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Stories about life in Denmark

On returning to Denmark: Swimming in Copenhagen harbor, picking wild blackberries, and admiring Danish law and order

I’ve just come back to Denmark after some time away, and I’m happy to be here, particularly since the Danish summer weather has been lovely this year.

Of course, this creates problems of its own – Denmark is built for cool weather, not hot weather, which means that air conditioning is rare, even in the fitness center. Lifting barbells inside a room that feels like a toaster oven with thirty other sweaty people is really something. And not something good.

Still, it’s nice to be in Copenhagen during summer. The sidewalk cafés are open, and you don’t need a blanket to sit outside and enjoy your coffee.

I don’t think there’s a prettier city in the world on a lovely summer day, which is something you have to remember on one of those days in November when pelting grey rain angles into your eyeballs.

Swimming in Copenhagen harbor

One of my favorite things to do is swim in Copenhagen harbor, a formerly industrial waterway that has been cleaned up enough to become a giant swimming zone, although you’ll still see some seaweed and barnacles on the pull-up ladders.

There are spots set aside for swimmers as opposed to boaters, and these areas can get pretty crowded – lots of exposed pink flesh on display. Although, contrary to what many might believe, Copenhagen swimmers are not nude and the women are not topless.

An American journalist called me recently to ask about nude bathing in Denmark. In Copenhagen, I don’t see much of it, and the few nudes I do see are mostly men.

Filling the freezer with discount food

Anyway, I turned off my refrigerator while I was away. Along with Germany, Denmark has some of the world’s highest electricity prices, and they’ve risen sharply recently. There’s just no reason to be chilling a bottle of water in Copenhagen when you’re on the other side of the planet.

Danes are practical people, and they’re careful about waste, which is why they have such an active second-hand economy. Food waste is considered particularly offensive, as it would be for people who were mostly farmers and fisherfolk a century ago.

Most Danish supermarkets mark down meat, bread, fruit, vegetables, and ready meals by 50% on the last legal day of sale. Better to sell it at half price than let it get thrown away. If you’re sharp, you can hack that system by buying a whole bunch of this stuff at one time and freezing it.

The day after returning home, I filled up my freezer in no time and what is – for Denmark – a reasonable cost. I like this way of practicality. There’s also an app you can get that will send you to bakeries and supermarkets to get big bags of unused food at a very low price.

Not the world’s best parking place

Biking home with my goodies, I ran across a minor police scene. A fellow who had left his car idling in a bus lane while running into a 7-11 to get cigarettes had been stopped by the cops. One cop got out of his police car and said, laconically, “Det er ikke lige verdens bedste parkeringsplads du fået lavet der.”

In translation, “That’s not really the world’s best parking spot you’ve created there.” Dry humor, a bit sarcastic.

Denmark, at the moment, is pretty good at creating order without authoritarianism. The man in the car did get a fine, there’s no way talking your way out of it, just like it’s difficult to talk your way out of a fine on the train or metro if you don’t have precisely the right ticket.

But he didn’t get humiliated. There was no show of force.

Cops in T-shirts, shorts, and bulletproof vests

That said, the Danish cops did distinguish themselves this summer. There was a mass shooter in a local shopping center, and the cops apprehended him within 13 minutes of being called.

If you look at the video footage of the apprehension and the subsequent police operation, you’ll see that some of the cops are wearing casual shorts and T-shirts beneath their bulletproof gear. They had been at home, probably watching sports on TV on a Sunday afternoon, when they got a call about a top-level emergency and they came right away.

It turned out the shooter was a young man with severe psychological problems who had tried calling a mental health line that very day – but he couldn’t get through, because so many of the counselors were on summer vacation.

The ice-cream store on summer vacation

Summer vacation is a sacred thing in Denmark, where the needs of employees are considered as important as needs of the people they serve.

Almost everyone takes a summer vacation – my local ice-cream store shut down for the month of July. You’d think that if you were an ice cream store, you’d take your big vacation in January or February, but this is the Danish way.

Fall begins in mid-August

Now it’s mid-August, and fall is beginning in Denmark. The kids are back in school, and some leaves on the trees are already turning orange.

The blackberry bushes are ready to harvest, and there are plenty in public spaces like beside the DSB railroad tracks where the blackberries are totally free, first come, first serve. You can make them into a blackberry pie, or a blackberry crumble, or even a blackberry smoothie. I recommend this.

It’s very good to be back in Denmark.

Image by Eric Hwang, via Travel with Eric
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