Thursday, October 16, 2008

Four nights in Copenhagen (part one)

Let's get one thing clear right from the start. My first ever international media junket was paid for by the 2009 World Outgames, with money provided by Wonderful Copenhagen, the city's official tourist body.

In return for flying me over for a crash course in cultural tourism and putting me up in an ideally-located boutique hotel, they want me to place articles about Copenhagen, the Outgames and the games' major cultural event - the OUTcities project - in both the LGBT and mainstream media. So I plan on doing just that. However, that won't stop me being frank and honest about my time there. If I had any negative experiences, trust me, I won't hold back from blogging about them.

But I don't think I really have anything bad to say about Copenhagen. My all-too-brief time there was, in all honesty, fan-fucking-tastic. I so didn't want to leave.

Anyway, that disclaimer aside, here are some impressions - and the occasional photo - of my four all-too-brief nights in the Danish capital.


Flying in to Copenhagen airport from London, the first thing I noticed from above was a fuck-off big bridge stretching out across the ocean which appears to end in the middle of the water (I later found out it was the road link between Copenhagen and Sweden). Then you notice all the modern windmills along the coast generating electricity. Then you land. Bump. In my case at 7pm, but with any tiredness from my loooooong trip allayed by exhilaration at being on the other side of the world.

It cost me 235 kr (Danish krone, plural kroner) to get from the airport to my hotel, Hotel Twentyseven, in the centre of the city. Not somewhere I would have chosen to stay if I was paying my own way to be honest: backpackers are more my style (and price range). It has both a cocktail bar and an ice bar for fucks, and drinks ain't cheap in either, but what the hell; I wasn't paying for the room.

I quickly met up with Jennifer, the Australian freelance producer overseeing Melbourne's element of OUTcities who's here for the conference that my visit coincides with. We share a couple of (expensive) glasses of wine downstairs, and I learn that the city's name is pronounced Copen-HAY-gen; not Copen-HAAG-en, the latter being offensively similar to the German pronunciation; and given that the city was occupied by the Nazis during WWII, that's something to avoid...

After about an hour I decide to go for a short stroll before bed. I don't go far: down the street past a small square, down another, cobbled street between high, narrow buildings that looked distinctly medieval, and which opens out onto another square beside a canal. It all screams age and elegant atmosphere. Okay, I think to myself. I like this city already. Another 10 minutes later I've passed a large statue and found a huge square, and what I thought was the royal palace - I later discover it was, but it was the old palace, now occupied by the Danish parliament. Awe-struck and delighted, I stroll back to my hotel and fall into a deep and dreamless sleep...


...only to be woken by the sound of tolling bells at 8am. Rise and shine: help self to free organic breakfast buffet downstairs, and out into the city. As I'm not meeting my fellow press junket journalists (thought it turned out to be a journalist, singular) for a couple of hours, I have time to explore.

The first thing I discover is Copenhagen Town Hall, the source of the bells. A stately, authoritarian building overlooking the city square and guarded by stone walruses and god-knows-whats. Then I look for an ATM and try to withdraw cash from my savings account. Can't. Oh fuck. Start to worry about how the hell I'm going to get through the weekend seeing as my credit card is already maxed out. Decide I'll worry about that later.

Stroll around a bit more. return to hotel. Use free internet to discover I can't access internet banking either. Panic a little. Completely fail to realise that all I have to do is get a phone card and call the usual telephone number I use here in Melbourne for telephone banking, transfer cash from savings to credit card, and all will be okay. Eventually think of this solution at Heathrow Airport on Monday, while returning home. Doh!

Shortly afterwards am met in the hotel foyer by the urbane, informed and charming Erik Madsen, a former high-ranking member of the Danish Department of Foreign Affairs, now retired, who is volunteering with the Outgames and is coordinating the press tour. He introduces me to the other journalist on the trip, from Mexico City; gives me my itinerary and a huge dossier of media releases, flyers and other info compiled by Wonderful Copenhagen; and - oh bliss oh joy - gives me a crisp 500 kr note to cover last night's taxi from the airport, and the taxi I'll have to catch back out there on Monday morning.

Finances sorted, it's time to get down to business. First things first: wheels.

Copenhagen is one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world: the roads are constructed in such a way that the bike lanes are physically separate from the car lanes; raised up above the level of the road so that even a non-cyclist like me quickly felt at ease. I was constantly struck by the lack of cars on the road and the vast number of bikes parked casually all over town. And where the bike lanes cross over intersections there are clearly designated paths across the tarmac showing you where to go; and even separate traffic lights for bikes, cars and pedestrians respectively. Brilliant. It wasn't long before we were confidently whizzing around the city on the bikes Erik hired for us for 400 kr for three days from Køpenhavns Cykler ApS ( Reventlowsgade 11, 1651 København) located in a street beside the main Copenhagen Railway Station.

Said bicycle hire place is, it must be said, located right at the edge of Copenhagen's red light district, and virtually next door to what I think was a homeless shelter and/or methadone clinic, judging from the number of obviously homeless guys and junkies standing around in the street outside, but it didn't feel at all threatening; though it might be a different story at night.

