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Copenhagen

The Happiest City on the Planet
Published in Man's World Magazine | December 2011

Nihola. Christiania. Names of bicycle brands are part of the conversation currency in Copenhagen. A minister riding his iron horse. A suited stockbroker on a city bike. Improvised bicycles posing as rickshaws, ferrying tourists and residents. The Danish capital is a city doing two things simultaneously. Saving fuel and keeping fit. Throughout my trip I did not see anyone obese. Most people own and ride bicycles. It is easy to go anywhere in town on two wheels. The city even offers free city bikes that can be found on the numerous bike-stands all around. It’s also a city designed for walking, with pavements clearly demarcated for bikers and walkers. Money saved on transport can be spent on design, furniture, food, wine, beer from the many mini-breweries that abound Copenhagen. Copenhagen, which I explored extensively on foot, is not just another charming European city. It’s actually welcoming. Smile at copenhagen resident and chances are you will get a welcoming smile back. Smukt! Amazing. Unlikely to happen in Rome, Paris, Berlin or London. Ask me. I had lived in those cities, and as much as I love each of them for different reasons, no city in the world has won my heart over so easily. No wonder then that the city has been rated as the happiest city on the planet in many surveys. Copenhagen is too cool to be true. It is a city that is way ahead of its time and the popular slogan these days is ‘There’s something modern in the state of Denmark’, a take-off on the famous Shakespeare quote. And if you ever get here, here is a list of sights you should catch, and food you should eat.

THE LITTLE MERMAID

The Eiffel Tower of Copenhagen is only 1.25 metres tall, but naked breasts and a fish tale has always had an appeal. Langelinje, aka the Little Mermaid, was created by Edvard Eriksen and installed in 1913. She has been exposed to vandalism many times but is still very popular. In summer, every hour at least ten large tourist buses disgorge wide-eyed camera clicking hordes. A five minute walk from here is the Kastellet – The Citadel. These are preserved military buildings that still echo with sounds of marching soldier’s boots. This pentagonal fortress is Europe’s oldest functional barracks. Time has literally stood still here since 1660. Flocks of sheep and joggers abound. I was entranced by the gaggle of noicy, bossy geese marking their territory.

MUSEUM OF ART & DESIGN

Set in the former Royal Frederick’s Hospital, this beautiful rococo building sits inside a big garden. In the summer an outdoor cafe serves drinks and light lunches in the courtyard which also has a permanent stage for shows including classical plays and modern dramas. When a sudden downpour interrupts my walkabout I ducked into the museum and was instantly rewarded. It exhibits designs dating 2000 years back to the present cutting edge stuff. Another wing houses extraordinary collections of furniture, jewelry, silverware and textiles.

NATIONAL MUSEUM

Equally extraordinary is the Statens Museum For Kunst. In museums, as in churches. what’s inside should be more appealing than its facade. But this National Museum does itself proud on both counts. Built in 1896, this is a showpiece of grandiose design. It houses the Danish Royalty’s private collections augmented by private donations. Flemish, Dutch and Danish golden age painters have a lot of wall space here. Four hours I spent inside did not seem enough to take in its grandeur. A recently built annex connects the original structure via a glass gangway. This generous space is used for art openings, lectures and music concerts. Stuck in my memory is an exhibition of woodcuts which traced its history from the 15th century ( Leonardo da vinci was one of them ) to the present time of contemporary artists who in video films explain how this is beautiful artistic expression takes shape.

ROSENBERG CASTLE

Cross the road when you exit the museum and walk through Kongens Haven, the Royal Gardens. In a city blessed with many gardens, this one is really special. Each year, two million people – locals and tourists alike – eat, drink, play pentanque and croquet games, hold picnics, come on dates, swill champagne and watch puppet shows in its landscaped grounds. I lunched at a charming cafe and found a green carpet to catch a nap on the freshly mowed grass. Refreshed, I walked over to Rosenberg Castle inside garden complex. Built of red sandstone bricks, this castle was commissioned by King Christian IV in 1606. In the basement is the dimly lit treasury which houses the crown jewels. Upstairs I was fascinated by the Marble Room, the cutkery and porcelain serving dishes, the gold and silver thrones.

BOTANIC GARDEN

Yes, I am glutton for gardens and parks. Even by global standards, the ten hectares Botanic Garden (cross the road from Rosenberg castle) is a standout. Sounds of rush hour traffic diappear among the tall and majestic cypress and gingko trees, rockeries, Austrian firs etc. Many specialized nurseries abound but of special interest to me was the one which housed the hundreds of cacti and succulents. The icing on the cake was the orchid nursey which opens to visitors only for an hour every day. Nearly 500 species make for a stunning display.

GLYPTOTEK

Was Cleopatra just a shameless slut or a royal dominatrice? At the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Cleopatra’s world is described in detail. She was Queen of Egypt from 51 to 30BC, but her life and fate continue to fascinate people from all over the world. The Same could be said about the Glyptotek, which reflects the founder, 19th century brewing magnate, Carl Jacobsen’s passion for French and Danish artists. In other rooms, works by Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin and Auguste Rodin abound. I feasted on other other stuff too. A lush internal garden enhances the covered courtyard with a cafe famed for its pasteries. I ate a Truffelkugle and a Fragilite, both covered with truffles. And the tea was brewed the old-fashioned way from a selection of tea-leaves.

EATING AND DRINKING

The Michelin Guide 2010 lists ten Copenhagen restaurants. Noma with two stars has twice in a row been named as the best restaurant in the world. The success of the young chefs of Copenhagen stems from their darling attitude that goes well with the fresh produce that is abundantly available everywhere. Nordic produce such as sea buckthorn, cicely, glasswort, asparagus from Lammefjord, wild watercress, sweet shrimps from northern Jutland find their way onto plates in trendy restos. Molecular gastronomy has been researched here since 2004. Think whipped cream made by using ultra sound. Think freeze drying choice pieces of lamb using liquid nitrogen.
Don’t fancy food that’s fancy? Tuck into traditional nosh. Everywhere in the city are signs that shout smorrebrod. It means Danish open face sandwiches. About 120 years ago, Copenhagen restaurants showed people that sandwiches did not have to be boring. So, the country’s national dish now comes in dozens of variations. Elaborate concoctions of cold cuts, pickled vegetables, raw eggs, capers etc. are stacked on slices of different kinds of breads. Specialists include Sol over Gudhjem (smoked herring, onion and a raw egg yolk), Dyrlaegens Natmad (Liver paste, corned beef, onions) and Stjerneskud (fried fish, shrimps and mayo). I lunched at the world’s most famous smorrebrod restaurant, Ida Davidsen and met the grand old lady who owns it. Ida was not impressed that I had journeyed all the way from India to taste the Davidsen tucker. But the sandwiches were indeed divine.