Warning: This account has precious little in it about swing dancing, and it is questionable whether it really belongs in the dance section of a web-site. It is mainly an excuse to show you my photographs. I was asked to write the trip up in the manner of my Herräng accounts, and I obeyed.
|My Trip to the Copenhagen Jazz Festival 2009|
While on the Facebook website one evening, I got chatting to Signe Frydenlund, a fellow Lindy teacher. Neither of us was planning to go to Herräng this year. She invited me to visit Copenhagen during the jazz festival there instead. I thought this an excellent notion. As time went by it seemed more and more like the thing to do, so I booked my flight.
The decision to miss Herräng this year I made long ago. I had not decided that I would refuse to go under any circumstances. Had a great reason to go come along, then I may well have gone. I didn’t intend to burn bridges or make solemn vows. I may well go again someday. Ironically, this year they offered me the job of organising one or two of the Friday night parties. Bad timing, Herräng! I didn’t have a good time there last year or the year before, and it’s been a long time since I had a seriously good time there. There may be other better ways for me to do Herräng now – perhaps basing myself in Stockholm and just making visits for a day or two at a time, or staying with some people there with some transport. For eight years I’ve stayed in a one-man tent and been a foot-slogger.
Not much had been planned for my week in Denmark. Signe reckoned that I would hook up with some people and find plenty to do. I had a plan to visit a friend in Malmø at some point, and that was about it.
I packed. I had just done two big loads of washing, so would have plenty of clean clothes to take. I discovered however, during the packing stage, that I seemed mysteriously low on socks. I then discovered the bag of clothes that I had overlooked during my laundering, which contained most of my socks. I decided that the best thing to do was take a bag (within a bag within another bag) of dirty socks with me. Signe was a modern woman living in the centre of a modern city. She would have a washing machine.
There are direct flights from Newcastle, so the trip was easy. At Copenhagen airport I planned to telephone Signe to report my arrival and arrange a rendezvous at the central railway station. Amazingly, there were no telephones there. Apparently the company that ran them went bust. I was allowed the use of a ‘phone at the information desk for one minute.
Copenhagen Central Station looks much like a British equivalent, except that I was fascinated to notice that the roof is wooden, not cast iron, even though it is on a similar scale to the wide-spanning cast iron roofs of other large stations.
Signe met me and we went to her flat. No, it turned out, she didn’t have a washing machine. The walk to her flat was short and straight from the station, and passed more than the usual number of tattoo parlours and sex shops. On the same street there were also hostels and help centres for drug addicts. One that Signe described as “for hard-core cases” was on a corner, and I walked past it every day. It always had a group of tramps outside it. They never gave me any bother, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone slumped shirtless on the pavement surrounded by a scatter of needles and other clean-packed paraphernalia, shooting heroin into himself before. Apparently they are not allowed to do it inside, because it would give them the wrong impression of what’s normal and acceptable.
Next stop: Kongen’s Have – the palace grounds of Rosenborg Slot (castle), now a park. A group of Lindy hoppers lounged on blankets on the grass. One was breast-feeding, which made me feel more abroad. Was I on my way to Herräng , they asked. No, I was there to visit Copenhagen. The skies looked a little threatening, so we moved to under a big tree some distance from the stage. Signe’s iPod-sourced mobile speaker gadget provided some modestly-volumed swing music for us to dance to on the grass, and we managed with some effort to keep an area free of non-dancers big enough for two or three couples to swing out. People came and went. “So you’re on your way to Herräng?” No.
After a bit, the band struck up and we danced some more. Reactions to us varied. Some watched us quite a lot. Some youngsters sat facing us and away from the band, watching us but never glancing higher than our waists for fear of catching our eyes. They were clearly interested enough for their attention to be held, but they never let on that they were uncool enough to find what we were doing fun. Older adults gave us polite applause. Some of the folk in between viewed us for a short while with jealousy or for longer with annoyance. How dare we enjoy ourselves so ostentatiously?
Particularly when the band is some way away, I find that there’s little difference between dancing to live music and to piped. Perhaps some of the recordings we played in between sets were a bit too familiar, but otherwise it was all fine by me, although I did rip the iPod from its socket when a Rick Astley number came on.
People had copies of the festival programme, and talked of what bands we would meet to dance to. The listing of events for every day was very extensive, and almost all the time every day there were about three suitable events to pick from. Some events were outdoors, some indoors, some free, some requiring tickets, and all manner of jazz styles were there, including several that were not really for Lindy.
Next stop: Højbro Plads. Next to the plinth with this chap on (no one there knew who he was, but I later discovered that this was a bishop of the axe-wielding variety who was until very recently credited with founding Copenhagen) was a small covered temporary stage set up for the festival, with a trad-jazz band on it. Personally, I like dancing to trad-jazz, and I don’t know why more of it isn’t played for Lindy events.
The new surface was cobbles. Copenhagen has many cobbles, and I shall say here that the standard of cobbling in both Copenhagen and Malmø was above the norm in Britain. So many cobbled areas in Britain are blighted by a cheap repair done with tarmac. Cobbles are suboptimal for Lindy, as is gravel, another surface I had to cope with, and my shoes did suffer a bit this week.
[Left] Some Malmøvian cobbles.
The band members welcomed us, and even suggested that we dance immediately in front of them. One drunken onlooker was not so happy with our dancing there, but otherwise the crowd seemed to tolerate us in a civilised manner, or appreciate us in a muted one.
That evening, we went to the Tivoli. This was not my first time in Copenhagen. I first went when I was nineteen. I was inter-railing, and had just seen Amsterdam, which was rainy and squalid. I didn’t like the neon adverts everywhere, the loud music playing in the streets, the sex shops ruining all my attempts to get a shot of the pretty canals, or my being offered drugs three times a day. Copenhagen suffered by reminding me of Amsterdam. This trip I saw the city in a much better way: staying with natives and not being in a rush. I didn’t go to the Tivoli on my first trip. It isn’t cheap, and it seemed as though it must just be for kids.
