A stroll down Istedgade (Part 3): Istedgade the Nightowl

By: Tim Anderson (timothyanderson2005@gmail.com)

Following on the heals of Part 1 and Part 2 of this Istedgade series, the focus of this one will be the trendier end of Istedgade, let's call that 'upper Istedgade'. What could be referred to as 'lower Istedgade' (or 'Istedgade the Hooker' and 'Istedgade the Junkie') are areas of the street offering their own distinct set of nightlife possibilities - and these will be the subject of part 5 of this series...

Istedgade by night is pretty good, indeed. Bars and cafés abound. It's not wall-to-wall cafes or anything like that - that would in all liklihood prove to be hugely problematic. Furthermore, the target clientel at the establishment of Istedgade trendier places are not those planning to end the night in a mess of sloppy drunkiness (even if a good few end up this way, nonetheless). There are other areas of Copenhagen where those less capable of handling a few drinks with dignity tend to frequent, which is a good thing for Istedgade. This is not at all to suggest that this makes Istedgade a quiet place by night. It's certainly not.

Along upper Istedgade, there are a fair number of generally unpretentious alternatives for having a quiet drink or less quiet drink.

Until recently, Cafe Riga, with it’s laid back atmosphere and underground music was the place to hang - but an ownership change some months ago, apparently provoked by complaining neighbours, has, as if a neutron bomb exploded, left the walls (and furniture) intact but sucked the life right out of the place. The fantastic underground music and excellent local DJ’s have disappeared (along with the atmosphere they largely were responsible for creating). Still, Riga’s comfortable chairs and couches remain a pleasant option for whiling away a few quiet hours in the early evening.

Cafe Riga today...a rather unpretentious welcome

A better bet, if hip and trendy is your thing (and Carlsberg is not), would be Boutique Lize. Only open evenings from Wednesday to Saturday, Boutique Lize serves a variety fine beers (mostly foreign) while the highly competent bartenders happily serve up a wide assortment of cocktails - some of the better ones in town. A glass of ‘Brugs’, a tasty Belgian offering available on tap, or a mojito (arguably one of the best in Copenagen) are both particularly recommendable.

Then there are a couple of Istedgade’s longstanding institutions of alcohol consumption and chatter – Bang and Jenson and McKluuds.

While Bang and Jensen has always managed to effortlessly maintain an image of laidback, hipster-like cool (and rarely lets you down on any night of the week, even late in the evening on Sunday), McKluuds fits quite a different description. It is all 'Copenhagen bodega' - though one of the more accessible ones. By all means drop by McKluuds for a very cheap beer and a free game of pool, but not for the atmosphere.

Bang and Jensen by day - still pretty busy

Bang and Jensen by night - even busier and rarely a let-down...

McKluuds...always cheap and always...well, cheap...

The place that could take the prize for trendiness would be Strassen - and maybe it does in a parallel universe somewhere else. Unfortunately in this one, it doesn't quite make it. Consistently apathetic service (and a really nasty batch of raw burgers served up to us several months by a cook in the kitchen who apparently was a little overzealous about trying to close the grill down early for the night) has put Strassen way out of favour in my books. Still, when the bartenders are in the mood, they are capable of mixing up quite a tasty cocktail. And Strassen does get the prize for the most amusing fishtank in Vesterbro - a large tank built into the wall with a huge mural picture of Istedgade laid out behind it.

Another unpretentious possibility would be Simpelt V (across from Riga). Doing it's best to take over from where Riga left off when it changed owners, they still haven't quite got the music issue down to a science at Simpelt V, but they're kind of trying. It does look pretty hipster, what with all the vinyl hanging on the walls and the pleasantly comfortable seating.

Simpelt V - hidden behind the bikes and graffitti...

An untested newcomer is Malbeck, an establishment billing itself as an Argentian Wine bar. We'll see if this one flies, in time.

And still more newcomers will surely arrive in the area over the next months.

But what if you're hungry (you may be asking by now)? Well, that's up next in Part 4...

A night of the rock stars: The Sounds and Under The Influence Of Giants in Copenhagen

The Sounds - struttin' their stuff at Vega in Copenhagen

As I've mentionned before, there is nothing better than having a good, loud, guitar driven rock band to watch in the middle of the work week to liven things up a bit.

Last night at Vega in Copenhagen, a fairly excitable crowd witnessed an outstanding performance by The Sounds, from Sweden, and Under The Influence of Giants, from California.

In a way, the concert was something of a throwback. A true rock 'n roll show.

Both bands have evidently earned Master's degrees at the University of Rock 'n roll (or are well on their way to doing so), with the stage presence of the lead singer in each band more than worthy of the moniker 'rock star'. If any of the numerous performers who could be counted among the Gods of Rock had witnessed last nights performances - one of those performers who has wandered through the hallowed halls of rock 'n roll stardom - they would have surely nodded their heads approvingly.

And when The Sounds lead singer Maja Ivarsson - one of those lead singers who really is quite easy on the eyes - started stage diving, well really, what more could you ask for?

I would happily check either of these bands out again, next time they come around. And particularly in the case of The Sounds, given they are from the country just across the channel, I'm sure they will.

Ahem! Cue the answers, please...

A while back, I offered a few of my own Danish cultural knowledge questions, hoping to help out those responsible for making up questions for the government's latest cultural initiative, the Danish Citizenship Test - a that all prospective Danes will soon have to take in order to be granted Danish citizenship.

It seems that since then, a few people have been thinking about the questions - including the guys over at YIE who wrote a little post about my alternative test and linked to it, and of course Shortcut, who published the 'cultural test' article as well. Very nice, indeed!

