A flying visit to Sweden

It only takes 35 minutes on an Øresund train to cross from Copenhagen to the Triangeln station in Malmö (40 minutes if you continue to the ‘Central’ station), but the two cities feel very different. Copenhagen is full of interest and things to do (see my previous two posts) whereas Malmö just seems rather bland, as if it had been bombed and rebuilt as an efficient businesslike city. Obviously I’m being unfair, it’s a fine place to live, and economically dynamic – I was only there for two nights, and spent most of a day visiting the nearby town of Lund, which I have to say I found far more attractive.

 My first stop was the Malmöhus or Malmö Castle, just west of the centre, which now houses the city’s history, art and natural history museums. The town was founded in the mid-thirteenth century as a port for the bishopric of Lund, and grew fast due to its strategic location on the Øresund between present-day Denmark and Sweden, and its very profitable herring trade. The first castle was built in 1434 by Erik of Pomerania, king of the Kalmar Union (Denmark, Sweden and Norway), and it was rebuilt a century later (1536-42) by Christian III of Denmark, to serve not just as a fort but also as a residence for the county governor and occasionally for the king. The second half of the sixteenth century was its heyday, when Crown Prince Frederick and then King Christian IV spent a lot of time in their fine renaissance apartments; however from 1658 Sweden took control of this area and the fortifications were extended, resisting a Danish siege in 1767. It then fell into disrepair and served as a prison from 1828 to 1909; then the surrounding area became a park and eventually the northern wing of the castle was restored and opened as a museum in 1932, with more modern buildings on three sides of the courtyard inaugurated in 1937.

 You’ll start in the main museum building, facing the entry, where there’s an excellent aquarium,  with both local and tropical fish as well as tree-frogs, chameleons and snakes such as the green tree python and the Gaboon viper, as well as dioramas showing boar, bison and elk in their mocked-up habitats; the art galleries were closed when I visited. The history displays (a bit incoherent and mostly in Swedish only) are in the original north wing, where there also a couple of furnished rooms with royal portraits and a Gobelins tapestry (circa 1740); there’s also coverage of the episode just before the end of the Second World War, when volunteers drove white buses (there’s one in a glass box in front of the castle) to Germany to rescue 15,000 concentration camp survivors, of whom 2,000 were housed in the castle for some months. Incidentally, Malmö is likely to become the site of the Swedish Holocaust Museum. You can also wind your way across to the Cannon Tower, part of the seventeenth-century fortifications, with better coverage of the Danish-Swedish wars that ended in 1710.

 Immediately to the west are the Kommandanthuset café and the Banérskajen wharf, with herring boats and typical late nineteenth-century wooden houses, used to sell fish; in a modern building just beyond (and covered by the same ticket) is the Museum of Technology and Shipping. This feels like a real museum rather than random displays in a castle; highlights include the interior of the ferry Øresund, a small coastal submarine that you can go inside (in non-Covid times), a Saab Draken jet fighter, a Krauss narrow-gauge tank engine, and various cars and traction engines.

 The historic centre consists of two squares, the main Stor Torget, dominated by the Rådhus (City Hall), built in 1546, and just to the the southwest Lilla Torg, livelier with cafés and restaurants, and on its southern side the Form/Design Centre, with galleries that show off the best of Swedish design. Behind the Rådhus, St Petri is Malmö’s oldest church, dating from about 1319-80, and a fine example of Baltic Brick Gothic, perhaps modelled on the Marienkirche in Lübeck, which I’ll be writing about soon. It has a plain white interior with a simple vault and a splendid fifteen-metre-high altarpiece (dating from 1611) and funerary monuments. Don’t miss the murals in the so-called Krämare Chapel (the chapel of the vendors, built for the cloth merchants’ guild) – painted between the 1460s and the 1510s, and covering the ceiling and walls, they’re quite sophisticated and not at all like the naïf murals in the area’s village churches.

 I was also quite taken by St Paul’s church, just east of the centre, a hexagonal building built in 1882 that reminded me of Russian Orthodox churches of that period; it’s gay-friendly and swathed in rainbow flags.

There are two fine spaces for exhibitions of contemporary art: the (free) Konsthall just south of the centre, and the Moderna Museet just east of the centre, which was founded in 2009 (in a former power plant dating from 1901) as an outpost of the original Moderna Museet in Stockholm. If you go a little way west beyond the castle to the waterfront, there are good views of the Øresund bridge and the Turning Torso tower, now a symbol of the city, and there’s a sea-bathing pontoon, as in so many Danish cities, but that’s pretty much it for Malmö.

 Lovely little Lund

The small city of Lund is known both for its cathedral and its university, and it’s also the home of Tetrapak. It’s just 18km northeast of Malmö, with a direct cycle route that for some reason is not signposted from Malmö, despite being such a short and pleasant ride; in the other direction, there are signs from Lund, which may say something about the two towns’ relative sense of their own importance. Lund dates from the end of the tenth century, when it was defended by an earthen rampart with four gates; the Romanesque cathedral was built between around 1080 and 1145, and became the seat of the Archdiocese of the Nordic countries, founded in 1103. It was taken over by the Danish state in 1636, after the Reformation, and became rather dilapidated; in 1658 the region became part of Sweden, and in 1666 a university was established, to help in the Swedification of Skåne – at first teaching took place in the cathedral, but from 1688 the university took over the King’s House, just north of the cathedral, which had been built by King Frederik II in 1584.

 Although it’s been restored, the cathedral retains its Romanesque unity and would be worth a detour anywhere in Europe. Inside, there are some fine Romanesque stone carvings, especially in the crypt, wooden choir stalls (1361-79), and the splendid astronomical clock, installed around 1425, with two carved knights on top who clash their swords at noon and 15.00 daily, after which an organ plays the tune In Dulci Jubilo and the Three Kings and their servants emerge in procession. There’s also a neoByzantine mosaic in the apse, completed in 1927 by the painter Joakim Skovgaard.