This time I got in free, because one of the Lindy hoppers had won a gold ticket, which enabled her to bring in a guest. Although it was getting late and dark, there were plenty of children there, mainly with their families, as well as plenty of adults enjoying the park. This is the fantasy park that inspired Walt Disney to build Disneyland, so my guide book tells me. We gathered by a bandstand. “When are you going to move on to Herräng?” they asked. I wasn’t going to. Lots of grey-haired folk were sitting in neat seated rows to hear the Tivoli big band. Between them and the bandstand, surrounded by gravel, was a small smooth stone-like oval dance floor. It might have been an oval stone-like smooth small dance floor instead, but the English language doesn’t like to be used like that, and there are very few people in the world who can tell you why.
The band leader was a serious gentleman who spoke in Danish as follows: “Bla bla bla bla bla bla Count Basie bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla Shiny Stockings bla bla bla”. The band played there six times a week, and it was very slick and tight. We danced in a shamelessly un-self-conscious way and fun was had.
After this, I was again the beneficiary of a Lindy hopper’s season-ticket to the park, and I went off to enjoy some free funfair rides. Had I not been so lucky, the rides would have been a bit pricey. Finding the entrances to all of these was surprisingly difficult. The first was the main roller-coaster, which was big fast and thrilling. Next was the world’s highest merry-go-round. The most frightening bit was sitting in the chair at the bottom wondering how scary it was going to be. The eight chains to my pair of seats seemed thin, and half of them were slack and taking no weight. Once I was up, I was fine, and the view was pretty good. In an effort to scare myself, I looked inwards at the central stalk for a bit, which appeared to be leaning away from me at what would have been an alarming angle were I not so rational and trusting of engineering. I then took an older, largely wooden and rather tamer roller-coaster, and finally a boat ride which, it became obvious, was really for kids – a slow tour around a cutesy model mine, complete with dragon and little animal miners.
[Left] Yes, I went on that.
After dancing to another set, we made our way out. Outside, to my very pleasant surprise, a rather nice young lady asked me if I’d like to meet her the next day for a boat trip and sight-seeing. Of course I said yes. Signe was worried about the fact that I don’t have a mobile ‘phone. This categorised me in her terminology as ‘one of those’. How could I possibly cope? Not having a mobile meant that I’d have to make arrangements, do things like plan ahead, and even keep appointments. I used a technique that has served me well for years: I spoke to the lady (Ebba) while she was actually standing next to me and arranged to meet in a specified spot at a specified time. Actually, the technique of choosing a place and time is not very different from what you’d do if you had a mobile. Signe still seemed to feel that this was a dangerous way to carry on - so much could go wrong. I suppose that because I have lived life on the edge in this way for so long that I no longer fully appreciate the perilous nature of the life I endure. I’m hoping that it makes me seem dashingly brave.
So, the first day ended. I had been awake since five in the morning, and had danced to four jazz bands, been to a funfair, and had a date. Not a bad day. Sleep would come to me easily. This was just as well, because Signe had almost no furniture and a camping mat doesn’t pad a laminate floor much.
The new day dawned very brightly indeed, and quite early. My first task was some hand-wash laundry. Signe went to work, organising a shop for a local charity, and I found some rubber gloves, and eased the socks from their plastic triple-casings. So far as I know, I’m not a smelly person overall, but I shall admit that when I’ve been Lindy-hopping on a hot day, some evidence of this does remain in my socks. I left the flat, taking one last anxious look at the socks I’d left on the drying rack. I was fortunate in that Signe was looking after a relative’s pet hamster, and the cage smelt enough to hide most of my contribution to the flat’s aroma.
Despite a wealth of experience to draw on, I repeated my traditional mistake of not putting on sun block cream until after I burned. I have great respect for tradition. The sun blazed as I walked to meet Ebba outside the Tivoli. This year I had the extra consideration of my brand-new bald patch on the crown of my head. Actually, I say that it is new, but I have no idea how long it's been there. Perhaps no one thought to mention it. I only found out about it when I made a video of myself for YouTube and saw it when I dipped my head on the screen. I can't feel it, so it could have been there for years.
We bought Smørrebrødsmad for lunch, a Danish thing, served to us by an East-Asian lady. This consists of a small and largely irrelevant piece of rye bread, entirely hidden by generous amounts of topping. You need a knife and fork to tackle it. It was nice enough to taste, but I don’t think that it straddled the gulf between sit-down-meal-eaten-on-a-plate-with-utensils, and convenient sandwich very comfortably. We ate where we were expecting a jazz band to start playing. We were sitting with our Smørrebrødsmads on our knees when we saw the band getting aboard a boat. It was a moment of decision. Had we been munching on British-style adventure-sandwiches, we could have been up and running in a flash. As it was we watched the jazz men motor by and we finished eating at a civilised pace.
We took the next boat, and did the tour of the canals and river. Naturally, I took some photographs.
Here you see the frigate that was once the pride of the Danish navy. It never fired a shot in action, but did once destroy some summerhouses by accident with its famous “Oops Missile”.
This is the opera house, like the one in Sydney, it fronts onto the water, but unlike the Australian equivalent, it seems to have taken its architectural inspiration from episodes of Thunderbirds.
There were lots of swanky properties, with boats moored by the back doors. The Danes pride themselves on being supposedly very ecology-aware, and yet it is interesting to note that they clearly do not believe that sea levels are due to rise by much. I saw long rows of plush offices about eighteen inches above the water line, and few buildings in this area were more than four feet above the water. If the Danes actually believed in global warming theory and all that goes with it, then they’d be selling off these properties for rock-bottom prices. I guess that if you asked them, most of them would claim to believe it all, but when it comes to the crunch they don’t this affect anything as important as house prices.
[Left] The “Black Diamond” building – a library.
[Right] House boat. Looks like a puff of wind would collapse it.
You can see that many of these buildings are ex-dockyard warehouses. Most of the equivalent buildings in Newcastle have been knocked down.
It is not often that one sees a five-storey loft conversion.
Modern cruise liners look far too tall to be sea-worthy. How much of these ships is below the waterline? Apparently a draught of 23-29 feet is typical, which doesn’t seem enough.
Photograph of a crowd of tourists, with The Little Mermaid. Note how those near her pay her no attention, and those further away are ticking her off their ‘to photograph’ lists.
