Hamburg Hauptbahnhof is an international railway station about 30 minutes away from my new house-share. Listed on the departure boards, one can see destinations all over Europe
A friend of mine got in touch a few weeks ago, asking if I had been to Copenhagen before. She wanted a few tips for places to see while in the city. Copenhagen, and Denmark in general, had been on my “places-to-visit” list for a while – ever since I lived in Sweden, really – and so, after a bit of persuasion on her part, I booked a train ticket to the Danish capital.
The Journey Up
I took the 0725 service from Hamburg, direct to Copenhagen.
That’s right. A direct service… to the capital city of another country. I still can’t quite get over how this works, and that it was affordable. You can do this from the UK of course, but only to Paris or Brussels, and only after you’ve re-mortgaged the house! The joys of living on the continent, I guess.
The rail journey itself was rather relaxing. Just under 5 hours of travel:
The countryside of Northern Germany is rather beautiful. A combination of deep forest, wide open countryside, and breathtaking coastline. Though taking photos through glass on a train never yields the best results, I gave it a go anyway…
In order to cross the large stretch of water between Germany and Denmark, the train I was on had to board a ferry. Cool, right!
Now, I’m something of a transport geek. I love all things mass transit. I find it fascinating how these networks can be designed to make moving people intuitive, efficient, and easy to use. In particular, I find it very satisfying when different modes of transport line up to provide a seamless transfer from one mode to another.
Imagine my delight, then, when the train I was on slowed to a stop at the shoreline at Puttgarden on the island of Fehmarn.
The train slowly pulled onto the ferry, where we then disembarked to enjoy the view from the top of the ship.
On arrival in Rødby, the police boarded the train to ensure no-one was entering the country illegally. A stark reminder of the crisis occurring miles away on the EU’s southern border. I found myself reflecting on the extraordinarily unusual thing the Schengen region is. The fact that it is perfectly possible for someone to travel from the southern tip of Italy to the far north of Scandinavia, unimpeded by boarder checks.
I don’t wish to make a political statement either way about whether this is a good or bad thing, but one has to admit that it’s rather incredible…
Arrival in Copenhagen
And so, after 5 hours of rail and sea travel, I arrived in the Danish capital. It was baking hot, and incredibly sunny.
After dropping my bag off at the hostel, and applying a layer of sunscreen, it was time to go on a bit of an explore of the city!
An Afternoon Wander
The first day was really the just an afternoon, having arrived at roughly 1230. First things first to meet up with my friend and grab a light lunch.
Copenhagen is somewhat expensive. Sensible fuel for city exploration seems to be a trip to a Netto or 7-eleven for a snack, rather than any kind of sit-down meal. It’s worth saving the money for a proper dinner.
This afternoon was filled with a wander around the city. A stroll about without any particular plan. I’ve always found this to be the best way to really soak up a city. You end up walking down these ordinary streets, filled with ordinary apartments, cafes, and people. One of the highlights of this wander has to be the area around Nyhavn. This is the highly photogenic part of the Copenhagen waterfront. Which, as you can see is something of a tourist trap:
The coloured houses pictured look across the water to the Kunsthal Charlottenborg, an art gallery. There is currently a display featured on the exterior of the building which took me rather by surprise and brought the experience of the police boarding the train earlier that day into sharper relief.
To me, this combination of tourist trap and poignant art is a real display of Danish-ness. On the opposing sides of this little piece of water, two very different parts of the modern world face each-other. The Danes aren’t afraid of a tough conversation about the state of the modern world, and they aren’t afraid to force that conversation on people visiting their country.
Of course, many people just walked right by without paying attention to it at all; but many people, of many nationalities were also stood in front of this installation talking about what it meant to them, to Denmark, and to the wider world.
I believe I was moved more by this piece because of where it was installed. To look at these life-jackets and then across the water to all the tourists laughing, drinking, and having a good time, was a striking dissonance.
After a little contemplation, it was time to move on to perhaps my favourite part of the trip:
Copenhagen Street Food
Just a short walk from Kunsthal Charlottenborg, over the Inderhavnsbroen, you will find Copenhagen Street Food. The Danish version of Borough Market in London, Copenhagen Street Food is located with an excellent view of the harbour, city, and opera house. I was bowled over by the breath-taking architecture of the city. Copenhagen is beautiful to look at, especially in the brilliant northern sunshine.
The end of the day consisted of a further walk around Christianshavn to soak up some more Danish scenery. It was a rather lovely area of the city, reminiscent of Amsterdam.
The only “full” day of my trip to Denmark. My train wasn’t until 1730 or so, which meant there was a whole day to be had.
The morning started with a walk past the Rådhus, or city hall. Not an especially pretty building, but an important one for the city. It provided us with yet another demonstration of Danish-ness: the LGBT Pride Flag was flying outside. The way Denmark embraces human rights with such gusto is something to be admired, I think!
From there, it was to the National Museum of Denmark. A museum I would highly recommend for their “Stories of Denmark” exhibition, which takes you from the 1600’s to the 2000’s. Here, you learn about all sorts of quirks of Danish history, as well as the development of Danish society from a highly religious, conservative country, to the liberal, modern democracy of the present day.
There were a few things that struck me about this part of the museum. One of which was that the entire period between 1914 to 1950 was contained within one room. I was amazed that this period of history, which is one of the most talked about and studied in this part of the world, was able to be crammed into a single room… However, since Denmark was largely neutral during the two wars, I guess there wasn’t so much to talk about.
After the museum, it was time for lunch, and where better to go than the Torvehallerne, Copenhagen’s answer to Covent Garden. Here, a Smørrebrød and beer to start, followed by iced tea and ice cream in the sun, was just what was needed.
With a museum taken in, and some Danish cuisine sampled, a relax was in order. Therefore, we headed back towards the centre, passing a pretty house that I just had to take a picture of, and found a rather nice cafe bar called The Living Room. I’d definitely like to see what it’s like there in the evening. As it was, it was pretty deserted at that time in the afternoon.
Time to head home
So, back to Hamburg I went. There was a bit of a change of plan: I had to take two trains, rather than one, back home. This wasn’t the end of the world, of course. At least the trains ran on time to get me back!
A taste of things to come?
Spontaneously spending around 29 hours in a new country and city was a rather surreal experience. I’ve never really done anything like that before.
I’m definitely a fan of the thrill of just going somewhere. There’s a profound feeling of freedom that comes along with such a trip. I was struck by the ease and stress-free nature of the trip.
Modern Europe is such an easy place to explore that it seems foolish to not do so. I anticipate future budget trips to European cities, which can only mean one thing… more blog posts on the horizon!