Editor's Note:

No time for an article today, but many more are on the way (beginning next week).

In the meantime, check out www.shortcutblog.eu, an excellent blog covering cities around Europe. I'll be writing an occasional article from Copenhagen for Shortcut, the first one Copenhagen: a European Paradise is now up.


The joys of winter in Copenhagen: Skating at Kongens Nytorv (especially when there's snow)

the ice rink at Kongens Nytorv - overlooked in the background by
Det Kongelige Teatre (The Royal Threater) and Magasin (a big
department store, on the right)

After warm temperatures for the past 2 months, for a brief moment there, we had a little bit of (true) winter in Copenhagen. It started early last week with a light frosting of snow which stayed on the ground thanks to cool temperatures throughout the week.

But the real fun was waking up on Saturday morning and finding a good 10-15 cm of snow had fallen during the night. It's even nicer when these days line right up with the weekend.

That gave us a few hours on Saturday to get down to Kongens Nytorv in the center of town, rent some skates (the ones I own are unfortunately in a box in the basement at my parents house in Canada - an issue anyone who has adopted a second country as home is likely familiar with) and enjoy a couple hours of skating (too bad the snow was gone Sunday - even if the ice rink at Kongens Nytorv will remain for at least another month).

Now, the rink at Kongens Nytorv is a pretty fair sized circular track, not a bad size for something in the middle of the city. Sure it pales in comparison to such ice rinks I have experienced in the past - for example, when I lived in Ottawa in Canada many, many years ago now. The 8 kilometer long frozen canal running right through the center of the Ottawa, maintained as one long skating rink for 2-3 months every winter, is pure joy to skate on - and it was practically in my back yard (well, down the street, at least). I remember was even skating home from a job interview once...

Anyway, this is Copenhagen, and it is the best outdoor rink that I've come across anywhere in Europe. So that is saying something.

And I don't think I could come up with a better theme for pictures showing a bit about life in Copenhagen at its best during the winter months...

lining up to rent 'em...

'oops!!' ...incidently, that's the French embassy (flying the flag)
in the background)

An edited version of this article can be found on Shortcut - A European City Blog. Wanna see it? Click here: Copenhagen: Get your skates on.

The sound of the popping bubble: A bit about psychology and Copenhagen's housing market

by Tim Anderson (timothyanderson2005@gmail.com)

anybody selling...

Money is always an exciting thing to have dangled in front of you. Especially if, like me, you don't really have much of it. If you're buying or selling a property in Copenhagen (or elsewhere), this may help you make a bit more money and a bit faster, or maybe spend a bit less.

When a bubble pops, it's gone. Something to take to heart when the bubble in question happens to encompass a lot of cold hard cash. I'm talking about the billions of kroner in value that has been sheered off of the (supposed) value of houses and apartments across Copenhagen over the past few months. The housing market in Copenhagen, you see, has turned.

To be clear about my view on things, it is highly unlikely one will lose money in the long term in housing in any major city, especially Copenhagen - perennial destination of choice in Denmark. However, in the short term, this may not be the case. Then it's more about
psychology and knowing when to make the right deal.

Psychology plays a surprisingly big role in things.

Buying and selling an apartment is ultimately a matter of deal making. Good dealmakers know how to harness (and overcome) the forces of psychology. That means leaving as much emotion aside as possible (or turning it to your advantage), taking a somber look at the prevailing tide, grasping just where things are heading, and tempering actions appropriately. Of course, emotions matter, you just can't let them run wild - especially if your view is a short term one. This is, of course, not exactly easy when the issue in question is a home.

So we have the case of the Copenhagen apartment buyer (of course, this story applies all over the western world).

About a year and a half ago, I discussed Copenhagen's complicated housing situation in an article (Closing Time In Copenhagen (Part 2): The Housing Situation). Among other things, I noted that housing prices had been rising at a wildly unsustainable rate (a rate that was well above what official statistics suggested).

