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by Roger Werner

My visit to Copenhagen in 1995 was part of a much longer journey that took me as far east as the Crimean Autonomous Region on the Black Sea in the Ukraine.  From Copenhagen, I had a connecting flight to Kiev with a three day layover in Denmark.  The flight from London (Heathrow) to Copenhagen was so uneventful that I hardly remember it (thank goodness for that!).  I was traveling with a co-worker.  We had been on many trips in the past and this flight was routine.  Upon landing in Copenhagen, we deplaned  and went to the baggage collection area.  The airport at Copenhagen is neat and efficient; not as opulent as Terminal 4 Heathrow but very comfortable.  There was no Harrod’s Department store outlet nor an extensive selection of duty free shops.  It was sufficiently appointed that a weary traveler could find pretty much anything that he or she might need at the last minute.  What was even more important:  there were several excellent pubs serving very good Danish beer.  The airport had a nice feel and I took an immediate liking to the Danes.  They are happy and friendly people.  I thought it interesting that a number of American travelers I had talked with commented on how aloof and reserved the Danes were.  I found them to be anything but aloof.  But then perhaps they were reacting to me.  As a rule I am not the least reserved and have no problem striking up conversations with strangers on just about any topic that comes to mind.

The Danish language is somewhat similar to German; so calling on my two years of high school German, I was able to read many of the signs and find my way around.  Initially, we retrieved a luggage cart and then headed to the baggage carousel to collect our gear.  We then went to Customs.  Much to my delight, individuals traveling with a Carne--a sort of internationally accepted ‘bill of laden’--get special treatment in European Community countries.  Compared to the casual traveler, we were treated like royalty.  We went into a private room with comfortable chairs.  We were waited upon by two very friendly customs agents who spoke perfect English.  They looked at us, the baggage, and the Carne’.  The agent in charge opened the Carne’ and stamped the appropriate spot.  He closed the Carne’ and handed it back to me.  I was rather astonished at how simple all of this was so I asked him if that was all.  He said that was all.  Not the Mexican border by any stretch of the imagination I thought.  As It turned out it wasn’t quite as simple as the agent made it out to be but I wouldn’t find out how fouled my carne’ was until I arrived back in the United States 6 weeks later.

We next sought a place to store most of our baggage.  In most of the major airports of Western Europe, it is possible to store baggage for a few days in a secure area.  Since we would have no need of our field equipment in Copenhagen, we left all of our computers and survey gear at the airport.  We did, however, cling carefully to our laptops.  Storing equipment is never cheap in Europe (in fact very little is cheap in Europe) but when one travels a lot, one quickly learns that storage is always is better then carrying unnecessary gear around a strange city.

We next sought a money exchange—easy to find as they are everywhere.  Finally, we walked out of the airport in to the bright sunshine; the first I had experienced in almost 24 hours.  The warm sun felt very good.  I wasn’t a bit tired.  Thank god for tranquilizers I thought.  I had a nice sleep on my flight and was ready to have some fun.  My traveling companion, on the other hand, was ready to collapse.  We looked for a cab and to our dismay discovered that it would cost $25.00 for a one way ride into the city.  Neither of us wanted a cab ride that bad.  We went in search of a bus and found that for the not so modest fee of $5.00 we could ride public transportation into the heart of the city—Hans Christian Anderson Square, which was about 5 blocks from our hotel.  As we were riding into the city I thought to myself that, if it cost $5.00 to for a bus ride the cost of living must be very high.  I wondered how anyone could afford to live in Copenhagen.  Only later did I learn that Danes pay a fraction of what we paid for the bus.  Danes are not only quite civilized but they are smart—they get the tourists to subsidize their day-to-day needs.  Something we free marketing Americans have never figured out!

The ride into the city took about twenty minutes.  We crossed over a few waterways, driving primarily on city streets.  The airport was located in a newer part of the city.  As we drove into the city, the neighborhoods got older.  In the city center, the city took on a positively Medieval feel.  I was enthralled by the sense of antiquity.  The bus depot is a relatively modern feature, made of red brick.  It seemed an anomaly located directly across the street from Tivoli Garden, a world famous tourist attraction.  It cost a lot of money to get into Tivoli and what one finds after one pays to get in is that it is a beautiful garden with lots of expensive stores and restaurants—nothing inside of Tivoli is free except for the atmosphere!

