The Little Mermaid, July 2002. I was never supposed to end up solo in Copenhagen. There should have been a girl with me, but as is so often the case, it didn’t work out and I ended up making the trip alone. At any rate, it wasn’t long before another lady caught my eye. Sat atop a cluster of rocks just off the footpath of Langelinje Pier, this famous bronze statue, inspired by the beloved Hans Christian Andersen character, was unveiled to the city in August 1913. A gift from the Danish brewer Carl Jacobsen, today tourists are often surprised to see just how small the statue really is. Ok, I get that it’s the ‘Little’ Mermaid, but come on!!! To add insult to injury, she turned out to be another woman unwilling to give me the time of day. In fact, this one wouldn’t even look at me!
Police Raid, Christiana, July 2002. In all my years travelling the globe, I have never seen anything quite like the so-called free state of Christiana. In my ignorance, I hadn’t even been aware of its existence until a hostel dorm mate insisted we go check it out. This special neighbourhood was established in 1971 by a group of hippies keen to hold on to the abandoned military barracks they’d been sleeping in. Gradually, there followed a steady increase of new residents, the area evolving into a tight-knit community that declared themselves independent from the rest of the country. But instead of just stamping them into the ground, the Danish government decided to leave them be, treating the whole thing as a cautious experiment. Not that the relationship between Christiana and the authorities has been a happy one. There would be raids from time to time, mostly to clear the place of hash, and these unwelcome interventions would often lead to violence. On the day I walked into Christiana, the atmosphere was friendly and relaxed. A fascinating car-free zone of homemade houses, workshops, art galleries, organic stalls and cafes; I was really enjoying the experience until suddenly, out of nowhere, the chilled vibe was shattered by the sound of police sirens, shouting voices and stomping boots. With people scarpering in all directions, I simply froze with no idea what to do. Within minutes the police had control of the place, forming a human barricade through Pusher Street and performing what looked like random raids in some of the homes. In total defiance of the no photography signs peppered around me, I managed to sneak my camera out of my coat pocket and grab a quick shot of the chaos.
Tivoli, July 2002. If there was an antithesis to my Christiana morning, then it had to be the couple of hours I spent at Tivoli, Copenhagen’s premier amusement park. Opening its doors in 1847, this wonderfully innocent and nostalgic place stands as the world’s second oldest theme park (number one is another Danish attraction, Dyrehavsbakken, just ten kilometers outside the city). Though not in much of a theme park mood that day, it was still enjoyable to pass through, see some rides and treat myself to some Smørrebrød, an open sandwich comprised of dark rye bread, topped with butter, cold cuts and cheese.
Frederiksberg Park, February 2005. I returned to Copenhagen a few years later for a winter perspective. Insanely, I’d come to visit the same girl as before and lo and behold, things failed to work out again. Talk about a sucker for punishment! This time at least, she was living in Copenhagen and I didn’t have to go exploring alone. Among the highlights of that second trip, a crisp, wintry walk around Frederiksberg Park, with stirring views of its baroque, seventeenth century Palace. There was a devilishly threatening atmosphere to the grounds that afternoon, the grey sky informed by just a touch of light blue, the ghostly linden trees seemingly protecting the palace like poised soldiers. “I hope you don’t feel like you wasted your time coming here,” said the girl and somehow her words seemed to fit perfectly.
Nyhavn (New Harbour), February 2005. The day before I left it snowed, so it was bitterly cold during our walk along the waterfront. With very few people about, complimented by an eerie silence, the frozen canal and its framed townhouses looked like something out of a ghoulish painting. The girl and I didn’t speak much during our stroll and instinctively I knew I would never see her again. And so it proved to be.