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Denmark Diaries: Copenhagen in November

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A small beam of light in the grey november: the palm house in the Botanical Garden.
A small beam of light in the grey november: the palm house in the Botanical Garden.

The blog is behind schedule. Very much so. I’ll just catch up on the last three and a half weeks..


CPH:DOX, the largest documentary film festival in Scandinavia, took place in Copenhagen from the beginning to the middle of November. I had heard a lot of good things in the run-up to the festival and secured a few tickets for various events: “Bronx Obama”, a talk/lecture with Jacob Appelbaum and “Citizenfour”, which sold out incredibly quickly.

“Bronx Obama” is about an Obama impersonator from the Bronx: a Latino from the Bronx who realises before the 2008 presidential election that he looks incredibly similar to Barack Obama if he just shaves off his beard. The protagonist was also visiting Copenhagen and gave a short speech in his Obama role just before the screening - he had copied Obama’s walk and some phrases almost perfectly, but in other moments the difference was already clearly visible. The film was quite interesting and had an interesting melancholic note. (The protagonist, in his belief in the “American Dream”, wants to make a living from his talent, but that turns out not to be so easy)

The talk by Jacob Appelbaum, an American hacker, was part of the festival section curated by Laura Poitras. Poitras, who was heavily involved in the Snowden revelations, is friends with Appelbaum and had learnt from him how to communicate securely and in encrypted form - a crucial skill when she was contacted by Snowden, as she explained in her brief introduction and presentation. Appelbaum herself spoke about surveillance and encryption, an open and sometimes polemical talk, but always interesting. The part about whistleblowing and public surveillance in Denmark was particularly fascinating. A very, very inspiring lecture.

I watched “Citizenfour” together with the Madame when she was visiting Copenhagen. I had of course followed the revelations about the activities of the NSA and GCHQ last year, but the film summarises the events once again in all their monstrosity. The images from the hotel in Hong Kong where Snowden hid at the beginning of his escape provide very interesting insights into both Edward Snowden’s motivation and the working methods of Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. And, there’s no other way to put it, the film is at times simply thrilling, although the ending is of course known. I wanted to see the film primarily because of its content, but it was also a very well-made film.

Rub & Stub #

Before going to the cinema, Madame and I went out to eat at a restaurant with a typical Copenhagen idea: Rub og Stub (meaning “everything without exception”) uses with food that would otherwise end up in the bin. The restaurant is supported by bakeries, supermarkets, butchers and fishmongers, but also by small café owners who simply bring over all the food they couldn’t sell themselves and otherwise would have to throw away.

The restaurant has cooked with over three and a half tonnes (!) of donated food this year alone. Rub og Stub creates a new menu every day with two starters, two main courses and two desserts from the daily changing and above all unpredictable offer - and it was incredibly delicious. Madame and I shared bread nachos with salsa and skyr (an Icelandic yoghurt that is very popular in Denmark) as a starter, had beetroot quiche with a red cabbage and apple salad and roasted potatoes and turnips with thyme as our main course and for dessert we had an apple crumble with coconut skyr ice cream. (Here’s the full menu for the day of our visit.) Everything tasted delicious - I especially loved the beetroot quiche: tasting a bit earthy and a fantastic combination with the soft, slightly sour skyr…

The atmosphere is quite cosy and relaxed, the crowd very mixed: from families with small children to a group of friends to a retired couple, everybody was there. A very nice experience that combines quite a few of the good things about Denmark: an innovative idea on the subject of sustainability, realised in a casual and delicious way.

(A little background about Rub og Stub: despite seating over 100 people, it is often fully booked, but you can reserve a table seven days in advance on the website. The prices are quite reasonable by Copenhagen standards: you pay between 15 and 20 euros for a main course. On average, 60% of the dishes are made from donated food, the rest is bought in as normal - otherwise it simply wouldn’t work. Apart from one or two chefs, only volunteers work at the Rub og Stub and all profits go to various aid projects in Sierra Leone or will be used to buy a new kitchen in the coming year. There was also a very interesting article about the restaurant in the Süddeutsche Zeitung (in German) recently.)

Roskilde #

Together with Madame, I took a little trip to Roskilde - today it is mainly known for its festival, but in Viking times Roskilde was the Danish capital.

We were there on a very grey day with a very nasty wind blowing in from the sound. It was a Sunday and the town was pretty much deserted. We first walked through the old town, to the huge cathedral (the largest church in Denmark, also built in Viking times) and then on to the Viking Ship Museum. The Vikings had blocked one of the entrances to the harbour with sunken ships to make it more difficult for potential attackers - and in the 1960s these ships were rediscovered, excavated and restored. From small fishing boats to warships for 80 men, everything is there and the museum explains very clearly how the Vikings built their boats and went to sea. In summer, you can also sail/row your own replicas of the sunken ships on the sound or watch as further replicas of the ships are slowly built by hand in the open-air section. In the middle of November, the outdoor activities are naturally limited, but the museum is well worth a visit.

In addition to the Viking Museum, we also visited two museums in Copenhagen.

At the DAC (Danish Centre for Architecture) there was a very interesting exhibition entitled “Reprogramming the City”, in which many small ideas are presented on how to make urban spaces more liveable with little tricks. From outdoor lunch tables set up on the banks of the Seine in Paris to swimming routes through London, from roof gardens to drinking water production, from intelligent paths (which indicate that the street is frozen) to unusual living spaces, it’s all there. Not much text, but one or two pictures or a short video explain each idea - and you often find yourself smiling because it is either incredibly simple or incredibly complex, but always directly solves problems in the city.

We only spent a short time at the SMK, the Danish National Gallery. We already had seen most of it and had only come for a special event: “Dürer under the knife”. You can watch the restorers at the SMK as they prepare a Dürer painting for an exhibition next year. The painting is over 3x3m in size and has not been shown recently because it is in rather poor condition, but now it is to be restored for a major Dürer exhibition and you can watch the process. In theory. When we were there, you could see the restorers’ workplace, but not a restorer for miles around. Nice idea, but we really would have liked to see the actual work being done.