Category Archives: Denmark

A fairy tale life: Hans Christian Andersen trail, Copenhagen

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PRIYA GANAPATHY steps into the life of Denmark’s famous fairytale genius and poet HC Andersen on a canal ride and guided walk around the old city of Copenhagen

Painted houses of Nyhavn seen on a canal ride_Priya Ganapathy

Nyhavn in the maritime city of Copenhagen sits like a fairytale, with its gorgeous coloured houses, leaning against each other like old friends. Many of these old sailors’ quarters have been reimagined into trendy cafes, hotels and resturants offering superb views of sailboats in the waters below. I was on a floating picnic in a solar-powered GoBoat.

As we glided along the canals, our host Guiseppe Liverino pointed to a lovely tall white house wedged between a brown building and cream one. “This is the home of Hans Christian Andersen, who lived in Nyhavn between 1845 and 1864.” I couldn’t believe I was staring at the house of Denmark’s gift to world literature. Marked No. 67 with a plaque honouring him, I almost expected words and fairytales to waft out of its tall windows. Apparently he lived in House No. 20 earlier where he wrote “Tinderbox” and “Little Claus and Big Claus”.

HC Andersen's house No 67 at Nyhavn is sandwiched between the cream and brown buildings_Priya Ganapathy

Ironically, the legendary fairytale writer and poet who populated our childhood dreamscape with unforgettable characters, led a life of utter penury. So poor was he, that he was kicked out of the home I was staring at, because he couldn’t pay his rent. He then moved a few hundred metres across to the other side, to live in a red house No. 18 where he met the same fate after two years!

Without a penny to his name, Andersen allegedly sought out monied folks by pretending to be very rich. Eventually, when the wheels of fortune turned, he was too old! There was something tragically beautiful about his story and I wished I could step into his ‘Galoshes of Fortune’ to discover his Copenhagen. I had the perfect opportunity the following day.

IMG_0439-HC Andersen's bust at City Hall_Priya Ganapathy

If there is one guided city walk you need to do in Copenhagen, it should be the Hans Christian Andersen Tour. Run by guide Richard Karpen, who literally transforms as he dons a top hat, tail coat and old world umbrella, and insists you call him ‘Hans’! American-born Richard may be from the NY Bronx, but is a Dane at heart who stays in character as he gives insights into the life of Copenhagen’s most famous writer of childrens’ books.

The author was born in 1805 and died at the age of seventy leaving a body of work that continues to inspire generations. “Andersen surprisingly wrote fairytales for adults.” So, if you read him as an adult, a more sophisticated deeper message would emerge in his stories (called eventyr in Danish) that perhaps children could miss. A bit like watching a Shakespeare play or listening to Mozart.

DSC03755-HC Andersen's famous statue near Tivoli, a favourite spot for a memorable iconic picture_Priya Ganapathy

Andersen was born to a poor family in the Odense countryside and raised by his shoemaker father and washerwoman mother. After seeing a theatrical show in his town, he heads off alone to Copenhagen with dreams of becoming an actor, armed with 10 Danish shawls, a belief in himself and a great soprano voice. He joins the Royal Danish Theatre, but fails as an actor, singer and ballet dancer.

After someone says he would make a good poet, he embarks on a career of writing. His early life in Odense and subsequent travels around Funen Island (Fyn) where he lived in various manors and castles like Broholm Castle, Hindsgavl Castle and Valdemars Castle, inspired him to ink several of his stories. By thirty, he had four fairytales under his belt and the rest is history.

Andersen's Tales_Priya Ganapathy

His books have been translated into every major language in the world, so when Richard said, “Each year, the only books in more publication are the Bible, Shakespeare and the IKEA catalogue”, we believed him. The very name HC Andersen evokes a wave of nostalgia. As the author of bedtime stories like Thumbelina, Tinderbox, Ugly Duckling, The Princess and The Pea, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and The Little Mermaid (which inspired Copenhagen’s most recognised and famous landmark on a rock at Langelinie promenade), he created characters and tales that left many enchanted.

Having penned many long travelogues and the most unforgettable quotes on travel, it wasn’t odd that in his autobiography The Fairytale of My Life he wrote, “To travel is to live” which became his motto for life.