After the boat trip we wandered about a bit and had this photograph taken by a local girl we found on a park bench. I don’t think she liked my desert boots. Later we visited an ice cream parlour, and I foolishly said “yes” when asked whether I wanted ‘strawberry cream” on my ice cream. My decision was based on three things: I like strawberries, I like cream, and I think it is good to try the local ways of doing things. The substance placed on my ice cream after my assent was a frothy pink gunge composed, so far as my tongue could tell, almost entirely of sugar. I’m fairly sure that neither cream nor strawberries were involved. Apparently, there is something called ‘guf’which is even worse. Avoid.
[Right] Ebba getting wetter than she had planned.
[Below] A much more successful purchase was a few of these: apparently they are called “doughnut peaches”. They have slightly furry skins but you don’t need to peel them. They taste much like normal peaches, but are a less messy shape to eat. Someone suggested that they were closer to wild peaches than the usual.
I come all this way, and the band turns out to be from England. I should have known this when they played the Wallace and Grommit theme.
I took a walk around the area of Amalienborg and Frederiksstaden (royal palaces). The traditional costume of the royal guardsmen in Denmark is very similar to the British one, with big bear skin and blue tunic with white belt. The guards here looked very bored and rather lonely. Buckingham Palace is fenced off and gawpers are kept at a distance. Here people were able to walk right up to the windows, which rather detracted from the regal exclusivity of the place.
I was told that the Kastellet star fortress was quite a nice walk, and found this to be true. Near the entrance I found this memorial and I was a bit puzzled by the inscription on it. The figure is wearing British uniform and has a rifle that wasn’t in service in 1940, so it must be a memorial to men who fought in the later stages of the war. Was it to the British troops who fought to liberate Denmark? I have since had it translated. It says:
So it is to Danish men who made it to Britain and joined the British army. I wonder if there is a memorial to Danish men who joined the German army.
The fortress is a ‘star fort’ – belonging to the period when this was the standard shape for a fort, and warfare was dominated by the cannon. It played a prominent but not exactly glorious role in the Battle of Copenhagen, in which the British sailed straight past all the defences of the city and sank the Danish fleet. It is still used as a military base, and it says something for the relaxed nature of military alert in Denmark that joggers and other members of the civilian world were permitted to wander about freely. A woman greeted me with a smile. Immediately, though she was dressed quite normally, my nutter-alarm sounded. “I am related to the Danish government,” she said in English. Something in my face must have disappointed her, for she went on “The first minister, in fact, and the cabinet, and also the queens.” “Well done,” I said, and moved on. She carried on the conversation without me.
I couldn't decide which composition worked better, so here are two versions of this shot.
As I made my way (actually I wended it) to my evening appointment, I passed this sign. The embassy that I could see was Spanish, but the sign suggests that behind these fearsome fortifications is the British embassy. I saw no other embassy that felt the need for such precautions.
I arrived at Fælled Parken. Salsa music castanetted out from one pavilion, but I was heading elsewhere. As I did so, I was surprised to see a group of people seated around a barbeque on the grass. It was one of those one-use barbecues that are little more than charcoal-filled foil trays that sit on the ground as they burn. Was this allowed? They wouldn’t like this in Britain, where lawns are sacred. It soon became clear to me that this was normal practice, as I walked past scorch mark after scorch mark – clear evidence of many barbeques. First prize went to this formation of burns. That must have been quite a party.
I arrived to see Signe’s lesson in the park, and was amazed to see so many people. I had expected it to be a class for a few Lindy enthusiasts, perhaps on the grass. Instead I saw this huge raised floor, decorated with powered lights, served by massive speakers, and crowded with folk. The class was paid for by the council, and was free to the public, which goes some way towards explaining the numbers, but even so – well done Signe!
I had timed things quite well. The class ended and we were all treated to some very musically and humorously choreographed Charleston routines, and then it was time for social dancing. The floor slowly emptied as less hardened swingers drifted away, and we had a rather pleasant dance that continued with the zenith in darkness, the electric lights and big speakers packed away, and Signe’s little mobile speaker providing the music. One chap turned up with a tray of very reasonably-priced drinks, and it was all very genial.
I was up reasonably early for a day’s being a tourist. People who have suffered being a tourist in my company have sometimes wilted after several hours of foot-slogging it round galleries and the like, but dammit I was only going to be there for a few days, and there was lots of CULTURE to be seen. I have proven myself incapable of the lying-on-a-beach holiday, and I’m not one either for the cafe-hopping trip. I went to the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek sculpture museum, armed with camera and note-book.
On the way I stopped to get a Danish version of a hot-dog, which came with all sort of things on it, including at least three sauces squirted from plastic bottles, and it was piled high with unidentifiable stuff. I took this photograph of bottled flavoured water for sale in the same shop. The name is “This Water” (I refuse to use the trendy lower case) and at first I thought that this might be a case of English words being used for a foreign product, but actually it turns out that this is made in England. I’m still fairly unimpressed by the name. This photograph does show something else, however – the price. These are not large (480ml = 1 pint) bottles of water with a bit a fruit juice in, and they sell for a staggering 18.95 Danish krona. At about eight and a half krona per pound, that’s £2.23 per bottle. I didn’t think anyone could ever be that thirsty.
And now a word from our sponsors - the people who paid for all this in the first place.
Now to see what the Romans could do...
Fate. Nice. This is one of the more modern sculptures.
That evening Signe and her boyfriend took me to a rather trendy restaurant. It was outdoors, and the seating was made of bed-sized white pads on a wooden grandstand. The view was across the water to the main city. There I took this shot of Signe [below left], against the light, and I thought that she was quite recognisable despite being a silhouette. Back at home, I viewed this shot on Adobe Photoshop and brightened it to reveal an amazing amount of detail in her face [middle]. On the right you see the two versions put together.
Then it was back into town, to just outside the student’s union building. The building itself has often been used as a swing dance venue. Indeed, it was here that Signe had her first brush with Lindy hop. However, the building was closed, and had been for a few days, because a rat had been seen in it. That’s right. A rat. One rat. It might have wandered off by this time, but until they were sure, the building was closed in case someone saw it again and didn’t know what to do. The last I heard on the matter, someone with a gun was going to spend the night there. I’m not convinced that this was the most efficient solution. My metalwork teacher at school had a boat, and mink kept swimming out to it and climbing aboard and making a nuisance of themselves. He acquired a gun of very specific power. It had to be able to put a hole in a mink, but not a hole in his boat’s hull.