For at least 18 month (up until mid-2005), the average apartment in Copenhagen had been rising at around 20,000 kroner (2000 euro) per month. In fact, this had been the case for several years, however the zenith was this final 18-month period.

To give some perspective on that number, this amount is a little above the average after tax monthly salary in Copenhagen. In other words, you could make the same amount on your house each month as you could by going to work. You don't need to know anything about interest rates and so forth to realise that this was just not a sustainable situation.

Ah, but how times change.

A brief digression. A few years ago, I had an unlikely job selling private jets (really), and here I learned a lot about buyer and seller behaviour and long-term market trends and patterns. Some day I hope to actually use this knowledge to make some money for myself, for now I can only share it. The private jet market mirrors the economy as a whole, and it also mirrors the typical behaviour of the housing market.

When prices rise, they do so for a number of years. And as they rise, the number of properties for sale drops. At the peak of the market, there are very few properties for sale. So a good way to get an idea of where the market is at, is to look at a long term chart showing the number of properties for sale (each month).

Then the market turns (though few realise it until months after it has happened). When the number of houses for sales begins to rise consistently, the market has already turned, even though few will realise it at this point - of course there can be a few false turns before the real one.

When the market turns, it's not simply a matter of dropping your asking price to match the market. It's more a matter of praying somebody falls in love with your place. You see, inevitably at this point, there are NO BUYERS (or at least
far less buyers than there are sellers). So it also helps to have a long term chart showing a rough figure for the monthly number of apartments sold, as well. When it starts dropping consistently, that is the other indication that the market has turned.

A drop in monthly house sales is exactly what is happening in Copenhagen right now. A recent article in The Copenhagen Post noted that housing sales in Copenhagen decreased by 40% in 2006. FORTY PERCENT! That's a lot of panicking real estate agents, you can be sure, and a lot of sellers wondering why it's taking so long to get their place sold.

Why are there suddenly so few buyers?

Good question. You see, previously people just bought a new property, knowing that with prices rising and lots of buyers, it would be no problem to sell their old one later.
With a shortage of buyers and prices dropping, people suddenly find themselves stuck with second properties they are trying to sell for a lot longer then they want to have them, and as more and more people begin waiting to sell before they buy (because they can see the market is dropping), the situation is compounded. That they are waiting to sell before buying is indeed a big change, hence (the often rather sudden) lack of buyers in the market.

A friend who is an estate agent in Copenhagen, and whom I have spoken to over the years about the real estate market in Copenhagen, confirmed that currently around
50% of apartment sellers in Copenhagen already own a second property. That's a lot. It happens when people get caught as the market turns.

Typically, these sellers make a second big mistake. Shortly after putting their property for sale, they may receive one or two serious offers from buyers, but at a much lower price then they expected to sell for. Inevitably, they reject these, not realising these will be the last offers they will be receiving for quite some time. It's an avoidable situation, but the best response to it requires a significant mindset shift - a psychological issue - and of course knowing what signs to look for in order to know that the market is indeed turning. Hence why getting ahold of an up to date chart showing the number of properties for sale over a few year period (in your region) can tell you a lot - both as a buyer or seller.

Those who are clever in this way and can see the trends, may be able to overcome their belief in what they thought their property was worth and make a timely deal (that may have nonetheless gone against the prevailing wisdom - since this is almost always lagging behind the actual market situation during these turning points).

If a seller made less than they first anticipated in this situation, they still have made an excellent deal. Several months later, those who declined these low offers would typically be thrilled to receive such an offer again. But it's too late.

In a downmarket, regardless of the price sellers are willing to sell for, the few buyers out there are only interested in the most desirable properties (location, location, location). If you have one of those, with an appropriate drop in price, it may get sold reasonably quickly. For those selling less desirable properties (ones that could nonetheless be sold easily, before the market turned) are typically out of luck and often end up sitting on them for months and months longer then they planned.

The Association of Danish Mortgage Banks, last week released figures claiming a 0.8 percent decline in housing prices in the Copenhagen area in the last quarter of 2006. That's not much. However, this doesn't tell the whole story.