IMG_0632 Tableau of the Snow Queen in Andersen's classic The Flying Trunk ride at Tivoli_Priya Ganapathy

Andersen travelled twenty nine times outside Denmark spanning ten years of his adult life –to Italy, Greece, Turkey, Spain and Portugal and west upto Norway, by horse carriage and the Far East by ship! Though he never married, he fell in and out of love, often with ladies way out of his league. Living in a classist society, women wouldn’t marry him because he was too poor. But a broken heart is often the bedrock of a successful poet or writer.

By the end of his life Andersen was rich, famous and welcomed into the homes and feted by royalty. However, he was too old to marry. Having been denied of a mature, physical or lasting relationship, people say he never really grew up. He wrote 1000 poems, 6 novels, 40 plays and 175 fairytales. Perhaps his child-like innocence was the key to why his writings and fairytales could be understood and appreciated by children. “My whole life was the greatest fairytale” he had once remarked and it seemed true.

DSC03055-Gilded statue of Bishop Absalon2_Priya Ganapathy

Inside City Hall, stands a wonderful marble bust of story-teller extraordinaire Hans Christian Andersen. Though a life-long bachelor, the latter’s bust was placed near the civil marriage ceremony room perhaps to bless relationships to turn into fairytales! Newly married couples often pose or clink champagne flutes against the City Hall’s alluring backdrop after signing their marriage contracts inside!

We walked around the old city, along its cobbled paths and ancient landmarks. We found Neo-Classical architure around the Bridge of Sighs and the Old Fountain of Charity at Gammel Torv – the city’s oldest Market Square, visited the lovely Cathedral of Our Lady nearby and marvelled at the brick wonder of University Library and the Law Faculty’s vibrant 1850 wall frescos before halting at the Round Tower or Rundetarn, whose library hall became Andersen’s favourite spot for inspiration.

Venue for the HC Andersen classic The Flying Trunk Ride at Tivoli_Priya Ganapathy

For 20 years our guide had kept the city’s visitors rapt with these stories. Indians love Richard as he shares a great love for our culture. He confessed how India brought him and his Danish wife together 30 years ago. She is a pracitioner of Bharatnatyam and he, a classical cellist (among his talents) who lived in Varanasi to learn Indian music. Before disappearing into the crowd like a magician, Richard doffed his top hat with a familiar “Achcha ji, namaste. Bhagwan ki marji, phir milenge. Uparwale ki daya?!” leaving me agape. Copenhagen was full of surprises!

Yet, there was so much more to experience – the HC Andersen museum near the City Hall or a trip to see his birthplace Odense and the manors he stayed in at Fyn, or stepping into the sculpture of his huge galoshes in Roskilde… But I stood by his large bronze statue on HC Andersen Boulevard, that sat gazing at Tivoli Gardens.

DSC03751-HC Andersen's famous statue near City Hall Square overlooking Tivoli Gardens_Priya Ganapathy

He had a book in one hand and a cane in the other and his knees shone from people repeatedly sitting on his lap for an archetypal selfie at Copenhagen! I didn’t need another prompt to enter the ornate gateway of Tivoli Gardens and its fairytale setting to experience Den Flyvende Kuffert or The Flying Trunk, a classic Hans Christian Andersen ride.

Who could resist being a child again, to trundle down a dark tunnel and relive his 32 fairytales in a seven-minute ride? With the cutest mobile models and a tableaux of superbly designed ever-changing sets, mood music and atmospheric commentary, this is a huge attraction for people of all ages. The ride is named after the 1839 fairytale of a young man who squanders all his money.

The Flying Trunk at Tivoli, a classic ride for all Andersen fans_Priya Ganapathy

Left with only a few belongings, he gets a magical trunk that transports him to Turkey where he meets the Sultan’s doomed princess locked in a tower. After impressing the Sultan and his queen with his stories, they agree to let him marry the princess despite a curse of unhappiness. The excited lad buys fireworks, flies around the countryside, setting them off in celebration. One spark tragically falls on his trunk, burns it to ashes and he can never fly to meet the Princess in the tower again. So he wanders the world on foot, telling stories.

