Every country, it seems, has a city or region that is the butt of jokes. The rest of the country makes fun of the locals’ abrasive accents and supposedly low-end behavior.
In the United States, it’s New Jersey. In Sweden it’s Skåne, the area close to Denmark that includes Malmo. I’ve been told that in England it’s Essex, in Scotland it’s Aberdeen, and in Ireland it’s Kerry.
In Denmark, it’s Randers.
Randers is a city in Northern Jutland, about a half hour away from Aarhus. It used to be bigger than Aarhus, and bigger than Aalborg too, but it was a manufacturing town, and when manufacturing fell apart in Denmark after the Second World War, so did Randers.
Today, the stereotype of Randers locals involves muscle meatheads, possibly criminal, possibly in some sort of motorcycle gang, with a rough, gravelly accent, and lots of tattoos and leather.
And that’s just the women. The men are the same, but with shorter haircuts.
In addition, people in Randers are supposed to be quite fond of Mokaï, which is a local alcoholic cider. If your idea of a good drink is blueberry cider from a can, or pink apple cider from a metal bottle with a twist cap, Mokaï is your brand. Some people call it “Randers champagne”.
Hilly, not flat
But as a foreigner, I’ve been insulated from a lot of these jokes and prejudices. So I was excited to go to Randers earlier this month, when a very nice company in the green energy business asked me to give a speech there, and I found there were some real things to like about Randers.
It’s an unusually hilly city for Denmark, giving it a bit of a San Francisco feel in a country where most things are flat. And it has a pretty central square, lined with lovely medieval half-timbered buildings. The square leads to the Houmeden, one of the oldest shopping streets in Denmark. It appears on maps that are more than 500 years old.
Skilled glove salespeople
Randers has some good shopping: for example, clothing stores that sell a lot of leather. And it has a boutique that sells the famous Rhanders gloves for your hands.
The city of Randers has specialized in glove making for centuries. Marie Antoinette supposedly wore gloves from Randers when she slept, to keep her hands soft.
The current Rhanders glove boutique in the middle of the old city is gorgeous. One wall is lined with dozens of sliding wooden drawers for the various sizes of gloves, and there is a lovely gilded ceiling set with glass panels painted with pastel flowers. It looks like it could have been the ceiling in Marie Antoinette’s bedroom.
And it has very skilled salespeople. Be careful when you walk in to see the shop that you don’t walk out with leather gloves that cost a thousand crowns a pair.
It happened to me. But they are very nice gloves.
Bad urban planning
What has really damaged Randers is atrocious urban planning. Right next to all those lovely old medieval buildings are horrible 1970s concrete monstrosities in very poor repair and tacky 1990s apartment blocks. Whoever thought that was a good idea?
In addition, the medieval old town is dominated by cars that drive very fast.
Whenever I’d step back to take a photo of some inspiring building from 1626, I’d have my limbs almost separated from my body by a speed demon in a car.
Ironically, the first pedestrian-only street in Denmark was in Randers. In 1963 the Houmeden became pedestrian-only, but the city fathers and mothers apparently decided that was enough of that.
These days, this is a car town. A town for fast cars.
Huge ceremonial promenade in a small city
Right on the edge of the medieval old city, the same evil urban planners decided on a huge concrete ceremonial promenade. Such a promenade might be suitable for an imperial city like Berlin or Paris, but not for a provincial town with a population of 60,000.
This wide, open, cold, windy, usually empty promenade is topped off by an absolutely ginormous statue of a horse, at least two to three stories tall, called the Jutland Stallion. There’s no rider on the horse, just a horse by himself.
And he’s probably a lonely horse, because there aren’t many pedestrians crossing this huge concrete mall – just a lot of cars zipping by in both directions.
The Jutland Stallion
Anyway, the Jutland Stallion represents the area’s strong, muscular work horses, and it is become the symbol of Randers, and the symbol of its rather successful local football team, which are called “The Horses”.
Strong and muscular has become the Randers brand, and the city has become the de facto center of the Danish fitness industry. My own personal trainer explained to me that the best Danish fitness influencers start out lifting their barbells in Randers and then expand their business nationwide.
Elvis Presley mansion in Denmark
But is Randers a tourist town? Not really, although I loved their art museum – it has some masterpieces of Danish painting – and there’s a large indoor rainforest attraction that is popular with families.
However, the greatest tourist attraction in the area is slightly outside Randers. It is known as the Memphis Mansion.
A Danish Elvis fan has entirely recreated Graceland, Elvis Presley’s home in Tennessee, in the Danish countryside. It is actually twice the size of the original. You can visit there and see some of Elvis’ cars, his stage clothes, even some of the instruments that were played in the background of his songs.
Diner with Elvis’ favorite sandwich
There’s a diner onsite serving BBQ and Elvis’ favorite sandwich – peanut butter and banana – and, of course, a gift shop with Elvis items. Off to the side is a copy of the little cabin where Elvis was born in Tupelo, Mississippi.
The Memphis Mansion really makes its money as an event location, a space for parties and corporate get-togethers, and it would appear to be popular, because I noticed in early September that the Christmas parties there were already sold out.
You can also get married there, Blue Hawaii-style – just you, your partner, and Elvis, right in the middle of provincial Denmark.
See, now, who says Randers is a joke? How can you laugh at a thing like that?