Then Erik took us into the red light district, which is very small - don't expect a Danish version of Amsterdam's notorious red light district; this is more akin to the sleazy end of Melbourne's Swanston Street!

Next, in quick succession, it was on to the Copenhagen City Museum, the Danish Design Centre (did you know that design and fashion are considered among the most prestigious industries to work in, in Denmark? Me neither, til last week.) and then on into the old city: up narrow streets where cars gave us right of way; stopping off briefly at an amazing cake shop, La Glace, founded in 1870; past the University of Copenhagen, founded in 1479, and on to - and up - Rundetaarn, the Round Tower: the oldest functioning observatory in Europe, from which you get a fantastic view of old Copenhagen.

Here's a photo of the Round Tower: it's not one of mine, though.

Next we had a late lunch with Henrik Thierlein, the international press officer at Wonderful Copenhagen, at Cafe Oscar, a popular gay cafe. Henrik, who's quite a character, shouted us lunch: in my case three traditional Danish open sandwiches topped with roast beef, egg and shrimp, and potato and bacon, respectively. Together with a glass of wine, they went down very easily!

Thereafter it was back to the hotel to change, and onwards to the Town Hall, for a formal reception for all the international OUTcities delegates from cities such as Tel Aviv, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City and Melbourne - sadly Reykjavik's delegates had to pull out due to their country's financial meltdown - as well as Denmark's second largest city, Aarhus. Not only was Copenhagen's Mayor of Culture, Pia Allerslev (the city has several deputy mayors who are dubbed 'mayors' of their respective departments) in attendance, but so was the Australian Ambassador to Denmark, Ms Sharyn Minahan, as well as the Mexican Ambassador and other dignitaries!

At this stage, things really started feeling surreal.

Formalities were thankfully brief, and after about an hour the reception wound up, and those of us who were present for the OUTcities conference - about 25 of us in total, including the Outgames organisers - trouped off through the city for a relaxed dinner at a very pleasant restaurant, Madklubben (Store Kongensgade 66, 1264
København). While I would have loved to have spent the evening drinking, eating and getting to know the Outgames and OUTcities crew better, I left soon after the main course was served.

I was, after all, working. And given that I plan to write at least a couple of articles about Copenhagen's cultural highlights, I wasn't going to let this night of nights go to waste. You see, Friday October 10 was Kultur Natten (Culture Night)!

Natten is an annual event that sees Copenhagen's cultural venues - 300 of them - throw open their doors until midnight, simultaneously programming a vast and fascinating array of events and activities. (You can read one tourist's experiences of this year's Culture Night here.) It's been running for about 15 years, and is overwhelmingly popular. It was like being in Melbourne on the night of the Grand Final, but instead of pissed footy yobs staggering through the streets there were throngs of art-lovers, average families, huge groups of friends, excited teenagers, elderly couples and more. Provided you purchase a badge (at a cost of 75 kr - approx €10 or AUS $20) entry is free to everything on offer, as is public transport. It's an amazing night. Just stunning. This is one of the photos I took on the night, which should give you some idea of how the city was transformed on this particular evening:

Leaving the restaurant, I retraced our party's steps to the hotel to change out of my formal attire. On the way, I stopped off at a church that had been been converted into the contemporary art gallery Kunsthallen Nikolaj, as the Outgames' cultural programme manager, the lovely Jane Rowley, had recommended a work of video art that was screening there. I'm so glad I took her advice.

Split across three screens, Romantic Delusions by the Danish artist Jesper Just is an exploration of gender, identity and the fragility of masculinity enacted by Udo Kier. Operatic in its intensity, and coupled with a haunting and evocative score, it's a stunning meditation on impermanence and decay. (Melbourne readers can see some earlier Just works at the current ACCA exhibition, Intimacy, now showing until November 30.)

After changing, I jumped on my bike and happily and slightly tipsily cycled through the busy city centre back to the Copenhagen City Museum. As I'd told Erik that I was keen to see some local bands during my visit, he'd asked around, and discovered that two young indie pop outfits were playing at the Museum for Culture night: Messy Shelter and Jong Pang. While I missed the first band by about 20 minutes, I caught most of Jong Pang's set - which was performed in an 18th century ballroom on the top floor of the museum, and featured a piano, cello, guitars and carefully harmonised vocals.

Afterwards I seriously considered swinging past the Danish Design Centre, where Trentmoller was playing a set, but I was pretty certain it would be a capacity crowd; on top of which I hit a wall, very rapidly deciding that sleep was the most sensible option - especially as I had two more tightly scheduled days to come!

To be continued....

(This was supposed to be a brief post - it's taken me four hours to write so it's probably full of tense changes and spelling/grammatical errors. Stuff it!)


s7610ra said...

My family and I did Copenhagen in er um, 2003 and it is one of the most charming and delightful cities I have ever been to. Bloody expensive as you'd expect from Scandinavia.

Our absolute favourite place was the Tivoli Gardens, both tasteful park of restaurants and a rip roaring fun fair.

My grandsons also went there en route to LegoLand and loved it.

richardwatts said...

I did the Tivoli Gardens on Sunday night. I wasn't really in the right mood for it to be honest - but I'll be blogging about that on the weekend!