Getting to Copenhagen was snap from Sweden. A four hour train gets you from western Sweden to Copenhagen city center. We were a little surprised to find that the metro system in Copenhagen was not as easy to use as Stockholm’s Metro, or very easy to understand. It wasn’t incomprehensible, just a little more confusing than we expected in Scandinavia, the land of smart and efficient. Of course, at the end of the week we had the hang of it.
Again, we rented a little apartment from airbnb.com (this time with a roommate who worked so much he was never there) and had a fabulous little home base in the Islands Byrgge neighborhood. Just like Stockholm, Copenhagen is a city of islands, canals and water. It was a short 15 minute walk over the bridge (down Hans Christian Andersen Blvd.) to the central downtown area, where the famous Tivoli is located.
Even though we were still in the oh-so-expensive Scandinavia, Denmark seemed to be a smidge more reasonable than Sweden. Of course, things were still expensive, but it seemed like it was more on a level that we could tolerate (and afford) so that was nice. Also on the plus side, their money is really cute! They’ve got the funny coins with holes in the middle and they have hearts all over them!
On our first day there we visited the Danish Design Center (DDC), not to be confused for the Danish Design Museum. They had a neat little retrospective on Danish design since the 1950’s and two larger exhibitions on the design thinking and the many social programs they’ve contributed to with smart design (reworking social programs for seniors or creating new community services building, for example).
The nice thing that we got from visiting the center is that we learned that Copenhagen Design Week was kicking off the next day! A full week of public exhibitions, talks, conferences and presentations! So the next day we went to visit the “Info Point” or main point of interest for the week.
From the Copenhagen Design Week website:
Copenhagen Design Week is an international initiative from the Danish Ministry of Economic and Business Affairs, directed by Danish Design Centre. The Copenhagen Design Week was founded in 2009 as a biennale. Copenhagen Design Week focuses on ”Think Human” related issues and activities presented as exhibitions, conferences, seminars, workshops, talks, etc.
Since we were on the water, the Havnebadet Canal, we kept walking and came upon the Royal Palace (where the Danish Royal Family still live). We nosed around the main square and took it all in.
At the end of our walk we came upon the famous “Little Mermaid” statue, set in place to honor Hans Christian Andersen and his famous tale. The statue is actually very small and diminuitive. I managed to snag a picture when there wasn’t a tourist in front! It was a busy spot!
Finally, we walked all the way back to our apartment. We were pretty tired after a full day of walking and sightseeing, but unexpectedly our plans for the night were extended.
As you know, Eric is an independent mobile game developer (meaning he makes games for iPod’s, iPhones and iPad’s, etc.). There is a big international community of independent game developers and a particularly strong one in Denmark. Before we even came to Denmark, Eric knew of a group called the Copenhagen Game Collective; one of the Founders of which has created a game called Johan Sebastian Joust (you can see a video of it right here).
Eric had admired this game for a while and so through the magic of Twitter he asked the folks at the Collective if there was any “musical jousting” going on that night. By that evening we had already heard back. Yes! There was! In fact, a little video game celebration (if you will) was happening at the IT University campus that was a short walk away from our apartment! So we managed to muster our energy and head out to what would be one of the coolest things we did in Copenhagen.
So, I recommend watching the video about the game Johan Sebastian Joust to see how it works in real life. However, I’ll give you a brief explanation. Each of 4 players has a game controller with a ball of colored light on the top (each person has a different color). There is music playing in the background (it’s Johan Sebastian Bach). The slower the music is going, the more sensitive to movement your controller is. The faster the music is, the less sensitive to music your controller is. Each controller does not want to be moved TOO much so you want to protect your controller from too much movement. If it gets moved too much, the ball of colored light on top will turn red, and you are out of the game. The point of the game, is to knock around or jostle everyone else’s controller until you are the last one in the game. Make sense? Like I said, watch the video.
This game is even MORE fun than it looks in the video! We spent several happy hours playing the game (which isn’t released to the public yet). Also at this little gathering were several stations with TV’s where people were playing old school games in little groups. They also had giant projections of two groups playing video games up onto high walls.
By far the best part of the night was meeting and getting know everyone else at the get-together. Most of the people there were part of the Denmark Game Collective or were students at the University (ITU) in the Masters Program in Games. Eric met a lot of new friends in the game design world-which was great for him, and all of these guys were super nice and inclusive to boot. We had a great time getting to know them and playing games! After exchanging contact info and promising to meet up again, we left to crash for the night.
The next day we relaxed and recovered from the previous days trekking (and I finished my re-reading of the Harry Potter series). The day was not lost however because that night we visited Tivoli Gardens!
Tivoli is an amusement park built in 1843 that still has all of its old world, almost art nouveau charm. Since it’s touted as an amusement park we weren’t sure what to expect but once we arrived we saw the difference between what we think of as “amusement parks” and Tivoli. To prove my point, as soon as we walked through the entrance of the park we came upon a full-blown ballet performance happening on stage left.