To help them out (and any others stumped by these important Danish cultural questions), here's the answers:

1. Name five sunny, holiday destinations abroad served by discount airlines flying out of Kastrup Lufthavn (Copenhagen airport)?

(there's plenty to choose from) I recommend www.whichbudget.com to get you started.

2. Name 3 Danish websites where you can book last minutes package holidays to these sunny southern vacation spots?

Again, where to begin! As before, start at www.whichbudget.com to find an appropriate discount airline site, then maybe check out www.mytravel.dk, http://www.travelmarket.dk/ for some last minute deals. But knowing what to google in Danish is the real key, isn't it? Try 'somer ferierejser' (summer vacation travel).

3. Describe how to make a proper 'Danish smørrebrod' of your own with any three or four ingredients.

Let's go with a Danish classic here: a slice of rugbrød (danish dark rye bread), sliced frikadeller (meat balls), and some 'rødkål' (marinated red cabbage). Another good option would be: a slice of rugbrød, fiskefillet (breaded fish fillet), some remoulade and a slice of lemon.

4. Is the number '13' an unlucky number in Denmark, or does it mean something else to many people - for example, students?

It's not bad luck at all! 13 is the highest grade you can get on an assignment, exam or class in Denmark.

5. Name three Danish beers that can be bought at the supermarket for under 3 kroner per bottle?

Once again, choice abounds! My personal preferences would be Harboe or Ceres - but Dansk Pilsner could be a nearly palatable substitute in a (cash) pinch.

6. Name two different supermarket chains that sell these cheap beers?

It's gotta be Netto or Fakta.

7. If you are having a loud and late party in your apartment and the police show up at your door at 4 AM, what can they do about it?

Nothing!! All they can do is ask you to shut your windows, but they can't stop the party - or even ask you to turn the music down!

8. It's 3AM in the morning. Where can you buy a pølse (hot dog)?

Take a few steps over to the nearest pølservogn (hot dog cart) or step into 7-11.

9. It's 5AM in the morning. Where can you buy a pølse (hot dog)?

Probably few pølservogn's still to be found on the streets - or just stagger into 7-11.

10. It's 8AM in the morning. Where can you buy a pølse (hot dog)?

No pølservogn's on the street at this hour, but after stumbling out of one of those early hour bodega's, 7-11 will still be able to satisfy your craving.

11. Can you ever NOT buy a pølse (hot dog) in Denmark? (Yes/No)

No way - you can always get one! 7-11 is 24/365 and they never turn off the grill!

12. If it wasn't for the fruit and vegetable shop around the corner, it would be impossible to get fruit and vegetables after ___PM on weekdays, and ___PM on Saturday.

8 PM weekdays, 5 PM on Saturdays.

13. The guy who runs the fruit and vegetable shop around the corner is not from Denmark, he is from __________.

Turkey (specifically either Konya or 'Kurdistan')

14. If you are white and/or from a 'western' country and you already meet the other criteria for being awarded Danish citizenship, will anybody actually bother to grade your Danish Cultural Test? (Yes/No)

Ha! I seriously doubt it!

Hope that helped everyone! ;-)

The 2007 Night Film Festival in Copenhagen heats up

One very positive thing that can be said about living in Copenhagen is one is generally spoilt for choice when it comes to non-Hollywood films on offer. Cinemateket plays several films each day from around the world, 6 days a week. Besides that, there are several annual film festivals that take place in Copenhagen.

At the moment with the 2007 Night Film Festival in full swing - running until April 1, well, there's so much good stuff playing that it's almost impossible to choose on some days.

Full or Empty at the Nat film festival 2007 - an outstanding film from Iran

A stroll down Istedgade (Part 2): Istedgade the Hipster (and Istedgade the Kitsch)

by Tim Anderson (timothyanderson2005@gmail.com)

The previous article (A stroll down Istedgade (part 1): Is this the seedy or trendy heart of Vesterbro) introduced an allegorical character, a schizophrenic named 'Istedgade' who it was claimed would star in an upcoming Woody Allen movie (a film apparently attracting a quite a significant 'buzz')...so that is where this article picks up. Got it?


Istedgade the Hipster is unquestionably the most alluring of schizophrenic Istedgade's personalities.

First, about hipsters - in case you are
not one but were thinking maybe you could be, or you are one and don’t know it, or you know you are one but are simply in denial. A hipster could loosely be defined as one who distains the mainstream - known to coldly yet vigorously reduce anything possibly fitting into any mainstream categorisation to kitsch and unworthy. With rare exceptions, they are rather skinny - 1 or 2% excess body fat kind of skinny, Mick Jagger skinny. They have complicated hair, just might be gay (or not entirely heterosexual) and of course, there are the tattoos. And if it’s not indie, underground, literature, music, film or some other sort of artform, it’s probably not that interesting. So while a lot of people could claim to be halfway there, one must be quite a determined breed to truely earn the title.

Meaning that 'Istedgade the Hipster' is a very specific sort of being - one quite in contrast to the other parts of its (schizophrenic) personality.

most certainly a hipster magnet...

Returning to our allegory (from Part 1) of Istedgade as the schizophrenic star of a Woody Allen film, let's talk about what happens in the film. Istedgade the Hipster spends much time on the couch in therapy (being a Woody Allen flick and all).

