Stories about life in Denmark

The Christmas tree on the bicycle, and other stories of a bike-only household

Whenever the holiday season approaches, I always think about the time I brought home our Christmas tree on a bicycle.

It was a grey day in late November – we Americans like to start our Christmas decorating early – and my young daughter dearly wanted a tree for our Copenhagen apartment.

So we walked through the snow to the parking lot of a nearby Netto, where a cheerful fellow from Jutland was waiting with a good selection of sweet-smelling pines.

Being a very small girl, my daughter wanted a very big tree. The man spied our shopper bike and looked a little doubtful, but he went ahead and wrapped up one of the largest trees in white plastic netting, and helped us lift it onto the bike.

The trunk was on the baggage carrier in the back, and the top of the tree over the handlebars and into the basket. We walked the bike home that way, with my daughter holding the big pine tree at its center over the seat, while I steered the bike in the right direction.

Life in a bike-only household
We made it home safely and the tree was decorated and hung with candy canes and electric lights. Decorating in November is way too early for Danish tastes, but even as a dual citizen, there are some ways I refuse to integrate.

Several years later, we’re still a bike-only household.

In fact, the bicycle culture was one of the things that brought me to Denmark. I come from a country where a car is often necessary – many American suburbs do not even bother to build sidewalks, because nobody walks anyplace unless they are walking a dog.

But I’ve always enjoyed riding a bicycle to get around, even back in the days when I would have to get to the local shopping mall by weaving in and out of heavy traffic, terrifying my parents.

Like many American children, I learned to drive in school at age 16, and I still have a driver’s license. But when I moved to Copenhagen, I enjoyed living the bicycle life. No grimy gas stations! No killer insurance payments! No putting on snow tires!

Carrying home vintage furniture on your bike
Of course, bicycles have their faults too, and one is that it can be tricky to transport things. Fresh dry cleaning is one of the worst – the plastic flutters all over the place and gets caught in the wheels or chain. You can always fold it in half a few times and clip it to your baggage carrier, but then your nicely-pressed clothes will arrive home not so nicely pressed.

Flea markets purchases are also tricky. That might be a beautiful piece of Danish design, but can you take that perfectly-preserved Arne Jacobsen ant chair home on your bike? I’m sad to say I damaged the Æ key of a lovely vintage typewriter by packing it carelessly into my basket and riding home over a cobblestone road.

Grocery shopping on a bike can be a pain, although now grocery-delivery services have cut down on the amount of food and drinks that need to be transported by bicycle.

Carrying a full case of Tuborg on your bike is probably still a rite of passage for urban teenagers, but us adults no longer have to bring home bottles of wine rattling around metal bike baskets, or bags of chips that get smashed into much smaller chips by the time they reach their destination.

Swarming cars like little mosquitos
These days there are also car-sharing services that allow you to quickly rent a car for big shopping trips or that all-important trip to IKEA. Our family uses them sometimes, but to be honest I don’t really enjoy driving in Copenhagen.

I do like to drive in the USA – you can’t beat the open highways of Utah or Arizona – and I would probably enjoy driving in on the big roads in Jylland as well, although I haven’t given it a try.

But driving in Copenhagen is a headache. The roads are crowded, parking is expensive, and from a drivers’ point of view, the bicyclists are unbearable. They swarm around the cars like little mosquitos, constantly coming out of nowhere, running reds and refusing to signal.

Hip kids wearing all-black outfits at night with no bike lights always scare me, and so do the CEO types speeding past on their titanium cycles in their Lycra cycling tights. (The British call then “Lycra louts.”)

I try to behave a bit better when cycling – although, let’s face it, I am a mother with a shopper bike, rarely the source of glamorous rebellion.

Now that it’s nearly Christmas, I can visit the one place in Copenhagen where I really enjoy being in a car – the Antique Cars carousel at Tivoli.

This article originally appeared in Danish in the newspaper BT on November 20, 2019.

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