Father Denmark Defines Danishness

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One of the early stops on Bike Mike’s tour of Copenhagen was at the statue of NFS Grundtvig, often called Father Denmark. Mike took the opportunity to share with us a little history and how Denmark developed the socialist democracy and earned their title of world’s happiest people.

Grundtvig wrote histories reintroducing the Norse gods to the Danes. He also studied English society and appreciated the contrasting freedom of thought and pragmatism. He was also a Lutheran pastor who spoke out for separation of church and state. All of this combined to the philosophy Grundtvigianism. He also participated in writing the new constitution and articulated the sense of community that is now a hallmark of the Danish life.

Mike said, “We don’t mind paying high taxes because we get free education, elder care, health care and day care.” He laughed and pointed out that since women ruled Denmark there have been no wars, they work less and earn more, and they enjoy the smallest gap between the poorest and the wealthiest citizens.

Denmark is not perfect, but one of the things I love about travel is learning about other cultures and seeing how things can be.

If you want to read more about Grundtvig you can in Knud JV Jespersen A History of Denmark. (in English)



Breaking into Copenhagen

I arrived late on a Monday night and then I took the train early to Malmo, Sweden on Tuesday, so my first full day in Copenhagen was Wednesday and I had not yet seen anything besides the train station and a pastry shop. I had reserved a spot with BikeMike Tours after hearing about it from Rick Steves. After witnessing just a little of the bike traffic, I was glad I booked a tour and would have a guide for my first foray into the city.

Copenhagen is a 1000 years old and committed to keeping their streets cobbled and their footprint much the same. It was not designed for cars. Yet it is a dynamic, economically vibrant place. Bicycles allow them to move people without sacrificing the quality of life that their history offers. The cycling culture is such that people ride everywhere in all weather and with cargo bikes if they have children or a load. As one fellow tour rider from the USA noted, “No one is wearing lycra bike shorts or riding a fancy bike.” It is part of the fabric of life and very utilitarian.

I digress, I want to tell you about this fabulous tour.

Mike is a bit gruff when you first meet him at the shop. His website can also be offputting to some:

i am not just another #$@%&*! bike tour guide. I am bike mike.

I appreciated that he was being very forthright about what his tour was and was not. What it is: an exciting tour of the city at a good pace with a guide who LOVES Copenhagen and Denmark. I ride my bike as my main source of transportation and I “kissed” the curb; my bike went down but thankfully I did not. So the city cobbles and curbs can be challenging especially to riders from the USA. It is so worth the risk.

I arrived feeling very jet-lagged and hoped that the fresh air and exercise would revive me. There were about 18 of us in the group with a mix of Europeans and Americans. Mike leads the way and expects you to follow, and we did. People in my group did a great job of keeping up.

Mike does stop often to share information about this beautiful city and its culture. He is unabashedly proud of their socialist welfare state and the monarchy. He is a real enthusiast and he will infect you with a love of Copenhagen.

He also gave good tips on restaurants along the way. Although his description of a typical Danish lunch–open faced sandwiches of pickled herring followed by a shot of snaps (schnapps)–sounded like a fast track to a nap!

He said we would ride through whatever weather came our way just like a local. However, when a particularly nasty bit of rain and wind came through he let us grab a coffee at the national theater and then ride on. This added an hour to our tour but no one complained.

In fact, we were all full of good will toward one another at the end. The tour was well worth the DKK 299 in cash.

I also learned about these really groovy Danish locks that fit onto your bike as a permanent fixture. Mike uses them as do most people in Copenhagen. I walked across the street to the bike shop and bought 2 to use at home.