What people will endure to get some fresh meat (on New Year's Eve)

Wandering down in the center of Copenhagen earlier today, along Købmagergade one of the main shopping streets, I was amused to see a rather lengthy queue of people outside one shop - a queue that extended some distance along the street. I assumed it was some sort of 'year-end blow-out' sale at a clothing shop, but quickly realised it was actually a line of people waiting to enter the butchers. Fair enough, it is one of Copenhagen's excellent butcher shops.

Hopefully that New Year's Eve meat wasn't sold out by the time those at the end of the queue were served. And one of the butcher's was even outside serving up glasses of bubbly for those waiting patiently outside - and enduring the winter chill.

...did somebody say 'fresh meat'?

...a little early-afternoon bubbly to ease the lengthy wait

Bankerot: Like a strange dream (including brunch)

Dark, dingy and crowded. And fully of wacky, tacky adornments. Now that's the formula for a successful cafe, wouldn't you agree? Well, alright, if you throw in excellent and affordable brunches served late into the afternoon, very reasonably priced dished served during the rest of the day, a decent selection of beers extending well beyond Carlsberg and Tuborg and plenty of cosy corners to squeeze into to, it just might be enough.

Apparently it's worked for Bankerot (on Nansensgade) which is certainly one of my favourite 'stand-by's' in Copenhagen. Maybe not the place to hang out on a sunny summer day, or for that matter any other sunny day falling something during the rest of the year, but given how relatively few of those there are anyway, it still leaves a lot of days that are just about perfectly suited for an hour or two at Bankerot.

If it was just about the food and drink, Bankerot would be just another cafe in Copenhagen (though still notable for its reasonable prices). But it's not really the food and drink that sets Bankerot apart. It's more about the ambiance.

Describing Bankerot is not unlike describing a kind of weird dream you recently had, or a strange scene from a low budget sci-fi flick. It would go something like, "so I sitting drinking a beer and there was this bear looking over my shoulder the whole time...really...then I went to the bathroom and there were all these naked people watching me taking a piss, but that was cool, along with a severed head and a strange goat man who sort of welcomed everyone into the toilets as they wandered by...". And so on.

You get the idea...maybe. If you're looking for a place to drink a beer or coffee while reading the newspaper or chatting with a friend or two, or just want to grab a simple meal, check it out.

Yes, I'm enjoying the company of this bear, uh, I mean beer!

My friends just call me Mr. Goat....

'Please flush the toilet...'

Christiania's Christmas Market

At least the Grinch(es) in Denmark who keep trying to cancel Christiania haven't managed to cancel the Christiania Christmas Market. Only a couple days left until this year's edition finishes on December 20. It's a charming market, if busy on the weekends. One that doesn't change terribly much year-to-year, but it has solved rather a few of my Christmas gift-buying problems over the years so I'm not complaining.

And if not for the gifts, head there to fill your stomach - such food, most of it pretty simple, always seems to taste better when it's the homemade kind sold at a market. Frustratingly, when I dropped by this year, it was so overwhelmingly crowded we just couldn't be bothered to squeeze ourselves around one of the tables. But no matter, crowds or not, a stop by Den Grå Hal in Christiania in December is always worthwhile.

not everything that glitters is gold...


A tale of two Danish bands...both going precisely the wrong direction

This Danish band broke up a couple years ago, and many wondered if they'd lost their minds - and just what the real story was. And many are still waiting for them to figure out that they had a f*%king good thing going and should just get it back together. Really, they're bound to figure this out themselves one day.

Swan Lee live in concert...

This Danish band broke up a few years ago, and everyone (with at least an ounce of musical taste) breathed a sigh of relief. Then they recently announced they were getting back together. What the f*%k? Why? Why?

If you don't know who they are, don't worry. Ignorance really can be bliss.

Christmas comes to Sankt Hans Torv

In all my years living in Copenhagen, until today I never noticed there was a Christmas tree market set up at Sankt Hans Torv at this time of year. The main streets of Vesterbro may be a little more festively decorated for December than Nørrebro, but it's nice to see a small sign of Christmas in this part of town...

A late-night threesome on Vesterbrogade

Tucked around a little corner of Vesterbrogade, not far from Enghavevej, lies a troika of late-night temptresses that many a late-night reveller in Copenhagen has succumbed to on one occasion or another. If you've been there once for a late night rollick, you've probably been there twice. Perhaps it last occurred during the late hours of a festively glowing December night, as each of the evenings for the next three weeks will be, following one of those infamous schnapps-and-herring-fueled Danish Christmas lunches. Maybe it capped off one of those rare Copenhagen warm summer nights in July, as the sun was rising in the east. Or a frosty night in January as early-hour cyclists bravely laid tracks in the freshly-fallen snow sprinkled over the street as they peddled their way home. Or perhaps it was some other random evening, a mid-week drinking session which would otherwise have been forced to a premature ending at the hands of one in Vesterbro that was less willing - and certainly wouldn't have you after midnight.

