Monday, September 6, 2010

Thoughts on Denmark

I spent the week before last in Copenhagen seeing the sights while my better half was attending a conference. Before going the only things I knew about Denmark were 1) King Canute came from there, 2) in the past they owned Greenland, 3) they make Carlsberg, 4) it is easy to play in Medieval Total War and 5) it is really hard to play in Hearts of Iron. Obviously I had a lot to learn.

Firstly it turns out that Denmark is still a constitutional monarchy, with Queen Margaret II on the throne for almost the last 40 years. They have a terrible tradition that male heirs are either called Frederik or Christian so you would have thought being the first queen in almost 600 years she would have taken the opportunity to change that. However, her first son was named Frederik and his son is called Christian so normal service will be resumed whenever she dies. The tour of the Amalienborg palace where her majesty lives is more a retrospective on her life and could be skipped. However the Rosenborg castle up the road where her ancestors lived is well worth a visit.

When walking around Copenhagen the two things I noticed most was the general cleanliness of the place and the complete lack of homeless people and beggars compared to Dublin. During the course of the week I saw precisely one person begging at about 1:30AM on Friday night. It appears as though there is a much higher level of social cohesion in Denmark and that those less well off are taken care of. Alternatively, it could just be that central Copenhagen is taken well managed to keep tourists happy and that in the suburbs and other cities things are far more like at home. That seems like a rather large conspiracy theory so I'm going to go with the previous theory that the welfare state in Denmark just works.

In terms of transport, Copenhagen is well served by commuter trains and a new metro system that opened in 2002 and was extended to the airport recently. Once you discover that the automatic ticket machines have an English language option, buying a 10 journey ticket is quite simple and set me back about €18 which covered the downtown area and out to the convention centre. Actually the whole zone system for public transport seems quite convoluted and you would want to have your wits about you to avoid purchasing the wrong ticket. It was also quite cheap to get over to Malmö for a day trip over the Oresund Bridge on the train. With a group ticket it ended up costing less than €20 a head return and Malmö was well worth a visit.

The other transport item of note is the huge number of cyclists in Copenhagen. The city is pretty much flat as a pancake and so lends itself nicely to cycling. Most major roads have separated cycle lanes in each direction and the users obey traffic lights and give proper hand signals at junctions, quite a shock to the system! This does mean that you need to be extra careful when crossing the road at junctions as a silent but deadly bike may be about to run you over when you start jay-walking.

My only complaint about Copenhagen was the cost of food and drink. Meals out were expensive even compared to Dublin prices and in most bars a 500ml beer cost over &euro6;. I guess the government has to raise taxes to pay for the high standard of living and alcohol is always a good place to start. Luckily the conference had arranged its own special beer that was distributed free each evening thanks to generous sponsors. After a few bottles of Awesome Sauce everything about Copenhagen became Awesome!

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