Reflections on Denmark

[Danish flag]

Bill and Ellen have a special place in their hearts for gentle Denmark. Ellen spent part of year in Copenhagen when she was 8 years old while her father was on sabbatical at the Bohr Institute.

[June '89] Ellen finds the house she lived in and her elementary school. Her Danish comes back but she finds it is an eight-year-old's Danish--it's good for asking for ice cream or candy, but no good for highway signs. Tivoli is unchanged (the McDonald's is outside the gates). Ellen wishes Legoland had been there when she was eight.

[Summer '96] Steen Larsen invited Bill to spend the summer at the Institute of Psychology in Aarhus, Denmark so there is now a shift of location in this sabbatical narrative. Aarhus is the second largest city in Denmark (yet only about 250,000 people). It is in Jutland--the finger that is physically attached to the rest of Europe. It would not be too far wrong to think of Jutland as the Midwest of Denmark--most of it is farmed, with solid citizens, missing some of the cultural advantages of Copenhagen. For Ellen the time in Denmark was a chance to relive the magical time she spent there when she was a child.

Steen has found us a delightful, light and airy second floor apartment that looks out over trees and a garden. Bill and Ellen's five months of shower deprivation come to an end! When Bill goes out to get some milk the first morning his most vivid impression is that the streets are actually wider than the cars on them (you have to have just moved from Cambridge, UK to fully appreciate the contrast.) Grocery shopping the first day goes very slowly--much looking at pictures and consulting dictionaries ("Is this one skim milk or is it buttermilk?"). Denmark turns out to be much farther North than one expects. In the summer the sun is up at 4:00 AM and doesn't set until 10:00 PM. The sky remains bright from 10:00 PM until about 12:00 PM so there are only about 4 hours of real darkness (Bill takes to wearing his travel blackout mask in bed some mornings). One day around midsummer Ellen notices that during the course of a day the sun shines brightly through windows on all four sides of our apartment. For ecological reasons most Danish houses do not have clothes dryers. This brings Ellen into tune with nature: sun out--wash out, clouds coming--wash in.

Bill and Ellen find Denmark a gentle place to live. Much reduced social class distinctions (How can one dislike a society where the pay of lawyers' secretaries is 90% of that of lawyers?). The unemployed are required to take 5 full weeks of paid vacation (i.e., no visits to the unemployment office). In some ways the Danes are a very private people. After 6:00 PM the streets are almost empty--the Danes are at home. Candles play a very special role in the society--they help make things hyggelig (untranslatable, but roughly emotional warmth). The Danish flag has a unique role in Danish life--it is used to decorate for birthdays and families wave them to welcome people home at the airport.

Exciting week in July when Bill's sister, Andra, and her family visit. They attempt to see all of Denmark in 6 days. Bill and Ellen can't keep up with them, but do use their visit as an excuse to be tourists for that week. All go to the 4th of July celebration at Rebild National Park south of Aalborg (the largest 4th of July celebration outside the US). It is much like the one in C-U only the speakers were Prince Joachim and the US. Ambassador to Denmark and the weather was much cooler. While in Aalborg Bill and Ellen drive by the house of the Danish family that are living in their house back in C-U. After a month of training at his basecamp in Aarhus Bill climbs to the summit of Himmelbjerget ("Heaven's Mountain")--the fourth highest peak in Denmark (and no, he is not going to answer your unspoken question).

Bill and Ellen complete a theme from their earlier visit to Cadbury World in England by going to Bon Bon Land. As far as they can tell they are the only non-Danes there. Too bad for the tourists back in Copenhagen--they all missed seeing the Hundeprutterutscheban (the ride named after one of Bon Bon's most popular brands of candy--"dog farts"--we kid you not!). Bill and Ellen also add a new Good Guy to their list by going to the Ole Roemer museum west of Copenhagen. The director of the museum greets them most warmly--they were the second visitors that day--apparently few people know that Roemer was the first person to measure the speed of light.

In July Bill and Ellen were outside the Queen of Denmark's summer palace at Marselisborg and saw the Queen leave for her yacht. This event means that Ellen now has a lifetime average of 100% on sabbatical Queenspotting. In Copenhagen at age 8 she saw the (then) Queen and her daughter (the current Queen). On our 1989 Cambridge sabbatical she saw the Queen of England at Westminster Abbey. On this sabbatical while we were in England she saw the queen come out of a Girl Guides office in London--thus a 100% life score! On this Royal note your narrator closes the Danish chapter of the sabbatical Chronicles.

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Last updated June 1, 2000 by EFB