The three weeks that I experienced of it, anyway. It is the first proper rainy day that I have experienced today, which slightly dampened the experience of CPH zoo but it was fun anyway (though the animals all looked sad in a very Danish fashion).
At first, which I guess is something you get whenever you upend yourself in life, I wasn’t sure if I liked it here. The people were surly, the water was hard as fuck, and I did genuinely feel like a foreigner. Once I got over the jolt to my mental system, I was able to put these things into perspective. Yeah, the water is hard as fuck. Yeah, I am a foreigner. Hopefully I will be able to enrol in Danish classes quite soon which will help with that. And for the first thing?
I imagine it’s similar when people say that Londoners, Parisians, New Yorkers, Muscovites are surly. I was one of those surly Londoners, perfecting that walk which said, ‘I can’t express how much time I do not have for your request’. In fact, I’m not entirely certain that I haven’t stepped back into that walk already, which wouldn’t surprise me if I had. But that surly feel you get is when you are trying to catch up with the speed of the locals of the city, transitioning from merely a passing visitor. I really understood this when I actually undertook a rather touristy thing – I picked up my bike as the sun was setting and just rode into town.
Sweeping up Sonder Blvd, a really great street that always feels full of life and spray paint; into Halmtorvet, where the hipsters lounged and loitered with their coffee trying to work out which of their dinner companions had real, vintage, and completely fake Ray Bans; crossing Istedgade, which I return to later; getting a bit baffled by the gas works on Vesterbrogade and going the long route by Vesterport station and the colourful theatre to get to Radhusplads. Radhusplads marks one end of Stroget, CPH’s main shopping arcade. Bypassing that but knowing I’m sort of heading to Nyhavn, I take a random left and go through the old city’s streets parallel to Stroget, including a street called Straedet, full of restaurants out on pedestrianized streets. I end up out on some little corner near Kongens Nytorv, breezing around some quiet, blank blocks near Christiansborg and the Danish national bank. Before I know it I am over the bridge 2/3rds of the way down Nyhavn, my marker to myself reached. I return back a different way, and it was as I was coming around some metro billboards and saw the Magasin building contrasted and lit up in the fading light that the appeal of Copenhagen struck me.
I think it is the contradictions which create the dynamics and character of a city.
At once a well spread and compact city, homogenous buildings but spanning many eras in that tight space; a capital city that is nonetheless still a small one; the crowding neon on streets like Vesterbrogade, looking down to Radhusplads, which is conspicuously urban, but parks and squares being only ever the next block away. On my way home, in short succession I went past blocks which illustrated this scale magnificently; Christiansborg > Danish National Museum > Glyptotek > Tivoli > KBH K station > Kodbyen > Istedgade > Vesterbro proper.
Christiansborg palace is the Danish parliament, which should give people unfamiliar with the place some idea of one end of the scale I was talking about. When I was passing the station and heading into Kodbyen, I did think that maybe I should just go back the way I came down Halmtorvet, and although the light was fading quite rapidly, I decided to venture down Istedgade and observe its scuzzy reputation from the fleeting safety of a bike. I think it is the university aspect in me, and that surly walk, which draws me to areas like this – cities without them, without that gritty district, what are they hiding? When I passed through I stopped at some lights and a lady of the evening did make some gestures towards me (of a polite (no, really) nature); most of the hotels had implications of a similar sort, pushers lurking about the place, Chinese supermarkets and as I got further away from the city, became less hard opiate grit and more general local bars, that maybe would be best if I only took a trip into when I knew Danish.
Which I will, because some of them looked pretty cool.