When it comes to drugs, Denmark’s approach is inconsistent. Getting illegal drugs doesn’t seem to be too difficult, but getting legal drugs can be.
Hashish, which is illegal in Denmark, was until recently easy to procure at “Pusher Street”, in the so-called Free State of Christiania in Copenhagen. Christiania is one of the tourist attractions of Copenhagen.
This old military base, which was taken over by hippies during the 1970s, is a unique place, with dirt roads and ramshackle wooden buildings put together with odds and ends and some gorgeous wild nature which is surprising to find in the middle of a European capital city.
Pusher Street was a row of wooden booths where until recently buyers could choose from a selection of hashish being sold openly, although the dealers would smash your camera if you tried to take a picture of it.
It’s been shut down again and again in the past, usually after violent incidents, but it always risen up again. The truth is many Copenhageners like the fact that hashish dealing is centralized in one place. They don’t want the dealers and customers coming to *their* neighborhoods.
Snowflake doesn’t mean winter weather
Anyway, much of the drug dealing in Denmark today doesn’t take place on Pusher Street, it takes place via smartphones like everything else. Via text messages, or on apps that are popular with young people, like Snapchat.
When someone has a snowflake emoji next to their Snapchat profile image, it doesn’t mean that they like winter weather.
Many people who visit Denmark are fans of the Vikings, the familiar name for Scandinavians before the medieval era, although technically speaking the Viking raiders were at their peak in the years 800-1100.
There are plenty of opportunities, especially now during tourist season, to see modern-day Danes dressed up as Vikings, building wooden ships, cooking over open fires, and fighting with swords and shields. Exhibitions like this are very popular with visitors from overseas.
What they might not know is that you can see actual Vikings in Denmark, or what’s left of their bodies. It was common in the Viking era and before to toss sacrificial items and people into peat bogs, which, it turns out, preserve bodies and clothing and hair very well.
So there are several places in Denmark where you can see actual humans from the Viking age, more than a thousand years old, and sometimes their clothes and hairstyles, sometimes even the last food they ate, reclaimed from their stomachs.
Some bodies are so well-preserved that they still have fingerprints.
In Denmark, the right to a long summer vacation is enshrined into law – the national vacation law, which states that all employees have a right to three weeks’ vacation between May and September.
July is peak vacation time, and some companies close down entirely for a week or two, forcing their employees to take some time off.
Shops close, too. An ice cream shop in my neighborhood closed down for the entire month of July last year. You would think this would be peak time for ice cream, but for the owners of the ice cream shop, their own vacation was more important.
Bicycle shop closes
This year, I noticed that the bicycle store up the street is closed for three weeks – hope you don’t get a flat while out biking in the summer sunshine. So is the local “smørrebrød” sandwich shop. (Too bad about your picnic.) Even a local boutique selling swimwear is taking a summer break.
Danes believe that if you take a good, long, Danish summer vacation, you’ll come back refreshed, with new perspectives.
Free time is precious in Denmark – certainly more important than prestige, since people don’t generally use their job titles, and far ahead of money, since whatever you have the government will be taking a big bite out of. Free time is cherished, free time is wealth, and that’s one of the reasons the summer vacation is so prized.
You’ll often hear Danes ask each other how many weeks they’re taking for summer vacation. “So, this year, are you taking 3 or 4?”
Denmark is a rich country, but does it have rich people?
It does, but Denmark’s wealthy tend to keep a low profile, due to the informal Jante Law that prohibits too much showing off.
That said, spring and summer is great time to see Danish rich people in their natural habitat.
That’s when they put the roof down on their expensive German cars and drive through the medieval old towns, drink rosé chilled in silver buckets at fancy outdoor cafés, or sail through the harbor on their personal boats of various sizes.
In the summer, Denmark’s rich come out to play.
Two types of wealth
There are two types of wealth in Denmark, old wealth and new wealth.
Old wealth is the leftovers of Denmark’s nobility, Dukes and Counts and Barons, even though noble privileges were officially abolished in 1849.
