30 June 2010

Deals on wheels

Between the Apes and the bicycle driven mini shops, we are seeing a lot of new and small mobile businesses. And not surprisingly the majority of these vendors are foreign. There does just not seem to be an appetite for breaking new ground, and starting up a one-man business in Denmark these days. Yet another reason I love the foreigners influence so much. This winter I came across a very cold English (-speaking) man, keeping his own small bicycle-driven espresso shop going. And just the other day I spotted this guy from my bike. I caught up with him, and I would have been very surprised if he had turned out to be Danish. Which he wasn't. I asked him how his business was doing, and he told me that he sells his corn mainly to the tourists, but the (insert curse word here) Danes just do not get it. I did not have the heart to tell him that the real business this time a year is in refreshments, in creamy ice and fresh fruit. Not hot corn on the cob. Not now. But how do you kill an initiative so cool, complete with that outfit?


29 June 2010

The heat is on

It has been so long ago since we had summer here, that I almost forgot how intoxicating it is. How seductive Copenhagen becomes, and how we all transform when baked. With summer comes the outdoor activities, one of which the most important is drinking, anything chilled goes. And spontaneous sun worship, getting it while the getting is good, on benches, stairs, on every single patch of green or just on the bare ground. Eating is another, home made ice cream gelato style, fresh fruit and anything made "to go".

And then of course you have the truckloads (literally) of stone drunk deliriously happy, yelling high school graduates. On graduation day they stop by each and every one of them, to toast and be celebrated. Tradition also dictates that they join hands and dance around "krinsen", the centre of Kings New Square. The city is not crazy about it, it is not allowed to enter this space, but on this one occasion they have faced reality and dispatched a friendly pair of watchmen, in part to protect the graduates from their drunken selves. The square is not your usual photo op these days, as everything is under construction, so the ugly crime scene like tape marking the path was not as scarring. They even made a fancy little trespassers stairwell, to protect the bushes. Oh, Copenhagen, I love you!

Did I have a heatstroke, or is this just a beautiful construction sight?
This impressive wall is covering the building of The European Environmental Agency on Kings New Square. It was made for the Biodiversity Day in May, and it is made from 4500 individual plants, in 23 different species. The seeds have been sewn into a special pocketed felt cloth, with an intricate built in watering system. You can follow some of the progress on the facebook group. I was impressed even before I learned that it is a map of the European Union.

26 June 2010

Going cucumber

In English you "go bananas", but here the preferred fruit is cucumber, "agurk". I spotted this one the other day, it appears to be written with the resistant tar like paint they use on the streets for traffic, mixed with pink. I hope the advertisers will never pick up on that last place to rest your eyes from their noise. Or I will go cucumber, I swear!

25 June 2010

Parade poopers

I spent a good hour waiting around for the bicycle parade, the show of alternative bicycles and a band transported on cargo bikes. And just when I gave up and started biking in the opposite direction, there they were. They caught me totally off guard as they raced by my sleepy shutterspeed, and to my big disappointment I did not get even one good shot. But I can tell you that Hans on the tallbike was King, and we got him covered already. 

The biggest surprise was the aggressive drivers, even the bus drivers showed little patience with the 6 minute disruption, and broke up the parade in several places. It sort of ruined the happy atmosphere for me, this me-first, and I-don’t-care, let-me-through attitude. The poor bicycle parade guards, with their orange shirts and flower decorated bikes were simply brushed off. 

Case in point: I caught this bus driver as he nearly ran me over, breaking through the parade with what turns out to be with one hand...

Greetings from the public transportation of Copenhagen. Like you need another reason to take the bike.

Father and son?

23 June 2010

The tallbike trumps the burning witch

Today is Sankt Hans Day. An old tradition here, that involves the burning of a witch (I know, it doesn’t sound nice, but it really is cosy), singing around a bonfire and maybe making “snobrød”. White dough rolled into long “sausages”, twisted on a stick and baked in the heat of the dying fire. But as it turns out, this post is going to be about what easily distracted me from this task: the discovery of a fairy tale like mutant on wheels called the tallbike. I was lucky that the owner was nearby, his name is Hans and he told me that he built the bike himself. And every day he rides it to work, from way outside the city and back. I could not imagine stopping for a red light on this one, but he said that it is all about timing the ride, avoiding the red lights, and if need be, support himself on a light pole. 

Only two weeks ago I found this amazing print by German street artists Various & Gould, at the Brooklynite Gallery. It has been high on my hit list ever since, and I never imagined that this fairy tale bike really existed. But it does. It turns out there are about 10 of them in Copenhagen, and every once in a while they have races and games much like the ones in Ivanhoe, you know, trying to poke each other of the horses/bikes. What I would not give to see that live... 

On another bike-related note, there is a big global closed-to-the-public bicycle conference taking place in Copenhagen these days. Some of the bicycle love is spreading to the streets, and I will do my best to catch the parade of alternative bikes tomorrow, before I join the bicycle party in the meat packing district. Oh, and did I mention: summer has arrived. There is no telling how it will hold up, but I am now officially in a summer mood. Light dresses, bare feet, big glasses and all.

Tallbike (2009) by Various & Gould

Allways take bike pictures from the right side, he said, and turned it around for me.

Details matter.


No hands. Check out the audience, haha.

All eyes on Hans & the tallbike.

 Update: Hans has left at link to a slide show of the Bike Wars!

