Copenhagen: Royals, Hippies, and a Mermaid
The districts of Copenhagen differ so much from one another that they’re almost like cities of their own. Within the borders of Copenhagen, you can find the residence of the Danish royal family, the world’s second-oldest operating amusement park, Tivoli, and the Christiania district, a hippie paradise where people have been living rent-free since the 1970s and open cannabis dealing has been largely tolerated by the authorities ever since. And these are but a few examples.
To get a first overview of Copenhagen, product manager Esben Dam took me on a canal cruise starting in Nyhavn that took us around the main harbor and adjoining canals. Nyhavn means «new harbor» in Danish, but the district dates back to the 17th century and once was the home of Hans Christian Andersen, the author of The Little Mermaid. This picturesque part of town with its canals and colorful houses and old sailboats is how anyone who hasn’t visited Copenhagen would imagine the city to look like.
The canal cruise passes by some famous Copenhagen sights, including the royal residence and the royal yacht, the spiral tower of the Church of Our Savior, some modern architectural landmarks, including the Royal Danish Playhouse and the Royal Danish Opera, and finally the famous Little Mermaid statue. The Little Mermaid, which has become a symbol of Copenhagen and which disappoints millions of tourists every year with its height of only 1.25 meters, has an interesting history. Carl Jacobsen, the son of the founder of the Carlsberg brewery, had attended a ballet performance of The Little Mermaid and had become infatuated with the dancer in the title role. So he commissioned the statue and gifted it to the city of Copenhagen in 1913.
«The Bronx of Copenhagen»
During my visit in Denmark, all hotels in and around Copenhagen were fully booked because of an event in the city. This forced me to book a place through AirBnB. Short before my trip to Denmark, I booked a room in an apartment in the Nørrebro area, which product specialist Steffen referred to as «the Bronx of Copenhagen». The multicultural district lies just outside the city center and has large immigrant and student populations. This makes it a very interesting part of town, crowded with restaurants, cafés, bars, and shops that cater to the needs of its young and multicultural residents.
The most controversial part of town is Freetown Christiania. Located right in the middle of the quiet, bourgeois Christianhavn district, entering Christiania feels like entering a music festival rather than a permanent part of town. The area consists of former military barracks, which were squatted by free spirits in the 1970s who wanted to build a society according to their own rules. Some residents of Christiania built their own houses without architects, resulting in some interesting constructions. Nowadays, the community has bought the land and pay taxes and utilities. The residents live off the bars and cafés they operate and concerts that they organize, all within the borders of Christiania. What has remained unusual is the communities liberal drug policy: hard drugs are not tolerated, but cannabis is dealt openly.
Christiania is a place that still attracts free spirits and creative minds, but it doesn’t quite feel like the hippie utopia that it’s supposed to be. The cannabis trade is controlled by large, criminal organizations. Unsurprisingly, the atmosphere in some parts of the enclave is rather rough, killing the charm of the would-be utopia.
Tivoli: A Time Machine to the 19th Century
Right in the city center of Copenhagen, just a few minutes walk from the main station, you can find Tivoli, the second-oldest operating amusement park in the world—the oldest one is in Denmark too, by the way. Tivoli was opened in 1843, and it still has a 19th century feel that puts visitors in a time capsule while strolling in between the ornate metal street lamps and glass pavilions.
In spite of its roller coasters and crazy rides, Tivoli is a peaceful place. The trees shield the area from traffic noise and the ponds, where duck families and huge carps live, make you forget you’re in the middle of a city. Tourists and locals alike come here to take a walk, eat in one of the many restaurants, attend concerts, or go for a ride on a roller coaster. Some of them are not for the weak at stomach (which Esben and I are to varying degrees). So to make sure we’d keep our typically Danish smørrebrød dinner down, we stuck to the Star Flyer, an 80-meter-high carousel whose movements are very preditable and which gives you a great view of Copenhagen at the same time.