copenhagen: an impression and a walk on the wild side


After three consecutive visits in as many years, it is safe to say we have established a small and important family tradition: my mother, my sister and I visit family and friends in Denmark for the duration of a long weekend in March. I believe I have mentioned this before and at the risk of boring you all over again, I must explain: my mum's from Denmark, born in Hellerup to be precise a suburb just north of Copenhagen and my dad's from the Netherlands, he was born in The Hague. They met in Denmark back in 195? when my dad was there on an AIESEC related student exchange - if I got my facts straight - after a tumultuous courtship they were married in 1961, she was the only one to emigrate. I think it's safe to say that mainly thanks to her, we have all kept in touch throughout the years. Perhaps emigrating does that to a person: wanting to keep family ties closely knit despite the distance. 

In top pic: Copenhagen today: the old and the new. In the background we can see the construction of the Danish Architecture Centre, a design by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, a fact I find amusing as large parts of the old town centre were also redesigned and rebuilt by a Dutch architect in the early 17th century, who was commisioned by King Christian IV whose ambitions for urban development were quite grand indeed, hence the broad, open avenues throughout large parts of the city!

next to those yellow buildings, we visited our friend E. Munck who lives in number 28, a charming house in a typical old town Copenhagen street, note the cobble and paving slabs: very Danish. When plaster rendered, the houses in Denmark are painted in various colours: red, yellow/orange or blue.  

After lunch at our friend's house we had time to visit the National Museum

Whilst my mother and sister headed straight for the White Buses Exhibition, a WW2 related exhibit, I wandered even further into Denmark's history, starting with the Stone Age, moving gradually towards Viking modern day myths....

the descriptions in inverted comma's are all copied from the museum signs; the one below refers to the unclear image above, specifically number 2 
'Lead amulet with runes, Middle Ages, Østre Skovgård. The amulet was found in 2008, folded as a small lump of lead and now, after being unfolded, comprises a long strip of lead. The inscription on the outer side is heavily corroded, but text fragments meaning  ‘the holy spirit’  and ‘christ reigns’ can still be deciphered. The text on the inner side contains magical litanies and incantations in medieval Danish. All kinds of giants, elves, wicked trolls and evil were to be kept away from the owner by the amulet, whose name was Ødmar or Ømar.'  
oh my, to have such protection from all things evil; at any given moment of anxiety you can reach into your pocket, rub your fingers against the leaden talisman and be instantly reassured you are indeed secure and safe; how incredible this tiny object survived the centuries, was identified as being significant, unfolded and made intelligible for us today

'Amber figures are the only sculptural artworks from the Danish Stone age. Bears and elks played an important role in the mythology of the hunters, and the figures were worn as amulets.'

I forgot to document the age of these pieces of jewellery, all I know is they're not contemporary items, but they could easily be mistaken as such.

'Sunrise: a fish pulls the sun from the prow of the night ship to the morning ship, 900-700 BC
The Sun Horse takes the sun from the Sun Ship of the morning at noon, 900-700BC
The snake helps the sun on it’s night journey through the underworld. Here the sun is hidden in the coils of the snake’s tail, 900-700 BC' 

So first Fish would collect Sun for the morning stretch and a hearty breakfast; later on Horse and Sun joined together for a salad lunch followed by an afternoon stroll and if they felt in the mood, a high tea; crepuscule would witness Snake gliding Sun along towards a dramatic sunset, however on dreary days they would have to settle for dull skies fading from pale grey to the darkest indigo whilst Moon clambers the heavens, whetting their appetites for a late light supper and, depending on the season, a shorter or longer slumber in bed..... 

 'The Chariot of the Sun was found in September 1902, when the bog Trundholm Mose in Western Zealand was ploughed up for the first time. It was made in the Early Bronze age, ca. 1400 BC.  The elegant spiral ornamentation on the golden sun disc reveals it’s Scandinavian origin. The Sun Chariot illustrates the idea that the sun was drawn on its eternal journey by a divine horse. The chariot is not itself part of the religious belief. The sun image and the horse were placed on wheels to illustrate the motion of the sun.' 
I adore these tales of how we-of-olden-times viewed the goings-on in our surrounding world and tried to find explanations; of course the sun was worshipped and welcomed, as night was dark beyond anything we-of-the-modern-world are able to acknowledge, with our constant supply of light!

my personal favourite: 
'Magician’s leather purse containing amulets and other magical items: the claw of a goshawk, a grass snake’s tail, a conch from the Mediterranean, a piece of a mussel shell, a small wooden cube, a small red stone, some dried roots, a fragment of an amber bead, small pebbles wrapped up in a piece of a pigeon’s gut, and the lower jaw of a young squirrel. The small pebbles and the squirrel’s remains may have been found in a hawk’s stomach the magician studied. Perhaps Bronze Age priests read omens in birds’ innards. 1300-1100 BC' 

Glenstrup c.1000 AD 'Thore raised this stone in memory of Gunnar, his father.'

