Some spring scenes and associated reflections

The storyteller Hans Christian Andersen (1805-75) was an enthusiastic traveller. One of his famous observations was that ”to travel is to live”, which has inspired thousands of Danes to follow his example and zoom around the globe (apparently oblivious to their carbon footprints…). By contrast his philosopher contemporary Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55) was content to do serious thinking while wandering the streets of Copenhagen. Sometimes he went to northern Sjælland. On a trip to the coastal region we stopped to take a look at a large stone with an inscription in Kierkegaard’s honour, close to the footpath west of the fishing village called Gilleleje, which was one of his favourite out of town haunts.[1] After admiring the stone on a windless afternoon in early April, we returned to our accommodation and en route I photographed a boat almost becalmed on the Kattegat.

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Later in April we travelled to northern Jutland to stay with some friends near the town of Thisted in Thy. During our visit we went for a walk across sand dunes and beaches with them and their Labrador. It was fun to throw sticks into the waves and watch the fearless animal dive to grab them; even long and heavy ones.

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We also checked out a landing site on the North Sea coast, which is a protected historical monument in the Thy National Park.[2] Nowadays the fishing industry is mostly concentrated in a few larger harbours, but there are still one or two small settlements where boats are dragged onto the beach and the catch is sold directly. Unfortunately we choose the wrong time to inspect the boats at Stenbjerg as there was no commercial activity in the early morning. But they are photogenic anyway!

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Further east near Århus we stayed for a night at a farmhouse bed and breakfast. The main purpose of our stopover was to spend some hours at the nearby Moesgaard ethnographic and historical museum, which turned out to be bursting with things to see, including the building itself.[3] Before leaving the farm I took a picture of the yard in the seasonal sunshine.

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Spring in Denmark is an attractive time to be on the road. The colours explode after the long grey winter. Near Moesgaard are an old water mill and some shady paths. The bright green colour of the new beech leaves lasts for about ten days and then fades into summer hues.

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As we strolled through the woodland near the old mill, I was surprised to see a couple of sculpted wolves in the undergrowth! The reappearance of wolves in Denmark has been a bit controversial. Some people are afraid that their kids are at risk of being savaged. Others welcome the revival of wildlife in the landscape. A debate rages in the public domain![4]

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During the trip to Jutland I reflected a little on the “x factor” in Danish economic and cultural life called the Bundesrepublik Deutschland. In contrast to eastern Denmark where the links to Sweden are readily apparent – the hinterland of Copenhagen airport is as much Swedish as Danish and there’s a massive flow of goods and people across the Öresund – the west of the country is under considerable German influence. So much so that it almost seems like a foreign country, an impression underlined when using the express catamaran service to travel west across the Great Belt.

Relatively large-scale coastal tourism in Jutland is geared to German holidaymakers and the roads are crowded with cars and trucks from south of the border. German newspapers are prominent in supermarket kiosks and some knowledge of the language is clearly required for those whose livelihood depends on commerce, particularly during the summer season. Danish exports to Germany amount to 14-15 per cent of the total goods and services leaving the country, while the Danish crown is tied at a fixed exchange rate with the euro. Thus, although the Danes are proudly Scandinavian and highly patriotic, their economic well-being is deeply entangled in the affairs of the giant EU neighbour.

Looking back to the era of Andersen and Kierkegaard it is remarkable that around a quarter of Copenhagen’s citizens were German speakers in the 1850s. Then the Prussians got out of hand for a hundred years or so, culminating in the 1940-45 occupation. The post-war recovery resulted in many Europeans becoming uneasy about the dominance of an economic powerhouse. Nonetheless, 30 years ago when the Berlin Wall fell most Danes welcomed the end of the cold war and the reunification of Germany a year later; such that in the 21st Century there’s a pragmatic sense of common interests and “cooperation.” In particular as instability caused by the Brexit fiasco in the UK and the rise of fundamentalists in the United States – not to mention Russian aggression – combine to force substantial re-thinking of international relations in a small open economy on the European periphery.

A Dutch late 18th Century map of Denmark

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[1] The text carved on Kierkegaard’s stone reads: “Hvad er sandhed andet end en leven for en idé”, which I guess can be translated as: what is truth other than living for an idea.

[2] See: https://eng.nationalparkthy.dk

[3] Amongst the many interesting exhibits are the 2000 year-old remains of Grauballe man, who was sacrificed and dumped into a bog, which preserved his body intact until it was dug up in 1952. The museum website has all the info: https://www.moesgaardmuseum.dk/en/

[4] There’s also been some controversy about the construction of an ”anti-wild boar fence” along the border between Denmark and Germany. Concern about the catastrophic consequences of an outbreak of swine fever on the Danish pork industry resulted in a proposal to put up a fence to stop wild boar from central Europe getting into the country. However since there have to be gaps in the fence to allow other species (and people) to cross, the project has been considered a colossal waste of money. Of course the nationalists in the Danish People’s Party (DF) are jubilant about building fences.

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