Archive | February, 2012

Jutland, The American Midwest in Western Denmark

19 Feb

So, last weekend, my Humanitarian Law and Armed Conflicts class loaded up our knapsacks, laced up our boots and packed our lunchboxes for a rugged trek (on a charter bus) to Western Denmark, aka Jutland, aka the big peninsula that connects Denmark to Germany (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jutland). This Short Study Tour, which is a part of every course of study here at DIS, was supposed to be a mix of academic, historical, cultural and social exposure. Turns out there wasn’t much of an academic part, mainly because the Danish Military Command Center we were supposed to go to canceled our visit last minute, but 3 out of 4 isn’t bad!

We began our journey early Thursday morning with a lecture on Bosnia from a husband and wife team that has spent years working in the recovering region. After this, we jumped on our bus, drove across two bridges, saw some windmills, and ended up in Arhus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aarhus#Main_sights) about 3.5 hours later. Arhus is a big harbor town on Jutland’s east coast and is a really neat city – Denmark’s second largest and a college town at that. After a hearty lunch we headed over to the University of 43,500 (ranked second-best in Scandinavia) for two lectures on human rights. After this is when the real “exposure” started. Our class and professors joined the lecturers and their classes of Danish students for dinner. I managed to sit by a group of Danish graduate students and started asking them all kinds of different questions (surprised?) Turns out they were all from Jutland, and they all could have been from the American Midwest if not for the whole speaking Danish thing. Very friendly, asked a lot of questions about the states, grew up on farms (Jutland is pretty much all farmland) and thought that everyone in Copenhagen is unfriendly and unwelcoming (while everyone in Copenhagen thinks everyone from Jutland is a hick). After finishing dinner (and the numerous bottles of wine that accompanied it) we embarked on our night out in Arhus, which meant we walked down a flight of stares to the University bar on the floor below us. There our class went through a mini-keg or two, played several rounds of fuseball (the Danes are super competitive about fuseball) and then followed our two professors (one of whom went to Arhus) to a local bar for a few more drinks and a chance to meet some Danes. Despite the cold walk back to the hostel at 3am, very fun night.

The next day was a trip to the Aros Art Museum (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ARoS_Aarhus_Kunstmuseum), which is really well-known in Scandinavia and Germany for its modern art. I thought most of it was pretty wierd, and I wish I had more time in the Danish Golden Age section and its paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries. The top of the Art Museum has a neat enclosed rainbow panorama from which you could see the city through the entire light spectrum. But by far the best part of the day was going to the Cathedral (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%85rhus_Domkirke), the largest in Scandinavia. Check out the pictures below.  The Cathedral was finished in 1529, right before the Reformation in 1536. When the Protestants took over, they white-washed all the beautiful frescoes on the brick walls, added a pulpit and turned all the pews in the front of the church to face the pulpit in the center rather than the alter at the front (which creates some real problems for weddings). However, the white-wash ended up preserving the frescoes, and since they recently removed the white-wash and recovered them we were able to see them just as they were 500 years ago. Several of my classmates said visiting this Cathedral was the highlight of the trip – way to go Mom for buying me that Scandinavia guidebook!

Next it was back onto the charter bus and off to Rinkoling (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ringkobing) on the West Coast of Jutland. Talk about the middle of nowhere! But at least the hostel we stayed in had a bowling alley!

The next morning we were out on the beaches and dunes of the West Coast of Denmark on a guided tour of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall, or at least the portion that was constructed in Denmark to fight off an allied invasion. It was funny seeing all the new summer beach houses mixed in with the dunes that housed these massive concrete bunkers. When we finally made it through all the dunes and onto the beach, it looked like a scene from Inception (but actually – check out the pics), like someone had just dropped these massive, crumbling concrete bunkers from the sky onto the beach. Actually, the shoreline recedes by a full meter each year, creating the current separation between the bunkers and the dune line, whereas when they were built they were eight along the dune line.