'Viking Ages runes c. 850-1050 AD
The Viking Age alphabet consisted of 16 runes, which meant that some symbols had to cover several related sounds. For example the k-rune stood for both the ‘g’ and ‘k’ and the i-rune for the ‘e’ and ‘i’. Around the year 1000 a dot was added to these runes to represent different sounds. These are called pointed or dotted runes.' 

at the end of my tour I read this juicy tidbit 'In the 19th century Denmark was in crisis. The Danish kingdom had been significantly reduced by the loss of Norway (1814) and Southern Jutland (1864). Denmark needed a new source of national pride. In folk culture the picture of Viking Age was romanticised through literature and in everyday objects. It was also in the 19th century that the concept of  ‘the Viking Age’ first appeared. The archaeologist J.A.A. Worsaae defined it, based on his research on Scandinavian settlements on the British Isles and the excavations at Jylling in 1861. Today the Viking has become a national symbol, and our view of the Vikings is influenced by marketing, satire and exhibitions like VIKING.'

how delightful history can be reinvented to suit our needs.
Nationalmuseet/National Museum of Denmark on the outside

moving from the larger past to more personal history: a photo of my great grandfather Martin Knudsen, the father of my mother's father Axel; he was a man of many talents: he owned a small bicycle shop in a village in Jutland, where he also sold his paintings and he played the violin; he would perform at parties and the like. It all makes sense now.

Saturday evening we were invited by my cousin Alexandra for dinner in the café Traktorstedet situated in a new nature reserve Naturcenter Amager, she has recently landed a job there, hurray for her; together with a friend she'll be running the café close to the so-called Naturskolen. As you can see the landscape looks very similar to where I live: bog land! no wonder I feel at home (t)here: the three images above are in the reserve. Wonderful how it is only a couple of stops from Copenhagen's centre in the south-bound metro; you can just glimpse several tall appartment buildings in the Amager area.

Back home

below are some photo's I took yesterday whilst we were enjoying a gorgeous March Thursday; Django and I went for a walk from Fort Asperen through the villages of Acquoy (the name looks French however we pronounce the second syllable like the 'oy' in 'boy') and Gellicum, situated opposite each other along the river Linge. If you look closely you can spot the landscape in the Netherlands is slightly greener than in Denmark, down south Spring has sprung just that little bit earlier

 at this very moment 19:05 as I near the end  of this post the birds are still chirping  like crazy outside, one of my all-time  favourite sounds


Dana said…
Oh Saskia, how wonderful to have this time with your family! Thank you for the museum tour...I could easily spend hours looking at this kind of stuff. I love the amulet and the medicine bundle and the sun horse and on and on. It is interesting to me that the nature preserve in Denmark looks foreign to me, but the views around your home could be our Skagit Valley, minus the mountains, as I have said before.
Liz A said…
Thank you for the runes!
Mo Crow said…
wow Saskia what a magical post!
Debbie said…
Fascinating post, loved the medicine bag and the lovely colours on the houses. Copenhagen is on my list of must see cities to visit, will get there one of these years. I think its Bruges turn this year though.
yes...the Magician's Pouch kin of yours.

and it's all so so so CLEAN not even
and all the buildings are so perfectly kept I love that they
choose Colours....

and really, i was happy to be back Home, too, with the Good Dog ahead.

Thank you for this, all of it, it opened OUT my day
Anonymous said…
after being in Europe with the news for other, awful reasons, how wonderful to come here and wander with you for awhile! All so fascinating... thank you for taking the time. I especially liked YOUR story of horse, snake and sun, BTW -- way more than the quoted ones!!
Saskia said…
it was a wonderful weekend Dana, absolutely WonderFull

ah yes Liz, popped over tou your place and saw why.

indeed Mo, magical indeed

Debbie, Bruges is nice of course, however Copenhagen....well it has everything you want in a city these days and more! a country rich with crafts(wo)men, artists, designers, you would be immensely inspired and rewarded for making the effort

opened up my HEAD, Grace!

I imagined you would, Dee (thanks)



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