I arrived in Copenhagen intending to stay 3 days before heading on to Germany. I ended up staying for a week.
My friend Molly had recommended I visit Copenhagen, and it definitely seemed like a place I would like, based on the things I’d heard. The city, and the people I met there, fulfilled and surpassed all my expectations.
I rang my Couch Surfing host’s bell on Monday afternoon, after a short train ride from Stockholm. Martin welcomed me into his flat, showed me to my room (my own room!) and made me a cup of tea. We sat and talked, and were immediately friends.
Martin is a wonderful human being. He is a talented musician, a juggler, and a fire dancer, but he also works for the Red Cross and the Danish Refugee Council. A social worker, he has spent long periods of time volunteering for non-profits throughout South America. He speaks Danish, English, Spanish, and Portuguese. He is well traveled and tells incredible stories from all over the globe. He is my favorite type of hippie: relaxed and full of love, but intelligent, passionate and driven to work towards a safer and more peaceful world. I feel blessed to have met Martin, purely by chance, in my search for a suitable and safe host in Copenhagen. He made my stay all the more enjoyable.
My first full day in Denmark, instead of venturing into the city on my own as I typically do, Martin took me to a forest just north of Copenhagen called Dyrehaven. This forest was unlike anything I’d ever seen, as it was full of – just teeming with – hundreds and hundreds of deer. Herds of does and fawns, smaller groupings of graceful and solemn stags with expansive antlers and thick fur. The deer were somewhat accustomed to humans walking through their small forest, so we were able to get quite close to these beautiful creatures. There were many different types of deer, of all sizes. It was an incredible experience. We spent hours walking through and sitting in this magical forest, enjoying the red and yellow leaves, the birds and deer, the sunshine (finally, sunshine in Scandinavia!).
That night, while Martin was practicing his fire and juggling arts in central Copenhagen, I went to a small bar – Din Nye Ven (“Your New Friends”) with Kristoffer, who I met through Robin of Edinburgh. Kristoffer and I had a few Danish beers and talked about the city, agreeing to meet later in the week to explore together. Kristoffer was born and raised in Copenhagen, and was genuinely excited to have someone to show around his turf.
The next day, I explored downtown a bit on my own. Copenhagen is truly a unique place. It is one of the most progressive and green cities in the world. Nearly half of its citizens bike to work every day. One in three food purchases made in Copenhagen is organic. There are nine relevant political parties to choose from. The Danish Parliament is run by women.
It is my kind of city, for sure.
Copenhagen also reminds me a bit of one of my favorite US cities – Washington, DC. For example, there are no tall buildings. It has a small-city feel. There are many green spaces – big parks, ponds, lakes, and streams. The city is quite clean. Everyone seems to be very involved in moving the place forward. But unlike DC, Copenhagen lacks that background noise of power, that atmosphere of political conflict and global influence. It feels like a family city, a friendly city, a little bit of a hippie city. So it has all the qualities I liked about DC, lacks those characteristics I could have done without, and adds in a bit more humanity and a lot more bike lanes. I can see myself in Copenhagen again.
In the evening, I met Martin on a bridge to enter another part of Copenhagen called Freetown Christiania. Actually, Christiania is kind of not part of Copenhagen at all – it is a self-proclaimed (and now recognized) autonomous, self-governing area, which began as a community of squatters but has grown into somewhat of a commune (but a very large one, with about 850 permanent residents and any number of tourists and visitors on a given day). No photographs were allowed throughout much of Christiania, so instead of posting photos, I will do my best to describe the atmosphere.
I expected the area to be a constant festival, but in fact, I found several different cultures and climates in Christiania. There was a definite “family” feel in part of the district, then a big love, big party vibe in others, and in a few places, a somewhat dark, sketchy atmosphere where it was clear drugs had taken their toll on the environment and the people. But overall, it is a beautiful place. Everyone who lives there had the license to build their own home, so walking through the residential areas is like exploring a child’s fairytale or dream. Houses are of all colors, rainbowed, striped, and sparkling; some are round or octagonal, or very tall and skinny. Some are built right on the water, and some are up in trees. I even saw a teepee. There are grassy walking trails and big, old trees, tree swings and lakeside benches, the scent of wood stove smoke everywhere. To me, it smelled like my childhood.
Martin and I returned to Christiania another night for an improv music show put on by one of his good friends. The music was lively, the atmosphere joyful. Big dancing everywhere. Christiania is a little haven of lawlessness, and relative peace, in a greater city of progress, bridges, and bikes. I loved it all.
On our walk home, the snow blew down hard. Martin heroically survived our several-kilometer-long conversation about women’s rights, as we walked into the wind. The next morning, the sun was shining again.
Thursday, I met Kristoffer and we visited several different places throughout the city. At the end of the day, I truly felt I’d seen most of Copenhagen, and Kris confirmed this. We had walked for five hours straight (and then I continued to walk for another three hours when I met Martin later). My legs were very aware of Thursday…
Kristoffer and I visited Glyptoteket, Copenhagen’s sculpture museum; Vestebro, including the red light district and several multicultural and interesting areas; Nørrebro, with its wide streets and bustling bike lanes; a few different beautiful parks and green spaces; and Assistens Kirkegård, the burial site of Hans Christian Anderson and Natasja Saad, among many others.
Thanks for the extensive walking tour of your hometown, Kristoffer! It was really wonderful learning about the city through you and seeing all these different places.
My last full day in Copenhagen, Martin was performing in a Halloween fire show in Måløv, a town about 30 minutes west of the capitol. I was excited to attend this show, as I’d been trying to find a promising Halloween activity since arriving in Europe (without much luck…I thought Halloween would be so much bigger here, but it’s really not, especially for adults. Quite disappointing for someone who likes to spend hours creating fantastical costumes, dancing with fellow monsters, and taking cold, leaf-scuttling walks under a Halloween moon).
Martin and I met his fellow fire dancer on the train, and made our way to Måløv. Martin and Line (pronounced Lena) prepared their costumes, makeup, and tools, soaking their poi and contact staff in kerosene.
The fire show was beautiful to watch. With the other performers, Martin and Line danced and spun their flames to live music, enthralling an audience of hundreds. Children dressed as witches and ghosts and fairies watched in awe as the fire rolled over the dancers’ skin, into and out of their mouths, and around their fluid bodies in fast, burning loops of sparks and flame.
Thus concluded my stay in Copenhagen. I cut Hamburg out of my itinerary in order to stay a few extra days in this special city, and I don’t regret it at all. I made two wonderful friends, I explored for hours, I practiced yoga with a roomful of Danish women, I listened to live music twice. I watched people dance and flow with sticks of fire, I had incredible conversations, I felt and smelled my childhood every time I saw a tree house or the smoke from a wood stove. I was excited by the wide bike lanes, the snow and sun, the deer-filled enchanted forest. I was grateful for Martin’s company, his songs, his thoughtfulness, and (extra thankful for) his coffee (my first CSing host with a morning coffee ritual…thank god!). And I was happy to get lost only a few times, and even more pleased to find myself over and over again.
Copenhagen, I will be back.