Many of these families still own their old castles and country houses, some of which have been turned into hotels or fancy restaurants. You can stay there for a weekend with your sweetheart. Very romantic.
And then there’s new wealth. Denmark’s richest man owns Bestseller, a fast fashion chain that owns names like Vero Moda and Jack & Jones.
The heirs to LEGO, which is less than 100 years old, are also quite well off, and so are the heirs to the Ecco shoe fortune.
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.
It’s springtime, and the cherry trees are about to bloom in Copenhagen Northwest, which is usually the only time people who live outside Northwest bother to go there.
Northwest is a working class neighborhood, so much so that the streets are named after working-class occupations.
While other Copenhagen neighborhoods have streets named after kings and queens and generals, Northwest has Brick-maker street, and Book-binder street, and Rope-maker street, and Barrel-maker street.
But there are other things to see in Copenhagen Northwest besides the cherry trees, which have become a bit of a crowd scene since they were reported on by a national news network.
Old city, new neighborhood
Like many industrial districts in a post-industrial society, Northwest has become a bit of a trendy neighborhood. I live here, and when I first moved here ten years ago it was hard to find a café to meet up in. Lots of cafés and restaurants now, lots of young people, lots of activity.
One of Denmark’s cheapest and most colorful vacations is a few hours riding back and forth on Copenhagen’s big yellow harbor bus, or “Havnebussen”, a commuter ferry designed to transport ordinary citizens between downtown and the urban islands of Christianshavn and Amager.
For those of you who have no summer vacation plans yet, or who don’t have the cash to go very far, the harbor bus can take you from tourist trap to high culture to party culture, from shabby little wood shacks to neighborhoods of chic glass apartment houses with their own private beach.
All for as little as 14 kroner, or 2 euro, if you pay with Denmark’s popular rejsekort, or nothing, if you’re a tourist with a Copenhagen Card. (Beware – you cannot buy a ticket onboard, although you can pay with with the DOT Tickets app on your phone.)
You can start at any of the currently operational 7 Havnebussen stops, but let’s start at Nyhavn, in part because it’s the easiest stop to find if you don’t know Copenhagen well.
It might seem like a counterintuitive time to talk about beaches, in the middle of a long, very cold winter.
But in these times of COVID, beaches are one of the few places in Denmark you are currently allowed to meet up with family and friends.
Beaches, parks, frozen-over lakes, these are the big social meeting points at time when cafés, restaurants, bars, shops, gyms, schools, theaters, museums, places of worship, and hairdressers, barbers, and nail salons are all closed.
Anyone who takes a walk around Copenhagen is bound to run across one of the hundreds of concrete bunkers that were built to defend Danes from air raids during World War II.
There are a couple in the park near my house, huge slabs of grey concrete now partially covered by greenery. Many of the interiors have been renovated, and the bunkers are very popular with up-and-coming rock bands, who use them as soundproof rehearsal halls.
The bunkers were never used for their intended purpose.
The German occupying force rolled in by land, and Denmark surrendered almost immediately – the flat Danish landscape would have been no match for the powerful Nazi tank divisions of 1940. Denmark was occupied for more than 5 years.
Tomorrow evening – Monday, May 4, 2020 – many Danes will put a candle in the window to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of that occupation.
I do a lot of writing in the lovely, sunny cafe at the Statens Museum for Kunst, otherwise known as the Danish National Gallery.
This museum is free to the public and has a great collection of both historic and contemporary art.
Now I’m excited to say that you can get a paperback copy of the ‘How To Live in Denmark’ book in English at the Statens Museum for Kunst gift shop.
You can also buy a copy of the book at the shop at Denmark’s National Museum, at the Politiken Bookstore on Radhuspladsen, or at Made in Denmark on Brolæggergade 8. It can also be special-ordered from any bookstore in Denmark, although you may have to wait a couple of weeks. It’s also available in Aarhus at Stakbogladen near the university.
Not in Denmark? You can get the How to Live in Denmark Book sent anywhere in the world, or download the How to Live in Denmark eBook right now!