The opening scene (set in the office of Istedgade's long-time analyst):

Istedgade the Hipster (probably a 'he' but possibly a 'she') is lying on the couch complaining,
agonising that in spite of their loud and continual protestations, he (or she) has become an object of fascination - the subject of the relentless and unforgiving talk of the masses. And this Istedgade the Hipster finds to be a terrible and rather soul-destroying plight. With amusing self-awareness, this fictional but ultra-cool hipster character worries that this film in which he (or she) is starring just may be Woody Allen's biggest film since Manhatten - a huge moneymaker. The buzz surrounding the film is ceaseless, and the very thought has left Istedgade the Hipster feeling more than mere anxiety. Istedgade the Hipster simply distains being associated with it all - this mainstream attention. Yet it seems there is no escape.

Rather, it has provoked a serious identify crisis within Istedgade the Hipster, one that could turn ugly (and into something more existential in nature).

So we return to the real world, briefly, once again.

A bit about Woody Allen movies. Woody Allen movies are always full of mainstream movie elements – the main characters are always Hollywood actors, the plot twists are often straight out of Hollywood and the endings are, more often then not, happily ever after. Of course, happily ever after in that trademark bizarre Woody Allen kind of way.

However, in spite of all this, they really are
not quite mainstream movies. As stories, they have too many schizophrenic quirks. Instead, they stand apart, a brand of their own. They have this odd, hard to quantify, hipster-like shell that over time has proven quite resistant to penetration from the outside. Because in Woody Allen films there is basically always something different.

And in this way, they are just like Istedgade. Chalk full of, well, something different.

So the thing with Istedgade is that there is a risk that with all the attention it continues to attract (in it's coolness), and with its popularity continuing to soar, it just might cease being
something different and instead become rather normal - just another not-so-distinct area of Copenhagen. If the graffitti should start to disappear (there's a fair bit of it at present), it will be more than a mere hint of what might be happening.

Now I'm not saying this is destined to happen, but surely sooner or later the chain stores and big money will get a whiff of it's potential and swoop in, no? And should this happen, as the composition of the shops and businesses shifts - Istedgade as we now know it will be no longer.

And should this turn of events take place, it will surely be the end of Istedgade the Hipster.

But we're not there yet. For now, Istedgade the Hipster thrives, genuinely non-mainstream (among many other identities as well, of course). The warmly welcoming local ecological bakery for bread, the numerous local design shops (mentioned in the previous article) for clothes, shoes and an assortment of other boutiques offering furnishing and other gadgets and gimmicks.

the local ecological bakery

funky light for the living room, anyone?

no brand names here...

or here...

or here...

or here...

or here, or here...you get the idea...

Yet when it comes down to it, of course, it's all very interesting, even if it's not quite a comprehensive in the range of 'stuff' you can find - you may need to leave Istedgade to get the rest of the 'things' you need.

And, of course, there's also Istedgade the Kitsch to contend with.

Istedgade the Hipster, of course, grudgingly accepts that lingering presence out of necessity, probably because Istedgade the Kitsch just isn't threatening in the way the mainstream stuff is. Istedgade the Kitsch is merely a bizarre and quirky part of Istedgade's schizophrenic personality.

Istedgade the Kitsch takes the form of a few peculiar shops selling an array of items presumably appealing to the (fairly numerous) immigrants of the area who have yet to acquire any sort of Danish design tastes and sensibilities. These immigrants are one of the features of the street that give it so much more character than other less diverse areas of the city.

welcome to the palace of kitsch...

see anything you like?

The junk being peddled at these kitsch places would make a great gag gift, if you’re looking for that.

But kitsch bits aside, Istedgade the Hipster has continued to grow stronger month by month over the last years - and this is without having even mentioned what is arguably Istedgade's the Hipster's best side - and that is the night time.

And this will be the subject of the Part 3, up next...

A stroll down Istedgade (Part 1): Is this the seedy or trendy heart of Vesterbro (or even Copenhagen)?

by Tim Anderson (timothyanderson2005@gmail.com)

Sometimes seedy, with it’s graffiti and hookers, other times trendy with it’s design shops and cafés, Istedgade is a street of complex character. It’s not so easy to put a finger on just what Istedgade is and where it is heading in the future - which makes it a fascinating spot on the Copenhagen map. But the next several articles (yep, this is the first of five of them) will try to.

Allow me to make a slightly abstract comparison between Woody Allan movies and Istedgade, the street in Vesterbro with, well, many faces. I love Woody Allen movies. Istedgade, like many a character in many a Woody Allen film, happens to be of a slightly neurotic temperment. This is pretty evident when strolling along the street and perhaps that’s part of the reason why I like it so much.

despite the street art, it's hardly scary...

Of the two main (almost parallel) roads that transverse Vesterbro and infuse the area with life, Istedgade and Vesterbrogade, it is Istedgade and its colourful history, that is most known around Copenhagen, but also around Denmark. As home to trash, treasures, junkies and hipsters, truly it’s got a bit of everything. You could say. Perhaps it's missing a few things.

fitting right in on Istedgade...

If Istedgade were a person, it would be schizophrenic with a few personalities. One personality would be a lover of design objects, another surely a hooker and still another most certainly a self-styled hipster (with a few tattoos). There would also be the anti-hipster, a lover of all things kitsch. The self-styled hipster would in all likelihood be the favourite guise these days.

need some ink done? choice abounds around Istedgade...

So just for fun, let’s imagine this schizophrenic person really exists, an allegorical character. For simplicity, let’s call them ‘Istedgade’, shall we? And just to make it really fun, let's also assume this person ('Istedgade') happens to be a character in an upcoming Woody Allen film. And let's imagine there is quite a buzz surrounding this 'Istedgade' character - that is, this character is attracting a lot of attention. Sound interesting...