And telling stories was all that Andersen did right up till his final resting place at Assistens Cemetery in Copenhagen where I paid homage. As a writer and poet, HC Andersen was definitely Denmark’s ‘national treasure’ who has inspired movies, plays, ballets, books and will continue to delight people for generations to come. Just before his death, Andersen advised a music composer on what to play at his funeral: “Most of the people who will walk after me will be children, so make the beat keep time with little steps.” He once remarked, “Enjoy life. There is plenty of time to be dead”.

DSC03312-Final resting place of Denmark's national treasure, H C Andersen at Assistens Cemetery_Priya Ganapathy

FACT FILE

Getting there:
Emirates, Lufthansa, Air France, British Airways and other airlines have daily flights to Copenhagen from major Indian cities via Dubai, Frankfurt or London. The journey time varies from 11 hour 45min to 12 hours 15min. Air India will soon launch direct flights to Copenhagen from Delhi thrice a week initially, starting September.

Where to Stay:

Avenue Hotel
Award-winning boutique hotel with cosy simple stylish Danish design rooms in the heart of Norrebro, close to the metro with organic breakfast and signature wine hour at the bar. Ph: 0045 35373111

Hotel Danmark
Brand new upscale boutique hotel in a historic neighbourhood close to City Hall Square and Tivoli. Has a rooftop bar and terrace with great views, fab indoor and outdoor dining options. Ph: 0045 33114806 www.brochner-hotels.com/hotel-danmark

For more details: www.visitcopenhagen.dk or www.visitcopenhagen.com

Author: Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 3 December 2017 in Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper. 

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Down the cobbled streets of Copenhagen

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PRIYA GANAPATHY takes a heritage walk down the old cobbled paths of Copenhagen to historic city landmarks, where bits of Denmark’s colourful history and culture come alive with a dollop of humour

DSC03034 The painted houses of Nyhavn, a fairytale setting by day or twilight

High above the Richs building at the corner of Vesterbrogade in Copenhagen, I spotted the gilded Weather Girl sculptures. The rotating ladies atop a tower warn Danes about rain and shine! One rides a bicycle and sticks out of the tower when it is sunny. And if it rains, the sculpture swivels to let the other lady out who carries an umbrella and walks her dog! Created by Einar Utzon-Frank in 1936, the artwork summed up a typical scene in Copenhagen – omnipresent bicycles and rain! There’s an inside joke among men in Copenhagen who swear that “these are the only two women you could trust!”

The Hans Christian Andersen heritage walk is a wonderful way to unearth the city’s hidden stories in buildings and landmarks often ignored in everyday urban tedium. We followed our guide Richard Karpen to where the Old City began, past a straggle of tourists posing near the Bull and Dragon Fountain to cut across the massive courtyard fronting the century-old City Hall. At the doorway, above the balcony was the gilded statue of the city’s founder Absalon, the Catholic Bishop who fortified the castle near the harbour in 1167. The Clock Tower rose 105.6m, making it one of the tallest buildings in town, with the Jensen Olsen astronomical world clock on the ground floor.

Bridge of Sighs view in the Old City Quarter

Copenhagen’s emblem or Coat of Arms – a shield with three towers – rests at the base of the flag pole. Six statues at the top represent the nightwatchmen, the police force and the fire department. The polar bears in the corners represent Greenland and the 32 Faroe Islands which are part of Denmark’s territory. The sea faring nation actually comprises 400 islands and is about the size of Switzerland with a population of 5.6 million Danes.

Inside City Hall, we found ourselves in the august company of Denmark’s most famous luminaries. Four wonderful marble busts decorate the vast hall – Martin Nyrop, the architect of the building, Bertel Thorvaldsen one of the greatest sculptors of early 19th century, Nobel prize-winning physicist and atomic researcher Niels Bohr, and story-teller extraordinaire Hans Christian Andersen.

