When my sister was in seventh grade, she had two major obsessions (as most middle schoolers do): KPOP and Denmark. Both seem pretty random, and honestly, I understood the KPOP phenomena more than the Danish obsession. I quickly became familiar with Boyfriend and SHINee, but my knowledge of the Danish language and customs remained nonexistent. This past spring break, I had the opportunity to visit my friend who’s studying abroad in Copenhagen. Remembering how much my sister loved Denmark and Scandinavian countries in general, I decided it would be interesting to check it out for myself (and luckily I found a cheap airline ticket, too).
I had heard Scandinavian countries are clean, but I didn’t realize just how clean until visiting Copenhagen. The metro, the streets, the shops — everything is very well taken care of. To me this exhibited the pride that Danes have in their public spaces, which similarly translates to the pride they have in their country or in their own lives. The metro system was especially interesting because it’s based on a trust system. Since there’s no place to insert your ticket, you could hypothetically just hop on the train without paying, which I was guilty of doing. Regardless, the system works, and it works because Danes collectively agree to make it work. A sense of trust exists among the people, which is different from my experience in the United States.
Nyhavn is arguably the most picturesque neighborhood of Copenhagen, and my friend is lucky enough to live just a five-minute walk from the center. The sailboats along the canal paired with the bright yellows, oranges and blues of the building facades make for photos worthy of more than 100 Instagram likes (I know this from personal experience). Walking along the cobblestone street lining the canal, you pass by tourists and locals alike eating at the expensive restaurants and ice cream shops. It felt like walking in an European Disneyland, with the trees meticulously groomed, the people eating at outdoor cafes despite the brisk air, snuggling under complimentary IKEA blankets and the well-marked bike lanes where cyclists seemed to dominate the roads more than cars. It felt like a scene from a movie where perfection is the norm.
My friend most highly recommended I visit Christiania, an autonomous hippie community in the Christianshavn neighborhood that happens to be unaffiliated with the EU. The contrast of the modern, clean, bustling city of Copenhagen to the practically-anything-goes mentality of Christiania was fascinating to see. From kaleidoscopic murals of otherworldly creatures to marijuana sellers in black ski masks to hide their identities, Christiania proved to be one-of-a-kind. The murals reminded me of a much larger Casa Zimbabwe, or a People’s Park minus the hard drugs and homeless people.
The Little Mermaid statue was the one place my grandma most wanted me to visit, but when I told my friend, she said it was incredibly underwhelming. After much convincing, she begrudgingly took me to see it. Along the way, we passed Kastellet, a vacated military fort that still exists today probably just for tourists to take cool photos. Surrounded by a moat, Kastellet is a well-preserved fort, that when looked at from above, resembles a five-point star. The verdant landscape was a nice change from the cosmopolitan city center. The mermaid sits on a rock with waves lapping around her and is, as my friend had claimed, underwhelming and crowded with tourists with selfie sticks. But I have no regrets about walking so far to see it, because Kastellet’s surprising serenity balanced the hectic atmosphere at the statue. Plus, walking through various parks in different neighborhoods was well worth the trek.
But the thing that stood out to me the most about Copenhagen is the people. The first night, my friend lost a piece of the handle of her favorite purse that had broken off on the street. We stopped and took out our phone flashlights to look for it, but gave up quickly when realizing that it was probably lost forever, considering it was a small piece of metal she was missing. Two elderly women saw us struggling and stopped to help us, and thanks to their help, we found it! A few days later, when I realized I had lost my wallet after a day of walking around the city, I had a mini-panic attack in the local Joe and the Juice (a much better hybrid between Jamba Juice and Starbucks that I highly recommend). A man that was there with his family realized I was freaking out, approached me and informed me that I can always contact the Copenhagen police because people generally turn in lost items. His sincerity caught me off guard as he pulled up the police number for me to call. This sense of community and friendliness, even to complete strangers, was not what I had been expecting from a stereotypically “cold” country (both in temperature and temperament). I felt welcome in a country that wasn’t my own, which was the most impactful aspect of the trip.
Contact Isabela Reid at [email protected].