Anyway, the concert of the university jazz orchestra would have to be held outside. A little stage with sheeting for a roof was set up for the band, and the rest of us had to brave the elements. The weather for the week I was there was mainly hot and sunny, punctuated by heavy downpours. There was one of these on its way.
Here you see the astronomical observation tower built in 1642 by Christian IV. It is 114 feet high, and amazingly has a spiral ramp up which the King was able to ride in a carriage to the top, so I was told. I didn’t get to see the inside.
Just outside the students’ union building is this stone. The photographs of it are deceptive. They suggest falsely that these carvings are quite clear. It took me a while to convince myself that it wasn’t just a very weathered piece of stone, and it was a while before I saw the owl catching the mouse. Signe said that she had walked past it hundreds of times, and had never noticed that it had designs on it.
The concert started and the deluge began. This photograph shows the impressive resilience of some Danes that at times bordered on the British. Noteworthy are the two people on the right sitting on the ground despite wet bottitude. We dancers fetched a gazebo that we spotted nearby doing nothing, and we helped protect a lot of the electrical equipment that was exposed.
We danced, we slipped occasionally on the water, we made do. The first set was the usual sort of Rat Pack 1950s ’60s Vegas swing that these bands play, and the second set was a bit less dancey. Then it was home and bed.
This day was for the Nationalmuseet. I think you can guess what that means. I took lots of photographs, and a fair few notes, but I shan’t bore you with these now. I have now seen the Gundestrup cauldron, and lots of bog bodies in brownly brown clothing. I have a degree in archaeology, and so museums like this are great for me. I do like a nice bronze age sword. There are collections from all over the world here, and a particularly big collection of things from native Greenland and related cultures, as one might expect, given that Greenland is part of Denmark. I was glad to see that they weren’t too politically correct to use the harmless term ‘Eskimo’.
Most of my photographs from here are informative rather than pretty. Here are a few.
For people with scant resources and lots of time – a bag made from the skins of bird feet. Not many people would bother skinning and tanning bird-foot leather.
I recognised this one straight away. Do you? It is a Chinese repeating crossbow. They were used mainly in ship-to-ship warfare. There is a box of bolts on the top of it, and the lever is cranked back and forth on the top, and it shoots one bolt each time the lever gets to the butt end. Less powerful and accurate than a conventional crossbow, but great for raking a deck at close range.
[Left] Can you guess where these masks are from? They look quite African to me. They are from Greenland.
[Right] Can you guess where this ceramic is from? It looks quite African to me. It is Etruscan (mid Italy).
Can you guess where these are from? They look African to me. They are from Africa.
[Left] Can you guess what these are? They are Indian self-torture sandals. Some people are just daft.
[Right] This is Denmark, so we must have some lurs, with man for scale.
Nothing hilarious happened, so I took the train to Malmø to see my friend Tintin. Herräng was still influencing me to some degree, since I met Tintin there in 1999.
I've never known a skyline more dominated by a single building. From the train coming over from Copenhagen all you see is this one twisted spike. Apparently a lot of money changed hands over getting planning permission for it.
We went for a walk down to the beach, and saw this crowd of people line dancing to various types of music. Social dancing for shy people? It was quite a public space. There is Lindy in Malmø but we didn’t find it that evening. Almost all the line dancers were women. I was once told that the style was developed by men in mining towns where there very few women to dance with. This was the second regular outdoor dance class I had seen in a part of the world I’d have thought rather meteorologically unsuited to such things.
[Right]Tintin in her cool shades.
The views out to sea were great. It must be a good place for photographing skies. Denmark is not far away, and coasts have many of the best cloud formations.
Odin was testing his herring-pickling ray.
Tintin is a graphic designer, and was busy chasing a deadline for the illustrations she was doing for a story book. I left her to her work and played the part of a tourist. There is a cluster of museums there, and one ticket got me into all of them.
There is a small risk that you don’t believe me that Tintin is a graphic designer. This is her crockery cupboard. Convinced now?
On my way to the museums, this building stopped me in my tracks. Possibly it was designed by an evangelical atheist, or perhaps God was having an off-day on the inspiration front, but by Crikey - this is a seriously ugly church. I'm told it is known for its good acoustics and stained glass.
In one museum were lots of modes of transport, including all the usual trains, cars, ‘planes etc., but most significantly, this pair of Victorian roller skates. Made in London. I suspect that stopping must have been a shade more challenging than with modern skates, but I bet their top speed was pretty impressive.
They also had a submarine from around the time of World War Two. It was complete, with all the original beds, mattresses, murals, wooden cupboards, and banks of switches. Of course, being Swedish, it never saw action. However many controls, levers, and little wheels you think they might have had, trust me, they probably had more. They managed to think of an awful lot of things to adjust.
The most fun exhibition was the upstairs at the science museum, not least because there were loads of things to play on. Sometimes I had to throw some small children off something to have ago, but most of the time this wasn’t a problem.
The explanation of this contraption struck me as unlikely. It claimed that the ball flew because the airflow over it was faster than the air flow under it. I felt the air and it did feel faster on top, but I experimented for a while with it and I wasn't convinced. Why, for instance, did the ball not spin? I shall investigate further.
They had a lie-detector machine that showed you lots of photographs (many of which I was surprised they could get away with in a museum for kids) and measured your reaction. I took the test three times, and the third time I thought about sex whenever a totally non-sexual photograph was shown, and sure enough this threw the results out all over the place. I now know what to do when captured and interrogated by the enemy.
This is the castle. As you can see it belongs to the time of cannon. It was built of red brick in 1434 and had the round towers/batteries added in 1537-42. Inside was a museum of a few things, including how blinking awful it was to have lived in the past. They had a big Nelsen Mandella exhibition on at the time, and quite a lot of money had been thrown at it. Every single aspect of his life was held up as a thing of praiseworthy marvel. Even his period as a terrorist was presented as brave, clever, and all things good.
I walked around the twisted torso, and got a few shots of it.
The area on the ground occupied by this cloud-tickler is surprisingly small. Apparently, the apartments didn't sell, so it is now mostly rental accommodation.
Of course the Swedes have big factories too, but theirs are pastel pink (to match their crockery cupboards) and cleaner than it is possible for a factory to be.
