CPH, you so crazy.
After staying for about a week in one of the “happiest places on earth”, I definitely felt as though the dream of blinding and interminable bliss was unattainable for me. Despite my positivity, despite my openness and willingness to smile at olde people (even when they scowl back because they apparently think I’m going to rob them or convert them into some heathen folk religion), I just don’t have the hair for Denmark.
There’s a lot of swooshy hair in this city. Like, A LOT. People are looking fly. Even those who really aren’t looking so fly and are maybe throwing up in an alley are still looking pretty fly. This is because the state is making sure that every citizen has enough gov. cheddar to go out and buy pretty nice coats, tight-fitting jeans, and get really nice haircuts. I stayed with three flat-mates in Copenhagen for 7 days, and in that time, I saw a total of 3 workdays worked between them all, one of which was at a volunteer shift at a co-op.
GET A JOB. (Just kidding, duh, don’t)
People are not working themselves to death, but rather enjoying themselves to death here in Danemarka. The idea of this is baffling to my American mind. What would life even be if I didn’t have a burbling sense of dread that grew into a full-roar any time I had more than 24 hours of free time? How do all the locals feel comfortable spend so much time tinkering with hobbies, having long, insightful conversations, and relaxing?
I will say that it’s clear not every Dane was running around smiling blissfully from attractive ear to attractive ear. In fact they were typically were not the smiling type. I smiled broadly at most strangers, and typically the smile was not reciprocated. Obviously, I just need to start smiling harder, I told myself.
Standard Issue Living
Interestingly, the apartment I stayed in was sort of socialist housing, of which there are 1,000 identical copies. There were tons and tons of block-shaped apartments that all sort of looked the same: spartan and efficient. Each of them had an identical playground in the middle of them and the same amenities, were unadorned, and if the buildings had been people, would have had the same swooshy haircut, no doubt. The system was very streamlined and very organized, par for the course for what I had experienced.
Generally, I found that Copenhagen was well-organized, well-run, and immaculately maintained. But this made it, in some ways, seem to lack a little of what we might call “heart”. I met a woman on vacation from the UK and as we walked and traded stories and suggestions for things to do, she looked around nervously and said,
“It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of soul here, does it?”.
She was making sure the soul-police of Denmark were not listening in to jail her for any perceived criticism at the system.
This is, of course, the American in me talking, but without the roughness around the edges, without large and small imperfections, there did seem to be a bit of a lack of soul. And without soul, where is art? That being said, I think we can all agree that having plenty of food on the table is probably preferable to not having food on the table, regardless of how that impacts the perceived “soul” of the citizens. But where, indeed, is the heart?
Oh, Guys I Found It: It’s Over Here in Freetown Christiania
In the middle of Copenhagen there is a mad-made island that was formerly a military outpost. Apparently, somewhere in the 70’s it became Freetown Christiania is a semi-autonomous hippie and drug utopia. t looks like the sort of place that would be dreamed up by Timothy Leary, JRR Tolkein, The buddha, and maybe just someone with mild dementia. Also Dr. Seuss.
Skateboarders hang out drinking beers on angular and psychedelic podiums. Buildings, tents, sculptures and shacks poke out of the grass like a mouthful of crooked teeth, all spraypainted with surreal murals and slogans generally inviting one to be as weird as possible. Drugs are sold legally (or at least with the understanding that the cops are going to look the other way). It’s a bit daunting to go inside, as I had the same feeling that I had the first time I went into a hippie co-op in the US: that I was a tourist, and not cool enough to hang out inside.
If Copenhagen is a slice of white bread, Freetown Christiana is a plate of spaghetti covered in sprinkles, soil and redsauce. It’s circuitous, covered in weird dirt roads leading to imaginative and improbable houses, and full of hippies and artists. There are unstable and ramshackle piers and docks that splinter off into the water with floating communes populated by a weird kind of socialist, hippie, nordic, nautical farmers.
Near the entrance to the streets of Copenhagen (which feels like a portal to another dimension by comparison), there is a small venue. I stumbled upon it on my last night in town to find a series of metal bands and tattooed arms, weird haircuts, and abnormal-looking people. The interior of Loppen, as it was called was dark and spooky, full of old dim corners and fog machines and deep-hued old wood. It was like a dark pagan forest compared with Copenhagen’s sun-drenched lightness.
This was the mothership. If Copenhagen was in some way spiritually troubled or simply needed an outlet for rage, sadness, weirdness, anxiety, or otherwise being a human, I suppose they found it in Freetown Christiania, the bastion of freakiness in an otherwise calm sea. As the bands tore through various songs of rage, heroism, weirdness, and bleakness, the stage was set for personal self-expression. There was an ease and closeness to the patron, a sense of commonality and community. The collective body watched the show (with various splinters of friends sitting at tables, of course) with a kind of common purpose.
The Metal Descends: Verheerer
I’m not much into Black Metal, but I found that simply being surrounded by the outcasts of society made me feel at home, despite the rift in language. As an outsider in the community, I still felt welcome to watch, jump around, and thrash my head about, regardless of how swooshy my hair was.
Will I go back to Copenhagen? Probably. Would I want to live there? Probably, but only if I would be inducted into the island of weirdos.