 To the south of the cathedral is the very modern Cathedral Forum, opened in 2011 to house community facilities, visitor information, exhibitions and a fairtrade café. To the north is a park with the King’s House and, beyond, it, the modern university. Just northeast of the cathedral, the university’s Historical Museum has housed its archeological collections since 1918, and since 2003 it has been transformed and opened up to the public (with an English leaflet and summaries, at least). The finest Iron Age set of horse trappings yet found were excavated at the Sösdala Iron Age burial site, showing that this area had connections to the nomadic cultures of the steppes and the Black Sea area; there are also finds from the nearby Vätteryd and Frederiksberg burial sites and from Uppåkra, the largest Iron Age village in northern Europe. Then you might as well go to the top of the building and make your way down via the skeletons of an aurochs and other animals, casts of classical statues, coins and well displayed medieval carvings of Christ; a bridge leads across to the cathedral museum in the Chapter House, with the usual vestments and so on. There’s also an ethnographic hall, closed for remodelling until 2021.

The main building of Lund University

 A few hundred metres further to the northeast is Kulturen, another of the open-air museums of transplanted historic buildings that are common in Scandinavia, such as in Aarhus and the original Skansen in Stockholm. Not too far north are the Skissernas museum (Sketches Museum) or Museum of Artistic Process and Public Art, and the Livets museum (Museum of Life). The first is a unique collection that aims to illustrate the creative process from sketch to finished work, especially in the context of public art. The latter (run by Kulturen) is a museum of medical history, opened in 2012, that studies the human body and its diseases through both historical implements and modern technology.

 Just east of the centre, the university’s free Botanic Garden (moved in the 1880s from the park immediately north of the cathedral) is impressive, with beautiful gardens and greenhouses housing flora from nine climatic zones, as well as an attractive café.

 Finally, just south of the centre by the Saluhallen market, the Lunds Konsthall is another free space for exhibitions of contemporary art – something they do really well across Scandinavia.

 By chance, just a week ago, Lund’s first tram line opened, running from the railway station to the modern university/hospital area north of the city, and nowhere within sight of the historic centre. I left by a less modern form of transport, the ferry from Malmö to Travemünde, which has fairly basic passenger facilities, as it exists mainly for truck traffic; but it’s an interesting trip along a busy shipping lane. Travemünde is almost a suburb of Lübeck, which I’ll write about soon.

 The Swedish Covid-19 controversy

Libertarians (probably the same people who used to despise Sweden’s egalitarian high-tax social-democratic governments) seized on Sweden as a great example of the virtues of not locking down against Covid-19. Factually wrong, and with hindsight it didn’t work out at all well. There may not have been a full legal lockdown, but the government was very much relying on people behaving responsibly and not going out to mix in large numbers – and they didn’t go out, by and large, because the Swedes still trust experts and government, unlike other nations that have been led astray by populists and fake news. The major glitch in the initial stages was that care homes were left exposed to the coronavirus, and there was a high rate of infection and deaths there.

 In the longer run it turned out that Sweden’s death rate from Covid-19 was indeed higher than in countries that had locked down, and at the same time its economic downturn was greater, although the pay-off for not locking down was supposed to be less economic harm.

 When I was in Malmö in October, virtually no-one was wearing masks, even in buses and trains, which was the bare minimum everywhere else I went. Sweden was already a largely cash-free society, but I did absolutely everything by card and didn’t change any cash at all. The second wave of the pandemic arrived in October, soon after I left, and hospitals soon had to postpone non-emergency operations; the Skåne region, including Malmö and Lund, was forced to introduce various measures such as no alcohol being served after 22.00, public gatherings being limited to eight people, and switching to online teaching in schools. People were also urged to avoid public transport, gyms, libraries and busy shops, and to limit social interactions to single households. Much like everywhere else then.

 Reports revealed how badly things had gone wrong in the care homes, and in his Christmas message, the King admitted that the country had failed. The advocates of laissez-faire herd immunity are finally having to eat their words.

Copenhagen – the museums

Copenhagen has a remarkable range of museums, and I only managed to visit half a dozen of the main ones this time. That was before the second wave of Covid-19; they are now all closed until January 2021 at best.

 The area known as the Centre or the Cultural Quarter is actually a bit dull, with much less street life than the less touristy shopping areas to the north – but there are some major museums here, as well as the central station and the Tivoli amusement gardens. The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, built by Carl Jacobsen (see my previous post), was extended in 1906, added the superb winter garden (where there’s a café in non-pandemic times), and in 1996 when a modern wing was added. There’s a huge array of sculpture, of course, both classical Greek and Roman, and largely nineteenth-century French and Danish works, including sculptures of the Three Graces by both Canova (c1830) and Bertel Thorvaldsen (1821), and frankly the Danish guy seems to me to have done better than the more famous Italian. There’s lots of Rodin, as well as Maillol, Meunier, Bourdelle and Stephan Sinding (1846-1922). There’s also plenty of paintings from the Danish Golden Age (the nineteenth century – nothing to do with the more illustrious Dutch Golden Age), including works by Jens Juel, Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (including a portrait of Thorvaldsen, Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann and her son Harald Jerichau (also a sculptor), as well as the more famous Norwegian JC Dahl. Slightly more modern works by Theodor Philipsen and Karl Isakson lead to the superb collection of French impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces, featuring almost all the great names from Corot and Courbet via Monet, Renoir and Degas through to Picasso (though only a bronze). There’s no Matisse, alas, and no mature Gauguin paintings, although there are lots of his stoneware heads and a wood carving.

 A block to the northeast, the Museum of Copenhagen (Københavns Museum) reopened at the start of 2020 in a new location (built as the Public Trustee’s Office in 1894, and inspired by Italian Renaissance palazzi); the displays have been modernised, and reflect new research showing that the city is 150 years older than was thought, dating from the late Viking age – in a previous post I wrote about the former capital Roskilde and how it had been forgotten in Copenhagen. 