Malmø has large areas of Ikea flat-pack housing.
This ship is the Florida Highway cargo ship, and it looks wrong. Its sides are far too high, its shape too square, it is too tall, and there are massive holes in the otherwise water-proof sides. Someone ought to tell them.
What shall I call this shot? "The end of the lines"? "The car won"?
I found Tintin’s office and “helped” her for a while. She seems to have a great job – playing with pencils and paper all day. On the way back I shopped at the massive ICA supermarket there. Now, it doesn’t take long to get to Malmø from Copenhagen, and I was not asked for my passport on the journey. I’m told that many people from Malmø work in Copenhagen, which is easy to believe. Lots of shop assistants, certainly. Seeing the prices in Sweden, I’d have thought that this massive supermarket might have been made so big to cope with shoppers from Denmark coming over and filling up large vehicles with food. Food and drink in Sweden are very far from cheap, but the prices in krona were about the same as in Denmark. At the time I was there, a pound Sterling bought me about 12.5 Swedish krona, and about 8 Danish ones. No wonder that there are so few fat people in Denmark. Only the very wealthy could afford to be. Needless to say, I did my food shopping here.
Newcastle also has a skateboard park, only ours became covered in graffiti almost immediately.
A massive bike park with a more massive car park behind, and not one single bike or car. Still, it was a Thursday I suppose.
The next morning I bade farewell to Tintin and took a leisurely walk to the station to return to Denmark. The centre of Malmø has some nice buildings, including some medieval ones.
They do like a nice bit of decorative brickwork.
Now that we have modern technology, we can make all buildings this pretty. No wait – it doesn’t work like that, does it?
Back in Copenhagen, I met some Lindy hoppers outside the Glyptotek for an evening’s jazz-chasing. The heavens opened and I deployed my military rain poncho from my back pocket and waited. Eventually, a few Danish drowned rats and umbrella-carriers appeared. Some of the Lindy crowd had gone to see Lisa Ekdahl, but apparently this was a wash-out. We opted for seeing the Lasse Rømer Trio in the rather classy library bar in the grand Plaza Hotel. I took out a second mortgage and ordered a gin and tonic in order to better fit in. We made our drinks last. This night added a new dance surface to my collection for the week: carpet. No one objected greatly to one or two couples dancing between the tables, although we did hamper the waiters slightly.
The bar was very dark indeed. The lampshades were actually opaque, and equipped with dull orange bulbs that threw light up and downwards onto low-albedo dark wood surfaces. Even so, it was brighter than such rooms would have been in the days of candlelight. This is a long build-up to an excuse for the poorness of the following photograph. I remarked that it looked like an ancestor of Sakarias Larsson, the well-known Lindy hopper. Please believe me that the original painting looked far more like him than this photograph does. Everyone agreed. “Are you on your way to Herräng?” I was asked. I explained that actually I wasn’t.
[Left] They give you a count-down when crossing the road. It seems to instil a sense of panic in no one except first-time visitors.
[Right] Just to be confusing, they have the numbers in a different order on the keypads for payment in the subway system.
What is this? A piece of modern art designed to baffle and offend? A monument to some dark episode of history? The foundation stones for a nuclear waste silo? Answer below.
Mysterious locks in the wall. No one I asked knew what they were for. I saw them on a fair few buildings. Someone with the spectacularly Norse name of Rune Alm saw this photograph on Facebook and kindly told me about these locks. Apparently, behind each lock is a tiny recess in which there is a key to the front door. Why not just give someone the front door key? The idea is that a cleaning company can give one key to its cleaning staff and this will let them into all the client buildings. So, to get into lots of big important buildings (many were banks) in Copenhagen, you just have to get one cleaner drunk and steal one key. The paper delivery company and all sorts of similar people also get these little recesses.
Another mystery is why they are all different and arranged apparently at random. Why doesn't the bank have them installed in neat rows, all looking uniform and smart?
[Left] I don't think that the writer here thought this one through. Does he like Nazis or not? Perhaps he was a Nazi and wasn't getting enough action.
[Right] In a public lavatory - a bin for syringe needles.
The Danes have got almost everything right about bikes: there are lots of them, they have proper cycle lanes that join up, hotels have them, they have built-in locks, mudguards, chain guards, kick stands, hub gears, comfy sprung big seats, most of them have baskets... BUT they still have back-pedal brakes! NO! Bad idea - bad! Most of them are black for some reason, and very few have the horizontal top bar on what we in Britain would call a "boys' bike". It seems that the Danes regard bicycles as a practical method of transport rather than just something for kids to try to look cool on for a bit while they wait to be old enough to drive.
With these bikes, you brake not by squeezing a handle with your hand, but by peddling backwards. This means that you can't use the brakes for fine control, you have to break your peddling rhythm to brake at all, your reaction time is slower, your centre of gravity comes up when you brake hard, and of course most of the weight of rider and bike goes onto the front wheel anyway as soon as you decelerate, so that the breaking is less effective. If you have a hand-operated brake for the front wheel, then you have to be very careful not tumble over the handlebars if you brake with that as well. The only advantage is that they are less affected by rain.
An idea so simple that I'm annoyed that I didn't think of it. In fact, I think I DID think of it, but not in this application: a frictionless (almost) dynamo. The LED light flickers once every time a magnet on the wheel passes by.
[Left] The Danes have woken up to the idea that modern bike helmets can look rather daft. The first time I saw one of these it was beige and for a moment I thought it might be a pith helmet. It is a bike helmet, with a cloth cover. This one has been augmented with some camouflaging foliage.
[Right] You’ll see a few of these in Copenhagen. The front wheel pivots for steering, and this is in front of the weight of the low load-carrying box, so it is a stable design. One snag with normal front baskets is that they are forward of the pivot point, which is bad for stability.
[Left] Some bikes (Signe’s is one) have a squeaky plastic toy in place of a bell.
[Right] Hotel bikes
This is Christiana bike. Made in that famous district of the city, theirs is a curious design. I’m not sure what the advantage is. You have one point of the frame that can take a very heavy load, but to take advantage of this, there has to be a connecting strap to the seat. On the right we see one being ridden by a very ordinary-looking chap in the street. His riding position seems odd – rather low and bent-legged. Possibly they are lighter than other bikes, but I suspect that the advantage might be nothing more than novelty.
