Sunday, August 25, 2013

Discovering Copenhagen

I am surprised to discover how big Copenhagen is.  While it has the same philosophy as Amsterdam with respect to commuting the size of this city means there are more cars here and the place is less intimate than Amsterdam.  The city centre is stunning though and there are many spots where the canal life is enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.  The public transport system here is amazing and a train appears every few minutes and the Metro drives itself!  You purchase a ticket, which you punch to indicate the number of zones you will travel trough but it is all based on an honour system, which during our stay in Copenhagen was never tested. 

We decided to start our explorations in Copenhagen in a suburb called Christiania.  As explained in Wikipedia, Christiania, also known as Freetown Christiania is a self-proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood of about 850 residents, covering 34 hectares in the borough of Christianshave.  Civic authorities in Copenhagen regard Christiania as a large commune, but the area has a unique status in that it is regulated by a special law, the Christiania Law of 1989 which transfers parts of the supervision of the area from the municipality of Copenhagen to the state.

Christiania has been a source of controversy since its creation in a squatted military area in 1971.   Authorities tolerated the cannabis trade until 2004 but since then, measures for normalising the legal status of the community have led to conflicts, and negotiations are ongoing.  Our initial impressions of this area were not great.  We quickly entered a zone called the Green Light District, where I was requested very quickly to pack my camera away.  In fact, we noticed the signs that were everywhere,
asking us to enjoy this place but take no photos as memories!  The Green Light District is so named of course because grass and other drugs can be casually bought and sold here although it is illegal to do so.   The place seemed run down and dilapidated and we soon left, not having found what we came looking for or anyone that we might even chat too. 

The day was warming up and we walked to the Nuyhaven district to enjoy the postcard views and hop on a canal cruise.   The sky was still a little overcast but it was fun to see this city from a boat.  We enjoyed great views of the Opera House, the Play House, the statue of the Little Mermaid, the beautiful churches and the Royal Yacht.  It was a taster for what this city offered and gave us a hint for the areas we might explore on foot later on. 

After the cruise, we found our way to the sand sculpture exhibition.  Neither of us had been to a sand sculpture exhibition previously, so it was an interesting experience.  The sculptures are constructed by
mixing sand and clay, which forms a consistency that holds firm for the duration of the summer as long as they are sprayed regularly.   We learn it is an annual exhibition held in this city with sculptors from all over the world.  This year, artists from 4 Continents are represented and we are intrigued to read the descriptions that go along with the artwork, all of which appears to be an interesting commentary on the world. 

We walked all over Copenhagen on Day two.  We start our discoveries in the park, which is home to the Little Mermaid.  I am quite amazed to discover what a tourist attraction this little statue has become despite the far bigger and more elaborate statues that can be found all over Copenhagen!  We find a quiet spot in the park for lunch and enjoy the sunshine we have been blessed with once again. 

After lunch we find ourselves at the Palace just in time to experience the changing of the guard.  It is not as pompous a ceremony as that in Buckingham Palace and you can get right up to the guards who seem unperturbed by the cameras shoved in their faces!  We haven’t seen any signs of Mary but wonder what it must be like to suddenly be thrust into royalty because of a chance meeting with a Prince in your local pub! 

Steve is keen to visit the architecture centre while we are here but sadly he is unable to find any books on co-housing.  I enjoy sitting outside with a grand view of the sand castle exhibition from the opposite bank. 

Lis has encouraged us to visit Christiana again as we haven’t really seen the residential area.  This time we walk along the river and discover a different place.  There is a little celebration of folk dancing in the café and the path along the river leads us to a small hamlet of creative houses and a small community.  It is certainly low impact living that has evolved quite organically.  Unfortunately, there weren’t too many people about so we didn’t get a real feel for what it might be like to live here. 

We take it easy on Day 3.  We’ve had a late night, chatting to Lis and enjoying the dinner we cooked together.  We’ve decided to start our day at Central Station, making sure all’s OK for our onward journey.  As we come out I notice a commotion ahead and we walk towards the crowds to find we are in the midst of one of Europe’s biggest Gay Pride Parades.  It is an impressive parade but the crowds are not as thick as they would be in Sydney so we get good vantage points to watch and record this street celebration.

What I notice about this parade is the amount of children that are part of this celebration and as we walk away, we discuss the ethics of this.  Nobody blinks when children are instructed in the mainstream beliefs of their parents – whether they be fundamental Christians, Buddhists or Muslims.  Kids all over the world are convinced into believing that they have been born into the one truth and that they must be loyal to this faith without questioning or searching for their own truth.  Yet, many people would argue that kids don’t have a place in a Gay Pride Parade.  The parade itself is quite extreme and not necessarily a reflection on the practices or behaviour of many gays who besides their sexual orientation are not that different to straight couples.  Yet, when your sexuality has been questioned for so long, the need to express your individuality has perhaps resulted in parade such as this…perhaps even if it is just to make a statement to mainstream conservatives!

The cry of the people here is after all universal.  “Just give me the space to be myself…and accept me for who I am and not for who you want me to be!”

We watch for a couple of hours before leaving for the Singaporean food festival.  It is a celebration of the street food of Singapore and is delicious but the portions quite tinny for the price!  Still, a taste of Asia in Scandinavia is an opportunity not to be missed and we enjoy our lunch here.  Summer in Europe is a wonderful time of one festival after another and we feel lucky to have sampled our fair share of them. 

Our day ends with a walk along the lakes and a visit to the Copenhagen Cemetery where some of this country’s greats like Hans Christian Anderson and Neill Bohr are buried.  It is a green, peaceful place where people picnic amongst the tombs and others cycle on a sightseeing tour of the graves!  We go back to enjoy a last cup of tea and piece of cake with Lis.  Tomorrow we will catch the early morning train to Germany but today we will reminisce on what has been a wonderful 3 days in Copenhagen and our first airbnb experience!  

We’ve loved the city and it’s people.  It has the same sense of tolerance and openness that we felt in Amsterdam.   The quality of life, the food and the people we’ve met, especially Lis our airbnb host have left an indelible memory that begs us to come back to visit!  

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