In any event, what is certain is that whichever of these three ladies-of-the-night it was that caught your eye, it was surely the foggy distortion of a pair of thick beer-goggles that attracted you to one or the other. Their names are Ludvigsen, Hacken Busch, and the incomparable (and still-smoke filled) Mørkbar. Lying within eyeshot of each other on Vesterbrogade, they are shameless in their overtures at these late hours. But they are also deceitful, for in truth they are three thirsty vampires who under the moonlit sky of the night want nothing less than fresh blood. And as it happens plenty are willing to oblige them. Time and again. Punters lusting after one, two, three of four final late-night barley-wurlitzers (or worse) which they can and do willingly and shamelessly provide.

And so it was last night as I left the clutches of Mistress Hackenbusch (and a half-emptied shot of noxious black Små Grå) in the wee hours of the morning and headed home to the comforts of my soft bed that I found myself thinking about this unlikely yet powerful seductive pull that these three late-night Vesterbro temptresses possess, and wondering if it really had to be like this.

A Christmas beer worth sipping...

The other night while out for some drinks with friends, we happened upon a very worthwhile beer from Denmark, of all places. Needless to say, this one wasn't from Carlsberg or Tuborg. Actually, it's a seasonal one, the Christmas beer from Ørbæk, which happens to be called Santa C. appropriately enough. Now the one I tried was on tap, so it remains to be seen if the bottled version smacks the taste buds quite the same way (they don't always, after all). It wasn't a dark beer either, I should add, knowing this is a characteristic commonly associated with Christmas beers. Actually, it was rather refreshing...

What really won me over was when I came across the beer at none other than Netto, earlier today, and realised as I was examining the label that it was actually an organic beer (økologisk øl, if you prefer). The company chooses to keep the organic part rather subtle, just a small mention on the side label. So that's today's beer recommendation.

Oh, and as always gifts (um, how about BEER!!) are welcome from the Ørbæk Brewery for this unconditional product endorsement from The Copenhagen Report, sure to generate sales - contact via email for the mailing address.

Ranees f*#king tasty Thai food

Saturday night's Thai food experience took the prize. Ranees at Blågårdsplads in Nørrebro. If you're a fan of Thai food, write that name down. Then go there. Even while travelling in Thailand did I rarely manage to taste such deliciously picante Thai food. Naturally, being something of an amateur Phad Thai aficionado, I had to try Ranees take on that one. My dinner companions for the evening went for a couple of equally delicious curries. The Phad Thai was a plate of steaming fresh noodles, sprouts and spices along with five or six giant tiger shrimp, a pile of crush nuts and a wedge of lime - the last two items being necessary to even be considered as a serious Phad Thai. And indeed, it had just the right taste and texture on the tongue. I've previously raved about the deserving Phad Thai at Sweet Basil, but this one managed to top it. Not an easy feat, but it was the freshness of the ingredients that did it.

But the highlight of the night was actually the starter (pictured above, photo courtesy of aok.dk). Thankfully the waiter was not afraid to push us to order it (not that we were hard to convince...). Eight little bowls filled with nuts, dried shrimp, coconut flakes, fresh chili, ginger, onion and tiny chunks of chopped lime and a pile of leaves (I can't remember their name). It look strangely like nothing as it arrived, like some kind of 'inside' Thai joke being played on the unsuspecting. It was not. After taking a leaf and forming into a bowl-like shape, putting a bit of each ingredient inside, topping it off with a bit of the chutney-like sauce (if chutney was Thai...I know, I know, more detail would be nice but I'm not getting paid to write this, so I didn't figure out precisely what this sauce was) it's "ind i munden!", as our waiter helpfully explained ('into the mouth').


Snap, crackle, pop, that's a lot of flavour! An explosion of sweet, spicy, salty, and sour - especially spicy, be warned.

Don't be deceived by the ambiance at Ranees, which is admittedly basic (but something far more original than the typical Thai restaurant). Wooden tables, some nice pics and almost funky florescent lights on the walls. Yes, florescent lights. Because the food is so damn good, it really doesn't matter.

Ranees at Blågårdsplads. Go there. You won't be disappointed.

Could I give you a Bitchslap?

So out doing a bit of bar-hopping/bar-crawling or whatever you want to call it on Saturday, I ended up grabbing a magazine that caught my attention as I was ordering a beer at Jolene on Sorgenfrigade in Nørrebro (an intentionally kitsch funny kind of place - DJ and an acceptable selection of beer - which I was kind of thankful closed at midnight not because I'm getting old and wanted to go home (I didn't) but because it was a decent evening and an alright vibe but the night was kinda going nowhere and when Jolene's closed it obviously forced us to go someplace else and we otherwise may not have since it was kinda shitty weather outside and we were kinda comfortable sitting there on Jolene's couch).