Our ‘Istedgade’ character, with this complex personality, should fit in just fine into the said Woody Allen movie. Admittedly, it wouldn’t be an entirely typical Woody Allen-type character (most aren’t schizophrenic, after all), however as many Woody Allen characters do, Istedgade would surely have an analyst. That is, Istedgade would be in therapy.

In particular, the 'hipster' portion of Istedgade's multiple personalities would be greatly disturbed by a few things - in particular the temperment of the other personalities with which it must co-exist, as well as by thoughts of just what the future holds for it.

Back to the real world, for a moment.

One can't help wondering, when wandering through Vesterbro and then along Istedgade, just how long things on Istedgade will remain as they are. After all, Vesterbro as a whole (and particularly the street Vesterbrogade) has transcended it’s ‘worker quarters’ past, even if bits of evidence still remain (like the many identical and rather small two room apartments, some still without showers). Housing prices have risen rather wildly over the past 10 years (as they have all over the Copenhagen), plenty of big chain stores have moved in (Blockbuster's 7/11's, national chain stores), while fashion and trendiness remain the current buzzwords, particularly in Vesterbro's less obvious corners. Still, entrepreneurial enterprise of all sorts thrives everywhere.

Yet within Vesterbro, Istedgade has thus far taken a different direction. It seems even quirkier still - more independent.

On Istedgade, the bigger chain stores and pretty much any serious corporate presence remains conspicuously absent. With the exception of a lone Nordea bank branch (not even a single bank machine elsewhere along the road) and a small outlet of a national appliance chain (Punkt), both at the farthest reaches of the street, and a lone 7/11 at the start of Istedgade near the train station, corporate presence is minimal.

Perhaps it is that old lingering fear of 'Istedgade the Hooker' and 'Istedgade the Junkie' (both of whom who will be introduced in an upcoming article) that is keeping the chain shops, chain restaurants and chain coffee shops and cafes away?

In place of Blockbuster, there’s an independent video shop ('Yvonne's'). In place of fast food outlets, there are numerous schwarma shops and a few pizza joints (everyone has their favourites, but I would suggest one of the best being Konya Kebab, owing to its a charcoal barbeque – something very rare for a Copenhagen schwarma shops). In place of dominating corporate chain store clothing shops in other areas of Copenhagen, such as H&M, Istedgade hosts plenty of more independent and oftentimes nearly anonymous design and trendy clothing and gadget shops - some rather expensive, others less so. There are a few excellent restaurants, a good number of interesting cafes and a handful of independent bakeries.

a kebab straight of the barbeque...

random funky stuff...

yes, it is...and you can buy the sign...

But Istedgade is no longer keeping quite the same low profile it once was, and it's former reputation as a seedy place (though still alive in well among those who haven't ventured into the area in recent years) is quickly fading away (once you leave the train station area, that is).

In any article focussed on Vesterbro, attention is increasingly focussed in particular on the perceived 'trendiness' of the Istedgade - at least the upper portion of Istedgade.

the local skateboard shop

To return to our schizophrenic Woody Allen character 'Istedgade', and in particular the 'hipster' slice of its personality. The current trendiness of Istedgade (the street) is largely the sort of trendiness that eschews the mainstream - and that's the sort of trendiness that makes 'Istedgade the Hipster' (this schizophrenic persona of our Woody Allen character) tick. In fact, it is why 'Istedgade the Hipster' exists at all. So the fact that this perceived trendiness is attracting ever increasing attention tends to make 'Istedgade the Hipster' feel, well, threatened. How long can it last?

Istedgade - is it really just another typical street in Copenhagen?

But all of this is just a sort of introduction. This (imaginary) Woody Allen character 'Istedgade' (and it's threatened 'hipster' persona) will be the focus of the next entry. Along with another slice of its schizophrenic personalities, 'Istedgade the Kitsch'.

It's right here - A stroll down Istedgade (Part 1): Is this the seedy or trendy heart of Vesterbro?

And for a bit more of an introduction to Vesterbro in general, At the heart of Vesterbro.

On a sunny Sunday in Copenhagen...

by: Tim Anderson (timothyanderson2005@gmail.com)

I am well aware that I have a habit of complaining about Sunday in Copenhagen. I know I'm not the only one in Copenhagen to feel this way, though certainly not all would agree with my views.

I'm also aware that sometimes these Sundays in Denmark are
not always that bad.

And in saying
this, I know those who know me may wonder if I have been struck on the head by a hard object recently. I haven't.

Perhaps the fact that we have experienced a rare and rewarding one-two punch of unseasonably pleasant Sundays in Copenhagen the past two weekends has contributed to these rare feeling of (mild and surely passing) contrition. That, and a recent comment I received this past week in connection to an article I wrote almost two years ago complaining about Sundays in Copenhagen (And thou shalt not shop on Sunday...) This article, I would suggest, basically holds true two years later - and the theme I have returned to more than once since then.

Here's the comment in question to which I'm referring:

"I spent a college semester in Copenhagen in the mid 80's and stayed with a host family. In the evenings after dinner, we'd all sit around in the living room; the mom doing cross-stitching, the dad watching TV, the teenage kids perhaps reading. On Sundays usually there'd be friends visiting or we'd bake or something. All this I remember very fondly. However, I totally understand that for a younger working person or a couple, it can be very frustrating to not be able to go out and get your shopping or chores done."

It's a fair comment, one describing a scene that surely could have occurred almost anywhere, not only Copenhagen.

