WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL COPENHAGEN

Danny Kaye may have crooned about Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen in the 1952 movie, Hans Christian Andersen, but after our recent visit the Ws would stand for Wet and Windy.  And very cold.  Yet it is an undeniably attractive city with its impressive buildings, wide boulevards and cosmopolitan atmosphere.  For nearly twenty years we’ve been passing through Kastrup Airport on our way to Sweden across the Bridge.  Only on a couple of occasions have we made day-trips into the city itself.  Now that Anita Sundström needs to visit Copenhagen on a case she’s working on in the next Malmö Mystery – Mourning – I thought it might be an idea to spend some time there, having a good wander around.

However, last week wasn’t the first time I’d stayed in the Danish capital.  I had actually gone there in 1972 to meet up with my family on holiday.  I’d flown in from Israel where I’d spent six months on a kibbutz.  I’d come from a hot, dirty, dusty, chaotic environment, which suited me down to the ground at the time.  Arriving in Copenhagen was a complete shock to the system.  Everywhere was spotless.  Everything ran efficiently – even the buses were quiet.  No shouting or jostling for a seat.  It was a manicured city, certainly on the surface.  It matched British perceptions of Scandinavia.  Except it wasn’t quite as it appeared.

Nowadays, Nyhavn is the go-to location for sampling the city’s sophisticated ambiance, with smart bars and restaurants running along the canal.  I can tell you it was a million miles away from that in 1972.  My father, who had been a sailor during the war and had seen all sorts of sights, decided to take his son down to Nyhavn and catch up on my goings-on.  On a kibbutz, you are cocooned from some the harsher things in life.  You end up in a bubble.  A bubble that was well and truly burst in Nyhavn on a night I’ll never forget.  It was like the Wild West.  There was a least one fight in every bar we walked into.  At one place, we were sitting (by this time nervously in my case) next to a table with a man and two young women.  The next thing I knew, all hell was let loose and the two women were on the floor ripping each other apart.  It was like the gypsy camp scene out of the Bond film, From Russia with Love.  Eventually, my dad escorted a wreck of a son back to the hotel, mother and younger siblings.  Needless to say, my father relished the evening as it took him back to the war and the battling bars from Malta’s infamous “The Gut” to the tough pubs in Wallsend on Tyneside.  Nyhavn, like many of its equivalents around the globe, was where sailors went to unwind or let off steam.  I returned to it seventeen years ago and all traces of its more down-to-earth, salty past had disappeared.  It was a lot more relaxing.

In between the showers we had a good nose round with a visit to the National Museum, which I highly recommend.  After several hours in there we took shelter in a café with the interesting name of Bastard.  It was devoted to board games; shelves stuffed with every conceivable kind.  It was full of young people busily playing over coffee and cake or a beer.  We appeared to be the only customers over the age of 25.  And there wasn’t a computer in sight, which was gratifying.  It’ll be no surprise if Anita stumbles across the same café very soon.