Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Ten good reasons to become Danish...

With a fantastic group of 5 other UC Berkeley city planning grad students (and fellow graduates), I had an exciting week in Copenhagen. As a group we met folks from Gehl Architects, the City's Department of Traffic & Infrastructure, as well as the Department of Environmental Sustainability. It was super cool hearing about how the City works, especially how they actually get things done--they think of ways to improve their streets, canals, etc, and then they do it! If it works, they make it permanent and set up a system that will usher success. What a concept. Like trying out a 3-meter wide bike lane before putting in the cycle track; or benches that are perpendicular to the street, facing each other, so people can sit and enjoy each other's company instead of looking at the traffic. I'm not saying they get things done without conflict or resistance; but somehow, through consensus-building, impact analyses, research, and convincing powerpoint presentations, these people know how to make change. 

The Crew at Gehl Architects: Me, Matt, Erin, Erik, Jordan, Lisa

The Copenhagen raised 6' cycle track: heaven. 
View of the Stroget pedestrian street from Hay House

Although one week sounds like a good chunk of time to spend in one city, it still wasn't enough. In my small sample size of a week, I came up ten reasons to become Danish...

You start your life with a mother who has one-year (ONE YEAR!) of fully paid maternity leave. She has the option of giving three months of that year to her spouse. 

In your first year of life, you get to be carried around in an ultra stylish proper pram (aka, fancy stroller). You also get to fully enjoy fresh air by napping outside, even in the winter (all bundled up of course!). 

As a kid, you get to ride around in one of these (below). What a life! As an adult, you'll also bicycle to work (38% of Danes and higher for Copenhageners bike to work!). Because of the 200% tax on cars and $6 metro rides, you know that 'public transportation is for the rich, cars for the really rich, and bikes for everyone else.'

[L] awesome bike seat, standard. [R] cargo bike, seats two! 

By the time you are 6 or 7, you are free to wander the safe streets of Copenhagen alone or with a friend. We saw an 8-year-old picking up a falafel dinner to-go for his whole family at 9pm.

Two youngsters hitting the streets on their own.

You are most likely good-looking, immaculately dressed with an innate sense of style, and if you are a woman, you have awesome bangs (also known as 'fringe' for my Aussie friends out there). 

Interior design, functional lighting, and a love for quality over quantity for all material possessions is a natural part of your Danish lifestyle and up-bringing.

Beautiful things at Hay House...

...and Georg Jensen.

You're full-time work day lasts from around 9am to 4:30ish, it's flexible. You have 6-8 weeks of paid vacation, plus national holidays. You have free, excellent health care, free child care, and have an incredibly high standard of living.

Olufsvej (street) in Østerbro neighborhood...love the colors!

You are most likely really, really friendly, personable, and courteous. Even on cold, cloudy days, you smile to strangers on the street and make eye-contact with other cyclists, nodding approvingly to your left-turn. You might even buy a foreigner a metro ticket because she had no coins!

You're a shoulder-turner. 

One of the ultimate goals in life is to obtain 'hygge' [HOO-geh] in all aspects of your environment--cafés, restaurants, and your home. Hygge is apparently difficult to explain and translate; it's like 'coziness' but more, er, cozy or home-y, intimate, friendly. I don't know, I can't explain it because I'm not Danish!

* * *

With those in mind, here is my two-cents on the basics of traveling in Copenhagen...

1. Rent a bike. With three days, my first peice of advice is to RENT A BIKE. Like the very first thing you do should be to go to CPH Bike Rental and get a bike for every day you're there (115DK for 3 days I think). Then you're set on transportation. My biggest regret is not getting the bike my first day; I waited til day 3 of 7. The metro is about $5-6 per ride, so that adds up quick. Plus, it really is the best way to get around and you'll be able to see 100 times more than by foot or metro. Dont forget to use your hand signals!

In true Danish style, waiting for the green light in a neat line. Dont forget to use your cycling hand signals here!

Holding a camera and cycling!

2. Copenhagen is expensive. I hardly got used to it after a week, and at first it's completely shocking. We're talking $10 street sandwiches, $6 for a slice of pizza, $4 for a shot of espresso, easily $30 for a sit-down dinner, etc. Even groceries are expensive. And don't even think about a PH Artichoke lamp!

Hay House felt pillows for a mere 600 Kroner ($115)...this is a 'just looking' store...

3. Speaking of groceries. The major chains are Irma, Aldi, Netto, and Fakta. There will likely be one of these (or a variation) within reach. Irma is pretty expensive still; Aldi's selection seemed pretty weak; Netto is good and cheap; I didnt go in Fakta (but I like the name!).

4. Danes love to make eye contact. Dont be afraid to look people in their eyes! Especially on the bike or just walking on the street, make eye contact with strangers and smile. At a café or bar, this technique is used to get someone's attention. It's like having a staring contest! 