Anyway, this morning when I woke up I found this magazine stuffed into my jacket pocket waiting for me so I got to flipping through it to be pleasantly surprised. There's not so many Copenhagen mags out there that are written in English, especially ones actually worth reading (actually, there are basically none that I know of...) which is kind of a shame not only for me (well, I can manage to read Danish with effort and patience and a dictionary) but because I think Copenhagen has a lot to offer but it's kinda hard to show all this stuff to the world even though a lot of it should be and it does get written about but there's often no English translation available. So that's why I grabbed this one. An edgy city mag that digs into the counterculture of Copenhagen is always welcome, especially written in English.

Bitchslap is it's name. It's chalk-full of pleasingly scruffy writing, pixel-perfect images complemented by top-notch design and production making it a juicy little piece of work and one quite aptly named. Amateur journalism often is the most invigorating to read when done right.

In the case of issue 7, which happens to be the issue that I got ahold of (they're all available at www.bitchslapmag.com), I'd go as far as saying one article about Simon Strange, the vice-cultural major of Copenhagen (who happens to be 26 and seems to get the essence of what punchy politics can do for a city) deserves an award in itself for worthwhile journalism. And besides offering a fascinating little profile of Simon, the article in itself is a nice little bitchslap to complainers who don't bother to actually get off the couch.

So call me a (new) fan and check it out yourself if you want to see a picture of Copenhagen that is bang on but that you'll never hear about in the tourist 'literature'...

So what now?

Social Democrat leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt graciously
concedes defeat on election night

So I feel there is a need for me to close the book on this election campaign before I move onto other topics (and get back to some regular posting). So it's four more years of Fogh in Denmark, after the various opposition parties failed (just) to crack the government's majority. The Ny Alliance secured themselves a position as an legitimate opposition party, but failed to obtain a position of influence, as they came so tantalisingly close to doing. So now they have a few years to demonstrate to the population that they are more than a mere protest party. It'll be an uphill battle with only 5 MP's elected, but it's more than they had before. And they sent a stong message by supporting Anders Fogh Rasmussen, but not giving any ground to Dansk Folkparti. Whether he deserved their support is another matter.

Anyway, if you believe in the prophesizing powers of The Economist, then Anders Fogh Rasmussen is hard at work chasing after one of the top posts in Brussels, perhaps as first holder of the permanent presidency of the European Council that is being created by the European Union reform treat. We'll see. There's no doubt that he's an ambitious guy, and the confines of Danish politics are, well, confines. Especially when you can't seem to shake those pesky nationalist-racists off your tail. Yes, the job of propping of the government has once again fallen on the shamefully populist Dansk Folkeparti.

A couple small surprises were the out-of-nowhere support for the leftwing Socialistisk Folkeparti, and the strong performance of Social Democrat leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt in every debate with Anders Fogh Rasmussen, where she stood her ground without conceding so much as a centimeter. Like her or not, she could be quite a force next election.

Anyway, I'm done talking about politics for a while. Time to get back to writing about other more day-to-day stuff.

So it's election time again in Denmark...hold your nose

So November 13 is the magic day - the culmination of what will be a whirlwind 20 days of flat out campaigning. There is a certain charm that is the election process in Denmark - I've been through a couple of them since living here. Within hours of an election call, the leaders of all the parties are assembled (even the minority parties with no seats in parliament) and debating the issues in front of the cameras for television.

Consider the mess in the U.S. where weeks are spent negotiating the rules of the debate, with each side trying to get the upper hand based upon their perceived strengths. Or in Canada where the few significant fringe parties (with no elected members of parliament) are endlessly pushing for the right to participate in any televised debates, and the mainstream parties are endlessly pushing for the right to exclude them.

No, in Denmark the whole process is characteristically quick and efficient, with the television station basically dictating the rules of the game - since no self-respecting leader would dare spurn the opportunity to join the live debates.

There is both a lot at stake in this election, or not much at all - depending upon where you sit and how you see things.

It seems that it would take an epic cock-up for the government to be unseated. Then again, when you've placed your bets on a racist party to prop up your government as an unofficial coalition partner (as this government has for the past 6 years in office), well, frankly all bets for the future are off.

It breaks down like this: the average Dane is loath to admit that a vote for either Venstre or Konservative, the 2 governing parties, is tantamount to jumping into bed with a bunch of racists. But it is.

Still, it's a sweet deal if you can stomach the racist stench. The government has done a commendable job keeping the economy purring over the past 6 years - by most accounts there is a overall shortage of qualified staff in Denmark, meaning companies are scrambling to find the employees the need to fill vacant positions. Which means Joe Average in Denmark has it pretty good, in spite of the high taxes (which the government has managed to slightly reduce, it should also be noted).

Unfortunately, on the human scale, this government is an embarrassment.

The act of virtually cutting off the flow of Iraqi refugees to Denmark over the past years, through neat little legalistic tricks that make it virtually impossible for such refugees to gain asylum here, while simultaneously Maersk, the largest Danish company, rakes in literally billions thanks to it's involvement in the war in Iraq (along with the recent presence of Danish troops in Iraq), is simply repugnant beyond what words can possibly express.

