The annual Copenhagen nightfilm festival is back - having started last Friday. The Natfilm Festival is a fantastic 10 days of lesser-known films from around the world and it's another outstanding line-up this year. A quick skim through the program turns up a plenty of choice not a lot of time - with most films only showing a couple times and around 25 to 30 films showing each day around town, it's just not possible to see everything you might wish to.
the old-school charm of Posthus Teatret
One thing that is always great, is the chance to watch films in smaller theater's that one doesn't always frequent - for example, Husets Biograf, (or my personal favourite) the tiny family-run Posthus Teatret (entrance pictured), which is down in the center of town and only open on special occasions. It's a one room theater that hasn't changed much in 35 years. What it misses in modern comforts, it more than makes up for in charm - which it simply oozes. Nothing better than grabbing a beer or glass of wine at the bar, taking 3 steps over to your (padded wooden) seat (or if you're quick, grab one of the front row couches...), then settling in for the show.
...the last of the winter fun for 2008
A week ago in parts of Sjelland last weekend there was actually plenty of snow (enough to even have a bit of fun...) - but with 10 degree temperatures and above over the next days, it seems that just maybe the last of winter is now behind us...
...a rare species in Denmark the past few winters - the snowman
...but plenty of confused geese
Sometimes you don't realise how much you have appreciated something until it's pulled out from under your feet. On Sunday, Sabine over at Oh - Those Danes...! announced she was stopping her excellent blog. Now that is not only a shame, but a real loss for those seeking an (English) window into Denmark. Hopefully she decides to leave her extensive archive of posts online, as they are a real treasure-trove.
For Sabine has been a truly prolific blogger on the subject of Denmark and the Danes.
I would describe her approach to blogging as rigorous (far more rigorous than mine) - rarely did has a day passed in the past couple years without a post from her (or an explanation for why there wouldn't be one). She never failed to find something insightful, pithy, amusing or clever to attach to one given issue or other - in succinct and reasoned posts. And rarely has she missed tackling the big issue of the day in Denmark, whatever it was.
Rarely have I found myself disagreeing with her, though frequently did I find myself looking upon one issue or another from an angle I hadn't previously considered, thanks to her comments.
For it is exploring issues and viewpoints that Sabine has been interested in, above all else. Issues and viewpoints of all kinds. I've never met her personally in my travels, though I've always hoped our paths would cross eventually.
I'm sure her decision to quit wasn't made in haste, but it's still a shame. Who knows, maybe she'll miss the glorious life of a blogger and return in a blaze of glory, like a retired rock band coaxed back by the memories of the riotous cheer of their fans.
So Sabine, here's my considered suggestion: what about starting a new blog entitled Once a week from Denmark. Just one post a week...I know you could spin that off with your eyes closed!
All the best to you!
The Segway. Efficient, perhaps affordable, and apparently not really legal to drive on the streets of Denmark - which is kind of annoying. But only if you get caught, of course. For those who have had enough of cycling, but don't want a scooter...
By: Tim Anderson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Construction, construction, construction. And falling prices. The Copenhagen housing market is quite a thing to get a handle on these days. On one hand is a rapidly growing number of apartments for sale (with rapidly dropping price tags), on the other is a pile of ongoing and recently completed housing projects - most of these were conceived and started quite some time before the housing market in Copenhagen went belly up some 18 to 24 months ago - after a lengthy and sustained period of rapidly rising prices. So there's plenty of units in these new buildings available if you like what you see.
There are a few intense pockets of construction around Copenhagen - each characterised by lots of visible 'for sale' signs. Perhaps the most ambitious of these development areas is found along the harbour front on both the Vesterbro and the Islands Brygge sides. The buildings are visually quite compelling, though their price tags are less so - for example, the new Havneholm apartments that are effectively opening up a whole new area of Vesterbro. The apartments being built directly behind the shopping mall Fisketorv (pictured above) are another.
For those who have take the bait and bought in this particular re-developed area, well, it's difficult to say how daily life is. There's no question the apartments themselves are (or will be) crisply modern and bright - and highly appealing on this basis. Yet one can't help but wonder how this squares with the general plan for development around the buildings - or lack thereof. This is the stuff that really makes urban life most pleasurable, at least by many estimations. Amongst that which surrounds these buildings it is strikingly undeveloped, scattered and inconsistent. Actually, it could be said that what isn't fournd in the area that provokes questions. Complimenting these sky-high per sqare meter priced apartments is certainly not trendy cafes and restaurants, or a thoughfully planned out landscape, though there is a certain type of shopping opportunity in Fisketorv. It is difficult to see anything that would compel the residents to do more than simply ride the elevator up and down to their wonderful new apartments - and stay there (granted, looking out at a wonderful view of the channel). See, while Fisketorv may be close at hand, trendy is not a word I would use to describe a day at this or pretty much any other mall.
a second to none waterfront view - though not every day is a
blissfully sunny and warm one, especially in Copenhagen.
The development (and subsequent sales) plan for these new buildings basically goes like this:
1. put building in front of channel, ensuring (at least half of) the apartments have a great view.
2. sell apartments at wildly inflated prices based upon this waterfront location (and view).
3. hope they sell before buyers and prospective buyers realise that coherent integrated plan for creating life and opportunities for residents around the apartment buildings is non-existent.
But I digress. There is another part of the story.
On a wildly sunny June, July or August day, the Islands Brygge swimming area of Copenhagen is about as good as it gets in Copenhagen - it's few few hundred meters away from these new developments. So this is certainly an attraction and weighty selling point. The crowds (granted Copenhagen-sized ones), flock to the area to bake in the sun, swim in the clean (though generally chilly) channel waters, and barbecue as the sun sets (using with characteristic disposable barbecues that I have only ever come across in Denmark).
Perhaps the development project that epitomises the best and worst of life along the waterfront is the magnificent converted silos that bookend one side of the newly-constructed bridge connecting Vesterbro, via the shopping mall Fisketorv, with Islands Brygge. As an architectural project, this one is something to behold. Above the concrete base of this one-of-a-kind apartment building, sunny circular balconies provide a look-out over the water, and are surely the envy anyone who appreciates a waterfront view. But below the balconies, where the concrete base of the building begins, it's a different story. The developers simply didn't concern themselves in the least with that.
The picture above tells the story. Notice the wonderful grassy yard in which to relax by the sea, the cheerful play equipment for children, the direct swimming and boating access to the channel (which is indeed clean enough to swim in - there is a channel 'pool' just a few hundred meters away)? No probably not, as there simply isn't any of that! The landscaping is about as raw as it can get. There is a sort of empty modernness about it, but not much else.
On the other hand, the bridge out front is a true selling point, connecting Vesterbro and Islands Brygge as they never have been before - which indeed is a great benefit for those on both sides of the channel.
the bridge by night
So who exactly is buying these places? And what to really make of them? Are buyers really getting a good deal, a 'ground-level' opportunity to be part of something truly unique in Copenhagen? Or are these places destined to quickly shed their value and fall more in-line with the prices apartment around the rest of Copenhagen?
Perhaps this really is phase 1, and phase 2 will see a further transformation of the area as the developers move out, and local entrepreneurs spot opportunities to bring new life into the area. It's hardly around the corner, but it could happen yet. In the meantime, pull out your fat chequebook if you are truly compelled by what you see here and now - because it will cost you.
'I'm dreaming in the rain, yes dreaming in the rain...'
Of all things that could said to be 'Danish' (of which there are a fair number), perhaps there is none moreso than the belief that babies and young children should take their naps outdoors during the day. Yes, that means 12 months per year. It also means rain or shine. The odd thing is that I've live in the country long enough to begin to feel that it makes a certain amount of sense - though in all honestly I can't really explain why, it just kind of does after a while.
The procedure goes like this: bundle baby up, put baby in carriage out back somewhere - either by an open window or close to the door, but generally (these days) with one of those 'baby transmitters' that let's you know when the baby starts making noise. In bad weather cover the carriage up.
So heading out to work the other day, a little over an hour later than usual (big work party the previous evening, creating the need for an extra hour of sleep), I was amused to discover that there was not one, but in fact two quietly sleeping babies amongst the bicycle farm in our large common garden back garden (see picture below), one that is shared by some approximately 60 apartments. Apparently I'm too early leaving the apartment in the morning to witness this (popular) nap time in our yard on most 'normal' days.
Baby number 2 in the background - he was, in fact, just waking up as I was leaving...
There has been much talk in the Danish media in recent years, and by Danish politicians, about how important it is to attract foreign talent into Denmark since there is a growing labour shortage. Particularly, but not exclusively, in the area of maths and sciences and especially those with PhD's.
Of course, it's one thing to toss around lofty rhetoric about how welcome foreigners are in Denmark and so forth (at least, the well educated fully westernised ones), it's another thing to bring your army of bureaucrats in line with this thinking. Which brings me to this story I am about to share - which I will do by sharing the email exchange that took place around it.
It's a series of email a good (non-Danish) friend was involved in, which he forwarded to me, between himself and a hopeless bureaucrat at the Danish tax office, while trying to deal with some tax (skat, in Danish) problems that resulted from him going abroad to work. Apparently the memo that foreigners were now welcome in Denmark didn't quite reach this particular bureaucrat.
Incidentally (as he writes in his email) this work abroad, which my friend is doing, is actually funded by the Danish Research Council (who at least seem to understand the value a foreigner can be to the country)!
I should also add (not that it matters) that this friend of mine, who has been living in Denmark nearly as long as I have (he completed a PhD here, before becoming an Assistant Professor), genuinely loves the country - especially Copenhagen. He regularly refers to the city (in all seriousness) as 'his paradise'. In fact, I once wrote a post entitled 'Why Copenhagen is a happening place these days' that was somewhat inspired by his views, which I tend to share. Unfortunately, his Danish has not advanced terribly far during this time here (as often happens when you're working full-time...).
Well, even in paradise there is bureaucracy. And where there is bureaucracy, there are bureaucrats. And sometimes this means dealing with a live person...and here the problems so often begin.
Read the exchange for yourself below, it's rather breathtaking. In fact, it could be straight out of a manual written by the highly xenophobic Dansk Folkparti entitled 'how to deal with pesky foreigners in Denmark asking questions'.
"Sometimes they can really piss me off in my paradise.....", wrote my friend in forwarding this set of emails. Indeed, indeed - as you read through this exchange, you can almost feel the emotional explosion as my dear friend loses it...
Sendt: 18. februar 2008 14:30
Emne: VS: Problem Salary Abroad
My name is GP (CPR-nr. xxxxxx-xxxx), I am working at the Denmark Technical University for the past several years.
I am currently an assistant professor with a contract until November of 2009 and I have attached my contract. I am spending 12 months to Tokyo University (Japan) with a starting date 1/1/2008.
I visited the SKAT office before I leave for Tokyo because I was informed that I will be in a beneficial tax status since I will spend a period of more than 6 months abroad. I submitted the necessary documents and everything seemed to be fine. However when I received the salary of January this was very low. As you see in the email below the administration office of DTU reported to me that my allowance for 2008 is significant lower.
Allowance 2007 = 7.841 pr. month
Allowance 2008 = 3.685 pr. month
I don't see anything beneficial until now and my salary has decreased instead of increased, so could you please help me, what is wrong and how could we fix it? As you understand living in Tokyo makes difficult every other type of communication than email. Thank you in advance for your help.
Sent: 27. februar 2008 10:33:06
Subject: VS: Problem Salary Abroad
I keep taking no respond even though I have mail you several times. Please let me know if this problem is taking care from someone in your department.
Fra: email@example.com [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sendt: 3. marts 2008 11:52
Emne: FW: Problem Salery Abroad.
The official language in Denmark is Danish and that is why we write to you in Danish. However, you are of course welcome to come to the nearest SKAT Centre where we in English could explain the contents of your letter from SKAT.
Der er lavet et skattekort til dig for 2008, med et månedtligt fradag på xx.xxx. Dette skattekort skulle være sendt til DTU. Skattekortet er gældende fra 1. januar 2008. For at være helt sikker på at DTU får skattekortet, sendes skattekortet igen til DTU.
Med venlig hilsen
Helle June Frederiksen [Ed. note: name changed]
SKAT Kundecentret Tlf. 7222 1818
Sendt: 3. marts 2008 12:31
Emne: SV: Problem Salery Abroad.
Dear Helle June Frederiksen
what do you mean ´welcome to come to the nearest SKAT Center´? I am in Tokyo, Japan where I will stay for 12 months because the Danish Research Council fund me to do so. And their letter with the decision of obtaining knowledge in Japan and bring it back to Denmark came to me in English. How come now that I am experiencing a problem abroad the best you can do is to send me an ironic email after 34 days informing me about the official language of Denmark? I know which is the official language because I am working and offering in your country from the very responsible position of the academic professor for 5 years now.
I feel sorry about you.
Med venlig hilsen since Best wishes maybe will not satisfy you.
Ouch! That hurt!
If you are familiar with Copenhagen, you may recognise that there is something notable in this picture. It's taken coming down towards the Amerikakaj/Dampfærgevej area of the city (where the Oslo ferry arrives shortly after 9 each morning, and departs at 5pm sharp every afternoon).
You see, there are relatively few buildings in Copenhagen - residential or commercial - that exceed 5-6 stories in height. Sure they do exist, but in comparison to most major cities there just aren't that many. This is one of them - it's a brand new development I think it's worth singling out for some attention for it's excellent architectural design.
While industrial and commercial architecture in Copenhagen all too often leaves something to be desired, the same cannot always be said of residential construction projects, of which there have been a few of note over the past years. On my way to and from work every day, I pass by this one - it's actually two buildings. Unfortunately, the location and surroundings leave much to be desired, since it is situated by a very major traffic artery filled with noisy rigs and large trucks. On the other hand, if you have one of the upper floor apartments in the high rise building, it comes with a great view of the channel.
Nonetheless, fantastic design in my humble opinion.
Complete with balconies - all too rare in Copenhagen, though they have been dramatically increasing in popularity in recent years, with plenty being added to existing old (often very old) buildings every year.
The area of Dampfærgevej/Parkhusvej/Amerika Plads is largely a commercial area, with lots of offices, but in the past few years a number of new apartment buildings have sprung up. If you like being close to the city, but are fine with having few of the normal amendments just outside your door that typically come with urban living - such as a variety of interesting shops, restaurants and cafes (not to mention people), it's an area worth considering. It's not quite for me, though it's quite a nice area in which to work, I can tell you.
And with the real estate market around Copenhagen (and much of the rest of Denmark) having hit the skids, there are plenty of units still available if you like what you see...and you could probably swing a great deal for one, the way things are going.
no shortage of for sale signs...
Normally the start of the new year is a good time for a retrospective...but since that didn't quite happen, hey, better late than never.
So here's a little quick hit list of 9 posts from the 3 years - chosen because of their popularity - and the fact that they were some of my favourites to write.
1. Introducing the Danish citizenship test
2. Closing time in Copenhagen (Part 1)
3. Closing time in Copenhagen (Part 3) - To feel or not to feel
4. A late night threesome on Vesterbrogade
5. A problem of integration (and a modest proposal)
6. The sound of the popping bubble: A bit about psychology and Copenhagen's housing market
7. A stroll down Istegade (Part 1)
8. A stroll down Istegade (Part 2): Istegade the Hipster (and Istegade the Kitsch)
9. On a sunny Sunday in Copenhagen
...and a couple extras I quite like as well:
Square boxes then and now
The varied faces of Christiania
Hope you like them too!