Reading this comment today, I had to laugh a bit, since at this moment (Sunday) the sweet scent of a cake baking in the oven is wafting from our kitchen, while just last night - in a scene that would likely have left the writer of the above comment with a warm fuzzy feeling - we were sitting at Elisabeth's sister's place (in the countryside) after her two little nieces had gone to bed, watching the Danish classic television series Matador.

Matador portrays life in Denmark from 1929-1946. It was was originally created and broadcast over 24 episodes from 1978 to 1982 - and has been re-broadcast each week over the past months.

While some might scoff at the fairly one-dimensional view of Danish society
Matador portrays (looking from the 'top' of society down, you could say), personally I would say it's a moot point, since this was the whole point of the series. And as a whole, the Matador series is a showcase of brilliant writing (not to mention filming and acting) that stands the test of time. So it's quite fun to watch. And so it remains Denmark's most popular television series ever, apparently.

These two,
Matador and this comment that I quoted above, seem to me to fit nicely together. Both paint a picture portraying a supposed ideal of Danish society. Portraits that resonate since, on occasion, they accurately match the sorts of images that tend to get stirred up when people look back fondly upon times past spent with their families or (in the case of Matador) times as they imagine them once to have been.

So, as I started by saying, the past two Sundays haven't been all that bad. A sunny and fresh Sunday last weekend, and an even sunnier and almost warm one this week. I could almost forget I was in Denmark.

Perhaps the most amusing part of Sunday of one week ago was the fact the events of our day on that day (and over the entire weekend for that matter) completely contrasted the weekend events in Copenhagen being covered on the news (these being the 'riots' and such, in connection with the closing of Ungdomshuset - read more about the news coverage of what went on here, the peaceful demonstrations and what it was all about here, a nice eye-witness commentary on the 'riots' here, and or watch an amusing video of a couple of the demonstrators getting arrested here). No rioting for us - our Sunday was a peaceful spent wandering around the waterfront areas of the city, and such.

More amusing still, going back a full two weeks, it was the weather that defined the news stories during that week (lots and lots of snow), yet a week later with the supposedly action packed Ungdomshuset events in full swing and receiving full news coverage, it was actually the weather (rather than the events around the city being covered by the news) that defined our weekend.

Then today, another sunny Sunday, we were up early in the morning (two little nieces, you see) and eating a brunch basically worthy of the title 'countryside brunch', after which we ran around in the mud of the back garden of Elisabeth’s sister's place for a while (the nieces controlling the agenda again). All of which was naturally an amusing sunny diversion for us as Copenhagen apartment dwellers.

the muddy part of Sunday (in the Danish countryside)...

However - and best of all - by the end of the day we were back in the heart of Copenhagen in our Istedgade apartment. A quiet Copenhagen Sunday evening ahead of us - but one that would feature no television, no knitting and not even a newspaper to read (we've only got the Internet, naturally...).

So have times changed over the past decades in Denmark? Maybe just a little bit.

Uh, did anybody remember the marshmellows? Hey! What the...

Sorry, one last (amusing) Ungdomshuset post. I just couldn't resist.

When I received this video from my friend Marcin, who witnessed this little altercation nearby Ungdomshuset last Friday (and wrote a nice summary of it which I published in a previous entry) during the so-called 'riots', I had to take the opportunity to upload it to YouTube so I could make a post of it.

This one pretty much speaks for itself - some people really deserve what they get, let's just say. In the case of this rather clued-out fellow and his friend, well, I almost for sorry for them. Almost.

Marcin notes that in spite of appearances, the situation during the 'riots' (including during the filming of this little video) couldn't have been more controlled and 'safe'. People were gathered around watching the one or two young people feeding the flames of protest, in this case not only metaphorically.


For more about the Ungdomshuset events you can read about media coverage of the story here, the peaceful demonstrations and what the whole mess was about here, and what an eye-witness saw during the 'riots' here).

Introducing: The Danish Citizenship Test

by: Tim Anderson (timothyanderson2005@gmail.com)

If there is one thing that can be said about the current government in Denmark, it's that they are becoming rather predictable.

Needing the proudly xenophobic/racist Dansk Folkeparti to prop up their minority government, the government has developed a nasty little habit of throwing their support behind various proposals propogating the idea of 'Danishness' (thereby helping to ward off perceived threats to whatever it is that this so-called 'Danishness' is...). The Dansk Folkeparti loves squeezing out these sorts of legislative turds from the bowels of their parliamentary caucus, as they are the self-proclaimed protectors of the Danish society and cultural identity in parliament. And the government knows how to apease the Dansk Folkeparti.

Their latest is the Danish 'cultural knowledge' Test, a test that prospective Danish citizens will now have to take as the final step to being granted Danish citizenship. Apparently the Danish government has granted itself monopoly rights to decree exactly what it is to be 'Danish'. Amusingly, it has been noted that many Danes are unable to answer many of the proposed questions.

The funny thing is that those taking the Danish cultural knowledge test will have already lived in Denmark for many years. So such people are already a part Danish culture and society - even if political parties like the Dansk Folkeparti have a hard time accepting this reality.

As a Canadian, I should note that a similar sort of test exists in Canada - and it is equally irrelevant and full of nonsense. (For example, I challenge any Canadian in the crowd to name the Lieutenant Governor of their province, a real question from the Canadian version.)

Prospective Danes can take the 'Danish Cultural Test' as many times as necessary in order to pass, and the questions will be published beforehand, making the test essentially an act of memorization. Which doesn't change the fact that it is laughable and unnecessary. Ironically, Danish education basically eschews memorization as a means of learning, but never mind that...