It took a study showing the children of those refugees who have made it into the country, only to become ensnared in the prison-like holding tank Sandholm (where they are left to languish while their claims lay in limbo often for years at a time), have an unfortunate tendency to develop mental problems during the tediously long asylum process, to finally high-voltage electric cattle prod the government into allowing these families to relocate away from this squalid place while their claims are decided. Of course, they still won't be permitted to work, lest they actually start contributing measurably to society.

And who really wants to talk about welfare (as the Social Demoncrats, the primary opposition party seem to want to), when everything else is rolling along in such a swell manner, pesky refugees and distinctly zenophobic immigration policies aside?

So we probably haven't seen the back of Anders Fogh Rasmussen just yet. But let's see what happens. You've been warned.

K.I.S.S. my ass

Intent on subjecting myself to another few weeks of pain and torment integrating myself better into Danish society, I recently signed on for another round of Danish classes. A combination of extended out-of-country traveling and the demands of a new job mean two years have passed since the last time I sat myself down at least twice a week to agonizingly memorize the 15 sentences of Danish (among other things) required by K.I.S.S (Copenhagen's Intensive Language School) for each class. Actually, I enjoy learning Danish, but I'm not a natural at languages, so it's a lot of work and very time consuming - and provides a fair amount of amusement for others, though not myself, as I stumble and stutter to form meaningful sentences. And that's not to mention the cost, call it a tax for living in a foreign country, on my social life as I dedicate some 15 hours of class and study time in the evenings each week. It's a lot.

But, an unwanted reprieve was at hand, just in the nick of time.

Much to my dismay my language school of choice, KISS, a private language school that receives the bulk of it's funding from the local Copenhagen government (who pay for most of the students, myself included), has effectively been forced into bankruptcy this past week by the overzealous lot at Copenhagen Kommune. It's the consequence of a simmering dispute, over some 4.5 million kroner (600,000 Euro) that the local government claims K.I.S.S. owes, that has now boiled over.

The escalation of the dispute began in July when funding to K.I.S.S. was cut off quite suddenly by the local government. Unsurprisingly, K.I.S.S. disputes the amount it is claimed it owes.

The story goes, very loosely, like this:

K.I.S.S. was receiving some 8,000 kroner per student enrolled from the Copenhagen Kommune, and the Kommune in turn received 18,000 per student from the national government to pay K.I.S.S. - got it? So quite a profit was being made by the local kommune. But K.I.S.S. claimed it couldn't balance the books while being paid this amount of only 8,000 kroner. Furthermore, a change in legislation meant the local government could no longer pocket the difference - the 10,000 kroner profit it made on each K.I.S.S. student. It should be noted that the local government runs it's own language schools - language schools that are not nearly as highly rated as K.I.S.S. in terms of the performance of their students, but for which the municipality receives 18,000 per student (significantly more than the 8,000 kroner K.I.S.S. receives). Hence why I, and many other, opt for K.I.S.S..

After a lengthy fight, the amount paid to K.I.S.S. was increased to 10,000 kroner per student, and K.I.S.S. was able to balance the books, at long last. Shortly thereafter came the letter informing K.I.S.S. it was time to pay all the money back that it owed, apparently from the times when it couldn't balance the books. That amount, claims the municipality, is some 4.5 million kroner.

There's obviously plenty of politics at work here, perhaps from both sides. There is surely a way to find a way to resolve this dispute - without closing the school.

Of course, out of all of this it's the students, such as myself, who suffer.

The K.I.S.S. method of teaching is absolutely unique (and Steen Christiansen, the head of the school, owns the copyright). I can attest first hand that it works (I made it to level 5 of 11). It's tough, much like being in the military (I imagine), but effective. If you can't keep up, you are booted out. That is, you are obliged to continue repeating each level until you pass. I've done that too.

I'm not sure how this will end, but I can tell you this much: my stated ambitions for my stay in Denmark of 'becoming Prime Minister' (well, you see, that was what I told my 'Danish Integration Officer' while answering one of at series of irrelevant questions I was obliged to answer during the recent 'integration to Denmark' interview that I was obliged to attend - I had to tell him something!), if not derailed, have certainly been delayed. But I'm a patient guy.

We'll see how this unfolds, this story is not over. I'll keep you updated.

Or check out http://www.kisscontinue.dk/ for the latest updates.

Christiania...in perspective

An amusing article about Christiania (and it's much discussed pending, or possibly pending, demise) appeared in the Comment is Free section of The Guardian the other day ('Farewell to Freetown'). Check it out if you have a few minutes.

Even if containing a few basically minor factual inaccuracies, it's a pretty solid and original analysis. It's always nice to get a bird's eye perpective on issues so close to home and see them cast in a different light.