Speaking again to my friend who sells real estate in Copenhagen, he noted that at present, sellers in Copenhagen are typically selling their apartments for at least 25% below the
asking price. Given that until very recently sellers could expect to be able to sell their apartment or house for basically the asking price, the significant psychological shift necessary for a seller to accept this new situation is not necessarily an easy one to swallow. Not to mention the amount of money they thought they were going to get, but aren't.

The final mistaken assumption: the market will be turning around again soon, and once it does things will be back to 'normal'.

Wrong again. When the market turns, there is still a huge glut of unsold houses for sale. So it will take quite some time for the market to level out again. It takes a couple years for the average seller to feel any significant change once the market turns because
asking prices will have fallen so dramatically over this time (even if selling prices, though lower now as well, are slowly recovering). The asking price is still typically closer to the amount they imagined they might get when the market turns, but most likely won't. Psychologically it's still a blow to end up with a lot less money than you expected.

The end result is sellers will have to accept a sales price much lower than their original expectations, long after the market has turned around. So in Copenhagen, buyers will remain in a much better position then they have been in the past several years for quite some time to come.

And that is why once a bubble pops, as it has in Copenhagen housing market, it really is gone.

At the heart of Vesterbro

by Tim Anderson (timothyanderson2005@gmail.com)

At the moment, Vesterbro, the area of Copenhagen in which I live with my girlfriend, happens to be my favourite area of the city. Biased, perhaps? Sure, I’ve lived in this part of town for 4 of the 5½ years I’ve been in Copenhagen. Obviously I like it. That said, I have lived in other parts of Copenhagen long enough to gain an ‘outsider’ perspective on Vesterbro. There are also other areas of Copenhagen that I quite like too.

While in recent history Vesterbro was always the workers quarters, now what was once the old worker's club building (designed by the Danish architech Vilhelm Lauritzen back in the 50’s and used by the labour movement for various events for many years) is now (arbuably) one of Copenhagen’s cooler nightclubs, Vega. Which is pretty much where the rest of Vesterbro is at, in relation to decades past.

There are two main veins running through Vesterbro – Istedgade and Vesterbrogade - streets running almost parallel to each other. A third parallel vein, Gamle Kongvej, is just one step outside of Vesterbro (in Frederiksberg). Historically, these three veins are very much social progression of each other, as much of a geographic one - they are a little less so today. They tell quite a bit about Copenhagen’s modern history.

While Gamle Kongvej begins near to the bottom of ‘the lakes’ – a series of 3 man-made bodies of water connecting the east and west of the city – then runs into the heart of old Frederiksberg (home to many of the weathier families of yesterday), Vesterbrogade and Istedgade are quite the opposite – at least historically. I have lived on both of these two. It Copenhagen terms, these are noisy streets that are full of life - day and night. It is Istedgade that is the more famous – widely known thanks to its seedy reputation not only around Copenhagen, but the whole of Denmark, though Vesterbrogade is probably noisier (at least in certain parts).

Istedgade is not a bad place to start if you are a newcomer to the city, though admittedly it will give you a rather skewed perspective of Copenhagen. The first part of Istedgade, the part that lies close to the central train station, the part of the street from which much of Istedgade's reputation stems, is hardly indicative of the rest of the street (nor the rest of Vesterbro).

By in large, the apartments constructed in the Vesterbro over the last decades (and centuries) directly reflect the history of the area – they are workers apartments. My own apartment is a typcial example – a very small 40 sq metre, 2 room apartment in an older building. So frustratingly typical it is, that to this day the shower remains in the basement – shared by all in the building.

Few apartments in Copenhagen were fitted with proper plumbing at the time of their construction (decades ago) and somewhat surprisingly for a city so supposedly modern and proud of it’s design traditions as Copenhagen, quite a number have yet to be fully ‘modernised’ so as to accommodate a shower inside the apartment

Then there are Vesterbro's side streets, filled with the unexpected - given that what one expects to find there is basically flats, flats and more flats. There are these, but there is much more.

