Scandinavian sojourn: Cologne and home
Concluding my short adventure across Northern Europe.
Having stayed up late completing the first post in this series, my first full day in Copenhagen gets off to a late start.
There’s a lot to see, but having visited once before – albeit briefly when I spoke at an event in 2012 – a few places have already been crossed off my list. And yet, little feels familiar. I certainly don’t remember the area around Tivoli Gardens being as commercial as it is now. That my hotel sits in the middle of a construction site suggests my memory is fine, it’s just that Copenhagen is flourishing and continuing to grow.
My stomach rumbling, I look for restaurants on Foursquare. Some former colleagues worked with a client here several years ago, so several recommendations have familiar faces beside them. The top suggestion is Paludan Bogcafé located just off Strøget – one of the longest shopping streets in Europe. This cafe come library is surprisingly roomy, despite its popularity. Food is ordered at the counter, which is hidden behind a lengthy queue; that no one wants to abandon it suggests the food is worth the wait. I order the chicken burger, which comes with lightly roasted potatoes and a pot of chilli mayo. Every mile of the 600 travelled so far is totally worth it as I savour my first bite.
One of the few attractions I’ve lined up on this trip is Designmuseum Danmark. Heading in that direction I spot the Rundetårn (Round Tower). Climbing to the top of tall buildings is a routine activity on my travels, one that typically requires clambering up a thousand or so narrow steps to a view that gives me sweaty hands. This tower – whose entry price is a very reasonable 25 DKK – features a gentle cylindrical slope with only a few steps at the top. It delivers a view over the local neighbourhood, but anything much further away is obscured by clouds.
Leaving the tower I continue east on a route that takes in the familiar postcard image of Nyhavn, crosses the courtyard of Amalienborg Palace which frames a view of Frederik’s Church. A few more steps and I reach the museum, housed in what appears to be a small but grand townhouse.
Inside I find an array of commercially designed products, including an impressively curated gallery of Danish chairs. Yet given Denmark’s design heritage, the permanent collection feels a little underwhelming. Their current exhibition, Night Fever, is far more extensive. A retrospective covering the design history of nightclubs from the 1960s to today, it includes everything from album covers, lighting rigs, architectural concepts, even a brick from the Haçienda. Not so much curation, but a labour of love.
I open my curtains and look through rain-splattered windows to see dark skies and a very wet building site. The hotel has its restaurant on the top floor, but the view from here is just as depressing, and the overpriced breakfast buffet isn’t helping matters. As I look out across a drab cityscape, I wonder why I decided to visit the wettest part of Europe during the wettest time of year. This will need to be a day spent largely indoors and yet, as it turns out, most museums in Copenhagen are closed on a Monday.
The Royal Danish Library is open however, so I head there. Its modern extension was constructed at the turn of the century and has since been dubbed the Black Diamond. Much like its contemporary, the Sage in Gateshead, its interior attempts to imply magnificence with a large, well-lit atrium, yet feels vacant and soulless. The older part of the building with its reading room and shelves stuffed with books, directories and encyclopaedias, is far more interesting.
Finding myself at a lose end, sat in the library’s cafe I look online for tips about taking photos in bad weather. Look for contrast. Pick out bright colours. Search for reflections. I set myself a mini assignment. However, back on Strøget I end up engaging in some retail therapy instead. Expecting the need for warmer clothing before I travel further north, I buy a new jacket and a thick woollen jumper.
Leaving the store, the skies have darkened making the bright red Chinese lanterns strung across the street hard to ignore. With rain gathering in puddles below, I take heed of the earlier advice and start kneeling in the middle of the street, searching for a half-decent composition. I’m fairly happy with the result.
For dinner, I’ve arranged to meet my friend Emil in nearby Malmö, just a short train ride across the Øresund Bridge and the border between Denmark and Sweden. We meet on the platform of Triangeln, a station that sits deep below the city and whose illuminated walls animate each time a train approaches.
“I was thinking we could try this Chinese place”. I laugh… not again!
We head to Köket Lu on Davidshallstorg. I’m trying to eat less meat. I even considered eating exclusively vegetarian meals on this trip. The grilled tofu sounds good but predictably I’m drawn to the roast duck.
The last time I was in Malmö I was questioning whether I wanted to continue working on the web; it’s nice that I can return with a resolution to my career crisis. Emil’s got a new job too, at Bonnier News. This provokes memories of similar work at the Guardian and tackling the nuanced issues that emerge when you try to automate the presentation of journalism.
The roast duck is delightful, though not very filling as it’s mostly bone. I regret my earlier decision. Next, we head to Bullen, apparently Malmö’s oldest pub, though it wouldn’t feel out of place in London. Being a weeknight, it’s just the one pint as the conversation moves onto survivor programmes, in particular Alone.
An hour later, I appear to be its next contestant. Not having paid enough attention to the train I was boarding, rather than nearing Copenhagen, I find myself on my way to the small town of Trelleborg, 20 miles south of Malmö. It’s here, in its small, chilly railway station, that I probably lost my debit card. This is the part of the trip that, if animated over a map, would see the route comically go round in circles before doubling back on itself.
Another grey day, but with the museums open again I’m spoilt for choice. Emil recommended I visit either ARKEN or Louisiana modern art galleries. I choose the later, intrigued by Hot Pink Turquoise, an exhibition featuring the work of Belgian artist Ann Veronica Janssens.
There’s a remarkable symmetry between Janssens’ work and that of Olafur Eliasson which was recently displayed at the Tate Modern. In Blue, Red and Yellow, visitors are encouraged to step into a large perspex container filled with smoke illuminated by those colours. Disorienting and disembodying, only six people are allowed entry at a time. Eliasson created a similar effect in his work Your blind passenger; it should be noted that Janssens’ piece precedes it by about nine years.
If Janssens’ colourful smoke-filled cube isn’t enough Instagram fodder, then Yayoi Kusama’s permanent installation, does not disappoint either. This is a small room filled with hundreds of lights suspended from the ceiling, reflected by mirrors on five sides and a floor flooded with water. A small gangway allows viewers to experience this wonder from its very centre.
I end up spending several hours in this museum. If not absorbed by these colourfully illuminated rooms, I’m riding a single speed bike around one of the gallery spaces, exploring the sculpture garden with views over a nearby beach, or enjoying a coffee in the calming cafe. I’m getting a full-on culture fix in what feels like a meditative retreat.
I’ll be catching the sleeper to Stockholm just after midnight, boarding it at Hässleholm in southern Sweden. This will require an hour and a half connecting journey from Copenhagen. Waiting in the station, I can finally admire its design which until this point I have largely ignored. The large roof of its departure hall, with large wooden beams and terracotta floor tiles, makes it feel very homely. If this building were located in England, it would surely be owned by the National Trust.
In Hässleholm, the sleeper arrives like something out of a movie (in my mind through plumes of steam, but that’s impossible given it’s a diesel locomotive). It hauls a series of sturdy looking carriages, some of which appear to pre-date the war. I quickly find my cabin, which is already occupied by five others, although I only ever see their sketched outlines. The passenger on the bunk opposite is a snorer, his deep breathing and throat gurgling sounds disturbingly closer than it actually is, a fact I continually need to confirm. It’s going to be a long night.
Concluding my short adventure across Northern Europe.
Saved by the snow.
Cloudy with a chance of meatballs.