It was a crowded little city, with ships unloading directly into warehouses, until the first planned extensions were built from the early sixteenth century, starting with Christianshavn, laid out by King Christian IV in a Dutch style. This was followed by Kongens Nytorv, still the city’s largest square, in 1663, and Frederiksstaden, centred on the royal palaces of Amalienborg, from 1747. In fact for me the most interesting displays cover the city’s transformation into a modern capital in the late nineteenth century – its population grew from around 130,000 in 1852 to almost 400,000 in 1902, as the city burst out beyond the old ramparts. The nearby City Hall and its square were laid out from 1892 to 1905, some of the world’s first cycleways were built in 1892, when electric lights first appeared, Parisian boulevards such as Vesterbrogade were laid out around 1900, and the last remains of the ramparts were destroyed in 1914-17 when the railway was extended north from the central station. The meatpacking district, between the central station and the Carlsberg brewery, was established in 1879, to remove the blood and guts from the old city – it’s now the heart of the city’s nighttime economy, with the hottest bars and clubs.

 Two new exhibits are due to open early in 2021 – one (Port and Capital) based on a finds from a fifteenth-century ship found during construction of the opera house, and the other (Power of Words) on writers and the book market, including the philosopher Kierkegaard’s personal effects. The Museum of Copenhagen is associated with the Nikolaj Kunsthal and the Thorvaldsens Museum – tickets are valid for all three, and they’re all free on Wednesdays. The first, in the former church of St Nicholas, is a wonderful space for temporary art exhibitions; the second is of course dedicated to the sculptor, but there are also ‘interventions’ by other artists to break the monotony – actually, the sculptures are great, but the style is a bit unfashionable and it will not be a priority for many people. It’s worth noting that Thorvaldsen is sharing his 250th birthday year with Beethoven, although there’s much less fuss about it.

 Diagonally opposite the Museum of Copenhagen (although the entrance is on the far side), the National Museum is a huge and very rewarding museum of history and culture. It starts with the Neanderthals, stating that they had no visual art – but one thing I know from my work in the caves of southern France is that this can no longer safely be said. In any case there are no traces of Neanderthal man in Denmark, although it’s assumed that they were here as nomadic hunters; certainly Cro-Magnon reindeer-hunters of the Hamburg Culture arrived by 14,500 years ago. From 9,000 years ago the rising sea levels that flooded Doggerland (in what is now the North Sea) were also dividing Denmark into its present layout of islands; fishing boats and dredgers often bring up implements of bone and antler, with amber jewellery found on beaches. Since then, as it happens, Northern Jutland has risen 12 metres and Southern Jutland has sunk 3 metres. Denmark is covered with ponds and bogs, and the prehistoric peoples here spent a great deal of time and effort ‘sacrificing’ valuables, and indeed horses and human beings, in them, making Denmark a fantastic place to be an archeologist – the museum displays many of these finds, notably bronze ‘lur’ horns and axes, as well as whole ships. There are also graves, rock carvings and so on; the Romans didn’t get this far (apart from exploratory ships) but their coins did, and later the Vikings brought silk from Byzantium and silver from the mines of Central Asia. Runes, incidentally, developed from the second century AD; runestones appeared from the eighth century, but were actually more widespread in the early Christian period (from about 970 AD).

 Going up to the first floor, the medieval displays start with lots of winged altarpieces, as well as weaponry and tapestries; it’s a bit more disjointed than the archeological displays (which are very detailed, but do occasionally lose the big picture). Things pick up again from the seventeenth century, with excellent coverage of Denmark’s colonies – Iceland, the Faroes and Greenland, first, but then also in the West Indies, what is now Ghana and a couple of towns in India – not to forget Skåne (or Scania), the southernmost end of Sweden, which was Danish until 1658. In fact, multiple wars with Sweden left Denmark in poverty, and then in the Napoleonic Wars Denmark was twice dragged into conflict with Britain (in 1801 Nelson put his telescope to his blind eye in the Battle of Copenhagen) and was forced to cede Norway to Sweden; and in the mid-nineteenth century the newly created Germany came along to seize Schleswig-Holstein (although northern Schleswig was returned to Denmark in 1920). The ‘organisation years’ began in 1864, when the country adapted to its reduced status by industrialising and establishing, for instance, unions (from 1870) and co-ops (from 1882); there was also mass migration from the countryside to the cities and abroad, with Copenhagen tripling in size from 1840 to 1900 and 10% of the population emigrating between 1860 and 1900.

 Now, of course, Denmark is a highly educated and prosperous country with a diverse population (and yet the first three prime ministers of the 21st century shared the same family name – Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen and Lars Løkke Rasmussen).

 The museum also has ethnography and antiquities galleries, as well as many other museums and stately homes across Denmark, including the new Museum of the Danish Resistance (near the Little Mermaid), which opened in June 2020, closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and is due to open again in January 2021.

 The National Gallery (Statens Museum for Kunst) is just north of the centre, across the road from the Botanic Gardens and the Natural History and Geology Museums. It has a large and world-class collection of art from the fourteenth century to the present day, starting with Ambrogio Lorenzetti and Mantegna, then Filippino Lippi, Bassano, Garofalo, Parmigianino, Titian, Barocci, Tintoretto, Magnasco, Salvator Rosa, Guardi, Tieoplo, ‘Grand Tour’ portraits by Batoni of Peter Beckford and of John Rolle Walter, a copy of Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks, and busts by Pisano and Bernini plus a small bronze by Giambologna. Naturally there’s the array of Dutch art to be expected across northern Europe, including a fine Adoration of the Magi by Hugo van der Goes, one Jan Brueghel the Elder, five Rubens, and four big Jordaens, as well as nine Cranachs (notably Venus with Cupid Stealing Honey). There are five ‘studio of Rembrandt’ paintings, an oil sketch, an etching of his mother and a study of an old man, but no actual Rembrandt painting. There’s also a Merry Company by Dirck Hals (see my post on Haarlem for Dirck and his better-known brother) and a painting of St Peter’s in Rome by Swanenburg from Leiden (see the same post).

