Category Archives: Copenhagen

Advent and Christmas Songs: Fairest Lord Jesus

It’s the 4th Sunday of Advent, the day before Christmas Eve, the snow is falling again outside my parents’ home in a suburb north of Copenhagen. All my presents are ready and wrapped, and I feel so content and happy. I thought I’d share some holiday cheer by posting one of my favorite Christmas carols, the German hymn “Schönster Lord Jesu“, also known in English as “Fairest Lord Jesus“.

Now, this may seem a strange choice for any potential German or English readers out there. In the German and English version, the song is not a carol at all, it is simply a hymn and may be sung all year round. I, however, am mostly familiar with the Danish version by poet B.S. Ingemann, “Dejlig er jorden”.

Ingemann was same poet who did the translation of “Silent Night” (which I mentioned here), and like with “Silent Night” Ingemann took some liberties with the material at hand, but in the case of “Schönster Herr Jesu” he did a much better job, I think. What he did was that he turned the hymn into a Christmas carol, albeit in a very simple, discreet manner. He maintains the essence of the German lyrics, which is to praise eartlhy loveliness and praising the heavenly splendor (the English version is mostly devoted to the praising of Jesus). However, in the last stanza Ingemann links it all to one glorious moment in time, that is, the hour when the lord was born and the shepherds learned of their salvation from heavenly angels. The Danish lyrics go, directly translated:

The earth is lovely, God’s heaven is glorious,
Beautiful is the pilgrimage of our souls!
Through the fair kingdoms on earth,
We walk towards Paradise, singing!

Times shall come, times shall roll over us
Generations shall follow the passing of generations
The tone from heaven shall never cease
In the happy pilgrimage of the soul.

The angels first sang it to the shepherds in the field
Beautifully from soul to soul it rang:
“Peace on earth! Man, rejoice!
An eternal savior is born onto us!”

Effective, yet simple. It is difficult to think of a more striking imagery of heavenly beauty on earth than that of the lowly shepherds being visited by angels, and I like how Ingemann doesn’t try to wrap things up in a conclusive fourth stanza. The words of the angels are allowed to stand alone, along with the image of the shepherds and the angels. “Dejlig er jorden” is a Danish Christmas classic, although the Swedes have embraced the carol as well, using it sometimes as a funeral hymn. It does seem appropriate for such a purpose: Whenever we are singing it, walking around the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, joined hands as per Danish custom, the second stanza marks a moment of quiet reflection for me, a reminder of loved ones who have passed away, but also of the life and joy that has yet to come. I am not a Christian, and I cannot truly believe that there is a heavenly note that will sound on earth till the end of time. But I love to be alive in a world that is able to conjure up an idea as beautiful as that – a note ringing from heaven! – and there are plenty earthly things to be happy about. This Christmas Eve, walking around my parents’ Christmas tree, I am sure the verse about the “passing of generations” will make me think affectionately of the baby that my brother’s wife is expecting, a little boy who is to be born early in the new year, making my parents grandparents and me an aunt for the first time. And maybe I will also be thinking a little bit about the little Christmas tree I have waiting for myself and  my boyfriend when we return from our respective families to celebrate our first Christmas together in his apartment, in which I moved in in October this year. The earth is indeed lovely.

My Christmas tree

Festive Street Art: Santa-Hatting the River Nile

In central Copenhagen, at Søtorvet, there’s a bronze copy of the marble statue The River Nile from the 1st century, escavated in 16th century Rome. A bearded man is supposed to represent the river itself, and he is surrounded by 16 infants playing on his body,  symbolizing the number of feet (16) the Nile was believed to rise annually, fertilizing Lower Egypt. There’s a similar statue of The River Tiber situated across the street from the Nile sculpture.

Some street artist must have figured that just because one is tasked with representing the flow of a northeastern African river, one should not have to miss out on the festivity of the season. In any case he or she has carefully created Santa hats to fit the sculptural babies. I just spotted this today and was so charmed that I pulled my bicycle out of very heavy traffic in order to snap a few pictures:





Thanks for warming my heart as well as the heads of several bronze infants, unknown street artist.