I liked her suggestion that as a consequence of Danish society, being so relatively homogenous and universal in it's approach to "housing, education, homewares and even clothes" that
"the flesh itself is the only remaining beacon of individuality". Hence, the popularity of tattoos (and interesting hair styles) here.

I think it's true - I'm pretty sure the per capita average of people with tattoos in Denmark is one of the highest in the world, though I can't prove it.

When this 'universal approach' is combined with the values of efficiency and casualness, so prized in Denmark, you end up with a sort of explanation for Christiania's existence as the casual side of efficient Copenhagen - but with otherwise shared values. Meaning, in truth the two aren't so far apart.

"Put simply, the Christiania/Copenhagen divide is no more than a geographical illustration of the tattoo principle. In this binary world, Copenhagen is clean-cut, civil, stylish, cool. Christiania is scruffy, loose, warm, old school. Both pride themselves on being tolerant, community-focused and environmentally friendly. Their residences, which seem the antithesis of one another, are in reality living out the same essential principles."

And also I like her simplified analysis of Christiania as a a "microcosmic study of social evolution" - how Christiania's self-government emerged out of the necessity to provide the basics that such an open society, as perhaps originally envisioned, couldn't, regardless of whatever romantic spin is put on the way Christiania's society is structured.

"The process by which an internal government developed to regulate the freedom shows how residents were forced to compromise their anything-goes approach in the same way that all communities first find their laws. It was an organic occurrence, fuelled partly by the necessity of presenting a united front to the larger city, and partly by the effects of the drug trade. The liberated town required rules on how it would stay liberated, and though still relying heavily on the goodwill of its citizens to create welfare and respect property rights, a ruling council was made responsible for creating schools and daycare centres to service the generation born within their borders."

Still, it sucks to see that dusk is likely starting to fall on Christiania, even if it will be quite some time yet before darkness sets in, once and for all.

A problem of integration (and a modest proposal*)

By: Tim Anderson (timothyanderson2005@gmail.com)

With the threat of a possible election hanging over the country, and not-quite-but-essentially-election style posters appearing on billboards around the city, I decided it was time to come clean and acknowledge that here in Denmark, there is a problem of integration that must be politically dealt with.

In countless Danish political and non-political circles, it has been pointed out over and over again in recent years that there is a small problem of integration in Denmark. At this point that one could be forgiven for believing that what they were hearing was in fact an old vinyl record skipping skipping skipping.

But here’s the reality: there is a certain much-discussed minority group that has begun to establish themselves in this country, yet try as society does this minority group continues to have grievous problems adapting to the culture that surrounds them here – on the streets, in the schools, in the bars and cafes - and even behind closed doors in the privacy of home.

And this it is often said - and frankly I must agree - is a real problem. Because it causes, how shall we say it, a certain disease that is very uncomfortable. It’s very disturbing to have to co-exist with. It’s a bit like desperately yet futilely trying to get oil and vinegar to mix – try as you do, shake shake shake, inevitably after a short period of time it’s right back to the same situation – the oil incapable of integrating itself in any meaningful way with the vinegar. The two remain visibly apart. And that sucks.

So I’ll come out and say it openly: how exactly can we get this small minority, the Dansk Folkeparti and its supporters, to integrate into Danish society? How exactly does one to get this minority group that so stubbornly refuses to see the obvious, to understand that the way they insist on leading their lives and how they insist others should lead theirs, the things they believe in, and the viewpoints they espouse have little, if anything, to do with the values of Danish society?

In fact, I must admit that I sometimes fear that one day this minority may even insist upon covering their faces on the streets in order to shield themselves from the obvious reality that surrounds them, that they nonetheless so fundamentally disagree with. And if they ever did do that, it would surely make an already sticky situation even stickier.

So this is a call to action: I say we need to force these Dansk Folkeparti people to integrate into Danish society!

I suggest to begin with, we move them to the housing centers that already exist for this purpose - for integrating those refugees who are new to Denmark and have never previously been exposed to Danish culture.

Why not start with the center located, rather uselessly, about 15 kilometers outside of Roskilde quite in the countryside, just on the other side of a forest? Maybe being apart from Danish society in this manner will finally allow these stubborn individuals to see the error of their ways and at last adopt the values that will allow them to gracefully fit into this great country.

Of course, I acknowledge that it may not work. I mean, consider the flexibility and ingenuity these refugees have shown in getting themselves from these distant lands where they were born to the far shores of Denmark. It’s a degree of strength and character that the Dansk Folkeparti and its supporters have never demonstrated they possess. Still, it’s worth a shot, no?

If nobody will stand up and say it loudly and proudly, the perpetual problem of integrating these outsiders into Denmark will remain unsolved. Because if nobody will deal with it, a real risk exists that the consequences may slowly tear this wonderful Danish society apart. Which is precisely why we must now be ceaselessly vigilant in our efforts.

*A special thanks to very deceased Jonathon Swift for inspiring this part of the title. My proposal is, of course, far more modest than his more famous one.