Admittedly, I have no idea whether or not I possess enough of whatever the government's version of 'Danish cultural knowledge' is to pass the 'Danish cultural knowledge' test. However, after 6 years here, I know that
I possess certain pockets of specific and highly relevant Danish cultural knowledge.

So, I thought to myself, why not help out the test writers by proposing a few Danish cultural knowledge questions of my own, from my own experience living here? The test writers are probably overworked already, just trying to pin down just what it is to be Danish, after all (and are apparently doing a lousy job of it given all the wrong answers 'real' Danes have been giving).

So here are my suggestions:

1. Name five sunny, holiday destinations abroad served by discount airlines flying out of Kastrup Lufthavn (Copenhagen airport)?
2. Name 3 Danish websites where you can book last minutes package holidays to these sunny southern vacation spots?
3. Describe how to make a proper 'Danish smørrebrod' of your own with any three or four ingredients.
4. Is the number '13' an unlucky number in Denmark, or does it mean something else to many people - for example, students?
5. Name three Danish beers that can be bought at the supermarket for under 3 kroner per bottle?
6. Name two different supermarket chains that sell these cheap beers?
7. If you are having a loud and late party in your apartment and the police show up at your door at 4 AM, what can they do about it?
8. It's 3AM in the morning. Where can you buy a pølser (hot dog)?
9. It's 5AM in the morning. Where can you buy a pølser (hot dog)?
10. It's 8AM in the morning. Where can you buy a pølser (hot dog)?
11. Can you ever NOT buy a pølser (hot dog) in Denmark? (Yes/No)
12. If it wasn't for the fruit and veg shop around the corner, it would be impossible to get fruit and vegetables after ___PM on weekdays, and ___PM on Saturday.
13. The guy who runs the fruit and vegetable shop around the corner is not from Denmark, he is from __________.
14. If you are white and/or from a 'western' country and you already meet the other criteria for being awarded Danish citizenship, will anybody actually bother to grade your Danish Cultural Test? (Yes/No)

Wondering about the answers? Well, you can cue the answers, right here.

And if you want a sample of some of the 'real' proposed test questions already considered by the real test writers, click here (questions in Danish, of course).

And finally, a little shout out to Benno Hansen for his Newsvine link to this article and Benji at YIE for the mention and link! Thanks, it's appreciated!

And then it was gone...

Yep, this morning wrecking crews tore down Ungdomshuset. Click here to read about it.

It wouldn't be right to not conclude the Ungdomshuset coverage without adding this (hopefully) concluding note on the matter, would it?

And for a short background on the history of the house, now destroyed, you could read this short article.

Naturally, TV2 News has dedicated most of the day, up to now, covering the demolition story. Yaaaaawn.

An eye-witness account of the 'riot' events of last week in Copenhagen

My good friend Marcin ended up caught in the 'Ungdomshuset support' melee, and has written an excellent firsthand account of what he witnessed and experienced happening on the streets of Norrebro in Copenhagen during the demonstrations on Thursday and Friday night. His account says it all (and definitely says something about how it is to live in Copenhagen) and strikes me as a little more nuanced and informative then the way the events were portrayed on television - particularly by the 'live-on-the-scene' reporters. Marcin's description is so enlightening (and entertaining) that I've quoted it below. So here's what he wrote - enjoy!

"Pamplona has its bull running, Manila its crucifixion reenactments, and Copenhagen its royal weddings...and occasional street riots.
So what follows is a small, subjective eyewitness account about being in Norrebro on Thursday and Friday night.

I think Tim's comment comes very close to explaining the cause of all the 'ballede': "opportunists using the Ungdomshuset controversy to attract attention to themselves".

I would probably add killing boredom as another their other motivation.

But a couple of things were just as interesting to note:

Bystanders opened up. Even if it meant that they approached you to share comments like "are we in the Gaza strip or something?" Still it was a genuinely spontaneous reaction. Or hand out some beers to strangers on the street from a ground-floor apartment's window. So making friends was easy. But maybe it was exactly due to the beer, which c
ontinued to pour from places like 7-11 on Norrebrogade till early morning hours. Well, who cares that there's a 'barricade' (a word the media just loved to use in the coverage) burning on the street. Inside your 7-11 you'll always find your late night treat of beer, cigs and sausages.

A completely grotesque situation, but perhaps on par with sights like
people waiting for the light to change to cross Norrebrogade...at 3am, despite all car traffic being diverted from the area. Again, maybe I'm too picky because that is a perfectly rational behavior - which insurer would pay you if you crossed at red and something happened to you actually?

And how did the about 600 or so people got arrested? Well, I saw a couple of idiots getting cuffed for throwing some junk into fires, kicking phone booths etc. They completely deserved it, but I reckon they were out by afternoon the next day, possibly even with a nice warm big mac, courtesy of the police (

But apparently you could also end up in jail simply by not being a fast enough runner. Those enjoying the concert at Skt. Hans Torv had to show some pretty impressive sprinting skills after tear gas containers ended up right in the middle of the crowd, pretty much unannounced. Some stubborn guys decided to confront the police but they literally were taken away, one by one, within minutes.

Meanwhile, those across the street could enjoy a tasty shawarma before peacefully finding their way to the next fire. And only to have to run away again before too long - such was the night.

What was my impression of the riots?

Safe. That has to be said. Safety is a trademark of Copenhagen, and even with 'riots' on, the probability of something bad happening to you was slight, unless you of course you were asking for trouble.

Boring after a while. Lots of teenagers and tourists, and perhaps some disoriented locals. Everyone waiting for some 'action'. Everyone taking photos like crazy.

And my motivation? Pure curiosity."

Nice one - thanks Marcin!

