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Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

Who is Holger Danske?

Many countries have a fictional character who represents them. Uncle Sam for the USA, Marianne in France, Bharat Mata or Mother India.

Others have a legendary figure, who was real at one point but is now shrouded in myth, like King Arthur in England.

For Denmark, Holger Danske is both.

He was probably real, although he didn’t live in Denmark. He was a Danish knight living in France in 8th century, serving Charlemagne, and he appears in several of the epic poems of the time as Ogier the Dane.

When those poems were translated into Old Norsk, he became Oddgeir danski, which gradually morphed into Holger Danske.

The sleeping hero

He has been a hero for centuries. And he is a sleeping hero.

The legend is that when Denmark is in trouble, Holger Danske will rise from his slumber and come to its defense.

This is why during World War II, when Denmark was occupied by the Nazis, one of the largest resistance groups called itself Holger Danske.

Consumer products

If you’re not Danish, you may have experienced Holger Danske in the form of consumer products.

There is a Holger Danske moving company with trucks all over Denmark, a Holger Danske beer, Holger Danske Aquavit liquor, Holger Danske tobacco. There’s a Holger Danske bar. Holger Danske has appeared on the Danish national football shirt.

And, very famously, there’s a statue of Holger Danske in the basement of Kronborg Castle, often known as Hamlet’s Castle, in Helsingør, Denmark – which Shakespeare referred to as Elsinore.

(I go by the castle in my new audio tour of Helsingør.)

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Stories about life in Denmark, Travels in Denmark

Take our “How to Live in Denmark” Helsingør audio tour

Visiting Denmark? Take our fun new audio tour of Helsingør, aka “Elsinore”, the setting of Shakespeare’s great tragedy “Hamlet”.

Designed in co-operation with VoiceMap Audio Tours, this is a GPS-triggered tour, so you can put your phone away and focus on the sights and sounds of this fabulous medieval city while I tell you amusing stories.

🏰 Walk the ramparts of Kronborg Castle, where the opening scenes of “Hamlet” take place, and hear about the king who built it and his 14-year-old bride.

✝️ Explore the streets of medieval Helsingør, and visit a quiet 15th century religious cloister that was once used to store tourists’ horses.

🚢 See the shipyards where giant ocean-going ships were built and enjoy the great Street Food market in one of the old shipyard halls.

🧜‍♀️ And meet the “Male Little Mermaid”, a 2012 version of the better-known female icon. It has a sensor one of its eyes, so it occasionally blinks at you.

Check it out here: Self-guided audio tour of Helsingør

(You can also take the tour virtually if you’re not in Denmark at the moment.)

Other Helsingør attractions

I can also recommend the M/S Maritime Museum if you have a full day to spend in Helsingør. Although you walk past it during this two-hour audio tour, the tour doesn’t take you inside.

Designed by the Danish celebrity architect Bjarke Ingels, it’s an exciting and colorful contemporary museum, even if you don’t think you care about ships.

The museum offers fascinating exhibits on the history and art of tattooing, the women who supported sailors both at home and abroad, and the Danish slave trade.

Vintage shopping

If you love vintage clothings or antiques, I can also recommend putting aside time to visit Helsingør’s many charity shops.

Although it’s a working-class town, Helsingør is quite close to the “whisky belt”, Denmark’s richest area. Rich people tend to have great giveaways.

Vintage shopping

Finally, Helsingør is a great jumping-off point for visiting Sweden. There’s a public ferry at the Helsingør train station that will take you there in 20 minutes.

You’ll land in the Swedish city of Helsingborg – similar name, but a very different vibe. It also has a great small hotel made out of an old bank vault.

Danish design audiotourComing soon: an update of my Self-Guided Danish Design Tour of Copenhagen.

Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

The white magic of the Danish graduation hat

I’m occasionally hired to do cultural training for international specialists coming to Denmark. This involves four hours of explaining the basics of Danish life – the banking system, the health care system, how to shop for food – for example, the fact that yellow is the color of discounts in Denmark. If something has a yellow price tag, the price has been cut.

And I always include a section on the Danish year.

By the Danish year, I mean the rhythm of vacation weeks and holidays from year to year, from bonfires on Sankt Hans at midsummer to the eating of duck on Morten’s Day in November.

Morten’s Day isn’t as popular as it once was, but if you didn’t know about it you might wonder why there are suddenly pictures of ducks all over the place.

The truck tour

But what always gets the most interest is what’s about to occur over the next couple of weeks – Danish high school graduations and the accompanying truck tour.

If you’ve been in Denmark in June you’ve seen this. Open-backed trucks packed with teenagers wearing fresh white caps and cheering or blowing whistles. Using there’s some pop music pumping at a very high volume.

The sides of the truck are covered with white banners, traditionally bedsheets, on which are painted slogans that are more or less obscene.

Everybody on the truck except the driver is several beers in and shouting at passerby on the sidewalk, who shout back.

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