The sound of real Istedgade fun...

Mofo Steel at Boutique Lize

Copenhagen has an astounding capacity to genuinely surprise. This is perhaps the biggest strength of the city. Then again, there are quite a few strengths of the place, which I've mentioned in a few articles on this blog in the past.

So wandering along Istedgade last night turned out to be a good choice - in fact, it was something of an instinctive feeling, an intuition you could say, that lead us there. I could
almost a little voice in my head at the beginning of the night saying 'even though it's Wednesday night and there's always some interesting music at Cafe Tjili Pop on Wednesday, skip it and go out in Vesterbro tonight instead!'.

I don't know what went on at Tjili Pop, but Vesterbro indeed proved quite a more than worthwhile diversion on an otherwise quiet Wednesday night.

The evening began in Boutique Lize (okay, actually it began with a drink at Darling across the street, but it reeeealy began at Boutique Lize). There we discovered, much to our surprise, that a band was playing. This was the first time I'd actually seen a band playing there. In my mind, the place is only a cocktail bar, but apparently they are trying to branch out a bit.

The band very quickly caught our ears - it was a Danish one that we'd never heard of called
Mofo Steel.

And what a band they were - 5 fantastic musicians, clearly with a wide range of influences, and a style that would be impossible to pin down to anything other then fantastic songwriting. I can only hope that they keep at it - they're the kind of band you want to see go far - it would otherwise be such a tremendous waste of potential. A extremely tight and immensely talented ensemble from the keyboards (often on the wonderful Hammond organ setting), through the bass player, guitarist, drummer and lead singer.

Their next gig, we found out, is at Loppen in Christiania on Sept. 27 if you're curious. I'm certainly considering checking that one out after what I heard last night. If I was from a record label and had stumbled into last nights show at Boutique Lize unaware, I would have been crapping my pants in excitement at the prospect of the discovery.

But the night was not over.

Following the show, we were wandering along Istedgade discussing where to go next (it was still not even 11) when we heard plenty of noise coming from a little clothing shop called 'Dig' (a shop that I had never noticed before) and people spilling out the door onto the sidewalk. As we discussed whether or not to check it out (of course sheer curiousity would compel us to) I noticed that none other than the suddenly famous (in Denmark) Trentemøller was behind the decks in this tiny place. We wandered in, handed over 20 kroner for a couple glasses of punch (the only drink being served), and proceeded to dance along to frantically energetic Trentemøller DJ-set (accompanied on the decks by another female friend whose name I never found out) for the next 90 minutes. You really can't ask for anything more fantastically spontaneous then that.

Two surprises in one evening - and both within 100 meters of each other. Now that's Copenhagen at it's best.

the sight and sounds of an unexpected street-level party on Istedgade...

the man of the hour - Mr. Trentemøller

Denmark..looking down from above

Early this morning I had the rare opportunity to float over a little part of Denmark from a big red hot air balloon. A memorable experience indeed, from the first blast of the hot air burners that lifted the huge balloon off the ground, to the deers running away as the balloon passed above them, and the dogs barking as they sensed us approaching in the distance and the waving school children who were probably almost as excited about what they were seeing as we onboard were looking out over the land below that stretched as far as our eyes could see. And of course the landing which ended with the basket tipped sideways, as is normal when there is anything more than very light winds.

The flight passed directly over the thriving Danish metropolis of Ringsted (population 30,850) before eventually landing in a farmer's field some kilometers on the other side. But I'll just let the pictures do the talking.

...the hot air burners begin to lift the balloon off the ground

...your truly dwarfed by the 21 by 2o meter balloon


...scaring the deers

...windmills, windmills and more windmills on the horizon of the
Danish countryside


...'I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill
and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain,
and the crooked places will be made straight'...I think he visited Denmark!

...today, the dream of identical houses is alive...in Ringsted.

...the place, it turns out, where apparently trampolines are seeing a resurgence

...excited school children watching us float over town

...but what a view!!

Sights you unfortunately won't see in Denmark - but should!

the EU flag aflutter in the breeze...but not in Denmark

One thing that has always annoyed me is the Danish governments insistence on minimalising - which is to say entirely avoiding - flying the European flag on any official government buildings in the country. Anywhere. Pretty much every other European country happily flies the blue EU flag, alongside their own, in front of most government buildings - which is surely the way it should be.

It's a shame this doesn't happen in Denmark though. After all, Denmark has a lot to offer Europe, particularly the new members - the less developed countries.

And it's not like there is any risk that flying a few EU flags will ever overshadow the Dannebro, Denmark's own flag. After all, this is a country where families wrap garlands of Danish flags around the Christmas tree each year (thank goodness the Americans haven't caught on to that idea...), and on birthdays Danish flags are flown in front of homes, or little Danish flags decorate the table and the birthday cake, and the garden (or surround the 'birthday group' if they choose a park as the setting for a birthday gathering - which is a frequent sight in the warmer months).