Advent and Christmas songs: Coventry Carol

It’s the advent season and I am almost a little overwhelmed with Christmas spirit this year. The snow started falling two days ago, and when I woke up this morning, everything was white and pretty and festive outside. Just look at these lovely pictures I snapped in Fælledparken as I went for a walk in the afternoon:

grantræ i snefoto
I decided that blogging about some of my favorite advent and Christmas songs might provide me with an appropriate outlet for all this snow white festivity, and I’ll start today, on the first Sunday of Advent.

I’ve already blogged about “Coventry Carol” once before, but that was in a completely different context, and I thought it could stand another mention. As a Christmas song, it has a special place in my heart. The thing is, being Danish, I naturally grew up with Danish Christmas carols, and as lovely as some of them are, a lot of them are also kind of, well, toothless. They’re almost always in a major key, and they tend to tip-toe around any potential dangerous subject matter to a point where they manage to not really say anything. A good example is the Danish version of “Silent Night”. I love the original German and the English version of “Silent Night”. I feel like they succeed, lyric-wise, by carefully choosing their motif and focusing on this motif, making the most of it: The (virgin) mother and child in the quiet of night, the shepherds and their angelic visitation, the savior promising an eternal dawn to all of mankind. The Danish version, however, is an extremely free and fairly nonsensical translation. Directly translated, it goes: “Happy Christmas, lovely Christmas, angels descend into hiding. They fly here with paradise green [boughs or leaves, supposedly], seeing what God finds to be beautiful. They walk secretly among us.”

What is this thing about angels falling down in hiding? Did angels ever actually do that in the bible? Not in the story of Christmas, that’s for sure, they were pretty in yer face with those shepherds in the bible. Also, what is this greenery from paradise and what is its significance? And that last line sounds more like a tagline from Invasion of the Bodysnatchers than anything else.  This is all very symptomatic of Danish carols: Even the original Danish ones, especially the ones from the 19th century, will generally go to great lengths in terms of weird imagery in order to avoid mentioning the events surrounding the birth of Christ. Which is a shame because even I, atheist that I am, think that the story of the birth of Jesus is pretty neat.

This is exactly why I like “Coventry Carol” so much. The “Coventry Carol” is very upfront about the story of the birth of Christ, and it certainly does not try to sugarcoat it or tiptoe around anything. Written as a lullaby sung by a mother of a baby boy in Bethlehem (arguably the virgin Mary, but I suppose it could be ascribed to any Bethlehem mother), it deals with the massacre ordered by King Herod, claiming the life of every male child under the age of two.

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Lullay, thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
O sisters too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we do sing
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Herod, the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All young children to slay.
That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever mourn and sigh,
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Is this Christmassy in the modern sense of the word? Is it nice and cosy? Not at all! But it lends some gravity to the story of Christmas. The massacre of the innocents was gruesome, but it’s a central part of the canonical Christmas story, and it makes the story of Christmas all the more significant. It’s a little like the advent song “O come, o come, Emmanuel”, and the carol “Maria durch ein Dornwald ging”, both of which describe hardships (of the people of Israel and of pregnant Mary, respectively) rather than merry-making.  And then the melody of the “Coventry Carol” is just so incredibly gorgeous. The lyrics and the music date back from a mystery play from the 17th century, and it does have that pentatonic, old-timey ring to it. But more importantly it is written in a sinister minor key that I think the holidays need as much as they do the major key melodies.I grew up with a recording of a chorus singing it, and I actually do prefer it in a choir version as I feel it easily turns into a little too much of a tearjerker when sung by a solo soprano. I also noticed that Andrea Arnold had the traveling brass band in the childhood Christmas scene play the carol in her fetching Wuthering Heights, and this also worked nicely. Here it is, sung by the Collegium Vocale Gent:

Classical special train – enjoy the music

Adorable flash mob in the Copenhagen Metro, featuring the Copenhagen Phil.