We got off of the bus and began our short walk to the hotel.  For me the walk turned into a trek.  I never thought to pack a light bag for my three day stay in Copenhagen.  I found myself lugging an 80 pound duffel bag along with another lighter bag, a backpack, a laptop computer, and camera case; after a long block I began to drag my duffel.  Fortunately, the hotel was only five blocks away!

The Mayfair Hotel!  That’s where we were headed.  According to my travel agent, Copenhagen was a god-awful place to find a hotel for less than $250.00 a night.  That was quite a bit beyond my budget on this trip, so I settled for what the agent called a "third class hotel" in a less desirable part of the city (whatever that meant).  So with baggage in tow, my companion and I headed for the Mayfair, which according to a map of the city I purchased in the United States, was located some three blocks south of the bus depot and then one or two block to the west.  According to the travel agent it was on the edge of the ‘Red Light District."

Now when someone describes a place as a Red Light District, I think of sexy and sultry women sitting in large bay windows trying to entice men to purchase their sexual favors.  Today, such is the case in Hamburg and Amsterdam; I figured Copenhagen would be no different.  I was amazed that an area as the "Red Light District" would be located so close to Hans Christian Anderson Square and Tivoli Gardens, which are main tourist meccas in the city.  As I discovered, the Red Light District in Copenhagen is not like its counterparts in Amsterdam and Hamburg.  There were no beautiful Danish blondes in bay windows.  As far as our hotel,  I guess I was expecting a sort of seedy little dive.  I mean given the location in " the District" and its third class rating.

We turned the corner and looked down the street.  It seemed like others in the area--clean and quiet.  There was a sex shop on the corner.  Unlike its American counterparts, the Danes people openly display what could be found inside; the displays were very graphic to say the least.  I was sort of disappointed that there were no live women on display anywhere and we were right on the edge of the District.   I wondered where they were.  There would time to figure that out later—I figured these places would be further south from Tivoli.  We continued our walk down the narrow side street towards our hotel.  We were nearing the end of the street and approaching one of the main north-south streets in the old city when we came across our hotel’s marquee.  I was again surprised….This hotel was nice.  Really nice!  We walked up the short flight of marble steps and into the lobby….This was a nice place!  It wasn’t the Plaza or the Four Seasons but it had real character.  The lobby was well-appointed with antiques.  Behind the main desk stood a very beautiful and extremely friendly and courteous Danish women in her mid-20s—of course she had long blonde hair.  I dropped my luggage and leaned up against the counter exhausted.  The women rang a bell and a tall, young fellow instantly appeared from a small room situated behind the counter.  He was dressed a uniform and easily recognizable as a bell man.  He stood by diligently while the women checked us in.  We were expected and the check in procedure was fast and efficient.  She gave our keys to the bellman, who placed all of our luggage on a cart.  We walked to the nearby elevator and went up to the third floor.  The door opened and I was again amazed.  The hallway of the hotel was decked out in beautiful antiques.  Everything was perfect so far!  We got to our room opened the door, and went inside.  The room was a bit stuffy but it too was decorated in beautiful antiques, including a huge mahogany entertainment center.  It even had a wet bar and a small refrigerator filled with wine, beer, and other things to eat and drink.  At only a $150.00 a night this hotel was a real bargain!

We tipped the bellman and relaxed on our beds for a while.  By now my companion looked like he was ready to die.  He was asleep, very soundly asleep, in a few minutes.   It is always easy to tell when my traveling companion is asleep.  He is a world class snorer.  His snoring can literally wake the dead.  When we travel, I use ear plugs or it is impossible to get to sleep.  He was snoring loudly.  I was not the least tired.  I was dirty and hungry.   The former was remedied by a quick shower and a change of cloths.  I would then explore the city and find something to eat.

