At DIS, Wednesdays are for field studies. It’s a day reserved for faculty to take students around to different areas of Copenhagen that are relevant to course material and can mean guest lectures, showing movies, museum visits, or touring castles. For one of mine, I’m even seeing the Royal Ballet (hype). Last week, however, I did not have any field studies, which meant a Wednesday FREE. I have been making a conscious effort to try something new every day, so I packed quite a bit into this block of time.
To start the day, Jordyn, a friend from my homestay network, and I went into the city early for a hot yoga class. I had done yoga a couple of times in the past, but it had been a while; plus, I had never done hot yoga before. We showed up to the studio and the most yoga teacher-looking woman gave me a tour of the studio. She was a tiny lady with a soothing voice in a maxi skirt and tank top, barefoot of course. We got changed and stretched until class began. The room was a very comfortable warm until we started. Boy, did I sweat. Some of the poses I couldn’t even do because I was physically slippery from sweating. Also, the woman who gave me the tour, the instructor? Yeah, she wasn’t as tiny as I thought. She came in wearing biker shorts and a sports bra and was absolutely JACKED—I’m talking 6-pack, full biceps, the whole deal. After class, I definitely felt like I had quite a workout and might have a 6-pack myself. I was sore for days, but was also very relaxed. Also, they had rye bread and Nutella with mint tea waiting for us. God bless the Danes, I love this place. We snacked and cooled off, then packed up and headed out to wander the streets in the hopes of seeing something new.
Venturing around, it’s easy to feel like you’re exploring a lot, but in reality I think I had stayed within the same 6 or 8 blocks for the entirety of the semester so far. A week or so earlier, I had climbed to the top of the Roundtower, an old planetarium built by King Christian IV that now yields a terrific view of the city. From there, I had seen neat rows of interesting-looking trees. My friend informed me that this was a king’s garden, and the green steeple peaks to the left were part of the castle. So at this time, Jordyn and I chose to engage in my favorite Copenhagen game—pick a green thing in the sky and walk until you find it. Little did we know, we were pursuing Rosenborg castle. This castle is also a feat of architecture ordered by Christian IV, one of the most famous kings of Denmark. It lies in the heart of the city near Norreport station and is most well-known for housing the crown jewels and its fine rose gardens.
On our way, we enjoyed seeing city blocks we had not yet encountered, window shopping for pastries, gaping at the great expense of eating out in Copenhagen through posted menus, and admiring antiques and clothing from the sidewalk. We only knew the general direction we were headed, but the King’s Garden spans about 9 square blocks, so it’s hard to miss.
We wandered in and around, admiring the invisible foliage by imagining what it would look like in spring; visualizing the bubbling fountains, people milling about, and even daring to tease our fantasies with the possibility of sunlight and clear skies.
The garden was full of green copper statues. My favorites were those of a couple deer, one of Queen Amalie in the rose garden, and one of Hans Christian Andersen that was surrounded by neatly trimmed hedges. I like the HCA statue because he looks regal and means so much to the Danish people. All of us hold at least one of his stories near to our hearts; his work glows with the nostalgia of childhood. I’m taking a class here that analyzes his stories in the context of the Romantic period and 19th century Denmark. His rise from peasantry to aristocracy is truly astonishing, especially considering the limited social mobility of his time. The statue of him sitting on a wide chair makes me think of him, what his character was really like, and if he knew how far his legacy would extend. What would he think?
Next to this is a playground for children, I think also inspired by fairytales. In the center was a golden egg, around it a few dragons and a moat. There were no slides or swings; in each corner, a silver hutch and some sort of obstacle—vertical wooden logs, balance beams. It was fun to trounce about and be reminded of a carefree time. Real life looms so close ahead of us; right now we live in the in-between that comes before true responsibility. As we progressed, we saw children playing games on sport courts, admired a mysterious and seemingly misplaced Roman-inspired structure, checked out the bloom-less rose garden, and talked to some ducks in the moat outside the castle. While we opted out of going inside the castle, I intend to visit soon (perhaps tomorrow!). Before we even had time to admire the architecture, Jordyn stated that she heard something… Drums? Piccolos and flutes? Stomping feet? We fled in a dead sprint toward the road and saw the Danish Royal Guard marching down the center of the street—just another day! Naturally, we were thrilled—our own personal parade!! My day was made 3 times over. We returned to the park to wander before heading back toward the train station. Mind you, at this time we hadn’t the slightest idea that we were a mere block away from the train station we used every day to get from our homes to classes and back. Jordyn was headed home to get ready for a concert—Denmark native Lucas Graham.
Because we were so close to the station, we took a detour to a park across the street, another landmark we didn’t know existed. It was lovely and framed the Botanical Gardens, which got tacked on to the list of visits we would need to make. We chose a nice bench overlooking the lake to sit upon and eat lunch. Fun fact—this park and several others were originally created by—you guessed it—Christian IV to fortify the city against invaders. The lake was a part of a moat, and the city surrounded by a gate until the mid 1800s. The space that Nørreport station now occupies was once a gate to the city (“nord” = north, “port” = gate).