 I wasn’t particularly taken by the trompe l’oeil room, created for Kings Ferdinand III and Christian V in the late seventeenth century, and I’ve never liked eighteenth-century French art, so I wasn’t too sad that most of the 139 French paintings, by Bouchet, Lancret and others, ordered for the new Christiansborg Palace were lost when it burned down in 1794; but there are a few paintings by Poussin and Joseph Vernet (see my post on Avignon). However the collection of French Art 1900-30 is superb, thanks to the engineer Johannes Rump, who collected the works of the Fauves and in particular Matisse, donating them to the museum in 1928. There’s no fewer than eleven Matisse paintings as well as some sculptures, half a dozen Derains, two or three by each of Braque, Gris, Picasso, Dufy, Modigliani, Van Dongen, Vlaminck and Friesz, and others by Metzinger, de la Fresnaye, Soutine, Rouault, Vuillard, Valladon, Marquet, Laurens and Léger, plus sculptures by Maillol and Lipchitz and even plates by Derain and Vlaminck.

A Mountain Climber (1912) by JF Willemsen

 The collection of Danish and Nordic art starts with Jens Juel, PC Skovgaard, CA Jensen, Carl Bloch, Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann (see above) and her husband Jens Adolf Jerichau, Michael Ancher, Kristian Zahrtmann (Julie and the Nurse is of course a scene from Romeo and Juliet), the Swedes CG Pilo and August Strindberg (yes, better known for his plays), the Norwegian JC Dahl and three big Munchs. There are whole rooms dedicated to Christen Købke, his teacher CW Eckersberg, Bertel Thorvaldsen, Vilhelm Hammershøi, Laurits Andersen Ring and JF Willemsen, all excellent.

 Finally, a striking modern extension (reached by bridges over what is now the sculpture street) displays twentieth-century art, starting with Munch, Nolde, Jens Søndergaard, Harald Giersing, Edvard Weie, Jens Adolf Jerichau (again) and, post-1945, Richard Mortensen and Robert Jacobsen, Asger Jorn, the ’60s Fluxus and COBRA groups, the landscapes of Per Kirkeby, who died in 2018, and new acquisitions.

 Scandinavian art galleries all make a big deal of having a classy café-restaurant, and this is no exception – it’s decorated by Danh Vo, a Vietnamese-Danish conceptual artist, whose family fled as Boat People and were rescued by a Danish container ship.

 In the park at the rear of the National Gallery, the Hirschsprung Collection displays a good collection of nineteenth-century Danish art, both Golden Age artists and the later Skagen School, who were drawn to the northern tip of Jutland by its pure light, much as British artists were drawn to Lamorna and St Ives.

 Near the south end of the Kongens Have (King’s Garden), back towards the city centre, the Davids Samling was created by the lawyer and businessman CL David (1878-1960) and is probably the best collection of Islamic art in Scandinavia (it was in the news recently for allegedly holding works stolen from the Ottoman empire, which it refuses to return). The building was closed for refurbishment from 2005 to 2009 (incorporating the house next door too) and the displays are dark but very professional; captions are only in Danish but there are information panels in English and Danish. You’ll finish in some rooms with original early-nineteenth-century décor and paintings from the Danish Golden Age and by Jens Ferdinand Willumsen and the brothers Joakim and Niels Skovgaard.

 It’s worth mentioning that the Design Museum is closed until early 2022 (due to renovation, not Covid-19) – founded by Carl Jacobsen (see my previous post on Copenhagen) as the Danish Museum of Art and Design, it includes the exhibit on the Danish Chair that I moaned about in my post on Amsterdam.

Copenhagen – soon to be sustainable

Copenhagen (København) is a great city and always the focus of much attention – but currently it’s being watched with particular interest because of its pledge to be carbon-neutral by 2025. It’s now the end of 2020 so that’s not much more than four years from now, but I’d say they’re in with a good chance of meeting the deadline.

 They’re very proud of the huge Royal Danish Opera House (actually opened back in 2005), in a regenerating area of former docklands, but I must say that, even as an opera-lover, I have my doubts – it may have perfect acoustics and be incredibly energy-efficient, with heat pumps, seawater cooling and a district heating scheme, but did it really have be so BIG? The amount of carbon embedded in its construction is boggling. Another huge project was the construction of an automated ring metro line that opened in 2019, but the environmental benefits of that are much clearer. A light rail line is under construction in the suburbs, with the first stretch (from Lundtofte Park in the north to Ishøj in the southwest) due to open in 2025. The Copenhill waste-to-energy plant (properly known as Amager Bakke), producing clean energy for 60,000 families while heating 120,000 homes, opened in 2019 and famously includes a rooftop green space, including an all-year ski and snowboard slope, as well as a climbing wall. As ever, the greatest benefits come from the cheapest and most low-tech options – insulation and cycling, of course. Since 2016 fifteen cycle/pedestrian bridges have been built across the city’s various waterways and railways, and a couple of them already carry 22,000 cyclists a day. More than a dozen supercykelsti (cycle superhighways, up to 25km long) have been created from the suburbs to the centre, and some city-centre streets have a ‘green wave’ at peak times, allowing people cycling at a fairly moderate pace to keep moving without red lights getting in the way. What’s more, cycling is a pleasurable experience here, with no sense that people are desperate to get past you. Cycle commuting has increased from 52% of residents in 2015 to 62% in 2019 – on an average day (yes, it’s a year-round activity) there are more cyclists in Copenhagen than in the entire United States. 