The Daughters of Copenhagen

I’m terrible at keeping up with the contemporary music scene, but I came across this song yesterday and really liked it:

The song is “København” (which is the Danish name for Copenhagen) by rock band Ulige numre (“Uneven Numbers”), and it’s basically an ode to Copenhagen. The song and video go perfectly together, I think. The video shows historic and recent footage from Copenhagen, and the song has a certain nostalgic sound to it, especially in the guitar riff, that makes it reminiscent of old protest songs from the 1960s and 1970s, like Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock”  or this 1971 Danish protest song. Thus “København”  becomes a sort of hymn not just to Copenhagen, but to the side of Copenhagen that I’ve always loved the best about the city: The open-minded, progressive side that blossomed in the time of the hippie movement, but which has its root back in the labour movements in the city about a decade earlier, and which still flourished in my childhood years in the 1980s, when my parents took me to the city, and I would be gaping at the punks with their brightly coloured hair, hanging around outside the old buildings of the city, and somehow fitting in perfect with the once-progressive Jugendstil architecture. And which is still there today, I suppose, although it’s always so difficult to detect the shock of the new when you’re in the middle of it.

The song lyrics of “København” go:

You have danced with me
for twenty years
And you have taught me the steps that I know
but don’t understand
Copenhagen, you are nothing but all I have
When your thousand eyes close
And darkness colours you infinite
And your daughters
they have no good intentions with me
And your eyes
light the way home for me when I’ve had enough

I have a minor problem
that I can’t find
Before you’ve shown me where
you’ve hidden her
Copenhagen, I am your last son
When your thousand eyes close
And darkness colours you infinite
And your daughters
they have no good intentions
And your eyes
light the way home for me when I’ve had enough

The darkness wants more
the days grow shorter
And I’ve spent my last kroner
painting mine black
And your eyes, there are more and more of them
And your daughters
Tell them that I won’t be waiting any longer.

The song reached me about the same time as the much less flattering description of Copenhagen and its daughters by Roosh: Danish Women Are the Most Masculine in the World. The article is hardly accurate (as everyone knows I myself am a perfect example of absolutely charming femininity), and in some parts it’s vulgar and downright offensive, but then again I’m sure it’s meant to be vulgar and offensive, and I have to admit that this:

A big problem is that just about everything offends a Danish girl, especially if you make casual observations about her culture, whether positive or negative. She doesn’t believe in stereotypes or generalizations at all. She has the belief that everyone is a completely unique snowflake and any attempt to generalize is wrong and offensive. The irony of this is that Danish people are so incredibly homogenous and alike due to Denmark being a strong conformist culture that they’re the easiest people to generalize about.
(…) or example, it was common for a Danish girl to joke that Americans like cheeseburgers and French fries. She’s indirectly saying that Americans are fat. I get it, and I don’t care, because Americans are fat and I personally love cheeseburgers and French fries. I would counter her observation with one of my own by saying, “We love hamburgers, but you guys like the kebabs. Those places are everywhere.” Pretty innocuous comment, right? Wrong. The Danish girl gets offended and counters with, “No, Danish food culture is quite varied. You’re not looking hard enough to find other places.” Really, bitch? There would be no less than four kebab shacks within a stone’s throw.

This hit a nerve. Oh, yes. I do see myself in this. And several of my girl friends, though I love them dearly.  We do this, with the adamant, sometimes hypocritical non-generalisation, and I can see how we might be obnoxious about it at times.

So there you are, Roosh, you are right about us in some aspects, and I’m owning up to it. I’m taking it like a man, you might say. You may shake my big, man-like hand. I’m not going to sleep with you, though.


Thursday night, September 15, I was glued to the tv screen well past my bed time. I was following the Danish elections, and it was quite the thriller. Every opinion poll had been pointing towards a new government, but when the counting of the votes started, it was a closer call than I would have preferred. Yet it ended well: After ten years with a right wing government, the left is taking over. I can hardly express how relieved this makes me feel.