DSC03130-Wall murals at the University Law Faculty on mythical themes

After signing marriage contracts inside, newly married couples often clink champagne flutes and pose for a picture against City Hall’s stunning backdrop! Some grooms even cart their brides in Copenhagen’s iconic quirky Christiania cargo bikes! The large hall exemplified Danish pride with its simple walls displaying the Danish flag. It is the oldest flag continually in use since the 1300s and Danes consider its signature Crusader’s Cross a symbol of joy. It is perfectly normal in Danish culture to find these flags decorating Christmas trees, birthday cakes, or being propped around picnic blankets… Danes even carry them to greet someone at the airport!

Thorvaldsen’s exquisite statue of Jason and the Golden Fleece is displayed in one section. Initially following the Classical style, he sculpted statues of Greek and Roman Gods before taking inspiration from Nordic deities like Odin, the king of the Gods who gave us Odin’s Day (Wednesday). Here you discover how days of the week are dedicated to gods featured in Norse mythology – Thor the Destroyer with his thunderbolt gave us Thor’s Day (Thursday), Fria is the Goddess of Fertility to whom Fridays are dedicated and Tuesday is named after Tyr, the God of Combat.

DSC03724-Stroget, shopping mecca and one of the Europe's longest shopping streets

Try saying Strøget in Danish and you’ll confess that Danish is indeed a difficult language. “Everyone here will speak English except your bus driver and the one you’re asking for directions!” Richard joked as we checked out the shopping precinct of Strøget, one of Europe’s longest car-free pedestrian streets. Chockful with global brands and souvenir shops, you will also find upscale shops selling Danish amber, crystal, fur and fashion further down.

A towering bronze Lur Blowers, a pair of Vikings caught in a musical moment nearby paid tribute to the notorious sea-faring Vikings, who were raiders, traders and settlers. For centuries, they struck fear in the hearts of the rest of the world. The sculpture was gifted to the city during the centenary birthday celebration of Denmark’s most famous brewer JC Jacobsen’s who founded Carlsberg. Vikings trace their origins to Danish, Swedish and Nordic tribes who flourished a thousand years ago. Their common language – old Nordic, gave us words like ‘berserk’, ‘kill’, ‘thrust’ and ‘wife’!

IMG_0458-Lurs Blowers statue, a tribute to the Viking legacy of Denmark

We strolled to the old bridge connecting the Court house to the old Debtor’s prison, surrounded by Neo Classical architecture. It was nicknamed the Bridge of Sighs in a nod to the famous one in Venice, which also spans a canal between a Court House and a prison! The spectacular view of the pastel-coloured buildings through the archway was a picturesque angle chosen by Danish painters since early 19th century!

Many of the buildings were designed by the Dutch during the Renaissance in the 1600s like the Rosenborg Castle housing the crown jewels and royal regalia. The elaborate ornamentation of French or Rococo and Baroque architecture emerged in the 1700s. In the 1800s, as artists and architects visited Rome and Greece where great monuments were being unveiled, and often imitated such great works while rebuilding cities across Europe. The antique became the ideal as most cities copied Greek and Roman designs, which spawned the simple and symmetrical Neo Classic architecture in the region. The Danes did not develop their own style of architecture until much later.

DSC03104-Cafe Nytorv, a pitstop for great food and schnapps

We halted at Cafe Nytorv, a small restaurant at the square, run by Dennis and Charlotte that specialises in Danish cuisine. The yellow corner building dated 1792, is a century and a half old and one of Copenhagen’s oldest inns. They welcomed us with a shot of traditional Danish Schnapps or akvavit, a sweet alcoholic drink flavoured with herbs and spices. “It’s designed to make men feel strong and women feel weak,” quipped Richard as we learnt the nuances of its drinking protocol. Our hosts raised a toast and we all uttered the Danish greeting ‘Skål’ (pronounced skol)! The guest could propose another toast and this ceremony could go on “until everyone at the table begins to look good!” If we knocked a couple more, he confirmed that “Dennis will look like Brad Pitt and I will look like George Clooney!”

Today skål’ means hello, cheers, good health or ‘bowl’. But the word holds more history. During Viking times, it was a tradition for the victorious to drink from the skull of the slain opponent or leader after war, which was scooped out to a bowl. It became a warcry and later evolved into a salute to good health. Nytorv stands right near an ancient whipping post. It was hard to imagine how this cheerful café-lined area was a market square where public humiliation was common in the old days. Women brought their children to witness it for it was somewhat ‘educational’ and taught them the consequences of a life of crime!