 The most exciting project under way at the moment is perhaps the development of the Carlsberg site, a US$3 billion project to turn the former brewery, just west of the city centre, into a highly sustainable and liveable quarter where half the area will be given over to residential buildings (much of it affordable), 35% to offices and shops and 15% to cultural, sporting and educational activities. In fact 15% of the buildings are listed structures, and some of them are full of character – and I’m not talking about the odd swastika, intended purely as an Indian symbol of prosperity and goodness – they’re on the famous Elephant Gate, but there are also some other spectacular gateways and even a lighthouse. It’s all due to be completed by 2024, in time for the 2025 carbon neutrality deadline; of course, all the new buildings are amazingly energy-efficient, but what seems even more impressive is that 96% of the materials from demolished buildings is being recycled. The visitor centre and shop (in the original brewery) are currently closed for a facelift, due to reopen in 2020, which I think will be 2021.






Carlsberg beer is pretty boring, but the story of the company is fascinating. It was founded by Jacob Christian Jacobsen (1811-87), who studied the new process of making bottom-fermented lager in Germany and in 1847 built a brewery alongside the new Copenhagen-Roskilde railway; making very consistent beer on an industrial scale was hugely profitable and in 1876 he decided to donate the entire business to the Royal Danish Academy, setting up the Carlsberg Foundation to fund research in science and the humanities. Having largely funded the restoration of Frederiksborg Castle (in the western suburbs) after a fire, he came up with the idea of a Museum of National History there, which opened in 1878. 

In 1871 he built a new brewery alongside the first one and leased it to his son Carl (1842-1914); in 1879 Carl set up his own brewery, Ny Carlsberg (New Carlsberg), and in 1902 handed that over to the foundation too (it owns a minimum of 51% of the business). He was more focussed on the arts than his father and had already created the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek (meaning sculpture collection, although much more than that; at the brewery in 1881 then near the central station since 1897), the Danish Museum of Art and Design (1890) and the Royal Cast Collection (1895). He also paid for the statue of the Little Mermaid (from a HC Andersen story) in 1913. In 1921 the Carlsberg Foundation largely funded the Institute of Theoretical Physics, said to have been the birthplace of quantum mechanics, leading (among other things) to Michael Frayn’s brilliant play Copenhagen; it was headed by Niels Bohr, who from 1931 lived in JC Jacobsen’s old home.

 Surprisingly perhaps, being managed by the Royal Danish Academy has not stopped Carlsberg from becoming the world’s third largest brewing company; it took over Tuborg in 1970 (there’s a Tuborg Foundation too), Tetley in 1992, and Scottish & Newcastle, the UK’s largest brewer, in 2008 (with Heineken). The flagship beer, variously known as Carlsberg Lager, Carlsberg Beer and Carlsberg Pilsner, was created in 1904 by Carl Jacobsen; Special Brew, a stronger lager, is brewed only in Denmark and the UK (Northampton).

 Between the central station and the Carlsberg brewery, the meatpacking district (Kødbyen) was established in 1879, to remove the blood and guts from the old city – it’s now the heart of the city’s nighttime economy, with the hottest bars and clubs. Across the tracks, in an area still partially occupied by a locomotive depot, between the Carlsberg and Fisketorvet (Dybbølsbro and Havenholmen) stations (although only pedestrians and cyclists can take the direct route), is a largely unknown but rather alluring alternative: wooden railway sheds, disused for half a century, are being restored by green entrepreneurs as BaneGaarden – one shed houses an organic farmers market, one a streetfood hall, one a vegetarian restaurant and one a hall for community events. Others will eventually house a woodshop, a plant market and a hub for young entrepreneurs with a sustainable focus. There’s also a new school, student residences, some other shops and the DieselHouse museum, in a still-operational power station, which preserves diesel engines produced by Burmeister & Wain (founded in 1846, and now part of MAN). Their first engine, a single-cylinder model dating from 1904 and producing 40 HP, is started up on Thursday afternoons, while the largest, a monstrous 1,400 tonnes in weight and producing 22,500 HP, runs for about five minutes on two Sunday mornings a month – built in 1932, it generated power for the city until the late 1960s but was not finally disconnected from the grid until 2004.

Street food and more

 As in Amsterdam and Hamburg (not to mention the Sugar Factory site in Groningen, which I will get around to writing about at some point), there’s a former docks area which has been taken over by street food outlets, bakeries and microbreweries – here it’s Refshaleøen, on Papirøen (Paper Island) to the north of the self-governing hippy enclave of Christiania (and not far from Copenhill). The sustainable Amass restaurant came first (in 2013), using waste food and with an emphasis on pickling, followed by the Lille organic bakery and Broaden & Build organic brewery, known for hazy IPAs and mindwarping flavour combinations; unfortunately B&B failed to weather the first wave of Covid-19. The Reffen Street Food Market (aka Copenhagen Street Food) started in 2017 as shipping containers housing over fifty food trucks and stalls serving cuisines from around the planet and some just recently invented here; it has now expanded into the vast Werkstatt 167 hangar, creating the largest foodhall in Scandinavia.

 A totally different gastronomic experience (albeit one that I will probably never experience myself) is to be had here at Alchemist, where Rasmus Monk, a sort of mutant hybrid of Heston Blumenthal and Damien Hirst, offers a mind-blowing thirty-course set menu combined with optical illusions and theatrical political statements – he’s taken over the Royal Danish Theatre’s domed former set-building workshop, but seats just forty guests there.

 Copenhagen is of course known for its amazing range of restaurants, and the most famous was Noma, consistently voted the world’s best until René Redzepi decided at the end of 2016 to close it for a year. It reopened early in 2018 on a new ‘campus’ in a former fortified bastion southeast of Papirøen; in addition to the 42-seat restaurant and a private room, there’s a fermenting space, bakery, test kitchen, garden and greenhouses. In July 2020 a 31-year-old Singaporean, Kenneth Foong, was appointed head chef, and in November it was radically rebooted as – believe it or not – a burger joint. It’s a presumably temporary response to the world of Covid-19, with takeaways and no reservations, but with the same attention to organic sourcing and creative details as before. Eating in, burgers cost the equivalent of £17, plus £6 for chips.