As Annina Teatime noted in her latest entry, this also means that we have elected a woman Prime Minister for the first time ever, 96 years after Danish women gained the right to vote: Helle Thorning-Schmidt, leader of the Social Democrats.

She didn’t bring up the gender issue in her victory speech Thursday night. I guess she felt that the fact that she was standing there – clearly a woman, in her discreetly fuchsia jacket, accepted by cheering crowds as the future leader of the country – spoke volumes. It did.
The next day, there was a series of interviews in Danish national newspaper Information with several high-profile Danes about what they thought this new situation, us having a woman leader. One of them was influential businessman Asger Aamund who stated:

“The fact that she is a woman will have no significance at all. Women are just as good as men, and the fact that women have taken over the political leadership in Denmark is old news. (…) Out there [internationally] people won’t care about the sex either. They will look to see if she creates results.”

I’m sorry, but I have to say that this belittling of the gender issue is a luxury that only a man can afford. We’ve come a long way, to be sure, but I find it dangerous to even entertain the notion that we’ve reached equality yet. Only last week, one of the Danish tabloids ran a story on the front page titled “READ ALL ABOUT HELLE [THORNING-SCHMIDT]’S BODY” with the subtitle of “OBSESSED WITH YOUTH”. In the article, interviewed “experts” gave their opinion as to how much work Thorning-Schmidt puts into her looks. The tackiness of the subject matter aside, I was struck by how gendered that whole angle was. Nobody would ever write a story about a male politician titled “READ ALL ABOUT [name]’S BODY”. Even in cases when the body of the male politician actually had some relevance – Bill Clinton or Dominique Strauss-Kahn comes to mind – nobody would have thought to write a feature on the politican’s body, singling out his physical form from the rest of him. It would read “Read all about Dominique Strauss-Kahn”, if anything.

If you’re a woman, even if you’re a competent woman candidate to the prime ministerial post, there’s always that mistrust that you don’t possess your body completely. Our woman bodies may betray us at any time, and despite all your achievements they remain mysterious things, worhty of, or even demanding, scrutiny or deciphering.  I don’t think we can ever hope to gain equality, until we have stopped looking at women with this nonsensical duality. But I think we’re on step closer to equality after  Helle Thorning-Schmidt stood competently on that podium, unhesitatingly hailed by the publich as a new leader.

And she will not stand alone either: With her is, among other prominent women politicians, Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen, member of the Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten), the left-most of the Danish political parties.

Foto: Mark Knudsen

She got my vote during this election and her victory speech was the highlight of the election night to me. An excerpt from her speech:

“This election is about people, it’s about the lives of real human beings. The elections are about fugitives who have been kept in asylum centres for years (…) paying the price of what the non-socialist have had the nerve to call “a fair immigration policy”. The new majority in government has promised that in the future, fugitives will stay in asylum centres for a maximum of six months, and we [the Red-Green Alliance] intend to hold them to this! (…) Today is also a wonderful day for the thousands who have unfortunately lost their jobs. The vast majority of these people have slaved away all their lives, and paid their taxes. Yet on the day when they needed the community, on the day when they were holding their dismissal notice in their hands, they were met with suspicion by the non-socialst government. The new majority in government has promised to replace the ridiculous activation courses with [supplementary training courses] that are actually useful. […] The new majority in Goverment has promised to create new jobs. And we’re talking about wellfare jobs here – we need more nursery teachers, we need fewer children per teacher in the class rooms, and the home help needs to be able to visit [the elderly and the handicapped] more often!”

In all its rhetorical artlessness, this speech articulated so many of my dreams of a new start now that the non-socialist government has run its course.

I am hopeful.

Copenhagen 1937 and the Bicycle Parade

This 1937 Metro Goldwyn Mayer special about Copenhagen really tugged at my nostalgic heart strings:

But of course the beauty of it is that it’s not all nostalgia. As I’ve mentioned before, the Bicycle Parade is still very much of A Thing in Copenhagen (personally, I’d never dream of using any other means of transportation around the city), as this gorgeous video from 2010 will show: