And the strawberry season continues...

I can't resist one more strawberry post. Even if not too much needs to be said that hasn't been already. That is, it seems to me to be one of the best strawberry harvests in years.

Because not everything can be grown in Denmark, owing to the relatively short growing season in comparison to our more southern neighbours, and given that the quality of what is grown is greatly affected by the whims of the wacky weather in this part of the world, somehow there's an extra excitement when there's a bumper crop of one crop or another in Denmark - and especially in the case of strawberries.


Bring on the babies: A quick look at the birthrate in Denmark

Something I've been after for quite some time is some statistics on the birth rate in Denmark, which I finally stumbled upon at

You see, I'm curious because although the endless talk in the media across Europe, when it comes to population, is about how the population in basically every European country is set to drop owing to ever declining birthrates (not taking into account immigration, of course), I've long been wondered how this could be true of Denmark.

After all, there is a seemingly endless parade of kids running around Copenhagen with their parents (or getting pushed around in baby carriages). To put it more bluntly, in Copenhagen BABIES AND YOUNG CHILDREN ARE EVERYWHERE! I've never seen anything like it in any other major city. Anywhere.

And if it is like this all over urban Copenhagen, where the birthrate should be at the lowest relative to smaller cities and more rural areas, how must the birthrate be in the rest of the country? Which has lead me to wonder how Denmark could possibly be suffering from the same declining birthrate trend that is so much talked about?

If you want to download your own detailed copy detailing the current demographic trends across Europe (including non-EU countries), you can do so here. It makes for interesting reading - I learned a few things.

Firstly, Denmark with a birth rate in 2004 of 1.78 children per woman (which when statistical manipulated for complex reasons best summed up as 'because sometimes it's necessary' becomes 2.0 children per woman). That's pretty close to that magic 2.1 replacement number, so often talked about. It is also a number well above the EU-25 country average birth rate of 1.5 children per woman (or, if you prefer the statistically adjusted European average of 1.67).

Secondly, of the more developed European countries, only France and Ireland have a higher birthrate - with Sweden, Norway, Finland and the Netherlands almost at the same level as Denmark. Funny isn't it, that all the so-called 'socialist' countries have such a high birthrate? Ireland being the exception, a non-socialist country, likely has it's own explanation - it is still catching up economically with the leading countries in Europe, and has had a historically high birthrate - one that has been dropping radically over the last years, so expect it to leave the 'high birthrate club' very shortly.

Thirdly, and this is rather significant, since 1990 Denmark's birth rate as increased (from 1.67 to 1.78). Only France, the Netherlands and Finland have experienced an increase in birth rates over this time, the rest of the developed European countries have seen a decrease.

Finally, and purely out of interest, the average age at birth of mothers in Denmark was 28.4 years old (in 2004).

I've long noted on this blog (for example, here) that Denmark is a pretty good place to have kids. And there are reasons for this. Unlike in many countries, there is thankfully NO stigma, or undue 'pressure', a woman feels for getting pregant before finishing her studies and establishing a career (or for being pregnant but not being married). Before she has a steady job, regular salary and a ring on her finger, if you prefer.

Because in Denmark, sensibly, it is assumed that as long as you support such studying mothers (and, of course, make sure the father's pay their bit as well), they'll surely manage to establish a solid career in due time - once they are able to put the kids into daycare (usually after about a year) and get their studies finished. It doesn't really matter if there is a husband, or equally as likely in Denmark - a boyfriend, at home - it's assumed these young mothers will generally do just fine regardless. And by in large they do.

Funny that - a few other countries could surely learn a thing or two from this simple but effective approach.

In fact, you might be saying to yourself, that it seems like a simple and screamingly obvious way to raise a declining birth rate, doesn't it? Especially if you are a government that professes to care about such things, as many claim to. It takes a solid daycare system, as Denmark has, and the assurance that mothers will receive an adequate level of social support while they are caring for their babies.

Because in the long run these mothers will more than pay that support back in taxes - and if they somehow don't (yes, highly unlikely...), well, their kids surely will. So it's a pretty safe assumption to make. And you want them to succeed for exactly this reason.

Because when you imply (by offering wholely inadequate support) that young mothers who are single, or at least haven't quite established a career, are stupid for getting pregnant so young - and leave them to suffer for it - well, in the end everybody suffers from this approach, don't they?

Sweet Basil Restaurant: The sweetest Thai food in Copenhagen?

By: Tim Anderson (

Once you’ve had a great Phad Thai – the classic of classic Thai (noodle) dishes - there’s no going back.

Personally, as a consequence of some travels in Southest Asia and an extended stay in Shanghai last year - home of a number of excellent Thai restaurants – I’ve been left craving a certain and specific version of Phad Thai that has proven rather challenging to find in Copenhagen. One with a certain and elusive combination of flavours, texture and spiciness.

That is, until a recent visit to Sweet Basil (danish link) in the center of Copenhagen (Grønnegade 33, tel: 33151565).

There are a fair number of Thai restaurants in Copenhagen, and some of them are quite good. In true Thai street food fashion, the best of them I've tried are actually take-out joints.

Probably Lai-Thai (Toldbodgade 2 - at the bottom of Nyhavn) would be the best, with a fairly close second place going to Thaiherb 2 (Fiolstraede 30, near Norreport). For something more leisurely then take-away, a few of my friends can’t seem to get enough of the Phad Thai at Thai Esan (just off Istedgade close to the main station).

Before I go further, allow me a brief Phad Thai digression.

Although every respectable Thai restaurant has a version of Phad Thai on the menu, there is no such thing as a ‘correct’ or ‘perfect’ Phad Thai. Each and every Thai cook, each and every Thai restaurant, and for that matter each and every Thai street stall - whether in Bangkok, elsewhere in Thailand, or someplace else in the world - make it just a little bit differently. Which is why Phad Thai - amongst countless classic national dishes in the world - is such an endlessly fascinating dish to taste at countless Thai restaurants. Each has their own take on the combination of hot, sour, salty and sweet - the fundamental four elements of Thai dishes - that should be used in it.

And hence why, if you are a person with an appreciation for Thai food, finding just the right version of your favourite Thai dishes to suit your tastes can be quite a preoccupation.

Sometimes Phad Thai can be outright spicy, still other times it can be rather sweet. Sometimes it’s made with thick rice noodles, sometimes thin ones (yes, in Thailand there are specific names for each of these dishes, but Thai restaurants outside of Thailand don’t typically get down to such specifics).

Though it isn’t always, Phad Thai should be served with a slice of lime - which when drizzled over top of a steaming Phad Thai brings the flavourful ingredients to life on your tongue, as few things can. To their credit, at Sweet Basil they did. I’ve seen Phad Thai served with a small bowl of sugar and a small bowl of dried crushed chillis, useful if you prefer your food on the slightly picante side, as I often do. As it was at Sweet Basil, it’s also often served with some uncooked sprouts on the side and a bowl of crushed cashew nuts, both of which, when mixed in, add that extra and highly satisfying crunch that is characteristic of so many great Thai dishes.

Indeed, the food at Sweet Basil was outstanding, though the service was not quite so.

Our waitress was lovely, pleasant and somewhat hopeless. When you pay 75 kroner for a premium beer, and it arrives just a notch below room temperature, as a waitress the way to resolve this situation is to offer another beer immediately (making sure it is really cold). It is NOT to say, ‘but it came from the same fridge as all the others – it’s been their since yesterday’. Because clearly it hadn’t, we noted as she wandered away.

But the outstanding food, which took quite some time to arrive, quickly outshone the issues we had with the lousy service, and left us in a rather forgiving mood. The other dishes ordered, classic Thai curries and spring rolls, were equally commendable.

'Thai minimalism' - minimalism with a touch of kitsch

Thai restaurants are normally rather distinct in appearance, and often for all the wrong reasons. The word ‘kitsch’ springs to mind. Budda’s and colourful junk everywhere, along with vegetation not unlike a forest floor.

Sweet Basil is different, much to the owner's credit, apparently espousing an esthetic which could perhaps be termed ‘Thai minimalism’. In other words, not quite minimal, as some tacky adornments are allowed to remain, but they are kept fairly scarce in quantity.

But how wonderful to discover there is another Thai restaurant in Copenhagen serving authentic Thai food worthy of it's hallowed and well-deserved international stature. We shall certainly return.

Roskilde Festival time again! And the schedule is at last out...

This years line-up for the annual Roskilde Festival is looking pretty good. It's likely not the best ever, but it's pretty solid. A nice mix of the tried and true alongside the untested and new. And with the release of the daily program yesterday, the final countdown is now on.

Myself, I've seen
The Red Hot Chilli Peppers (outstanding performance), Bjork (memorable) and Basement Jaxx (great to dance along to) performing at Roskilde before. This year among the biggest names, The Who should be a treat, and perhaps the Beastie Boys, as well. The two I'm most anticipating are The Killers and The Sounds. Arcade Fire (from my home country Canada) should be very good along with Trentemøller (to throw in a bit of Danish content).

And there are plenty of diversity amongst the lesser-knowns, which suggests plenty of potential to surprise, which is generally what separates the good Festivals from the great ones. Pleasant surprises always happen wandering from concert to concert.

Oh, and the Roskilde Festival also happens to be sold out (once again). That's 75,000 tickets, I believe. So if you want to go and you haven't got your ticket already, well, you're probably going to have to be creative to get one (or fork over a lot of money). If you're determined enough, there's always a way to get there for free. There's something like 10,000 volunteers doing a variety of job - from glorious to gruesome - the general agreement is for you work 3 x 8 hour shifts, and for that get into the festival for free. The range of jobs I've known people to have run from being the mc introducing the bands on one of the stages (what more could you want?) to cleaning washrooms (yes, I'd sooner pay for the ticket twice over...). Stage security at one of the smaller stages is also a good one, and the classic (and perhaps most common) job of working at one of the take-out stands is never a bad deal.

And the best thing of all about going to Roskilde Festival, aside from the music, is avoiding that horrible feeling of regret that tends to hit the week of the festival when Copenhagen's bars and clubs become oddly quiet. And plenty of grubby but excited individuals with backpacks and boomboxes can be seen at the train stations all across Copenhagen.

Pssst!! Yes, we're talking to you! Wanna make a couple of quick bucks?

So finally the truth comes out. One of the most seemingly inconsistent positions staked out by the Danish government in recent years has been its unwavering support for the Iraq war. Though the mainstream media in Denmark was by-in-large too cowardly to shout it, anybody who spent a few minutes thinking about it (or doing a bit of internet surfing) could easily figure out just why the Danish government opted to unconditionally support the American crusade, and continue to do so.

The answer was and is Denmark's largest company, Maersk.

Shipping giant Maersk had signed contracts with the American military before the war in Iraq was even declared. Now, at last, the value of these contracts over the last few years have come out. And the numbers are huge.

Seems dear old
Maersk signed contracts with the American Defence Department totalling some 17 billion kroner (2.3 billion euro). That's a rather staggering amount.

No wonder those questionning the Danish government's loyal support of the Americans stood little chance of swaying the decision-makers. Questions surely would have been raised, in Denmark and elsewhere, if Maersk was reaping such profits from a war that the Danish government was officially against.

And that's not all.

According to American records, orders from the American Defence Department made up 97.2 percent of all the American government's contracts with Danish businesses. If the Americans had decided to direct this business elsewhere, Danish business, or more precisely Danish military suppliers (essentially Maersk, though there are others) would have suffered dearly.

Besides, it's so easy to profit from an invasion of a country that you know so little about. And such a comfort to know that once you're done making your money there, you'll be able to return to the comfy confines of your home, with nary a worry about the consequences your actions will have had on the lives of those actually living there. Let them pick up the pieces.

Boycott Canada!! ...if you can

An evil Canadian seal pup killer hard at work...

I'm not really in favour of killing baby seals either, but one must wonder what exactly one should do in order to follow the instuctions given on these posters that have been stuck-up randomly around Copenhagen for the last three or four months ('Boycott Canada').

Maybe stop putting maple syrup on your pancakes? Or stop buying albums of the horrendously bad French-Canadian singer who once represented Switzerland in the Eurovision song contest? I'm running out of ideas now...

I'm not really sure who is responsible for them, but I'm sure these posters are making a big difference. Really.

Ah, I've got it! I don't know why I didn't think of it before. As I really am against the killing of baby seals, from this day forward, I vow never again to succumb to tempation and order another succulent
McSealpup Sandwich, or similarly named menu item, from any well-known and less-known fast-food chain anywhere in the world (especially in Canada). I think I can manage that. And I guess the sealskin boots will also have to go...

Which suddenly makes me think of this classic Simpsons clip.

Sweet Danish strawberries for all...

The fickle weather of Denmark means that one never really knows from day to day, month to month, and - in the case of spring crops like strawberries - one year to the next, just how things are going to be. Enough sun in the spring will lead to a bumper crop of sweet strawberries ready for harvesting in early June. Not enough sun (all too often in this cloudy country) will leave them a bit sour and behind schedule.

This spring, with the strawberry season upon us thanks to all the sunny warm weather, there is nothing to worry about. The strawberries are sweet and there is no shortable of them. And they're being harvested even earlier than usual this year - the season has been going strong for about 3 weeks now.

Hence all the delicious strawberry tarts for sale these days (and even tastier homemade ones, like this one...).

Cafe Halvanden (on a hot and sunny day in Copenhagen)

By: Tim Anderson (

On a sunny summer day, you could do much worse than slugging back a couple bottles of brew reclined in the sun at Cafe Halvanden. Especially on a Friday after work. It's been around for about 4 years now, just off the beaten path. But it's one of those place to go, if you're in the know. From Nyhavn, if you look over the channel to the left (past the Opera House), you can see it in the distance - the building with 'CAFE' written in huge black letters.

Copenhagen is definitely short on true beach bars - complete with sand and set on the water - so Cafe Halvanden fills a real gap in the scene, in that respect. It's bit of a bike ride from Christianshavn (or a short car ride). Of course, if you happen to have access to a boat, well, there's no better way to arrive in style.

My only complaint: what sort of beach bar doesn't serve Corona (with a lime, naturally)? While there certainly are alternatives, there really is no substitute on a hot and sunny afternoon. It can even cure a hangover.

yours truly, arriving in style (with bicycle in tow)...

just kick back on the beds and chill...

ironically, a traditional Danish thatched straw roof also happens to create a wonderful Caribbean sort of vibe...

as does a bit of sand on the ground...

Where's my train? Oh, there it is...

Though I'm fortunately not a person who has to ride the trains on a daily basis in and around Copenhagen, I am still fairly confident when I say that in Denmark, DSB, the Danish train operator, is one of the better train operators out there. The trains generally run on time, their schedules are all coordinated so making connections is generally very simple, and they seriously can get you pretty much everywhere you need to be in Denmark (at least when coupled with a bus connection at the end of the line in the case of the more remote places you're trying to reach).

Case in point: I've never lived in a country, or even heard of a country, where you can take public transportation to reach an off-the-beaten path summerhouse. But I've been able to do it to get to more than one summerhouse in Denmark.

Anyway, the latest addition, is the ability to see where your train is on a GPS maps displayed as part of the timetable displays at many stations, which I suppose could be nice to know if it's running late. Not that it will help you get to where you want to be any faster, if they are late, of course.

Modest Mouse Rescheduled (maybe Feist next?)

So much for this weeks show - the Modest Mouse concert at Vega, which was supposed to happen tomorrow night, has been rescheduled to July 2. Just a couple weeks a way, so it certainly could have been much worse. (For instance, when exactly will that Feist concert that was cancelled some time ago, apparently to be rescheduled, reappear on the upcoming shows list...I'm not holding out much hope given her tour schedule on her website is looking pretty full for quite some time.)

Still, discovering that a concert you have been looking forward to has been postponed is always such a disappointment.

Editor's Note (added later): Here's the review from the Copenhagen concert that finally happened. And the Copenhagen Feist concert has now been rescheduled for Oct. 1.

A belated note on this years Copenhagen Distortion Festival

by: Tim Anderson (

The Nørrebro street party that knew no end...

Though I missed most of the Distortion Festival (summerhouse trip...), I made it out to a pretty cool Distortion evening in Nørrebro on the second evening. Thank goodness I did.

It turned into a true street party, a real
happening (as Isabel from Eyes Wide Shut put it perfectly - Isabel, whom I just last week had the pleasure of meeting and hanging out on Thursday at Distortion, writes some great stuff over at her blog and takes fantastic pictures that tend to put mine to shame). She has some great pics from Thursday on her blog, quite unlike crappy ones I managed on my phone...

the sound of street music...

So I'll add my own two cents kroner. It's stuff like the collective planned events and semi-planned happenings that make the Distortion Festival the one-of-a-kind event that is is, and this sort of stuff is also precisely what make Copenhagen such a great place to live, because it is precisely this that sets the city a lifetime apart from most other more staid and conservative places. It's this esoteric ability that enough people in Denmark seem to understand, about what makes a great vibe and how to create it - and they are actually permitted to do so. It makes all the difference. I've written about it before (for example here).

On Thursday the Distortion street party in Nørrebro was supposed to end at midnight. However the Copenhagen police, in a remarkable show of sensitivity (that they don't always show in other situations when it is surely called for), opted to simply close the street to traffic, where it all was happening, after a while. And the shop responsible for the music (who did a fantastic job all night) decided to keep it pumping way past the time it was supposed to end, which was midnight, and so the street party went on to around 3AM. They also opted to keep on selling beer...

There was also the Official Distortion Party Bus, well worth a mention here. Whoever the f&*king genius was who found the busdriver for that one (pictured below), give them a good hardy pat on the back (and maybe a raise and a key to the city). Too f*%king perfect.

So on we hopped, not knowing where it would take us (which proved to be just around the corner to the next party - but it was just so much more fun then walking ever would have been, anyway). Onboard, music blared, people danced, and beer was drank. I can assure you that if such a thing ever was to occur in my home and native land of Canada, the bus would have been immediately impounded and the organizers arrested (yes, another answer snippet from the often posed question 'why did you choose to live in Denmark instead of Canada?'). But this is Denmark, a more sensible place, at least in relation to these sorts of issues.

I've seen it happen again and again over the years in Copenhagen. It's actually possible to create a public, or semi-public, event with
spirit by actually allowing it to take on a life of it's own as it's happening - which is true in so relatively few places in the world. Because all too often, when something cool starts happening, it is forced to end prematurely for one silly reason or another.

See, because
spirit is not a tangible thing, those who don't get it should never be in charge of staging events - and they definitely shouldn't be in charge of regulating them. Fortunately, such people have been kept well away from the Distortion Festival in Copenhagen.

A happy Distortion street partier indulging in the unofficial food of the Distortion Festival - the schwarma.

Balkan Beat Box get them bouncing at Rust in Copenhagen

by: Tim Anderson (

How many times do I have to say it: I love midweek concerts.

Balkan Beat Box arrived on stage at Rust in Copenhagen last Wednesday evening (taking a route straight through the packed crowd as they played the first song of the evening, pounding away on drums and saxophones). It certainly set the tone for the show.

I'm a bit late with the review on this one, so I'll just keep in brief by saying a couple things.

Firstly, check out their myspace page for an idea of what they're all about, but be warned the tracks you'll here there sound rather tame and hardly representative of the unwavering on-stage energy these guys put out for the entire duration of their performance. I for one didn't stop moving the entire show.

Secondly, when you notice that the band's sound guy - an individual who has surely watched countless performances of the same songs - just can't stop bouncing along with the band, well, you know that this is a band that's got something special to offer.

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