Caritas Well or Fountain of Charity at the Old Market Square

At the heart of Old Copenhagen was Gammel Torv, the Old Christmas Market Square, the oldest in the city. The marvellous Fountain of Charity of a nude woman with a child at her breast and one at her feet occupied pride of place. It was part of the water system erected in the 1600s by king Christian IV who built Rosenborg Castle and the old Stock Exchange. Two major fires during the 1700s destroyed much of Old Copenhagen. Oddly, most buildings were about the same height; there’s an unwritten law that you’re not supposed to block your neighbour’s sunlight!

We saw a gabled roof carved with Neptune or Poseidon, the God of the Sea holding a trident on one side representing navigation and Hermes or Mercury, the messenger God with wings on his helmet, holding a staff and bag of money, signifying commerce, on the other. An arty sign to inform people that the owner was probably a ship merchant. At the University premises, we admired the Library’s brickwork and stained windows and the vibrant wall frescoes inside the Law Faculty.

DSC03058-Ornate entry of City Hall

Our walk ended at the carved doorway of city’s famous 17th century Round Tower or Rundetarn. It is the oldest observatory in Europe and only 36m tall, yet visitors take a cobbled spiral walk of 209m to reach the lookout for a view of the old city. Apparently, HC Andersen often visited its library hall for inspiration. In about an hour, we had covered entire centuries to witness the evolution of this fairytale city.

FACT FILE

Getting there:
Emirates, Lufthansa, Air France, British Airways and other airlines have daily flights to Copenhagen from major Indian cities via Dubai, Frankfurt or London. The journey time varies from 11 hour 45min to 12 hours 15min. Air India will soon launch direct flights to Copenhagen from Delhi thrice a week initially, starting September.

DSC03178 A blend of old and new architecture, Axel Towers near the 1886 circular Circus Building and Tivoli

Where to Stay:

Avenue Hotel
Ph: 0045 35373111
Award-winning boutique hotel with cosy simple stylish Danish design rooms in the heart of Norrebro, close to the metro with organic breakfast and signature wine hour at the bar.

Hotel Danmark
Ph: 0045 33114806
Brand new upscale boutique hotel in a historic neighbourhood close to City Hall Square and Tivoli. Has a rooftop bar and terrace with great views, fab indoor and outdoor dining options. www.brochner-hotels.com/hotel-danmark

DSC03232-Grilled avacados at Gemyse, Nimb's latest gourmet restaurant focusing on vegetarian cuisine

Where to Eat:
Copenhagen Street Food is a harbourside hangout on Papiroen Island with foodtruck style local, artisanal and global fare. Gemyse at the historic Tivoli Gardens is legendary Nimb’s newest addition serving gourmet, healthy veg fare with a few meat and seafood options. (www.nimb.dk/en/gemyse)

At Guldbergsgade in Norrebro, taste Danish food with Italian produce at Bæst, a restaurant known for organic food, woodfired sourdough pizzas and handstretched cheese. Its adjoining Mirabelle bakery is famous for naturally fermented fresh bread, house made pasta, Baest charcuterie and adventurous flavoured icecreams outside.

DSC03218-Glasshouse at Tivoli Gardens

What to do:

Visit Tivoli Gardens www.tivoligardens.com
Discover Copenhagen from the water on a GoBoat www.goboat.dk/en
Hans Christian Andersen Heritage Walk www.copenhagenwalks.com
Bicycle Tours with Cycling Copenhagen www.cycling-copenhagen.dk
Aquatic adventure along the canals with Kayak Republic www.kayakrepublic.dk
Savour a community Danish dinner at Absalon www.absaloncph.dk

Author: Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in Indulge, the Friday magazine supplement of The New Indian Express newspaper on 21 July, 2017. Here’s the original link: http://www.indulgexpress.com/life-style/travel/2017/jul/24/danes-of-delight-down-the-cobbled-streets-of-copenhagen-2811.html