature with a chest like two Martello towers. I don’t know what depressed me more: trudging all over the park looking for a Little Mermaid you just know is going to be a waste of time, or seeing Hollwood’s fake-ass standards for beauty now personified permanently in Denmark by this freakish stone gorgon.
Left: The Little Mermaid … and Right: A Giant Stone Freak
Apparently, local kids are constantly taking the head off the original Little Mermaid, or vandalizing her – probably on their way back to Christiana. If the Danes want to make a statue of one of their literary heroes in the future, might I recommend Beowulf, or even better yet, Grendel?