But maybe this will change one day and EU flags will appear in Denmark...

Notable spots to grab a cup of java in Copenhagen...

...'Verdens Mindste Kaffebar' ('The World's Smallest Coffee Bar)

Copenhagen is at its best when it is at its quirkiest. And there are few quirkier establishments then 'Verdens Mindste Kaffebar' - 'The World's Smallest Coffee Bar'. Located on the little known street in Vesterbro called Tullinsgade (which runs of the more well-known streets, Vaernedamsvej). There's room for about 2 people inside (or 4 squeezed).

Drop by if you need a shot of caffeine. Or on a nice day, if you're in the mood for a game of table tennis - on a miniature table, naturally.

Bicycles here, there and everywhere...

As anybody who lives in Denmark, or has visited the country well knows, there are few places more bicycle friendly than Denmark. Not surprisingly, cycling is the primary means of transportation for a huge number of people in the country - particularly in Copenhagen.

But it's not just Copenhagen.

This past weekend I was out in the countryside, about 45 minutes north of Copenhagen - I'd brought along my bicycle on the train so I would have a means to get to where I was going once I reached the closest train station. I was amazed at what I found. Not only was there a sizable bicycle path taking me directly to my destination from the train station (this was not the surprising part), as I cycled towards my destination I couldn't believe my eyes when I came to a 'roundabout' in the middle of the cycle path, where the path intersected another. It was a 'roundabout' constructed entirely for bicycles!

A little visit to Eastern Europe in 1983...I mean, to a Copenhagen supermarket in 2007

...the inspiring fruit and vegetable section at Fakta, one fine morning quite recently

Imagine you are the manager of a grocery store. What, might you think, would be the single most fundamental aspect of your job?


Yes, you might say hiring staff and making sure there are enough people are filling all the necessary positions so the store will run smoothly, or something along those lines. Not a bad answer.

However, not quite right, I would suggest. Rather, after countless visits to various grocery stores in Copenhagen over the years, it struck me that there is something even more fundamental - making sure that the shelves are stocked with food. You know, so the customers actually have something to buy (and preferably what they actually came into the shop looking for!).

However, in Denmark there are many grocery store managers who just don't see things this way. And in truth, I have no idea how grocery store managers are assessed, but at this point I'm pretty certain that the ability to keep the shelves stocked with food from morning to night is definitely
not one of them.

Because oh so often there just seems to be rather a lack of it. Two things are probably occurring to you at this point.

Firstly, you are likey thinking it seems odd, even improbable that this could be the case, since selling food is, well,
basically their entire business. And in the case of places like Netto and Fakta, two discount supermarket chains in Denmark, that task is actually even easier since they offer a pretty damn limited product range - at least relative to 'normal' Danish supermarkets (who also aren't exactly superstars when it comes to keeping the basics stocked).

Secondly, you are also probably saying to yourself, 'then why shop at these place -
just go somewhere else!' And this would be a good point!! Well, except for one little problem. See, in some parts of Copenhagen (and elsewhere around Denmark, for that matter) they really are the most convenient places to get to, meaning it's not always so easy to just 'pop' over to another store.

Worse still, when you have a short time until the shops close (way to early, if you ask me) at 8 each night (and the even more annoying 5 PM on Saturday) sometimes you just have to run to the closest shop to make it. When the closest shop turns out to be a half-empty supermarket, it can be rather fucking annoying. And these discount grocery stores are pretty much the only grocery stores open most Sundays of the year.

Yes, apparently it is a challenging job managing a grocery store in Denmark. So for now all I can do is roll with it...and not to get too frustrated when it takes visiting a couple stores on the way home from work just to find a carton of milk or head of broccoli...

Below: a typical end-of-day picture at Netto or Fakta - they often look about the same for the first couple hours in the morning as well (since they often don't bother to stock the shelves until after the stores have opened).

and I'll just grab some milk and eggs from the fridge...oh well, never mind

Swimming in Copenhagen...and Blue Flags on beaches around the world

A Blue flag of the Danish Outdoor Council in at Kamares, Sifnos in Greece

After spending the last 2 weeks in Greece, I figured it was as good a time as any to write a little article about clean water and swimming.

You've perhaps noticed Blue Flags on beaches, both around Denmark and elsewhere around Europe and the rest of the world. During a trip to Greece this summer, I was surprised to discover that the organisation that runs this Blue Flag Program is actually a Danish organisation based in Copenhagen - The Foundation of Environmental Education (FEE), or 'Danish Outdoor Council' (seems they are a bit confused themselves about just what name they would like to be referred to as...)

An unlikely sign to find on a sunny Greek island...

Surprise, surprise. Denmark is light years ahead of pretty much any other (non-Scandinavian) country when it comes to environmental issues. It's not coincidence that cars in Denmark cost about 3 times what they cost everywhere else thanks to the incredibly high taxes they are subject to and cycle lanes exist on pretty much every street found in Copenhagen and in cities elsewhere around the entire country (not to mention countless cycle paths connecting cities and towns).