For more about the Ungdomshuset events you can read about media coverage of the story here, the peaceful demonstrations and what the whole mess was about here, or watch an amusing video of a couple of the demonstrators getting arrested here).

An article referring to this one called Copenhagen: Riots in the streets appeared on Shortcut: A European City Blog.

Not quite Spring weather, but it will do...

It doesn't take much to get people sitting outside in Copenhagen - it just takes a bit sunshine, really, even if the air is still a bit...fresh. Oh, and of course make sure there's some blankets available, too.

only March 4, but (with the help of the sun and a few blankets) it's close enough to warm spring weather...

The Ungdomshuset action continues (but what to make of it all?)

Okay, this whole Ungdomshuset issue is getting rather confusing.

First, an update.

Following the eviction of Ungdomshuset in Copenhagen (click here for a little background on this) on Thursday, plenty of action has occurred Friday and today. Some of it obnoxiously violent and destructive (like a school in Christianshavn in Copenhagen getting looted and heavily damaged and a lot of cars getting torched yesterday). It seems an undefined portion of it was caused by troublemakers coming in from abroad in order to get in on the action. That is, opportunists using the Ungdomshuset controversy to attract attention to themselves.

Once again, thanks is in order to TV2 News (and all the rest of the mainstream media) for playing right into their hands with their largely superficial but in-your-face coverage. The police, it seems, have done a good job arresting those causing the violence, and expelling a number of people from the country. What choice did they have?

There has been a lot of peaceful protest actions, as well.

today's (peaceful) demonstration heading down Istedgade

For example, a demonstration that originated just down the street from our place on Istedgade just went by. It was as peaceful and calm as they come - there were people of varying age involved and plenty of parents with their children mixed into the crowd. And plenty of Ungdomshuset support banners. Unfortunately, there was no obvious denunciation of the more violent actions that have been occurring in the name of support for Ungdomshuset - which was a shame.

a closer look at today's protest crowd - what you didn't see much of in the news coverage - lots of kids and bikes

Because the mainstream media in Denmark (as most places) has a difficult time covering the nuances of the story - and the peaceful side of it - it's hard to know how things really are. It's easiest for the mainstream media to basically to lump everything that has happened under the same banner ('support for Ungdomshuset'). Naturally, this tars the purpose and viewpoint of all of those who are trying to peacefully make their point.

Given the violence that has broken out, should those who still believe in the wider (peaceful) cause simply abandon it and disappear?

I hardly think so. If people abandoned a worthy cause every time a few undesirable people tried to latch on to it with differing ideas and viewpoints (including the use of violence), well, frankly there wouldn't be much in the world worth trying to stand up for. People would just be continually splitting up into their own little factions and refusing to discuss, cooperate and resolve their differences. And the level of debate, in general, would remain rather unsophisticated.

That said, had the protest over the past days (and months) remained entirely non-violent, personally, it would be much easier to continue supporting the Ungdomshuset cause. This became rather more difficult to do when it came out that a number of individuals were 'protecting Ungdomshuset' by loading up piles of bricks on the roof (so they could throw them at police) and making gas bombs - just in case. There was also the rather violent clash in December with police out front of Ungdomshuset. Not terribly intelligent or productive moves (and not moves likely to succeed). You could say this was the point when they basically lost me.

Nonetheless, there has never been enough evidence to conclude that all the right decisions have been made by the local government during the dispute, prior to where we are now.

It's hard to believe the outcome - all that has occurred this week, including all the violence and demonstrations across the city - was inevitable. If the local government in Copenhagen had accepted the idea from the that start that there would always be a small minority of people who would stake out anti-establishment position (and for whom a place like Ungdomshuset could meet their social needs quite well), then an agreement could likely have been found long ago. In terms of the Ungdomshuset crowd, we're not talking about a fixed set of faces, but rather a constantly evolving group - because inevitably numerous of its members are forced by, well,
reality to become increasingly part of the very establishment they claimed to be against. At the same time, those fashioning themselves as adamentently anti-establishment (for a time) will always find a place to gather, somewhere or other in the city.

Providing an outlet for such people to 'hang' is pretty progressive and clever, as I see it.
Those using Ungdomshuset had a place to congregate, and they could organise parties and events to raise money they needed to keep the place functional. At the same time, the police could put a clear a definite border around what was and was not permitted - and could continue to come down heavily on any of those who tried to cross this border (i.e. causing damage to neighbours property, etc.).

Much like pouring a few resources into facilities for drug abusers (not that I'm suggesting that the Ungdomshuset crowd should be lumped in the same category as drug abusers) - you don't do it because you necessarily agree with the decisions they made to get them there - rather you do it because it's an effective way to deal with this permanent reality. And it makes it much easier to deal with as an ongoing issue. You also assume that those who use the facilities will be a changing group of faces over the years - much like those who use Ungdomshuset.

Yes, it does require a significant level understanding to acknowledge this reality and to accept that though it may have a cost (a very small one in this case - just let them continue using the crappy place they've been using for the past 25 years anyway), it can actually be worth it.

Now that Ungdomshuset has been taken away from them, eventually another similar place will likely emerge as the chosen 'hang-out' - probably some rundown and neglected building somewhere in Copenhagen that has been forgotten. Which means that nothing productive will have been accomplished out of all of this.
And when it does, the city will be forced to deal with it. Again.

The local government may have made its point ('you are not a group that deserves any special privledges') - but so what? It's a hollow victory, if ever there was one.

But of course, it has made for a great news story.