It was about 6:00 PM when I left the hotel.  For my night on the town I figured that dinner and drinks might run $50.00 or $60.00.  So I brought $100.00 and my credit cards.  Having no idea what to do or where to go, I stopped off at the front desk to ask some questions.  The women who had checked us in was gone, being replaced by an equally beautify lady with dark hair.  I pulled out my trusty map and approached her.  She spoke perfect English; he showed me where I was and pointed out, very matter of factly the boundaries of the Red Light District, noting that the place wasn’t what it used to be.  She said that, in spite of its rather diminished size, it was quite easy to find women in the District.  She also showed me the location of the main outdoor shopping area, the Strogart, as well as locations with live music.  All of these places were, I was assured, within easy walking distance of my hotel.  This seemed almost too simple.  I turned around and walked out the door.  Out on the sidewalk, I saw the bellman.  I asked him about the Red Light District.  He told me that compared to the 1980s and before, it was more or less non-existent.  A few strip bars and some bookstores but that was about it.  Not much to see he advised.  Women were available in the hotels.  I didn’t come to Copenhagen to look at naked women in a window but it would have been entertaining to have done it just once.  However, after having a good look at many of the women in this city, I began to have second thoughts about what I was missing.  Seeing some of them au naturale’  might indeed be nice.  I left that thought at the door of the hotel, walked around up the street to the west and around the corner to the north towards Hans Christian Anderson Square.

Approached from the south, Hans Christian Anderson Square appears as a large, more or less rectangular, open area where several major streets intersect.  The main bus station is located in the southeastern corner of the square.  Tivoli Gardens encompass almost the entire eastern part.  The southwestern side is occupied by a very large English pub with a large open air sitting area.  The northern portion of the square marks the start of the Strogart, a narrow, winding, street that is devoted to pedestrian traffic only.  It is a major shopping area in the city.  Where Strogart enters Hans Christian Anderson Square, two icons of American pop culture have taken root:  the Golden Arches of MacDonalds and the Burger King Crown.  As one walks across the square, Tivoli Gardens looms invitingly on the right.  It is a beautiful and majestic group of brick buildings with awnings and gardens surrounded by a high wrought iron fence.  It cost a lot of money to get into Tivoli and I decided that they didn’t need my money just yet.  I walked on towards Strogart.

As I said, the square is large with many intersecting streets.  It seemed that on every corner, a street vendor had set up a cart.  I walked over to one and observed the scene.  Interestingly enough, the cart, as well as all of the others in the square, were selling various types of sausages—they actually looked an awful lot like American hot dogs.  I walked up to one of the carts, looked at the menu board, and had no trouble deciphering precisely what I wanted.  I ordered a sausage on a roll with mustard and a tasty looking topping, the contents of which I had not the slightest idea.  The man put the sausage on the roll, added the condiments, and gave it to me on a piece of waxed paper.  It smelled delicious and tasted even better—all for about $2.50.  I crossed the northern-most street in the square, which incidentally is also the location of one of the largest taxi stands I have ever seen, and stood at the southern entrance of The Strogart.  I munched on my sausage and looked ruefully at the Golden Arches to my left.  I walked over to the window and stared inside at a menu.  I was shocked to see that a Big Mac "Value Meal" cost more than 35 Kroner—roughly $5.50.  What value I thought, and began walking north again.

The Strogart is one of the most interesting outdoor shopping areas I had ever visited.  It is lined with shops of every variety, and the walkway itself is of ancient cobblestone; it has obviously been around for a long time.  Most stores sold clothing, with tee shirts being nearly ubiquitous.  There were also unique silver shops and jewelry stores specializing in amber, and several very large tobacconists specializing in Cuban cigars and pipe tobacco.  It hadn’t occurred to me until I saw these stores that smoking is very common in Denmark.  There were also a numerous taverns and eateries, ice cream shops, and other specialty and souvenir stores.  The Strogart was crowded, and as I stopped to listen to the cacophony of voices in the background I became aware of music and wondered about its origin.