5. Danish is really hard to pronounce. I didnt even try. I'd just point to things on the map - yes, and looked like a complete tourist! Apparently the "-gade" ending is pronounced "-gal" and "g" letter is mostly a "y" sound, and there's lots of silent letters. So like "Stroget" is pronounced "Stro-yay," "Nyhavn" is pronounced "New-hav-n." Anyways. 

So, with help from a Dutch friend who lived in Copenhagen (thanks Emmy!), here are the highlights of my week in the form of a guide, organized by neighborhood. 

"Downtown" or the Stroget
  • Walk the whole Stroget (pronounced Stro-yay) and Købmagergade. Definitely go in (like DO NOT MISS and go back if you didnt see it): Hay House, Georg Jensen, and Illums Bolighus which are all in the same square on Stroget and Amagertorv
  • Amalienborg Palace - change of the guards at noon each day is fantastic!!!! By the water front, you can see the incredible Opera House on the other side of the river
  • Nyhavn area - nice place for a cup of tea and people watch
  • Rundetarn - the round tower has a great view from the top only $5 to enter
  • Eat at a pølsevogn - literally, 'sausage wagon' for a cheap 25DK ($5)
  • Definitely hit the Glyptotek museum, the atrium and sculptures are well worth it. After that go across the street to the Dansk Design Center. Dont pay the entry fee...the shop is well worth 15-20 minutes and then make your way to the restrooms downstairs and poke your head in the Danish design rooms ("oops! I was looking for the restroom!") 
  • Take a boat tour from Nyhavn and see ALL the tourist places in one sweep. I didnt do it, but I heard it was fantastic.
  • Look for shops Tiger and/or Søstrene Green "All over the world" for cute, cheap things...and basically every store is amazing!

Amalienborg Palace
Riding my bike with the guards!

Illum Bolighus department store

Glyptotek museum

  • Ride your bike (!) over the Langebro bridge and into Christianhavn. Make your way back towards the water and follow the sidewalk going north along the river, then go right when you cant go anymore. Enjoy the modern architecture of the Black Diamond across the river from you and then more modern condos as you make your way towards the Christianhavn metro stop. The houses along Overgaden Oven Vandet are wonderful! Keep going straight past the metro to Sankt Annea Gade, a cute street with lots to look at. Stop in at Cafe Luna - divine.
  • If you have an extra hour to kill, ride down Prinsessgade to see the Opera House, it's gorgeous! Also, Christiania the "Free Town" is interesting, but not a priority in my book (I thought it was scary and dirty).
The Black Diamond (library)

Christianhavn canals

Christianhavn houses


The wall of Christiania, the "free town"
The Opera House

Amalienborg Palace from the Opera House

Vesterbo and Kødbyen (Meat-packing)
  • Istedgade is an interesting street and good for shopping and more food at Bang&Jensen, Burger&Bun or dinner at Les Trois Cochons
  • The Meat-Packing is only interesting in the afternoon and evening. Mother was a fantastic restaurant! Lots of cute cafes!
  • A bit north, heading into Fredricksberg, is a great store called Kop&Kande. Its a discount homegoods store that has lots of superb Danish design goods on the "cheap." Definitely recommend it! 
Manhole covers on Istegade

Pizza at 'Mother' in Kødbyen

Østerbro to Nørrebro
  • Østerbro-south has the Kastellet - gorgeous! Park your bike and walk around to see the old church. The Kastellet is Europe's oldest operating military base!
  • Go west for some famous open-faced sandwiches called "smørrebrøds" from Aamanns on Øster Farimagsgade
  • Take the Dronning Louises Bro bridge and enjoy the new 9' cycle track over to the Nørrebro neighborhood
  • Turn left on Blagardsgade and walk your bike along this street - cute antique shops, cafes, etc.
  • Falafel and shwarma at Beyti on Nørrebrogade at Blagardsgade is good and cheap for dinner. Go down the cute street to the left and enjoy a beverage at one of the 'hygge' (cozy) places 
  • Visit Assistens Cemetery where Hans Christian Andersen is burried. Southwest of the cemetery is the Green Cycle Route - enjoy a nice ride into Frederiksberg!
Kastellet church

Aamans smørresbrod: fried herring of course!

Here's my google map of most of these points, more or less. 

Final words: Copenhagen is a world-class city and should be on everyone's to-do list.

Rosenborg Palace

The Mountain House, street side...featured in Dwell a few years back

The Mountain House, canal side

PLOT apartment building in Ørestad area

View of the Cyclbro cycle/ped bridge

Next up: Portugal!


  1. Sounds amazing. Perhaps this is why Copenhagen consistently ranks in the top 8-10 Most Expensive Cities in the World (for comparison, in last year's rankings, New York City was #29).

  2. bikes waiting in *line* - what a concept :)

  3. That is one very hot green corduroy skirt!

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