Anyways, we sat on this bench. What followed was possibly the most pleasantly strange occurrence I have ever experienced. Moments after we occupied a bench, an older Danish woman approached us and pointed to the bench, all the while speaking Danish, a language I happen to have no understanding or comprehension of. So, I assumed she had been there before us and forgot something. I lifted my backpack so she could check under it, and she went ahead and sat down. I was a little shocked, only because I could see at least 5 empty benches from where I sat. Twenty seconds later, it all made sense.
Birds started flocking over. First a majestic blue heron. I mean dang. Jordyn and I couldn’t believe it; it was such a graceful and powerful presence. We geeked. Then came a few black birds, with beautiful blue triangular patches on their wings and white collars around their necks. Following them were at least 15 seagulls. These seagulls aren’t like the soulless, ragged, savage seagulls in the US. They’re quite precious—very small with curious black eyes and an innocent demeanor. American gulls are devious, man.
So we’re just sitting there like what the heck, all these birds coming to hang out. This woman whips out at least 7 different bags of grains and, like, chicken bones or something for the heron. We basically were sitting next to the pigeon lady from Home Alone 2 and loving it.
Last but not least came a whole family of ducks. I, personally, believe ducks are awesome. They’re like the dogs of the bird kingdom, coming up and eating right off of our feet. The occurrence could have been none other than auspices of a good day.
After Jordyn left, I elected to remain downtown to spend time exploring by myself. I realized I hadn’t been on my own in some time and certainly had not done enough solo exploring. Again, I played my game, picking a massive green dome in the distance to chase down. I walked in the general direction, peering down alleys and making turns in the hopes that I headed in the right direction. I passed some new buildings and some very old. The most peculiar were some very old looking orange cement townhouses. I’m not sure what they were, and you never really can tell here. There are some churches that were built in the 1300s. Yeah, 13. America wouldn’t even be settled by the British for another 300 years. Crazy. Twenty minutes later, my feet had carried me to Frederik’s Church, a structure I actually thought was part of Amalienborg, the queen’s palace. This was across the street, and the two were actually separate. It’s tucked away a bit, so I was actually quite surprised when I looked to my right and saw the majestic structure waiting for me. Of course I went inside. It was very ornate and very beautiful; high ceilings, intricate altar, pipe organ and all. Of course I had some thoughts and actually wrote a bit while I was there. I’ll share below.
“I think the real beauty of churches is the stillness within them. Each noise echoes softly and sweetly because of the enormity of this structure; the unspoken rule that it should be a quiet and somber place hangs heavily in the air. It’s interesting that though this building is so large, I can hear the crinkle of someone on the opposite side’s coat rustle as they shift.
Sitting in a church, in the peaceful stillness that paralyzes the body (so as to preserve the noiselessness rather than add to the rustling). I thought of what I had learned in my Hans Christian Andersen class about finding religion in nature instead of a hierarchical structure. Andersen (a famous Dane and children’s writer for those who don’t know) was religious, but opposed the structure and organization of religion and the formality of the institution. This was characteristic of Romanticism, a popular movement at the time emphasizing finding peace in nature and appreciating its beauty, then using this to grow closer to oneself. HCA’s tales are full of religious references and imagery despite the fact that he contested organized religion, and I think the spirit of Romanticism applies to why many people still take refuge in a church. This was Evangelical Lutheran and although I was brought up under a different denomination of Christianity, familiarity in the symbols and structure made me feel very at home. Even non-religious people are intrigued by churches because of the art in the architecture, statues, mosaics, and gold. Acquaintance with these commonalities and internalizing themes of religion allows the individual to see the structure itself as a safe haven.”
On my study tour during core course week (post to come soon) we visited a Christian non-profit organization that offered coffee, tea, and willing ears to prostitutes on Tuesdays. They functioned out of a church. Even the pastor was there to help. You would think that the women would be ashamed, even avoid the organization for its religious affiliation, but rather they were attracted to it for this. The shame that comes with sex work, especially for those migrating from Eastern European countries, means that they feel disconnected and unworthy of the religion they knew at home. Still, they come to the church and ask the priest to pray for them, for their families. The world is so very big that we flock together and place our trust in something greater, because what else are we to do? We are simple humans, our lives relatively short and relatively out of our control, as they can be terminated at any given time.
The bliss was indescribable. They were doing construction just outside but I felt so far removed from everything because of the roaring quiet.”
Following my visit to the church, I walked across the street to Amalienborg Palace, home of the royal family. It was beautiful indeed, but not as majestic from the outside. I certainly intend to visit again and tour the interior. The palace is an interesting shape, however, composed of several separate buildings creating an almost octagonal shape. In the center is an open plaza with a large stature of Frederik V on a horse and guards milling about in traditional attire. I continued through this and stumbled upon the Amaliehaven, a garden on the waterfront. It was a small, thin rectangle with perfectly symmetrical beds. Though there were no blooms, it was another pleasant surprise to stumble upon. Hedges were neatly trimmed and looked maze-like, fountains were erected at either end. I still will also never get used to being so close to the water; Ohio is a long way from the sea but it is so refreshing to have it so accessible here. I admired the Opera House from across the water and headed home for dinner before basketball. Update: I did significantly better this time!! Read about my first practice here: https://marinaabroad.home.blog/2019/01/16/getting-schooled-danish-basketball/
So that was my day, full of adventure and exploring. Also a note: hot yoga, long walks, and basketball are a stiffening combination. I am very sore.