 Incidentally, cycling out to Papirøen my eye was caught by the masting crane (Mastekranen), built in 1748–51 as part of the Royal Naval Shipyard (also easily visible across the water as you head north towards the Little Mermaid) – yes, it was used to lift masts in and out of warships.

 The city is also home to some amazing bakeries, some set up by Noma alumni, such as Juno the Bakery in Østerbro. In the city centre, I had a great brunch at Paludan Bogcafé (Book Café), where there’s fine food and coffee and also a beautiful bookshop with period ceiling-high shelves (although most people at the tables are consulting laptops and phones rather than books). At the rear of the central station, Jernbanecaffeen meaning literally Railway Café, is a delightfully unspoilt retro place where train drivers and conductors really do come in between shifts.

 I can’t say much about accommodation, as I stayed in a cheap CabInn hotel near the Fiskertorvet shopping centre and it was exactly what I wanted for the price. But – harking back to the Carlsberg development – the new Hotel Ottilia (named after Carl Jacobsen’s wife) has created a bit of a buzz with its industrial-chic styling and its rooftop restaurant. Similarly, Villa Copenhagen, which opened in July 2020 in the former central post office (dating from 1912), is a luxury hotel that’s also energy-efficient, full of sustainable materials, and makes a point of employing women and minorities and helping the homeless – very Copenhagen.

Four Danish cities that aren’t Copenhagen

Having cycled up Jutland from Flensburg (in Germany) to Aalborg I spent a few days visiting the main cities along the railway to Copenhagen. They were all very expensive, but it was worth it just to spend time in places where something like normal pre-pandemic life was still possible (although mask-wearing was fairly normal in shops and public transport).


Aalborg (also spelt Ålborg), the capital of North Jutland, was founded in the eighth or ninth century at a relatively narrow point on the Limfjord, and became prosperous thanks to the herrings that used to flood through the Kattegat (the sea between Jutland and Skåne in Sweden) in their billions and were harvested, salted and exported across Europe. After Norway became independent from Denmark in 1814 the city went into a slump until the arrival of heavy industry at the end of the nineteenth century, notably tobacco and cement, now being replaced by ‘knowledge’ and tech industries, as well as Siemens Wind Power. The waterfront is also being revitalised, with a new promenade and a concert hall and university buildings (the Aalborghus, the sixteenth-century castle, is also here, unexciting on the outside and rather domestic half-timbering on the inside).

 St Budolfi’s cathedral (named after St Botolph, with whom I’m vaguely familiar from Oxford days) dates largely from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and still seems like an overgrown parish church. Just outside the centre, the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art, by the great Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, opened in 1972 and shows mainly Scandinavian art from the late nineteenth century to the present; there’s also a sculpture park, and stairs that lead up a wooded hill to the Aalborg Tower viewpoint and restaurant. 

 There’s not really much more to see, but I recommend the North Jutland History Museum, and especially the new Uproar in North Jutland exhibition on the ground floor, tracing a local tradition of dissent and rebellion. This starts with Skipper Clement’s Rebellion, part of a civil war in 1534-6 when Lutheran nobles feuded with Catholic rebels; Clement was a former privateer captain who won a striking victory when his peasant army lured 1,500 soldiers into a bog, but was later captured and executed. He was largely forgotten until the ballad Skipper Clement’s Morgensang became a hit in 1970. Workers’ choirs were a local tradition from the 1880s, and in July the Alsang public singing protests against the Nazis began here, with up to 30,000 gathering in the city centre, and soon 700,000 were singing nationwide, until it was closed down in 1943, after the Danish government resigned and the Germans finally took total control. Fittingly, from 1999 to 2001, there were singing protests outside a house occupied by a neoNazi group until they finally moved out. More protests about the sidelining of North Jutland in the 1960s led to the establishment of a university here in 1970. Elsewhere in the museum, I couldn’t help noticing that the subject keeps veering back to the Second World War (the red, white and blue RAF berets were a good touch), but the highlight is the Aalborg Room, a splendid example of carved wood-panelling from 1602. There are also lots of paintings of townscapes and views from the hills around the town, as well as a 1920s schoolroom, and a silver collection on the top floor.

 Aalborg has an airport, six kilometres northwest of the centre – it would be useful for hops to Norway and Sweden but in fact is used almost entirely for holiday flights to the Med. A new railway branch to the airport will open in mid-December 2020, as an extension of the half-hourly service from Skørping to the main Aalborg station and across the fjord to Lindholm.

 Viborg, 80 kilometres southwest of Aalborg, is an attractive cathedral town that I mentioned in my previous post.


Aarhus is Denmark’s second largest city (overtaking Aalborg in the mid-nineteenth century) and it feels much larger, livelier and generally more significant – partly due to the presence of the largest university in Scandinavia. Since 2017 (when it was joint European Capital of Culture), the city has had quite a buzz because of its food and drink scene and because of the modern ARoS art museum with the striking Rainbow Panorama on the rooftop (see below).

 The name simply means River Mouth, from ár, the genitive of á (river) and oss (mouth) – the river that runs through the city is the Aarhus Å, which is dangerously close to River Avon and other such repeated names (Avon means River, of course). There’s further confusion because from 1948 to 2011 Aa was replaced by Å in Danish – but when Århus went back to Aarhus the river remained as Å, for some reason. A week or so earlier, I had noticed in Groningen (the Netherlands), that the river there was the A, so there’s the A-kwartier, but for some reason the Aa-kerk.

 The river is now unattractive and hemmed in (with some confusing two-level bridges), but the former docks immediately east of the city centre are being redeveloped, with the futuristic rhomboid of the Dokk1 cultural centre at the mouth of the river, and the new Aarhus Ø district on former container docks on a peninsula immediately north. They’re linked by a tram-train line, which looks and behaves just like any modern tram here but then runs through the railway station and continues south on the railway (at up to 100km/h) to Odder. Similar regeneration projects include Ceresbyen, on the site of the Ceres brewery near ARoS and Den Gamle By (The Old Town) – this is a very popular open-air museum town that has gathered 75 historic buildings and reopened them with staff acting as butcher, baker, blacksmith and so on. It incorporates clock, toy and crafts museums and is also next to the lovely botanic garden.