Take Oehlenslægersgade. Disguised as another residential street, in fact it is home to a number of design shops, a specialty beer store, a handful of galleries, one of Vesterbro cooler bars, and a tasty take-away chicken joint (not too mention a horribly seedy bodega).

Saxogade is another case in point. Made famous by the 1968 children's TV show 'Sonja fra Saxegade' that most Danes have heard of, if not seen, it's another street with its interesting points. Part immigrant ghetto, but also home to a handful of less obvious restaurants, shops and cafe's.

In fact, there is a surprising amount of tucked away randomness hidden down Vesterbro's sidestreets - some of it well known, restaurants such as Cofoco, while much remains largely unknown and undiscovered to but a few.

The upcoming series short series of (sometimes lengthy) articles, starting with a five part series exposing the many faces of Istedgade, are going to explore Vesterbro in some detail. The first one is: A stroll down Istegade (Part 1)

Live from Copenhagen: The Winter

What is that just outside the window...SNOW!! Excellent, Love it!!!
(no, it surely won't last for long...)

Editor's Note:

I've just added a nice new feature to The Copenhagen Report compliments of www.blogarithm.com - you can find it along the side panel - just enter you're email address in the box (where it says 'tell me when this blog is updated') and you'll get a nice little email whenever a new post is added.


Quite an original social experiment, indeed!

by Tim Anderson (timothyanderson2005@gmail.com)

The most memorable events are often the most random, unplanned, and unexpected ones.

Undoubtedly the most amusing event I have witnessed in 2007 occurred in a club called Turbinehallen in Copenhagen the other night, which myself and a friend were there to witness. Our presence there had been quite accidental – we misread the name of the club we had been advised to go to by another friend (by SMS) thinking it was this one. In fact, it was not, but no matter. This chance error resulted in us witnessing what I can only describe as one of the most profound social experiments I have ever unwittingly been a part of. Fortunately, my camera phone did the job, so I captured a few of the moments as events unfolded.

It happened like this:

Emerging from the washroom and passing the small stage where people had been dancing, I noticed a rather conspicuous individual was on a small platform on stage, a single spotlight shining on him. Perhaps approaching 40 years old, wearing large sunglasses, bright red trousers and a blue tank top from which his fairly significant pot belly hung out just slightly, he was not exactly inconspicuous. Oh, he also maintained quite a scowl of a facial expression. He had adopted a particular ‘dance’, one where he held one hand in front of his stomach, and the other out to his side – while not moving his feet one bit. People quickly surrounded him, in the way they would a street performer in a public square.

I returned to where my friend was, a distance away from the stage, and pointed this fellow out – she hadn’t noticed him until this point. We found it odd, but carried on not paying much attention to him. The music, it should be noted, had changed to a rhythmic and unchanging barrage of electronic growling. After a few minutes, we realised he wasn’t going anywhere, as did many others. A few people began to take the ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ approach, and started dancing on the small stage behind him. Unfortunately, owing to his commanding presence in the spotlight and the nature of the repetitive and unchanging music , it quickly proved impossible to continue for more than about a minute, so these attempts quickly faded away – leaving him on stage as the lone dancer.

Now the mood of a few people (the average age in the place was between 19-22, I would judge) began to change. This individual was becoming an intrusive presence – they wanted to dance. A few people seemed to be finding his presence not quite to their taste and began approaching him. Some tried talking to him, which failed, then others began trying to push him away. His stance was unchanging, and he continued to maintain his position – swaying his body slightly, with his arms lock in place in a sort of ‘dancing-like’ posture, his feet still unmoving.

'why did you punch my boyfriend, I mean, just because he punched you first...'

Now a few people were becoming quite provoked. A couple of guys came up behind him and pulled his trousers down to his feet. He pulled them back up again, and continued dancing. This left them unsatisfied and they approached him again, this time trying to shove him. When they did, he shoved back, immediately resuming his dancing position. One fellow tried to punch him and was promptly punched right back. Another girl came up and began shouting angrily in his ear. No reaction.