Ok, not your typical Disneyland performance. We didn’t even ride the rides but the park is so pretty you don’t even have to do that to enjoy it. There is a large area of gardens and lakes, a giant restaurant that looks like the Taj Mahal, and another restaurant that looks like a giant Viking Ship moored in the lake!
As you can see the whole place is strung up with a million lights to set the place aglow after dark.
We chose to go on Friday because during Summer they have free concerts on Friday evenings included in your admission. We looked up who was playing and saw that it was a group called “Nik and Jay”. We had never heard of Nik or Jay, but I sort of imagined us and a few other folks, sitting cross legged on the ground, bobbing our heads to some Danish guy plucking out folk songs on an acoustic guitar.
This was not the case.
Nik and Jay are what seem to be two lost members from a boy band. They “sing” (aka speak words) in Danish and English. One song that I could pick out was “Your Body Wrote this Song”. What does that even mean?
It doesn’t really matter it seems because boy, are they popular! Like I said, I figured, “Hey, Denmark is a small country. How many people are really going to come to this thing?” The entire country apparently.
After we realized that the opening band, Erik and Kris, was different from the main attraction, Nik and Jay (the two name, two guy bands are popular in Denmark), we stayed to see what all the fuss was about. Umm, not a lot. We’ll tell you that.
But it was good pop-y fun and we laughed with the teenage girls when they were screaming with unrequited love over Nik and Jay. We even danced around a little bit. Then we bid adieu to Nik, Jay and Tivoli and walked home across Hans Christian Anderson Bridge.
The next day we visited infamous Christiana. For those that haven’t heard of it, Christiana is a commune that has been going full force since people started squatting on this former military base in 1971. It’s infamous because they refuse to accept Denmark as their authority, or abide by it’s laws.
They don’t do anything too crazy, but they do sell drugs here and have their own currency. It’s notoriety has been increased from some police violence in the past, when they tried to crack down on some of the drug-selling. Story goes that the police came in in full riot gear and were still not able to take control. Christiana has a strong hold.
But the main point of difference is that Denmark does not accept the idea of “community property” which is what Christiana is all about (i.e. everybody owns a share in everything, hence a commune). And another point of divergence seems to be that Christiana doesn’t follow the local housing codes. We walked around the lake that cuts through the community to see all the unique looking houses along the shore.
All of this history sort of gets in the way of the what Christiana really is. A shady, tree filled island where a community has banded together for the past 40 years to create a place that follows their own rules. It’s not unsafe, it’s not even that crazy. It’s a car free neighborhood, where obviously the ratio of artists to laymen is very high and a lot of funky houses are cobbled together. Ok, and some people are smoking pot.
We did visit the infamous Pusher Street, the main drag of Christiana famous for drug dealing and which has banned the use of photos. I think that the community has really banded together to limit the selling of drugs and narcotics that goes on there because all we saw was one little stand, with an orderly line to by weed. Honestly? I’ve been offered more drugs walking down Haight Street-we were non-plussed.
The next day was a special one for us- our 3 year anniversary. We spent a wonderful day together, relaxing, walking around Copenhagen, having fun and avoiding computers. We started off the day with a “real” American breakfast and then a very long drawing session of Nyhavn.
Then we took a tour around the Copenhagen canals by boat. Really fun and totally worth $8.
As it started to rain, I came across a giant wall filled with some of my favorite images by Shepard Fairey.
We had an early dinner at Kalaset, a wonderful café recommended to us by one of Eric’s new friends from the Copenhagen Game Collective.
And then we took a turn around the trendy Norreboro District. It seems to be a Mission District in the making with a lot of cute, unique shops. As it was Sunday they were all closed but we just window shopped and enjoyed our stroll (and the fact that it wasn’t raining anymore).
The next day we did a few last things we wanted to do in Copenhagen. We started with a little café/computer time for Eric and a bit of shopping for me.
Then we did something special. San Franciscans may remember when we had an invasion of giant Hearts painted by different artists. I know that Chicago has cows and Berlin has bears. Many of the big cities have them as a temporary installation around town and then sell them off for charity. Copenhagen had the same, but they had elephants. We had walked by a shop selling miniatures of all the elephants they had had.
When we stopped in to poke around, we saw that they had a workshop where you could paint your own! This sounded totally fun to us, so on our last day we decided to do the workshop. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take pictures of them before we shipped them home, so you’ll all just have to admire them chez nous in the future. Later that night Eric went out for one last round with his new Copenhagen Gamer friends. They had a great night out, and I had a great night in with BBC.
And finally, the day came for our flight to Italy, via Milan staying in a small town called Bergamo. We had an absolutely wonderful time in Copenhagen. It reminded us of Berlin, in an artsy, gritty sort of way. There’s a great community of independent gamers, a lot of creative types to get to know, yummy cafes to eat in, the whole nine. We would have happily spent another week really getting to know the city. We definitely plan on going back in the future. As I write, we’re about 2 weeks into our time in Italy. We’ve been moving around a lot, drawing a lot, and eating a lot of gelato!