 ARoS is one of Scandinavia’s largest and busiest art galleries; founded in 1859, it reopened in 2004 in a modern ten-storey block, with a dramatic atrium and spiral staircase. It’s easily recognised because of the multicoloured rooftop feature otherwise known as Your Rainbow Panorama, added in 2011; created by the Danish-Icelandic Ólafur Eliasson (who came to notice in London with The Weather Project in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2003 and also a pavilion at the Serpentine Gallery in 2007), it’s a 150-metre circular walkway that simply gives views of the city, fifty metres below, in a gradually changing range of colours – a simple concept but striking. Otherwise there’s a gallery of Golden Age landscapes (meaning nineteenth-century, nothing to do with the Dutch Golden Age two centuries earlier), including the Norwegian JC Dahl, who still overshadows his Danish contemporaries, nineteenth-century portraits, and Danish artists including Janus La Cour, PC Skovsgaard, Olaf Rude, Vilhelm Hammershøi, Richard Mortensen and Asger Jorn. There are some clever installations – a couple of light pieces by James Turrell, another Eliasson, a mirrored box called Omgivelser (Surroundings; 2003), and Boy by Ron Mueck, an astonishingly detailed crouching figure that just happens to be 4.5 metres high and in a mirrored box. Other big international names include Beuys, Oldenburg and Grayson Perry. ARoS has ambitions to establish itself at the global level, with a big underground extension due to open in 2021, featuring a big sky-dome by James Turrell; its first Triennial took place in 2017 but of course the next fell victim to Covid-19.

 The main sight in the city centre (mainly a shopping district) is the cathedral, the largest in Denmark, which is known for its frescoes (mostly 1470-1520) and for the many grand memorials to local worthies. There was a huge turn-out earlier this year (including the prime minister and some of the royal family) for the funeral of three of the four children of local billionaire Anders Povlsen, killed by a terrorist bomb in Sri Lanka (happily, he and his wife had twins a year or so later) – he was already known to me as Scotland’s largest landowner, with a patchwork of almost 900 square kilometres of estates which he is reforesting and rewilding. He also has property in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania (a country I’ve been writing about since 1991), where he aims to boost the populations of bears, wolves and lynx; rather bizarrely, it turns out that he studied at Anglia Ruskin University here in Cambridge.

 Just north of the cathedral, Graven and Klostergade are nicknamed Hipster Hill or the Latin Quarter because there are a few artisan coffee shops and bakeries here; various Aarhus restaurants have been awarded Michelin stars in the last few years. However for me the place to be was Aarhus Street Food, between the bus station and the new tram line, in the former railway maintenance depot – it’s a bustling hall full of vendors selling dozens of different global cuisines (Turkish, Korean, Mexican, Italian, salad bowls, burgers, fish’n’chips) as well as a couple of bars selling good craft beers plus rather more commercial offerings from Brewdog, Brooklyn Brewery and Grimmelberger.


Odense is a pleasant little city that makes a handy stop between Jutland and Zealand. It’s the main city on the island of Funen, which is linked to Jutland by the Little Belt bridges and to Zealand by the Great Belt Fixed Link – fixed link being a term for the hybrid road/rail bridge/tunnel arrangement also used for the Øresund Fixed Link from Denmark to Sweden that I crossed a few days later. (Construction of the final fixed link, from Lolland, south of Zealand, to Fehmarn in Germany, will start in 2021.)

 It claims to be Denmark’s leading cycling city (although I suspect Copenhagen may have struck back with all the cycle bridges it’s built in the last few years) and is currently building a light rail (ie super-tram) system – the first 14-kilometre line is due to open in late 2021, and much of the city centre is currently a construction site. Certainly there are excellent cycle routes east and west from the centre on former railways, there’s a striking new cycle bridge across the tracks to the Danish Railway Museum, and cycle lane markings include provision for ‘left hook’ turns far more commonly than in other towns.


 It’s the birthplace of both the writer Hans Christian Andersen and the composer Carl Nielsen – I was more interested in the latter, but not only has the Nielsen museum closed for a couple of years, but there was a sense that the place has been taken over by the Andersen industry – there are a couple of HC Andersen (as he’s known here) childhood homes here, an excellent museum and lots of Asian pilgrims (with street signs in Chinese too). I’m not very interested in Andersen, but yesterday by chance I found myself listening to The Snow Queen, a new opera derived from one of his stories by the contemporary Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen (and written for the splendid Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan) – it was eerie and exciting, but I still have zero interest in the Little Mermaid and so on.

H C Andersen’s childhood home

 I was happy to come across the former Brandts textile factory (closed in 1977), which has been transformed into a lively and stylish arts and entertainment quarter – my 2014 Rough Guide tells me it comprises the Kunsthallen, the Museet for Fotokunst and the Danmarks Mediemuseum, but in fact the art, photography and media museums had merged in 2013 to form Kunstmuseum Brandts, also absorbing the Funen Art Museum with its collection of nineteenth-century Danish art. There’s an excellent shop and café in the museum, and the complex also includes an education centre, auditorium, an arty cinema and its Café Biografen (why the Danish word for cinema is Biograf I have no idea), and other classy food shops and restaurants. For a great variety of interesting beers and also some reputedly overpriced food, you could also head for Anarkist Beer & Food Lab, opened in the summer of 2018 just south of the centre. It incorporates Microbrewery Flakhaven, where at least twenty world beers are always on tap as well as four of their own.

 There is of course a cathedral in the city centre, rebuilt in red brick between roughly 1300 and 1500; it houses a superb gilded altarpiece (1515-25) and more funerary memorials, but to Danes it’s most significant as the resting place of King Knud the Saint (also known as Canute IV) and his brother Benedict, who were both killed by rebels in 1086, due to his far from saintly treatment of them. These Danish cities all have a Slot or Castle as well, but they tend to be little more than a white-painted mansion that can easily be confused with a monastery.