This shot was taken in Christiana. This is another type of bike from there: like a motorcycle with sidecar, but it's a bike with the kid-carrying pod in front.
A nice shot of a bike. It is interesting that I find bicycles quite photogenic. In large numbers they present a mass of tangled detail to the camera, but in small numbers I like their spindly struttiness. This is in contrast with cars, which I always try to exclude from photographs, despite the fact that a lot more time and money has been spent trying to make cars look good.
The answer to the quiz above – the black block was for parking bikes. It was presumably designed by someone who hates bikes. It gives you no way to lock your bike to it, so a thief could still carry away your parked bike. It also (like most Copenhagen bike parking furniture) offers support only to the front wheel, which means that it serves as a very useful tool to aid anyone trying to bend your front wheel with a kick. I saw that most bikes in Copenhagen are not locked to anything else, but are simply left in the street (including overnight) with one wheel locked. Most people would lock a bike to something, but so numerous are the bikes that all the lampposts and railings are used up. It says something for the crime levels in the city that this option seems viable.
A Greenlander with his kayak. On top of his vessel on the right is a mysterious item, which looks like a cross between a camping table and tennis racket. There were many in the National Museum, but no clues in English as to what they were for. The position of the knot at the bottom of his coat is unfortunate.
On the left a steam-roller. On the right, a counter-weight. The first floats around thanks to the second.
Our statues tend to be serene and heraldic. Theirs tend to be ripping something apart.
I don't know what happened here. Why is this man cut off mid-shin? Is this a statue of a man who had no feet?
Look carefully. You'll see that there are bronze statues under the water. They are quite a hazard to boats too.
This looks so foreign, and yet Denmark is so close.
[Left] Classically naked girl reading outside a public library. One reason I shot her from this side was that some git had spray painted the other side.
Calmness doesn't seem to be top priority in statuary in Copenhagen. Here we see a valkyrie on a horse. Neither looks happy.
I took me a while to work out what I was looking at. A bull is smashing a sea beast into the ground with its head.
There once was a very famous man,
On his famous horse he’d ride throughout the land,
The people used to see him everywhere,
And when he died they put a statue in the square.
Here comes the equestrian statue!
Prancing up and down the square.
Little old ladies stop and say, “Well, I declare!”
It’s a sight to bring you joy, you’ll feel so gay,
And it’s guaranteed to brighten up your day,
If it’s grey.
Thanks to my Lindy hop friends, this turned out to be a very full day. Someone I hardly knew at all, Sara Engstrand, had invited me to breakfast at her flat, and Ebba came to fetch me and take there. The flat turned out to be gigantic and rather grand. It reminded me of the large flats that exist in Edinburgh’s New Town. The breakfast was pretty lavish and shared by a large tableful of English-speaking Europeans from Germany to Scotland. I feel a bit guilty when lots of foreigners start speaking English, even to each other, because I am present, but on this occasion the mixed nature of the company made it seem less unfair. I do wonder how Danish and languages like it can survive. What will happen when everyone in Denmark can speak good English? This seems not far away. Why will they continue to use Danish? An odd thing is that they do not mix English with their own language like the Indians do. I don’t know why they don’t.
He's made of sand, but realistic enough to get some money in his hat.
Next stop was the Charlottenborg art museum to see Wonderbrazz in the courtyard. Ebba described the band as “funky funky funky funky”. It is rare that I would award a four-funky rating to a band, and I have to say that I was sceptical. We arrived in the courtyard where the stage had been set up, and saw the crowd arrayed at a respectful distance from it. Being Lindy hoppers, we made our way to the front and sat in readiness to pounce onto what was to become our cobbled dance floor. There is always a moment in which I feel the trespass of this behaviour. I try to make the best of the situation by smiling a lot.
The band came on and was indeed very funky. It wasn’t the perfect Lindy music, but it was very high quality and entertaining. Fortunately, the band was happy to have us there dancing, and we were even asked to go to their next gig too. The Danish Lindy hoppers seem to really like their shim sham, and would very often essay to dance it to the most inappropriate music. I didn’t always join in. Anyway, afterwards people from the crowd came over and after discovering that I didn’t speak Danish told the local Lindy hoppers that we were part of the entertainment. None of the crowd asked me if I was on my way to Herräng, which was refreshing.
During the break I nipped into the museum to see if it was worth a full investigation. It had modern art installations in it. One room had a big bed with a mobile above it, while others had tangles of coloured string in them. I gave it a miss.
We checked the Festival guide again, and the next band was picked. If memory serves me well, this was Dead Frank at the Huset. The weather was a bit rainy now, and we went inside and sat down to listen to them. The band was four good-looking lads who looked about old enough to be at university. They never spoke. The music was good. We were flagging a bit, and at times our heads nodded but we stayed until the end. Some of the numbers seemed inspired by Ennio Morricone spaghetti western themes. It wasn’t at all dancey, but we needed a rest, and there wasn’t room to swing anyway.
We then headed out again for a walk about town. One of us bought a Russian gas mask from a street stall. It was at this point that I heard “Lloyd?” spoken in an astonished tone behind me. I turned and after a second or two recognised Tim Weir, a university friend of mine with whom I had lost contact and not seen for years. It turns out that he now lives in Muscat, and he was on holiday. Small world.
I was dangerously low on ice cream, but was able to sort this out before we went on to do more sight-seeing. I took shots of underwater statues and the old stock exchange building, and if you keep reading and scrolling down this page, you'll see them, but I'd understand if you went to have a cup of tea first.
Sara was going to show a friend round Christiania, and I went along. In the 1970s a load of people that we might today call ‘hippies’ squatted here and formed their own community with its own laws. The government was not impressed with the fact that they didn’t pay tax, and openly sold drugs, and there has been an intention to get rid of this community ever since. Matters have moved very slowly. They started paying taxes in 1994, and stopped selling hard drugs in 2004. Various forms of marijuana were on sale in one street when I was there, but the people who live there and the people who trade there are now quite different groups.
Some of the houses are eccentric.
Other houses are inventive, creative, and rather good.