Every several hundred yards, a cobblestone side street intersected with the main, and here the scene could best be described as utter chaos--people walking in four different directions converging into a unified mass.  In spite of the apparent melee, there was no pushing or shoving; people were not in a hurry and everyone was having a delightful time.  A typical corner had at least one or two outdoor cafes, each playing different music.  There were also street musicians and jugglers.  I had discovered the source of the music previously mentioned!  The musicians played both American folk and classical music.  The cafes played mostly popular music.  I vividly remember a young women playing a beautiful violin concerto—Greig I believe.  The entire Strogart scene was captivating and charming.  All at once it reminded of the Plaka in Athens and the open street markets of Jerusalem--with one difference:  the atmosphere here was not at all alien to me.  I thought about this for a minute and realized the obvious; that as an American, I had a lot more in common culturally with the Danes then I did with the Greeks or people living in the Middle East.  This was in no way a judgmental conclusion, as I love Plaka and Jerusalem just as much as I love Strogart.  There was no getting around the fact that culturally The Strogart had a familiar feel to it.  I was to feel this same difference in Vienna next year.  I remember smiling broadly, thinking that if someone were to look at me they might think me slightly crazy; I was really enjoying the differences between them.

I walked a little further and saw an inviting little store selling waffles and ice cream.  I was drawn towards this place, partly because the delicious smell of baked Belgian waffles and partly because of the smiling, stunning beautiful women scooping ice cream.  It has long been a personal policy of mine to never eat dairy food when in foreign climes.  The policy has severed me well over the years as I have never suffered the kinds of stomach problems so typically experienced by traveling Americans.  This was Denmark, however, and I was well acquainted with their cheeses and their renown for dairy products in general.  In fact, the Holstein dairy cow was first raised in southern Denmark!  I walked up to the waffle counter.  The icon of Danish beauty spoke perfect English and asked me in a very friendly manner what I would like.  I asked her to suggest something especially tasty.  She recommended the thick waffle with a scope of vanilla ice cream, a few strawberries, and some whipped cream.  Throwing caution to the wind, I ordered what she suggested and soon was leaning up against a nearby wall thinking that this desert was perhaps the tastiest I had ever eaten.  The ice cream put to shame the best commercial ice creams in California.  The berries were, of course, fresh, and the whipped cream was piled high and every bit as tasty as the ice cream.

After consuming my desert I reported back to my lovely server that I thought her suggestion was as almost perfect as she.  Across the street from the waffle stand was an interesting looking amber jewelry store.  Since I love dearly amber I walked into the shop to have a look around.  Denmark is one of the major western sources of Baltic Sea amber.  This amber is approximately 40 million years old and is found along the Baltic Sea coast line; the precise locations along the coast are closely guarded secrets.  Amber is not only beautiful but it is expensive.

I purchased a pair of earrings for my wife and, after a great deal of deliberation, bought an amber ring for myself.  I could have easily spent several hundred dollars in this store but thought better of it and left before I lost my self control.  I loitered around Strogart for while as it began to get dark.  It was approaching 8:00 PM, and although I had eaten a sausage and a waffle I was still famished.  Next decision, what to eat for dinner.  I continued my walk down Strogart in search of a meal.  I wound up at the next intersection looking at yet another sausage vendor.  Since I hadn’t seen anything else that looked inviting, I ordered two different types of sausage.  I then walked over to a café and order a beer.  Here I got my first real shock.  A beer cost me $6.00 a bottle.  I ordered a bottle.  I found a table and enjoyed the food and the atmosphere.  Night was coming pretty quickly now, and many of the shops were closing; the streets did not clear of people.  I wondered why.

After finishing my dinner, I walked some more and it was only then that I realized how many taverns and bars there were along Strogart and the streets intersecting it.  Live music, usually rock and roll, was coming out of every establishment.  I kept walking towards no place in particular and realized that I was approaching the end of Strogart.  The northern end of this walkway opens onto a beautiful tree-lined square overlooking the old waterfront called Nyhaven.  This was the area that my hotel clerk told me was a good place to find live music.  The drop from the end of Strogart to Nyhaven is not steep but it is a long gradual downhill walk.  Out on the small square, no longer surrounded by the buildings lining Strogart, I noticed that it was getting cool out.  I was glad I brought a light jacket along with me.  I walked down to the docks and came across an even more dense crowd of people then I encountered anywhere along Strogart.

Nyhaven!  It is the name of a street located adjacent to a canal of the same name.  It also happens to be the informal name of a small district where there is a strip of well-appointed taverns.  I arrived at Nyhaven around 9:00 PM; the night life was already in full swing.  Each establishment had a large sitting area setup directly in front of their business that was used in the evenings for sort of an open air beer garden.  This was sensible as it greatly increased the number of patrons that could be served—and there were a lot of patrons!.  As I was soon to discover, these outdoor areas also enabled the few non-smokers to breath fresh air.

