Saturday, June 19, 2004

Scandinavia Month Part 1

I’m at home with my windows open to let in the cool air of a German
summer evening. Every now and then I hear a human roar sounding from the
pubs and cafés in my neighbourhood. The European soccer championships
are being held this month in Portugal and as I write Holland is playing
Czech Republic. The roaring I hear occurs whenever a goal is scored. To
say that Germany is soccer-mad at the moment is an understatement. The

I was away for business this week and hence ate in restaurants the last
two nights. In both restaurants the waiters were more interested in the
soccer action on the big screen TVs than they were in serving food. I
innocently asked a waiter the score of a game I missed and got more than
I wanted. He told me the result, as well as his analysis of every game
played so far and a prediction of who would win and why. He wanted to
continue with stories from the previous European soccer championships,
but I reminded him that he hadn’t actually taken my order yet.

Now to the topic of my e-mail: In the last month I made two long weekend
trips to Scandinavia. The first was by overnight train to Denmark.
Stepping off the train in Copenhagen, a harbour city on an island, I got
an immediate feeling that I would like this place. I could taste the
fresh sea air that you don’t find in Germany. The people were naturally
warm and friendly. And there were free bicycles for tourists to use all
over the city. You simply put in a coin and the bike lock is released,
then you return it to a special stand and the coin is returned.

Before long I noticed Australian flags in the streets alongside Danish
flags. I found this mysterious until I heard that the next weekend some
Tasmanian woman would be marrying the Prince of Denmark. I guess this
was big news Down Under but it hadn’t hit the German headlines. All of
Denmark was keen on Australia. While I was there the Aussie band
Powderfinger performed in the “Rock and Royal” concert, a sailing race
was held on the harbour between Denmark and Australia, and the Danish
brewery Carlsberg was selling a special commemorative Royal Wedding beer
made from Tasmanian hops and Danish malt.

In Copenhagen I visited an unusual suburb called Christiania. In the
70’s a group of free-lovin’ artistic hippies started squatting in a
deserted army barracks in Christiania, and declared it to be an
independent country with its own rules. Those rules, as far as I could
tell, were centred on regular – no, continuous smoking of marijuana.
There were plenty of men with grey pony-tails openly smoking and
marijuana was openly sold in the cafés. Over the years the residents
have grown in number, shrunk in short-time memory capacity, and
experienced occasional violent conflicts with the Danish government and
police force. I wandered right through this suburb and after fighting my
way through the initial dense fog of sweet smelling smoke I found many
houses in a small forest near the water, still a part of this squatters’
kingdom, on what must among the best real estate in Copenhagen.

Later I took a train to Elsinore, a town and castle where Shakespeare’s
Hamlet is set, about an hour north of Copenhagen. The castle is on the
water’s edge and many locals were using the castle grounds for fishing.
The castle itself was unremarkable but for the view across the water to
some mountainous land that I figured had to be Sweden. The idea of
SEEING a country and not VISITING it was killing me so I headed to the
ferry terminal and made an impromptu visit to the Swedish city
Helsingborg, bought myself some dinner and an ice-cream, then took
another ferry back. The whole Swedish episode, including travelling
time, lasted about 2 hours.

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