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Denmark Diaries: Kulturnatten

Last Friday was “Kulturnatten”, or Culture Night, here in Copenhagen: all kinds of museums, ministries and other interesting buildings open their doors all evening and put on a small programme for visitors - sometimes more, sometimes less spectacular. Of course, the opportunity to get inside buildings that are not normally open to the public is particularly interesting. I rummaged through the programme in advance and then set off into the city.

The first stop was at UN City. Since 2013, Copenhagen has been home to several UN organisations on a campus near Nordhavn. I’ve seen the building a few times on the suburban railway, but didn’t even know it belonged to the UN. There is still a lot of construction going on on the site: On Friday evening, a road was still being tarmaced directly in front of the entrance. Inside, the architecture is simple, bright and modern in a Nordic style. The individual UN agencies showed their work and every quarter of an hour there was a short presentation by an agency, combined with the opportunity to ask questions. I sat (relatively by chance) in the presentation of a representative of the World Food Programme, who gave a relatively vivid account of her work in the world’s trouble spots. In the end, I was left somewhat despairing: around 800 million people are malnourished, deficits due to malnutrition in the first two years of life are responsible for 80% of the reduction in physical performance in adulthood and the cost of sufficient and healthy food is only between $0.20 and $1. So overall, a lot could be achieved with very simple means - and the operative word is could, because there are not enough resources to help everyone, and so World Food Programme staff have to make the tough decision again and again whether to help Syria instead of Somalia, for example, knowing that people will die in the other region. It was really hard to go back to the bright foyer in rich Denmark after this rather gloomy insight into the daily routine of disaster and development aid.

After the trip to UN City, I cycled to Christianshavn. There were several interesting places to visit there. Firstly, I went to the “Dansk Arkitektur Centre” (DAC), where there was supposed to be a campaign about edible plants in the city. There was one, but contrary to the announcement, it wasn’t in English but only in a Danish version - and my language skills weren’t good enough to follow. Instead, the exhibition “Reprogramming the City” was great - it was all about ideas on how to use urban structures and surfaces differently. Sometimes very unusual ideas that you don’t know how they will ever be realised, sometimes very tangible things like a large staircase in Paris that was converted into an open-air canteen with built-in tables. My realisation: I come from the countryside, but I find urbanity incredibly great and fascinating.

Just 100 metres from the DAC is the Danish Foreign Ministry. The building is a relatively boring office block from the 70s, but for this evening the ministry had dedicated its meeting rooms to a specific topic and organised small video conferences with the Danish ambassadors (or other representatives) from the region, where everyone could ask questions. I stopped briefly in the rooms on the Middle East and Ukraine, but it was relatively difficult to understand the Danish of the local representative, which was transmitted in Skype quality. My Danish then sufficed for the short presentation on global population trends, partly because the supporting PowerPoint slides made the context somewhat easier to understand.

The Danish Ministry of the Environment is located in a beautiful old building right next to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Inside there was a Minecraft session for enthusiastic children and a repair café, while outside there were various stands with their own focal points: from grilling pancakes over an open fire to fish farming, from gutting a whole deer to an owl carved with a chainsaw, there was pretty much everything.

Right next to the Ministry of the Environment is one of the highlights of the Kulturnatten: Børsen. The old Copenhagen Stock Exchange is now home to the Danish equivalent of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which is why only employees can enter the building on normal days. On Culture Night, there were guided tours through the magnificent building, supplemented with short anecdotes - definitely the best event of the evening!

I then cycled home very slowly, but made two more stops. The Danish military were on display at the barracks of the Royal Life Guards. There wasn’t much to see of the Life Guards, but there were armoured troop carriers on the lawn. All in all, it was a little disconcerting to see teenagers who were obviously well acquainted with first-person shooters pick up one of the pump guns on display and shoot it through with enthusiastic eyes (without the bullets, of course)..

My last stop was the Botanical Garden, which normally closes its doors at sunset. Today there were various light installations, dance performances in the middle of the lake and the palm house illuminated in colour from the inside, with the leaves casting large shadows on the glass outer wall.

When I got back home, I was very happy to have gone out in the early evening despite my reluctance to do so. A really interesting evening with a very cheerful and relaxed atmosphere in the city..