Category Archives: World

One week on: Copenhagen

It has been a week since Copenhagen was caught by surprise at the appearance of a form of violent Islamism in its’ midst.  A young man, two weeks’ out of prison, opened fire on a cafe in Osterbro, before disappearing for a few hours to then unleash the same on the city’s main synagogue. Two people killed, a film maker in the cafe and a volunteer security guard outside the synagogue. Then, in the early hours of Sunday morning, Danish police shot dead a man who opened fire on them as they watched the suspect’s apartment in Norrebro, who was subsequently confirmed to be the culprit.

Credit to APA via Mashable.
Flowers outside Copenhagen’s main synagogue on Krystalgade.

The reaction, or rather non-reaction of the Danes over the past week has been interesting. Is it the Danish sense of “well let’s just get on with it” or is it a collective shock? There has been plenty of coverage of various kinds in the Danish news media, the general reflection on the security services and state apparatus that these events cause. But the everyday people? The customary spring tradition (“Fastelavn” – Shrovetide) that this year fell the day after the shooting still took place, with children dressed up and having fun with the “cat in a barrel”, the Danish version of a pinata, in supermarkets and hassling their parents with bundles of twigs. I have only heard one Dane make reference to the entire incident, and that was actually to demonstrate a not-so-fun move that kept appearing in the roda at a capoeira class. Silence is a reaction to a shocking situation. But we should not apply “Anglo” pathologies to a culture which might look similar but is genuinely very different.

The key to understanding this is that Danes themselves, are on the one hand more relaxed about negative events (the “let’s get on with it” attitude), and that they have been bracing themselves for this for about ten years. It was through a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, that frankly the bulk of the Western world found out about the prohibition of the representation of a particular gentleman for about a billion people around the world. Add to that a less-than-smooth integration process in Denmark for foreigners and they unfortunately considered that it was not if, but when.

All credit to Reuters.
Copenhagen Memorial held on Monday.

Nonetheless, the incident has raised interesting questions. The number of countries we can now tick off to have an incident, or more, surrounding this tension which has haunted this patch of the world for fifteen years or so, has had quite a few new members in the last year – Denmark, Australia and Canada. The events in France provoked horror and outrage in such measure it did make many of us finally have a serious consideration to ourselves the merits of free speech. But while in France, a clearly orchestrated plan with multiple assailants was executed, I submit that in Denmark, I disagree with Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s initial remark that this was a ‘cynical act of terror’. I think that rather, and not at all to diminish what happened, this was a single person’s act of desperation, exploited by some asshole in prison to bend it for his own ends.


The perpetrator was two weeks out of prison with a history of violence and gang association, a Danish citizen from a much maligned ethnic origin, growing up in a sketchy neighbourhood in a place that probably did not much appreciate his presence. He had a loving family, but clearly felt the weight of his Palestinian ancestry, if you read reports from various outlets from those who knew him. Bright guy who numbed his problems with hash, which is not really the marker of someone nailed into hardline Islam. Can someone with such a barrel-full of Freudian excuses have the genuine wherewithal to initiate a fully reasoned macropolitical act? Or is it more likely, that in this country, with that history, practically ensuring that his life was over, a far more cynical operator simply saw an opportunity in his prison cell and exploited it?

There is the terrorist you need to deal with, because that’s the guy who will make this happen again. In the mean time, the rest of us should follow the Danish example – on Monday at rallies in city centres across the country, Danes gathered to express their defiance at those who would try to intimidate them, but also to defend the minority communities at the centre of these events.


Reflections on Copenhagen Summer

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.Magasin Dept Store at Kongens Nytorv, CPH, DK.

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.