I walked to the end of Nyhaven and found on the last corner a British Pub.  A British Pub in Copenhagen?  I walked in and found a large tavern with three separate rooms.  All were dimly lit and very smoky.  The first and largest room had a bar and numerous tables along with a small stage on which an man was playing American folk music.  The second room was smaller and contained another, smaller, bar.  The third room was simply an extension of the second and contained several small tables.  I reconnoitered the tavern and found a seat at the bar in the first room.  To my astonishment the bartender was an Englishman.  We struck up a conversation about beer.  He pointed out that they had two English bitters, several Scottish ales, Guinness ale, and at least 8 varieties of Carlsberg and 8 varieties of Tuborg.  I was familiar with both Carlsberg and Tuborg but was completely unaware of the fact that there were so many different varieties under each label.  I started off with one of the English bitters.  A pint cost nearly $8.00 American!  After I drank this I began to sample the varieties of Carlsberg and Tuborg with the assistance of my English bartender, who carefully explained the differences between them all.

I was on my third or fourth pint when a Dane standing next to me at the bar struck up a conversation.  He said he had been to America several times and liked the country.  He thought Americans and Danes had much in common.  As I was to learn, what he really meant was that European Americans had much in common with Danes.  He was a merchant seaman and was at the tavern with is girlfriend and several friends.  He invited me to join them.  We walked back to his table and I met several women and two other men.  He introduced me, I sat down, and we began to talk about different topics.  By that time I was into my fifth or sixth pint, and the conversation just sort of flowed—in a rather garbled way.  I was grateful that the way back to the hotel was easy to navigate!  After a while I found myself talking almost exclusively with the Danish seaman and his girlfriend.  They were both really friendly and very interested in everything I had to say.  Neither of them lived in Copenhagen.  They lived in a small village along the coast.  They explained the differences between rural Denmark and the city; Copenhagen was artificially expensive for purposes of capturing tourist money.  The women, an attractive blonde, didn’t drink much; the merchant seaman and I, however, had a grand time buying each other drinks.  I think I was into my eighth pint when he suggested that we find another establishment; the English pub was closing—it was midnight.  We walked several door down the street to a Danish tavern and picked up our conversation where we left off.  We drank several more pints—by now the seaman was buying all of the drinks.  The young women sat by in bemusement, while the two if us proceeded to get pretty drunk.  At 1:30 AM the bar began to close and we agreed that it was probably time to call it a night.  I shook the man’s hand and asked him if he would be offended if I gave his girlfriend a hug.  He said to go ahead.  To my surprise I got not only a hug but also a kiss.  I trundled off to the bathroom and when I came back my two friends had left.  I walked slowly out of the bar into the cool night air and was immediately refreshed by the crisp clean air.  I took in the scene before me.  All of the taverns were closing and the crowd had dwindled greatly.  I thought that the Danes gave up on Friday night awfully early.

I began my walk back across the open square up to the Strogart.  A short way into Strogart I heard some music from down a narrow side street.  I decided to explore a bit.  While I never found the source of the music I did discover a small pizza restaurant from which I grabbed a slice of pepperoni pizza.  Eating some food felt very good!  By now I felt almost completely sober.

I walked back to Strogart and turned right towards my hotel.  Most of the cafes and taverns had closed.  Several taverns, however, were still open and they were hawking karaoke of all things.  I was tired but I promised myself that I would explore these  places some other time.  Hans Christian Anderson Square was nearly deserted.  I walked the last four blocks to my hotel.  I arrived only to discover the front door locked.  As if the night clerk had read my mind, he walked out of the room behind the front desk, to the door and let me in.  I made to it to bed.  It was 3:00 AM and Mark was still snoring away.