Our next and last stop on the way back to Copenhagen was to Jelling, a small village that contains the birth certificate of Denmark, the Jelling Stones (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jelling_stones). These stones were carved by Harold Bluetooth, a Viking King of Denmark in the mid-900s who first converted the Danes to Christianity, thereby linking the future development of Denmark to Catholic Europe. The stones are the first mention of “Denmark” as a nation/kingdom and are therefore considered the country’s birth certificate, and they are surrounded by an old church, cemetary and two large viking burial mounds that seem to parallel the pyramids in ancient Egypt, at least in concept (the mounds were built like ships to carry the Viking King and all his valuables into the next world – but this all stopped once Harold converted the country – he actually dug up his father from the one mound and re-buried him in the church, so Harold was really on board with the whole Christianity thing). We had a great, energetic tour guide who explained all of the imagery on the stones. The gold chain-like parts are Celtic and therefore indicate that the makers of the stones – and likely the first contact with and influence of Christianity – came from England rather than from Germany. The stones themselves are pretty unimpressive because the original paint has worn off, making the markings hard to see. They are also enclosed in glass cases because some bright fellow decided to spray paint one of them last year (luckily it came off). But the replicas in the museum look pretty impressive – check out the pics!

From there, we returned to Copenhagen. It was a really great trip, considering a got to see a lot of things I probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Sorry for the long post – more pictures of Copenhagen to come along with how my classes are!

“How to piss off a Dane”

12 Feb

So, had an awesome weekend exploring the region of Jutland – the peninsula connecting Western Denmark to Germany – with some of my classmates and profs this past weekend, but before I post the pics and share the stories, here’s a really funny article sent to me and endorsed as accurate by a Dane:

http://matadornetwork.com/abroad/how-to-piss-off-a-dane/

It should provide some insight into the day-to-day cultural differences over here. More to come…

Snow, Beer Tasting, and Seeing the Sights!

8 Feb

So on Sunday, all of us in the Clausen household awoke to a blanket of about 4 inches of snow on the ground:

        

However, this did not deter Taylor and I from meeting up and venturing into the city. The following pictures are from a portion of our “History of Copenhagen” class assignment. We basically have to visit 15 historically and architecturally important places around the city, take some pictures and answer some questions. It is a great way to not only see a lot of the city but also learn about everything we are seeing. The class focuses on the structure history of the city – so how the physical city of Copenhagen came to be over time.

            

The view is from the top of the Round Tower, an observatory built onto Trinity Church by King Christian the IV between 1637 and 1656. The observatory was built for the University of Copenhagen, and the tower also provided access to the university library in the church loft from 1653 until a fire destroyed it in 1728 (it seems like everything in Copenhagen was destroyed at one point or another by a fire – literally because it was so cold all the time, people overdid the keeping warm thing). There is a 660 foot winding, arched access ramp which leads to the very top and which Russian Czar Peter the Great rode up in 1716. Also, it should be noted that this was only one of the many buildings that Christian IV built in Copenhagen – he was a real mover and shaker and is arguably the most important figure in Copenhagen’s history – but more on that in another post.

Next I must talk a bit about the Beer Tasting I attended Monday night. About 30 fellow American study abroad students and I made our way to Norrebro Bryghus (Norrebro Brewery) in the northern part of the city. It is a microbrewery and a restaurant. Our guide for the evening, Soren Wagner, works at the Brewery and used to work for our program, DIS. He claims to have tried over 18,000 different kinds of beer during his travels around the globe. He gave us an hour presentation with a little bit of beer history (Mesopotamian recipes for beer predate recipes for bread by about 1000 years) the differences between types of beers (most standard beers are lagers – specialty beers are ales) different ingredients (mostly barley grain, but some other grains that make up different malts and different flavors) the brewing process (much more exact and sanitary than it was during the Middle Ages) and how Americans settle for absolutely terrible beer (except for the rash of IPAs popping up recently). We all tried 4 different beers the Brewery makes, and topped it off with some leftover Christmas Ale – a Copenhagen tradition and favorite. Sorem finished by recommending a website for finding different pubs, microbreweries, etc. all around the world, which should be helpful while in Europe: http://www.ratebeer.com/ . Here are the pics:

            

Here are some more pictures from our assignment, only from Monday:

Most of them are from either inside City Hall or outside of City Hall in the Town Square (where the Handball Celebration had been). Inside City Hall Taylor and I met one of the security guards – his name was Wojciech (pronounced like “voy-tech”) and he was from Poland. While growing up, Wojciech’s father fought the Germans during World War II and tried to work against Russian/communist occupation after the war but found it very difficult. Wojciech said everyone was opposed to communist rule, and that Poles were very used to opposing foreign rulers since they have basically been occupied in one way or another for the last 200 years. Coming from this family tradition of resistance, Wojciech joined the Solidarity Movement during the 1980s, but was forced to leave the country because of his political convictions and the risk for his wife and three daughters. They fled to Denmark 4 years before the communist regime in Poland fell, and he said they might have decided to stay if they had known the end was so close. He said his three daughters all speak excellent Danish, Polish and English and have bright futures, but he and his wife have struggled to learn the difficult Danish language as adults (they immigrated when he was 32). While Wojciech had worked with sculptures in Poland in some capacity, he and his wife are both security guards at Copenhagen City Hall now. Wojciech’s story really highlighted the difficulties that immigrants – even those from European nations – experience while trying to integrate into the tight-knit Danish society. It was also incredible to meet a member of the Solidarity Movement. Wojciech gave me some suggestions for places to visit in Poland (Krakow, Gdansk and a city in the west that is largely German – but not Warsaw – it’s the “Manhatten of Poland” and not really worth visiting) and made me more eager than before to travel to the country.

The pictures of the plain looking church will the pillars in the front are of the Copenhagen Cathedral or the Church of Our Lady. The inside was very white and plain, lacking ornateness (typical of a Protestant church) with a big statue of Triumphant Christ at the alter (as opposed to Crucified Christ). Next are some pictures of a row of red “firehouses” called that because they survived the fire of 1795 and denoted by their similar roof-top designs (gables). The square where they were taken in is considered Copenhagen’s most beautiful square, called Greyfriars’ Square. This is where the Franciscan Friars, or Greyfriars (based on their grey cloaks) had a Monastery before it was torn down after the Reformation in 1536. Last, there are pictures of the Church of the Holy Spirit, built in 1295 in the Baltic Brick Gothic style (one of Copenhagen’s few remaining Gothic-style buildings). This church was Copenhagen’s first hospital (where sisters and brethern of religious societies cared for primarily the dying rather than curing the sick). The church survived many fires, additions, demolitions, and reconstructions over the centuries. Out front of the church was a marker which read: “Tomb of the Unknown Concentration Camp Prisoner.”

Well that’s about it for now – off to Jutland (the large peninsula of Denmark that is connected to Germany) this weekend for a class trip. We’re going to several very neat places and events, and my next post will have plenty of pictures and information about the trip. Hope everyone is doing well and made it through this long post!

Mikkel Hansen! Mikkel Hansen! Mikkel Hansen!

4 Feb

So this past Sunday, my host family and I gathered around the television to watch Denmark take on Serbia in the European Handball Championship Match. For those of you who don’t know what Handball is (that was me too) here’s a link (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Team_handball). It’s like a game that you’d invent in your driveway or something. Basically, combine indoor soccer, basketball and hockey – 7 players on each team, you can only take 3 steps before dribbling, passing, or shooting, (as long as you don’t step into the goalie’s zone), two 30 minute halves, and score score and score again! The Danes invented the sport and take great pride in their competitiveness at it.