...some beer for you tank top, sir?

Finally a few people started spraying him with beer. He was still surrounded with people as a street performer would be, it should be noted. Somebody got the idea of turning off the single spotlight that was shining on him, as the ceiling was quite low and the power cord could easily be reached. So they did – but he just continued dancing, oblivious. And the music continued, unchanging.

After a few seconds, another member of the audience plugged the spotlight back in. This act changed the dynamic of the crowd somewhat. Now those who were provoked by him could see that, in fact, he did have support in the audience – not everybody was against him some seemed to imagine must be the case.

At this point my friend and I found our attention was rapt. We simply couldn’t believe this individual had manage to provoke so many aggressive acts out of those in attendence – he still hadn’t even moved a centimetre from the spot he was standing. It was a club, and he was dancing – albeit in his peculiar manner.

After a few minutes, those wanting to see him disappear regained some courage, and beer began to get dumped on him in increasing quantities – sometimes from a distance, and sometimes by people who would walk right up to him and pour it over his head. His tanktop was soaked.

Finally, after what I would judge to be somewhere between 20 to 30 minutes, the music at last stopped, he gave a wave to the crowd, which in turn gave him a hearty cheer, and then he disappeared. Two security guards of the club quickly removed the platform upon which he had been standing – confirming indeed that this had all been a planned event.

We simply couldn’t believe the anger that bubbled up out of a number of individuals over the course of his ‘routine’. If it hadn’t been all so damn fascinating to observe, it would have been outright disturbing. Well, okay, it was that too.

What can I say, the kids are alright, some of them just don't always get it...

Why Copenhagen is a happening place these days…

by Tim Anderson (timothyanderson2005@gmail.com)

After an absence of a year, I'm thrilled to be back in Copenhagen. And that being the case, I figure it's an ideal time tackle the subject of just why Copenhagen is a cool place to be these days. That’s my feeling about it, at least, given that I have chosen to return. In fact, more specifically I chose Copenhagen over a rather tempting offer to remain in Shanghai – a supposedly even more happening place if you believe the buzz (and I would say 'the buzz' is quite accurate, in many senses). However, just because a place is happening, doesn’t mean that it is happening in such a way that you are inspired to make an open-ended commitment to living there. Copenhagen is such a place – not the only such place, but one of them. Here we go...

In many areas and in many ways, Denmark (arguably lead by Copenhagen) is where the rest of Europe often aspires to be and imagines itself to be – at least in social terms. But aside from the other Scandinavian countries, nowhere else in Europe is anywhere close. And hey, there are even a few sunny days here, as well.

A day at the beach...

The term I would use to describe life in Copenhagen is ‘balance’.

Copenhagen is a big city, at least relative to small ones, but in terms of European capital cities it certainly could be a bit bigger. However, it’s as big as it gets in Denmark, so that’s just how it’s got to be. Being here, one still is afforded a healthy dose of urban living - without an unhealthy dose of the dark side of that – namely pollution, traffic jams and a lack of green space, visible poverty and so forth. In Copenhagen, there are numerous large parks around the city, the air is clean, bicycles are everywhere and you have to do something particularly stupid to get someone in a car at you (other than an impatient taxi driver). Though you may hear a bell ringing behind you if you don't quickly cede way to faster moving bicycles...

As the work week in Denmark generally clocks in around 37 hours with about 5 weeks of vacation (plus a bunch of national holidays), plenty of time is left for family, friends and fun and getting the hell out of Denmark for a little extra sun (and swimming) or snow (and skiing) from time to time – and isn’t that how life should be? Balance, you see, is what it's all about.

Even at the lowest possible Danish salary (about 100 kroner an hour – or 13 Euro/9 pounds), life is pretty liveable – maybe not luxurious, but certainly luxurious relative to life at the lowest end of the salary bracket in much of the rest of Europe (try making 5 pounds an hour in London, it ain’t all that fun…).

the streets of Copenhagen - always kids and baby carriages...