I can see why the rulers of Copenhagen might want to take control of the area. It is very under-used, with low-density housing in run-down buildings on prime city centre land. One thing that struck me very clearly was that this was not an anarchic place. It was quite the reverse. It was very strictly ordered, but ordered the way the world used to be – mainly by the locals who had established themselves as leaders, with just a tribute paid to higher authority. There were signs forbidding fireworks, weapons, armour, and various other things. Each property was clearly delineated with boundaries, and there was for instance a stables with a large paddock. It takes a lot of effort to establish a stable, and this business took up a lot of space, and reserved that space for the one use it had for it. The stable owners must have been pretty confident that people wouldn’t keep hopping over the fence and using the space for other things.
Perhaps the most archic thing about the place was that many people would like to live there, but the incumbents make it next to impossible to move in. The original residents were all native Danes, and so the permanent residents there today (in stark contrast with many of those hanging around during the day) are all blue-eyed palefaces. There might not be anywhere in Europe with a more exclusive immigration policy.
Even the shacks there had a middle-class quality to them. They had neat little gardens with lawns and flower beds, and inside were shelves with books on.
Others are shacks.
They don’t like people photographing the trading streets, so I didn’t, and they don’t want to live in a goldfish bowl either, so I didn’t stare through windows, but I did take a few shots quickly of buildings.
[Left] No, that isn’t a resident hippie in rainbow clothing. That’s Sara, my local guide.
[Right] Taken from inside Christiania: the church with the widdershins spiral staircase. I didn't get to go up it. Untrue legend has it that the designer died after discovering that he had made the stair go the way of the Devil.
It was time to wander off on my own again. We were to meet at the Tivoli again in the evening. One of my tasks was to write postcards. I had been quite staggered by the cost of postcards there, and though I had been keeping an eye out for cheap postcards, had seen next to nothing for under a pound a card, but I had picked up some free promotional cards in a cafe, and so I used those. Another task was to buy my ticket to the airport. I only had one more day, and I didn’t want to find that I hadn’t enough cash to get to the airport, so very wisely I bought my ticket this night, so now all the money I had could be spent on ice creams and fun. Before getting to the Tivoli (slightly late and out of breath) I took these three shots.
This time I had to pay to get inside, because no one had a transferable gold card. I was asked where I was from at the gate. Apparently, if I had said “Sweden” convincingly I’d have been charged less. We found the other Lindy hoppers between two strategic lamp posts in the middle of the audience drenching area and put down our bags and jackets. The surface here was gravel. Not far from me, a very short man scraped a lot of gravel into a pile and stood on it. The ground was a bit damp, so we wouldn’t kick up much dust.
The show was Dee Dee Bridgewater and the combined Tivoli Big Band and Symphony Orchestra. Dee Dee was completely bald, unlike her image on the poster, and very much the ‘diva’. She talked a lot between numbers with tremendous confidence, boasting about her many marriages, and pretending to be worse at pronouncing Danish names than it is possible to be. She said that the musical director and conductor was the most able she had ever worked with at smoothly combining jazz musicians and a symphony orchestra, and I could believe that. She has a good voice, and perfect confidence, but I felt that she didn’t seem to pay any attention to the meaning of the lyrics. We danced a bit, and didn’t annoy anyone to the point of violence.
After Dee Dee, we rushed to catch the Cold Stone Creamery before it shut. I had first encountered this brand in New York not many weeks before, and I knew that there the assistants have to sing a song if they get tipped more than a dollar. I asked the girl if there was a similar rule there. She went all shy and never answered me. I ended up singing to her instead. This didn’t seem to cure her shyness.
Back in Signe’s flat I showered again and contemplated Scandinavian (fact: ‘Scandinavia’ does not include Finland or Iceland, but the term ‘Nordic countries’ does) bathroom design, not for the first time. The feature particular in question this time was the flimsy shower curtain hanging from a circular rail the diameter of which was slightly wider than my shoulders. Turning round without getting the curtain wrapped around me was something I managed twice that week.
Signe’s red polka-dotted one-piece jumpsuit hung drying on the door. She wore it to every dance event that week, hoping that this trade mark outfit would get her noticed. I think it probably did.
This day, I went to Slotsholmen – an island where many castles and palaces have been built over the centuries. It was a major sight I had not ticked off yet, and I knew that there were several museums there. I didn’t get the earliest of starts, and on Sundays things closed a bit early, so the only museum I saw properly was the military one: Tøjhusmuseet - The Royal Danish Arsenal Museum. My guidebook listed the top ten sights of Slotsholmen, and none was this museum, so those that made the list must have been pretty fine, because the arsenal museum was good.
I wanted a go!
The 156 meter long (170 yards and 2 feet) Arsenal Hall is said to be the longest arched renaissance hall in Europe.
A breach-loading flintlock.
What did the Danes keep under their hats? A little metal pot stand to protect against sabre cuts.
Proper cutlasses! Arrrrr! Coconut matting grips and hand guards, and cheap sheet metal cross guards.
What is this? It is a giant weighing scale. I’m not sure what it was for, because none of the labels were in English, but I’m guessing it had a military purpose – weighing cannon, large amounts of ammunition, horses. Whatever the purpose, it was clearly necessary for the weighing to be very accurate, because the end of the beam you can’t see had another of these scales on it, and a device ending in a tiny swinging needle.
Petards. Apparently, it is better to be hoisted by someone else's.
Some of these mortars were fixed to fire a very short distance.
I can only guess what the target-like things are for.
I think I can see why this design didn't catch on. A pistol with a slider and several percussion cap positions. Presumably you fired the front one first, although what prevented this from setting off the whole lot and taking your hand off, I don't know.
I think these were designed for use from fortified positions. Those on the left are long. Those on the right are farcical. The longest was 114" (nine and half feet) with a 99-inch barrel. One should always carried a tape measure.
Not for all the tea in China, India and Ceylon would you get me to go to war in this thing. It looks like a cross between Mark I Darlek and a teapot.
A V1 rocket. I don’t think any were launched from Denmark.
Cannon ball, sir? May I interest you in this executive cannon ball dispenser?
Kongens Have and Rosenborg Have
Then I went off to Kongens Have and Rosenborg Have again, as I didn’t think I’d really seen them properly the previous Sunday. It was now a glorious sunny day, and my camera was working fine. I took these shots.
A summary of Copenhagen: a blonde girl on a mobile ’phone, a bike, neat hedges, and a terrace of that sort of building.