 Not far north of the centre, the harbour area is being attractively redeveloped with modern apartments; there’s a new streetfood option here too (though smaller than in Aarhus), with food stalls, bars and arty boutiques and studios in the old Storms Pakhus or warehouse. There’s also a havnebad, a pontoon with changing rooms for cold-water swimmers, another common sight in Danish cities. What’s unusual here is that you are also allowed to fish for sea trout year-round – the subtext being that the local anglers aren’t good enough to dent their numbers.


The former capital of Denmark, Roskilde is not far west of the present capital and is still the country’s ecclesiastical centre – a sort of Canterbury or Etchmiadzin. It’s also home to the Viking Ships Museum, which is excellent in itself but even more impressive through its programme of building replicas of all types of medieval sailing vessels. The cathedral, founded in about 1200 and added to over the next eight hundred years, was the first Gothic building in Denmark, in classic Baltic red brick style. Alongside, the Yellow Palace, built in 1733-6 as a guest residence for the royal family, became Denmark’s first Museum of Contemporary Art in 1991, with both excellent collections and touring exhibits.

 Just east of the cathedral, the Roskilde Museum covers the history of the city’s origins and the way that power gradually shifted to Copenhagen (something that isn’t covered in the national museums in Copenhagen). Appropriately, the museum is free to bearers of the Copenhagen Card. It turns out that Beowulf, the Old English epic poem, was actually set in Leire, an even older royal capital ten kilometres south of Roskilde, while Beowulf was a Geat or Goth, from Götaland in Sweden. Roskilde itself was founded in about 980 when Harald Bluetooth (yes, really) founded a church here, and it became a royal seat twenty years later. Cnut (Canute) the Great was King of England from 1016, of Denmark from 1018, and of Norway from 1028, and died in 1035; his brother-in-law Ulf was regent of Denmark, but was executed after a row with Cnut in Roskilde in 1026 – Cnut’s penance to Ulf’s widow apparently paid for the city’s first stone church, possibly Sankt Jørgensberg (see below). A civil war broke out in 1157; the three claimants to the throne met to feast in Roskilde but Sweyn attacked the other two; Knud was killed but Valdemar escaped and then beat Sweyn in battle (if the scribe Saxo Grammaticus was telling the truth). From 1158 six successive bishops came from the royal family, five abbeys were founded, and the city grew in size, with Wendish (Slav) raiders perhaps beginning to settle peacefully by the fjord. From the fourteenth century Copenhagen was more important, with Roskilde’s mint closing in 1356, and the Bishop of Roskilde being forced to give up revenues from Copenhagen in 1416. Copenhagen became the capital and royal residence in the fifteenth century, with its university founded in 1479, and the diocese moved from Roskilde in 1537.

 Denmark fought many wars with Sweden and lost many of them; perhaps the most humiliating defeat came in February 1658 when a Swedish army managed to cross the frozen sea to take the Danes by surprise and imposed the Treaty of Roskilde, whereby Denmark-Norway gave up a third of its territory. The city stagnated, suffering fires and plague outbreaks, until 1847 when the country’s first railway opened from Copenhagen to Roskilde; as further lines were built Roskilde became an important junction, and industrialisation followed from the 1870s. Actually, the museum’s most interesting exhibit from this period is the collection of winners’ discs from the Popinjay (parrot) Shooting Company’s competitions.

 From the hilltop cathedral area, a path leads down to a park and the harbour, now dominated by pleasure boats, as well as a floating havnebad, as in Odense, and the replica longboats of the Viking Ships Museum. The museum itself is just to the east, housing the bare remains of five ships that were sunk around 1065 to form a defensive barrier across the fjord about twenty kilometres north of Roskilde. The story of how they were recovered and preserved is fascinating, but they also have a brilliant programme of building replicas of all kinds of vessels – with a museum ticket you can watch the craftsmen up close and ask questions, but even without a ticket (and when the museum is closed) you can see the boats and feel the buzz of the work under way. Not to mention the buzz of their café-restaurant (see below). Ship no.2 was an ocean-going longship that was built near Dublin in 1042, using oak wood that was felled near the ancient monastery of Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains; a replica named Sea Stallion was sailed from Roskilde to Dublin via Orkney in 2007, returning via the English Channel.

Replica longship, with the museum in the background

 To the west of the harbour is the Sankt Jørgensberg quarter, with an attractive church dating from around 1035 and some very attractive thatched cottages; it’s been well traffic-calmed, so is delightful to wander around, but it doesn’t seem to be much mentioned.

 There’s another regeneration area south of the station, where a former cement factory is now the Musicon creative quarter, and home to the Ragnarock museum of pop, rock and youth culture, opened in 2016; this takes inspiration in part from the famous Roskilde Festival, founded back in 1971 and still one of the largest in northern Europe. Naturally there’s a microbrewery here, Musicon Mikrobryggeri, which brews a full range of IPAs, sours, stouts, wheatbeers and so on; but I was impressed by a couple of eating places down by the harbour (where there’s an excellent modern hostel too) – Snekken is an excellent Italian restaurant, but the Viking Ship Museum’s Café Knarr is more interesting. It offers New Nordic Viking Food, so without New World vegetables such as potatoes and tomatoes but using pearl barley and flatbread instead, along with flavourings such as angelica and sea buckthorn. It doesn’t open in the evenings, except for special bookings, so you’re looking at lunchtime specials and sandwiches, salads, cakes and drinks, including organic beers.

 I finished by cycling to Copenhagen – the cities are linked by an excellent and dead straight off-road cycleway, and it takes just a couple of hours, but it’s not signposted as a through route and few people seem to make the journey by bike. It was obvious that Amsterdam cyclists were happy to pop over to Haarlem (a similar distance, which I also cycled) on a Sunday, but alas, that doesn’t seem to happen here.