Copenhagen is a family friendly place – I challenge you to find more baby carriages in any other large city in Europe – even if there is a surprising lack of obviously child-friendly cafés and restaurants (a business opportunity, indeed), people manage because children in Denmark seem to know how to behave. This, I'm quite sure, is in large part thanks to the sophisticated network of day care centres where people put their kids, often by the time they have hit a year old. This chance for children even as young as a few months old to socialise with other children their age (and get away from their parents for a few hours each day) seems to stand them in pretty good stead as they grow older – they quickly learn how to behave. I’ve never seen a country where kids are better behaved in public from a very young age then in Denmark.

Significant change has been occurring over the last years around Copenhagen, even if it looks much the same on the surface. It was over 6 years ago that I first arrived, so I have had time to notice. If the buildings look much the same and the streets seem quiet most of the time, don’t let this fool you - what lies behind has been evolving at a much faster pace. This change includes the ever increasing diversity of cafés and restaurants serving cuisines inspired by all corners of the globe, more and more specialty shops selling quality imported foods (like beer and cheese), and a thriving arts scene (particulary involving film and music), and countless other improvement that make a real difference. For example, there are new swimming areas, like the relatively recently opened swimming area in the saltwater channel that cuts through Copenhagen. Unlike channels in pretty much any other major city you can name, the one in Copenhagen is actually clean enough to swim in.

Yes, negatives do remain, and frustratingly many of them could be so easily solved but just haven't been.

The attitude of the present government towards immigrants is outright embarrassing – and borders on institutionalised racism. And of course, once foreigners are let in, the government is so hung up on seeing them 'integrate' into Danish society that they end up a more alienated group then if they were just left alone and allowed to get on working (which is what most of them seem to want to do, anyway). Sadly, none of this immature behaviour and small-minded thinking from the Prime Minister downwards stopped the government from getting voted in for a second term. Please, please, please Danish voters – get rid of them next time. It is a poor needlessly poor reflection on you and there are other parties up for the job that can do much better. At least the government remains quietly pro-Europe, I'll give them that much (though would it hurt to fly a couple European Union flags - or even one - around the parliament buildings?)

Then there is the problem of Sundays in Copenhagen. Getting through Sunday remains all too often an unnecessarily torturous exercise which for lack of better alternatives (and often crappy weather) involves sitting at home or walking around empty streets lined with closed shops and cafés. A ridiculous underusage of a day thanks to Denmarks antiquated Sunday closing laws. These Sunday closing laws have no business in a thoroughly modern society as Denmark’s.

Copenhagen could remain a satisfyingly bustling place all weekend - with Sunday as the day when the shops would undoubtedly regularily ring up their second highest receipt tally of the week. If only these shops (and the rest of the oddly cowering population) had the will to put up a fight (it wouldn't take much) to get those laws changed so they could open. It seems many of these small shops are wilfully intent on speeding their own demise at the hands of the various larger corporate-owned shops and malls which are increasingly finding ways to open longer hours. The laws are slowly being loosened, at least, with many an increasing number of shops opening on an increasing number of Sundays throughout the year (and all of December).

But in the long term, all of these issues are problems that will get solved out of necessity, so I'm basically just frustrated, but certainly not overly concerned. Immigrants are increasingly needed to fill lower-end jobs and sooner rather than later more will have to be let in. Immigrants are already arriving in record numbers to fill the higher-end jobs - as the Danish media has been reporting recently. Shops in Copenhagen will have to meet the demands of society which increasingly need Sunday to shop. So they'll all be opening longer hours sooner or later.

So all of this, I believe, goes a long way to explaining the very one-side stance a non-Danish (Greek) friend of mine staked out during a recent conversation about just how wonderful life in Copenhagen was.

‘I love it here! Don’t try to destroy my paradise!’ he exclaimed each time anybody attempted to speak ill of daily life here.

I have to agree with him. But I know he's not really worried, it would take a lot more than a few words to wreck all that Copenhagen has to offer.

This article was also published on Shortcut - A European City Blog. Wanna see it? Just click Copenhagen: a European Paradise.

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