The Championship Match was thrilling and wasn’t decided until the very end. Here’s a look at the last minute and a half: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBtKW-FUhCU #24 who scores Denmark’s final goal is the star of the team – Mikkel Hansen, and he really lived up to his billing during the game. As he was preparing to shoot on that last breakaway you see in the video, the Danish announcers on tv (biggest homers ever) started chanting “Mikkel Hansen! Mikkel Hansen! Mikkel Hansen!” which Mikkel Hansen punctuated by scoring and sealing the victory – by far the most exciting and fun moment of the match!

Of course, on Monday, the team was celebrating at the Copenhagen City Hall, so my esteemed colleague Taylor Rose and I made the 5 minute walk from our classes to the Square to celebrate with the crowd. Here are the pictures:

About 20,000 turned out to show their support. Despite the cold, there was a lot of positive energy in the celebration – it was really neat to see the pride the Danes have for their national sports teams. Can’t wait for a soccer match in the Spring!

Settling in…

1 Feb

Hej!

I hope everyone who is reading this is doing well. So you probably have a lot of questions about how things have been going in Denmark so far – I’ll try and start with some of the basics first (but you can always follow up with me about any questions you might have)!

So two Sundays ago I arrived safely in Denmark. The 8-hour overnight flight went quickly, and after two meals, a Carlsberg beer and no sleep, we made it into Copenhagen. Customs was merely a stamp of the passport, followed by a bus ride to a nearby hotel and an 8 minute orientation. Then my host father Jesper (pronounced Yes-per) picked me up and drove me to my host family’s home outside of greater Copenhagen in the very small town of Lynge (pronounced Lu-nga). We stopped at a bakery on the way and picked up a very nice spread of danishes (way too appropriate) for a nice and somewhat expensive meal that they only have about twice a year (so talk about a treat for me). On the way Jesper and I discussed the South Carolina primary as well as his current job as an independent IT consultant for various pharmaceutical companies (twice the pay and half the work as when he was working in the industry – so he’s a fan).

Their home is in a neighborhood and has a great view of rolling farmland and a few distant windmills from the second floor:

We are in a mostly rural area, about an hour commute by bus and train outside of Copenhagen.

Once at the house we ate the danishes and discussed the current economic situation in the EU and Denmark’s role as current EU president (the presidency rotates to a different member-country every 6 months) as well as some of the policies of Denmark’s social democracy including its welfare and tax systems – all really interesting stuff. We also talked about past exchange students they have hosted. Jesper’s English is outstanding, and this has enabled us to have some really insightful and in-depth discussions. Both his parents were teachers and it shows. His wife Lydia (pronounced Lu-dia) joined us to eat while their son Rasmus was still sleeping. Lydia works in the pharmaceutical industry for a company called Radiometer (Denmark’s bread and butter industries are pharmaceuticals, meat and dairy-based agriculture, and shipping). She was one of 7 kids and grew up on a farm in the rural region of Jutland (the large peninsula connected to Germany – we live on the island of Sjaelland or Zeeland northwest of Copenhagen:
you can also see Lynge on this map if you look closely – near Allerod, northwest of Copenhagen). Her English is also very good and she has been extremely welcoming and helpful whenever I need something. Rasmus is 15 and 1/2 and plays on an American Football club team (too funny). He is a huge Baltimore Ravens fan (so I’ve kept pretty quiet when it comes to football) and plans to study and play high school football in the US next school year.
I have my own bedroom and shower, and Jesper helped get my computer up and running with the adapter and charger as well as their wireless internet. The family is awesome – extremely knowledgeable, willing to talk, have discussions, all of which have exposed me to the Danish culture in a really unique way.
Well I think that’s plenty to start with – email me (carl.ober@villanova.edu) with any comments or questions, or I think you can comment directly on the blog. Also be sure to sign up to receive the email notifications so that every time I add a new post you get an email – check the original email I sent you with instructions on how to do this. There will be more posts to follow…
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