We slept in on Saturday waking up around 10:30 AM.  After showering and getting dressed, we made it downstairs in time for brunch.  European hotels have a delightful tradition of including breakfast with their standard room charge.  The breakfast typically is served buffet style, and it includes an array of breakfast items, such eggs and potatoes, as well lunch fair, such as cheese and meats.  There are also fruit and vegetables and different pastries.  I had experienced buffet brunches all over Europe, and this particular meal rivaled the best of them.  The buffet included sumptuous Danish pastries, several types of Harvarti cheese, Danish boiled ham, eggs, breads, and on and on.  All of the dairy items were exquisite, especially the cheeses.  We ate and drank our fill and wandered out into the lobby.  We socialized for a while with the desk staff and then walked out into the bright sunlight.  So much to do and so little time!

We put in a long day exploring the city up and down Strogart and all of the adjoining streets as far north as Nyhaven.  We stopped in numerous cafes for cold drinks.  I even humbled myself by going into the MacDonalds on Hans Christian Anderson Square to buy a large Coke.  It tasted exactly like Coke but the drink had almost no ice—a major disappointment.  Europeans do not like their soft drinks icy cold—that was an American phenomenon.  Mark wanted to buy some "good" cigars so we found one of the exclusive tobacco shops along Strogart.  We went inside and he paid $8.00 each for several Dominican cigars.  They had numerous varieties of Cuban cigars but they were nearly $20.00 for the cheapest brand.  I guess he didn’t like "good" cigars all that much.

For most of the day we just wandered around aimlessly discovering what there was to discover.  We came across the Museum of Pornography, which appeared intriguing.  Unfortunately it was late in the day when we found it, and had no time to visit it properly.  Perhaps we wound visit it on our return trip?  We found a quiet outdoor café and ate a sumptuous dinner—the cost only $30.00 American each.  The beers cost an additional $25.00.  We wound up down at Nyhaven around 9:00 PM and things were pretty much as they had been evening previous--lots of people milling around having a good time.  We walked back to the hotel arriving at our room around 11:00 PM.  Mark went to bed while I read.

I reflected on the past few days and decided that Copenhagen is a delightful place.  The people are very informal and uniformly friendly.  The food is excellent and so is the beer.  If I had any complaint it was the price of goods and services.  It would cost a lot of money to vacation in Copenhagen.

Tomorrow would no doubt prove to be an interesting day.  We had to be at the airport before 1:00 PM to meet the rest of our group.  I had only met one person in the group, and that had been 2 years previous.  I thought about the people I would be spending the next 5 weeks with and had a difficult time imagining what the experience would be like.  I’d find out soon enough.

We awoke relatively early and had another terrific brunch at the hotel.  We regretfully packed our bags and began the short walk to the bus depot.  Once again, the weight of my bags made the walk seem like the Bataan Death March.  I arrived at the bus depot exhausted and sweating.  We picked up a few last minute odds and ends for the trip,, including candy, toiletry items, and some water.  We boarded the bus and arrived at the airport within 20 minutes.  We retrieved our gear and went through customs in no time.  It was approximately 1:00 PM.  Our group would be arriving in a short while.  We found a bar, sat down and had a beer.  We didn’t have to wait long for the SAS flight from New York to arrive.  We wandered over to the arrival area and waited for a familiar face.  Finding a group of 40 Americans in the Copenhagen airport was not difficult.  We found the directors of the group and formal introductions were made.  It appeared that the group was composed of approximately 25 women and 10 men, with 5 male supervisors/directors, 2 female public relations people, and a male doctor.  We had no time to get aquatinted with any of them as the flight to Kiev was boarding shortly.  I thought quickly what I might need in the next 24 hours—more water, I decided, maybe a few Cokes, and some snacks.  I bought two liter bottles of water and two cans of Coke, along with several snack food items; as it turned out these were godsends and I wish that I had bought more!  Fortunately,  I had lots of snacks in my baggage.   There was time for a quick beer before boarding.  I slammed down the beer and thought to myself that I was actually getting ready to fly into the "Evil Empire—the Lion’s Den," that hell on Earth demonized by former President Reagan as the source of all of the worlds ills.  I tried to imagine what the place would be like and came up totally blank.  All I had to reflect upon were a few ethnocentric comments passed along by a college friend in the early 1980s.  He had traveled to the USSR in the early 1980s to see a total solar eclipse and said that the place was drab and rundown—a dismal place full of unhappy people.  As it turned, out his comments were partly true but mostly overstated.  The plane was boarding and it was time to leave.

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