24 Hours in Copenhagen: Culture and Counterculture
Written by Jaillan Yehia
Pulling up next to a typically Scandinavian white sandy beach backed by fir trees, something moves in the boot of the car, making a thudding metallic sound. “Don’t worry it’s just a box of hand grenades,” says my brother.
As a sergeant in the Danish army he’s on a few days’ leave and giving my two girlfriends and I an orientation tour of the city as part of our 24 hours in Copenhagen, starting with the nature which surrounds the metropolis.
After explaining that the grenades aren’t actually live and they’re used for the uniquely military sport of grenade-throwing which is part of the Danish army pentathlon – we go for a stroll at Humlebæk beach, a 15-minute drive outside of the city, past the whitewashed villas of the Danish Riviera.
The main attraction out here is the intriguingly named Louisiana Modern Art Museum, so-called because the founder had three wives, all of whom were called Louise. The gallery occupies a unique setting perched on a cliff, as much outdoors and indoors, and the art enjoys a great view of the sea, and ultimately in the misty distance, Sweden.
Once back in the city we all head to Tivoli, the quintessentially Danish theme-park that inhabits twenty acres of Copenhagen’s city-centre and showcases a unique dream world that the Danes and 4 million visitors a year lap up with glee. The summer evenings host free concerts to add to the classic attractions of the rides and restaurants, but tonight a Danish legend is playing: Sanne, a sort of Scandic Bonnie Tyler, and she has drawn a large crowd, young and old, all clambering on anything they can to get a better glimpse of the star.
Next day, we girls hit the city’s shops armed with bicycles, smartphones and a desire to seek out Scandinavian cool, culture and eye candy – of which there is an abundance. Having shopped in no less than three branches of H&M on Europe’s largest pedestrianized shopping street, Strøget, as well as ransacking the Danish answer to the 99p store, Tiger, we get a call from my brother inviting us to see a very different Copenhagen enclave to the world of Tivoli: the free state of Christiania.
Christiania is literally a law unto itself, and has been the Copenhagen capital of counter-culture for over 30 years. An alternative community occupying a huge area of the city with its own main street – aptly named Pusher street, a beautiful lake, plus homes and schools, all with a distinctly hippy vibe, it throws up more social questions than it answers but is a fascinating and unique diversion and one that visitors shouldn’t miss.
As the evening wears on we descend further into the artistic underbelly of the metropolis to the so-called ‘floating city’; a warehouse commune and home to artists and travellers from all over the world who create at will and live for free by way of dumpstered food. We are shown around by the inspiring Gabrielle, who takes pleasure in explaining the concept of, and the challenges to, this unique way of life – all the while a supremely talented violinist who has arrived at the commune recently, plays an atmospheric tune in the background, giving the cold air of the warehouse a hint of sophistication.
By now it’s now 3 am and we must pedal our bikes back to the new marina where our hotel is based. We have no helmets, lights or locks but Copenhagen is a cyclists’ paradise: a crude immobiliser is enough to deter most would-be thieves; as most crime is motivated by a desire to get home and nothing more, if they can’t ride off on your bike they’ll probably lose interest.
My brother calls to us as we ride off to “Feel the spirit of the city!”. The shoppers of Strøget have now been replaced by revellers; we cycle past couples snogging, buskers singing, drunken shouting, and youngsters swapping phone numbers – and insults. This may be a unique and progressive city, but in the early hours of a Sunday morning it is a city all the same.
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