Near this tree, two women were sitting and going through lots of sheet music and singing. Their voices were fairly loud and quite uninhibited. This would have been less impressive had they been good singers.
I had seen a place called Assistens Kirkegård on the map. I knew this to be a large cemetery. I also knew from previous experience that big city cemeteries tend to be beautiful, photogenic, uncrowded, and well worth a look, so I set off north west to seek it out. On the way I took these shots:
Assistens Kirkegård - a cemetery
I had a kebab, an ice cream, and when I got to the cemetery, it was past shop-closing time and I thought I had missed the boat, but I found an open entrance and had a good wander around. It was indeed beautiful, photogenic, uncrowded and worth the trip. It was not like other cemeteries I have visited, however. The actual tombs were quite modest. There wasn’t much stonework about. If I had to come up with a single word to describe this cemetery, it would be ‘hedgy’.
The perspective of this shot is deceptive. The dark spherical tree in the background is actually pretty big.
Am I the only one to see a rabbit in the bark of this tree?
[Left] Here we have another war memorial mystery. This one is French, and the graves around it were of French (one was Belgian) soldiers killed in 1919, mostly in the first two months. Why are there dead Frenchmen in Copenhagen who died then? The answer seems to be that they were prisoners who had been returned from captivity and had died, presumably in hospital of wounds sustained in action long before. I doubt it was the Spanish ‘flu that killed them, because I don’t they give you a war grave if you die of a virus. Denmark didn’t fight in WW1, so the prisoners were presumably on their way home from Germany. Why didn’t they go straight home to France? Perhaps the hospitals were full there.
This was the only grave of someone famous enough to merit sign posts. Even then, it is a modest head stone.
The long path through the centre of the cemetery and not a soul on it. I suppose if you are of a more religious bent then you might contend that there are probably several souls on it.
This one reminds me of the sequence of the giant squid attacking the Nautilus in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (always struck me as a strange title because nowhere is the sea that deep, but I suppose it refers to horizontal distance).
Battle of the Bands
My next port of call was the Copenhagen Jazz House. The Lindy crowd was descending on this for the battle of the bands. The house band of Six City Stompers was going up against Mames Babegenush, and this was the event of the evening. On the way there I went through another district of the city I hadn’t been to before, and spotted lots of things to photograph, but there wasn’t time.
Outside the Jazz House of Copenhagen, several costumed actors and actresses were in character as... something or other. At first it seemed like a Herräng theme night, but then I failed to see the relevance of anything they did to the great battle of the bands that happened inside later. Apparently, they were drama students who had been employed to add atmosphere to the event, but they seemed to spend their time entertaining themselves and each other, and took up room on the dance floor.
Once through the front door, we joined a queue, and then we were told that the event had sold out, but that we were welcome to wait, buy drinks at the outer bar, and that there was some chance of getting in. The wait was long and a bit anxious. So crowded was the night, that any mention of being a Lindy hopper carried cut no ice. Eventually, we got our tickets and in we went. Close one.
It certainly was hot humid and crowded in there. Most of the people were young clubbers, and the music was a bit miscellaneous. We did a bit of dancing, but as is often the case, non-dancers are very slow to make room for dancers on the dance floor, and will insist on standing there in the way no matter how obvious it is that they are in the midst of people who have a much better use for the space and a potentially injurious way of acquiring it.
The Six City Stompers came on and played a set, then left. Piped music came on. We danced. Mames Babegenush came on and filled the floor with a cheering crowd with their riotous klezmer music, also referred to as Balkan music or gypsy jazz. At times it sounded a bit ska. The band then left, and it went back to piped music. I was among the disappointed Lindy hoppers. That wasn’t quite what we had expected from a “battle”. Still, things were fine, and we danced a bit more. I had two drinks stolen, which was a bit annoying.
Then both bands came back out, and then this was more like it: they stared each other down like true rivals, and they battled. One band would play something, then the other would play something louder and faster, then the response would be louder and faster still. One band would play the tune that the other was just playing as if to say “We can play that stuff too” and then segue into its own style. At one point, just the two drummers duelled it out. I was hoping for a solo trumpet duel, but this never happened. Signe and Sarah Jensen with some difficulty cleared enough space at the front to dance a jazz routine to the Stompers, and then as they finished I tried to keep the space open by leaping in and Lindying with Sarah for a bit. The Stompers finished their tune, Mames Babegenush took over with non-Lindy music, and the gap closed.
The bands pushed each other to play at the edge of their ability, and it was a great show. At the end all the mock rivalry was put aside and the two bands embraced. All the members of both bands were young. I doubt any was past thirty, and most were far younger. It is great to be reassured that the skill of jazz improvisation is in no immediate danger of being lost.
This was great gig, and the end of a great day, and a good way to finish off the trip. Often on holiday I find myself looking forward to going home, but this time I was leaving while I was still having a good time, and this is better. “Leave them wanting more” is a wise show-biz saying, and it applies when entertaining oneself.
On the way back to Signe’s, I mentioned that I already had a rail ticket to the airport. She asked me how I had done this, and then asked to see the ticket. It turns out that these tickets are only valid on the day they are bought for some reason. Poo.
The next day I had to be up horribly early. I shovelled in the muesli I had bought in Malmø and scarpered. The rail journey was bit tense as I feared what might happen with my day-old ticket. Fortunately, no inspector asked to see it.
I can recommend Copenhagen as a fun destination for Lindy hopping, and The Jazz Festival is certainly a good excuse to be there in July. If you do take as many photographs as I did, however, then think twice before putting them on a page like this. Going through them all, cropping and resizing them and then arranging them in HTML took blinking ages.
It’s possible that you have dragged your weary eyes this far down the page thinking thoughts along the lines of “Good grief, why doesn’t this man ration himself to a reasonable number of photographs?” Frankly, I have sympathy with this sort of thing, and yet feel the urge for the sake of completeness to include yet more photographs. I have put the last shots below, and announce now that there’s nothing much left to read, so if you just wanted to know about the dancing, I apologise for saying so little on the topic, congratulate you for your persistence and stamina in making it this far, and bid you goodbye.
The stock exchange building.
Wow - you got this far. Top marks for persistance. I hope you found it was worth the wear on your scrolling finger.