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Like kids in a Lego store, we could not wipe the smiles from our faces as we balanced on a boat in a Baltic corner.
“This Scandiland hybrid ferry stores the equivalent energy of 600 cars,” came the announcement in English as the wind pushed scarves and hair into selfies. Incredibly, our DeutscheBahn ICE train, the 7:24 a.m. from Hamburg, was neatly parked below.
Forty-five minutes later, once again seated across the train aisle from an elegant German couple, we rolled off the ferry to a cursory passport check before speeding through the gently rolling, tidy green Danish farmland. Views of the stone grey sea were always just beyond, and the train stopped to take on more blonde passengers at every town along the way.
The buzzer was still sounding when Lars opened the extra-wide wooden door to his flat. “Welcome to Copenhagen!” Our room was the first door on the left, with extra high 19th century ceilings, pale herringbone wood floors, a bed made up with white linens, striped chairs, at least five lamps, a portrait of the Queen of Europe’s oldest monarchy as a young woman, and a view of the city.
“There’s the railway station of course, and you can see the lights of Tivoli just beyond.” After pointing out more sights, Lars gave us a tour of the rest of the six-room apartment, with a surprisingly “small bathroom. All Copenhagen apartments are like that. But you will have the place to yourselves this weekend, as we are going to Jutland for a baptism.”
We set out for the Tourist Information Centre to get maps and ended up buying a Kulturnatten button and downloading the free app in English, before setting out to discover the city of Hans Christian Andersen, his “Little Mermaid” and “Ugly Duckling”, trolls, the hippie free city of Christiania, bike lanes and pedestrian bridges, a paper factory converted into a food truck hall, churches turned into art galleries, and parks full of surprises like castles, greenhouses, and a citadel that seemed toy-like in its perfection.
The swirling white floors of the Alexborg Tower could be accessed by a zippy paternoster elevator, which one of us was too scared to enter and one of us didn’t pay attention to and had to wait for the descent to exit. In contrast, the top of the Round Tower was accessed by a genius sloping cobblestone ramp with peep-in-the-kitchen views of the houses. We put on our gloves to admire the bright buildings and vintage boats of Nyhavn, then stood in line with hundreds of blonde children waiting for the Royal Danish Theatre to open.
Unlike Nuit Blanche in other cities, Kulturnatten was clearly a multi-generational affair. From 5 p.m. to midnight, the city was alive with bustling pedestrian streets and the windows of all the museums, theatres, churches and castles lighting up the dark. The children at the Theatre were engagingly introduced to the ballet, seniors ate sausages in squares, and whole families stood in line to see the everything from the Royal Reception Rooms to the thousand-year-old foundations below Frederiksborg Palace. Shockingly, no amount of frigid bluster from the wind could induce any locals to put on a hat or hood.
Mindful of all the articles I’d read about Copenhagen’s high costs, I had carefully selected a budget porridge place in the converted meat-packing district, which turned out to be huge. With no business number, we stopped to get our bearings outside Mother, decided to try the unlimited buffet, and hit the jackpot. The restaurant was packed with locals brunching on fruit juice, bread, jam, Nutella, eggs, meat, cheese, bright salads and endless supplies of flat-crust pizza.
In a long exposure shot on a rainy night where Stoget and Kobmagergade meet, I sought warmth and was quickly distracted by the wares of Illum, established in 1891. Full of flickering candles, soft throws, wooden toys, and gorgeous housewares in natural materials and colours, the department store has all the ingredients for a hyggelit home, which is the Danish foundational philosophy of coziness and focussing on the essential. I bought two felted coasters by HAY and an illustrated magnet by Ib Antoni before I tore myself away. A few blocks away, Irma City, part of the second-oldest grocery store chain in the world, was no less charming. The minimalist interior was full of perfectly packaged, labelled, and displayed food, including pantry staples in glass jam jars.
Our weekend ended where it started: in the warm air outside the Hamburg Hauptbahnhof. Coincidentally, we had been seated across from the elegant German couple again on the train ride back. We saw them one last time as we waited for taxis. We all laughed and waved, the smiles still on our faces. No wonder Denmark is always ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world.
photo by Bustitaway Photography