There are beaches and marinas in 40 counties around the world participating in the Blue Flag program, at this point.

To digress away from blue flags, Copenhagen is one of the few major cities out there, at least at present, where it possible to swim in the channel the cuts through it. In most European cities (as is of course generally the case elsewhere as well), if there is a major river or channel or other body of water running through them (or nearby), you can be all but certain it's too polluted to swim in. The list of such places is long - the Thames in London, the Seine in Paris, and so on. But swimming in Copenhagen is no problem.

The authorities in Copenhagen had the grand revelation a few years ago that if the channel cutting through Copenhagen was clean enough, people might actually enjoy swimming in it. Who would have imagined that people might actually like to swim when it's hot and sunny out? It's kind of embarrassing that the authorities in other cities haven't come to a similar conclusion. Perhaps one day, someday, they'll also get it...

It all began about 6 years ago now, following a lengthy series of clean-up efforts that improved the water in the channel, with the addition of a handful of swimming areas (havnebåd) in the Copenhagen channel, and since then the dynamics of life along the channel - particularly at islands brygge - have changed dramatically.

...the swimming area at Islands Brygge

People lounge on the grass in huge numbers, a number of new cafes have opened up, and on a hot spring or summer day (or even a warm one) the area swarms with life. In short, it's a fantastic place to be. A second swimming area is found on the other side of Fisketorv, the large and ugly shopping mall on the other side of the channel from Islands Brygge, and now connected by a pedestrian bridge.

It's pretty rare to find natural salt-water public swimming areas in the middle of a major city - in fact I can't think of another city where you find such a thing. If only there were more hot and sunny days in Denmark to actually use them.

...lounging on the grass at Islands Brygge

Yes, Cafe Tjili Pop...

Cafe Tjili Pop (Ranzenzgade 28 in Nørrebro) is one of those place just off the radar that shouldn't be though it's probably a good thing that it is. It's located in a rather unlikely location, one not known for it's cafe's and nightlife. As a friend of mine remarked as we wandered in on Wednesday evening, "I hadn't even considered that there could be an interesting place in this part of town". Indeed, there very much is.

Actually,, its not an entirely fair charge to make against the area - given that it's within walking distance or a very short bike ride from the central part of Nørrebro (Blågårdsgade and Sankt Hans Torv), an area very well known for its numerous cafes.

I must confess it's been at least a couple years, perhaps even longer, since I've dropped by. That is going to change. Finding these sorts of independent places with a kind of underground feel is both a worthwhile and a challenging pursuit. Frankly, there isn't a whole lot of them in Copenhagen - but there are a few around.

If you're going to check the place out, I suggest dropping by on Wednesday when it's singer/songwriter night, or on Friday or Saturday when the place is open late. Of course, with a decent selection of beers, really any evening will do just fine. Just tuck yourself into one of the cozy corners, be open to chatting with others - there isn't a load of space - and enjoy.

Or check out the review over at Something Rotten - apparently I'm not the only one who things it's worthwhile.

Made in China - at Louisiana

Big, golden, kitsch and fake - the perfect welcome to a contemporary China exhibition.

Having lived for a little over a year in China, in Shanghai from late 2005 to late 2006, I was more then a little keen to check out the Made in China exhibition at the always fantastic Louisiania
to see how it stood alongside my memories of the place.

If you want to know more about this experience, check out
For more on the experience of living in China, take a look at The Shanghai Shakedown, my Shanghai (and elsewhere around China) blog from last year. If you want my take on the political situation in China, always a popular issue, you could read this article about Democracy in China.

In my view, Denmark and China are actually an amusing study in contrasts, as the aspects of business and industry that drive Danish society - design, organisation, trustworthiness and innovation - are the sort of buzzwords that I would
never ever ever use to describe China. Which means Danish companies have skill very useful to Chinese ones (and indeed plenty of them in Denmark are realising this and taking advantage of it).

To the images.

Here we have one of the classic images of China - the Yellow Mountains located near Huanshan, found on many a cheap Chinese restaurant wall the world over...and an image certainly mercifully not found anywhere in Louisiana's Made in China exhibition.

This one below was, however. Yes, look closely and you will realise that these indeed are real live (hairy) photographed asses from China...and, of course, not the Yellow Mountains.

Shanghai in a suitcase I found rather amusing and clever - from the Jin Mao tower to the Hangpu River and the Pearl Tower. Of course, even contemporary art can't keep pace with the frantic pace of change in China - the new Shanghai World Financial Centre, which has now surpassed the Jin Mao tower as the tallest building in Shanghai (and one of the tallest buildings in the world) does not appear.

Below - the symbol for 'demolision' - found on many a soon to be demolished areas around Beijing, Shanghai and countless other cities around China.

This pooch probably ate some of that Chinese dog food full of grade F meat...

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