For the record: Apparently over 600 people have now been arrested for 'rioting' over the last 3 days. At the same time, one of the largest demonstrations in support of Ungdomshuset, 2000 -3000 people,
took place at Raadhuspladsen at the center of Copenhagen and was the entirely peaceful (and included those who marched by our apartment). Talk about a tale of two protests...

Read more about the news coverage of what went on here, the peaceful demonstrations and what it was all about here, a nice eye-witness commentary on the 'riots' here, and or watch an amusing video of a couple of the demonstrators getting arrested here

A version of this article appeared under the title Copenhagen: Riots in the streets appeared on Shortcut: A European City Blog.

A day of action at Ungdomshuset in Copenhagen (and a little too much news coverage)

by Tim Anderson (timothyanderson2005@gmail.com)

Today was a big news day in Copenhagen - especially for TV2 24 News and the TV2 News helicopter. Politiken, one of the local newspapers, also got into the action publishing a special after-hours extra edition (a couple page supplement being handed out on the streets). Must have been big news!

the TV2 News helicopter - in action over Ungdomshuset

Yeah, I suppose. The police tried to clear out Ungdomshuset early this morning with predictable results (fighting, riot police, etc.) - apparently they succeeded. The aftermath of this carried on throughout the day, with a good number of people arrested (100-200 hundred, by some reports). In fact, at this moment there are a couple demonstrations in support of Ungdomshuset going on. The last time there was such a large scale demonstration in support of Ungdomshuset, the protesters (some who came from as far away as Germany) marched peacefully right by our apartment, trying to make lots of noise. These ones today seem to involve more in the way of projectiles, bonfires, blocked streets, smoke and well, action.

the previous (peaceful) demonstration right outside our window
- it wasn't much of a big deal

This story, as anyone living in Copenhagen knows, has been ongoing for some time but seems to at last be coming to a head.

Now on a normal day, TV2 News (the new 24-hour Danish News channel) must have a painfully tough filling 24 hours with of (mostly) Danish-oriented news, since so little of what happens in Denmark could be considered 'newsworthy' (i.e. out of the ordinary).

In that respect, the coverage of the events surrounding Ungdomshuset - particularly today - is becoming quite a story in itself. According to police, there were about 100-150 journalists hanging out around the house covering the story. You can be sure for every punch thrown, there was a crowd of photographers.


For those unfamiliar, Ungdomshuset is a squat in Norrebro in Copenhagen that has been used by a large group of young people for many many years (since 1982, in fact). Regular events and parties are held there - and those who now considered the building to be theirs didn't want leave, unsurprisingly. Unfortunately, the place was sold a couple years ago by the local government, and the buyer would kind of like to take over the place.

Personally, I do have some (not complete) sympathy for the Ungdomshuset crowd - a crowd often portrayed as unruly, anarchist-types who are just freeriding off the city (and there's little doubt many of them are). I've been inside the place and actually enjoyed a couple of the club/party evenings they have put on. I also remember the toilets and urinals overflowing - the washrooms were beyond revolting, believe me.

Since there will always be a small minority of such anti-corporate/supposedly anarchist-type young people in every major city going through such a phase of thinking (some more determined than others to hang onto it for a prolonged period of time), one part of the question is certainly how to best convince them that there are many ways they can meaningfully contribute to society that extend beyond sitting around and doing nothing much.

The other equally important part of the question is how best to deal with this permanent (if evolving) discontented minority. Allowing them a place to gather would seem a potentially good way to keep them contained and relatively contented - and at a pretty low cost. It would be foolish to pretend that it wasn't normal to find such a group of people - somewhere in the city. In Copenhagen, they just happen to have a highly visible hangout located in a fairly central spot.

This does not excuse some of the more violent behaviour that certain residents and supporters of Ungdomshuset have been resorting to over the past weeks and months as the dispute has escalated and the police have increasingly become involved. In fact, it was likely that behaviour that ensured no real solution would ever be found. If the group had steadfastly avoided all violence, I suspect they would have found much more sustained sympathy for their situation, even from those who didn't really share their views.

That said, those like myself who are on the outside looking on, must consider that it's not likely one is going to ever be able to sit down and have an entirely rational conversation with such people. Does this mean the best long-term solution simply to remain uncompromising and pretend that the more rational of the people holding these beliefs about the nature of society, don't exist?

More importantly, TV2 News (among others) got completely carried away with the story - particularly yesterday, and should shoulder some (small) portion of the blame for what transpired. Sitting at work today and watching the flat screen TV's that are positioned around the office (they normally show TV2 24 news throughout the day - as it's a media bureau office, you see), unsurprisingly a huge part of TV2's newsday was spent covering the goings on at Ungdomshuset.

Or to put it another way, all day today the violent faction of the Ungdomhuset crowd has had a live voice. One almost exclusively focused on them. You might wonder if TV2 News might be blowing up the story a little out of proportion. And in doing so, this only fans the flames.

Because let's face it - those of us momentarily enthralled by watching and reading about the Ungdomshuset story are more excited about the fact that something of this well, exciting nature is actually happening - something a little bit violent and unpredictable. Something that kind of resembles a TV show.
It's not that the average person in Copenhagen truly cares one way or the other about this eventual outcome - it's just fun to watch it happen.

And hence the nearly continuous and ridiculously over-dramatic live-on-the-scene coverage of the events by TV2's 24-hour news channel.

For more about the Ungdomshuset events you can read about the peaceful demonstrations and what the whole mess was about here, what an eye-witness saw during the 'riots' here, or watch an amusing video of a couple of the demonstrators getting arrested here).

A version of this article appeared under the title Copenhagen: Riots in the streets appeared on Shortcut: A European City Blog.

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