21 June 2010

The name game

You know how I some time ago had a laugh about how Oprah saw the Danes? How easy it was for the world to believe that we are all living in a fairy tale? Well, I had a closer look at us, and it turns out we are no better. You would think that living in a small country, smaller than some states in the USA, that we would feel united. But in reality we are constantly dividing each other in to them and us. The young, the old, the immigrants, the unemployed and so endlessly on. The native Copenhageners are complaining about how the country side, the Jutlanders, are taking over the city. And when the Danes not too long ago made a record contribution to Haiti on a televised charity event, the columnists were all over the deed. Questioning the hidden motives for all this good: perhaps someone felt guilty about being so privileged? Perhaps someone was buying a clean consciousness?

And then there is the latest thing, don’t ask me how they get away with such an idiotic label: the café latte segment. The press enjoys the label, and it is understood that no one wants to belong there. The label suggests that you (the coffee drinker) are better off than the average person, and mocks you for taking the time to sit there and have a cup of coffee while the world is falling apart. Ignorant, full of yourself, living in that selfrighteous and perfect bubble. You see why I call that assumption idiotic, don’t you? I know of no one who leads a life like that. But I do know people who occasionally meet at a cafe to have an overpriced cup of coffee to catch up with a newspaper or an old friend. 

And I have to wonder where this need to compartmentalise everybody and everything comes from? Why is it so hard to believe that we basically all have the same needs? That not one group are monsters, and that maybe if we took a look at ourselves we would realise that we are not that bad. Or perhaps not that good.


18 June 2010

Hope floats

Another lakeside communiqué: 



PS! How do you like the Copenhagen summer?

17 June 2010

Summer magic

On my way to one of those summer evening events yesterday, I passed by a small gathering of men mesmerised by someone I immediately recognised as HC Andersen. I know, he's been dead a couple of 100 years, but I tell you it was him. I don't know where he came from or where he was going, and it seemed wrong to ask him such inappropriate questions, so I just took in the magic of the moment, and caught a few shots of him from a distance. He was telling the guys stories, and they were like a group of children, applauding at the end of every story. HC was taking it in stride, and when I came around the other side to get at picture of this face, he looked in my direction and said: "I am not here". Real Copenhagen summer magic. 

As timing would have it, Mikael from Copenhagen Cycle Chic has made a really cool site with a time machine taking you through the life of HC Andersen, you should give it a try (just hit the time machine button when you get there).

15 June 2010

To heaven and back

Living in a small country and staying sane is only possible if you leave once in a while. Copenhagen has benefited from all those who spend time abroad and have later returned with fresh ideas, and a new way of doing things. Some of the most influential persons in Danish history were frequent travellers, including the founding father of Copenhagen Archbishop Absalon (you know: the man under the bird). I just came back from a too short trip to Amsterdam, and I started to think about how I really feel just as much as a European as I feel Danish. And it never ceases to amaze me how different we live and especially eat, just one short plane ride away. So even if this is a blog about Copenhagen, it would still not be complete without the input from the outside. 

Amsterdam is like a second home to me, I used to live there, and I still have my bike and my favourite places to go on it. On bicycling let me just say there is a big difference. First: no one wears a helmet. And I have never seen a serious accident involving a bike, or even heard about it. There is not a lot of hand signalling going on, but everybody stays alert, you communicate more subtly, and it is always a smooth ride. Maybe even more so because the flow is constant, no one is racing like maniacs, and the cars are showing a lot more restraint around us than here.

And then there are the markets: fleas, food and flowers, a never ending flow of smell, taste and color. I love my country, but I would be lying if I said we have a sensuality about food. The selection of food available the the general public is not that exiting (and I am being kind here). If you have the time to seek it out and the money to pay for it you can make it work, but if not, you are stuck with 3 kinds of meat and plastic wrapped vegetables. Which is surprising in a country with what was recently crowned the worlds best restaurant. I am hoping the upcoming food market will mark a change and set a higher standard. 

But the grass is pretty green here too, the absence of summer not withstanding (thunder and heavy rain as I write this). We insist on summer even if the weather is not keeping its end up, and there is lots of socialising going on this time a year. Outdoor concerts, festivals, happenings, parties, eating, drinking and even movies. It may not be warm or even sunny, but we have daylight, and after 6 months in the dungeon, it is all we need to make it work.

My Bronco and a batch of mutant berries...

Pineapple strawberries, tasting exactly like a delicious mix of the two. 

This is always one of my first stops: Op16. Not just a store dedicated to the kitchen, but more of a temple. This is where I was first introduced to the importance of the sound in dining. The sound the plate makes when you use it, and the unmistakable but hard to describe satisfaction you get from drinking your coffee from a bone china cup. The owners primarily makes a living from designing kitchens, but some days of the week this small place of worship is open. There is only one line of cutlery, but it is the best. And there is always something new from a local designer, like the one making the coolest aprons out of dishtowels, or this one with the shirt place mat. 

Another check point: the Asian speciality food store Tam Popo. I got that lovin' feeling from the latest invention, the sushi pralines: heavenly little mouthfuls built on a piece of cling film, finished with a piece of sticky rice. It stays in this shape when you remove the film, and it tastes as good as it looks. The store has a workshop you can sign up for, teaching you how to make your own. 

Fresh and organic herbs on the Saturday Market, half of the space is food..

... the other half is a flea market. In other words: heaven.

********* UPDATE *********

In case you are using this post as inspiration for places to visit in Amsterdam:
OP16 and Tam Popo are no longer in business. Ugh.

12 June 2010

Smile to Sandra

About 5 years ago I came up with an idea for a social experiment that turned out to completely change the quality of my daily life. It was a small scale operation, a birthday gift to myself of 1000 custom made stickers. Remember the smile-hearts made in the 1970s from Irma? It helps if you do. I used the heart and printed my name along with a message to smile to me. It was one of those things that really pissed off a lot of the advertising people I talked to. Mainly because there was no "real" agenda and no profit to be made. It just seemed plain stupid to them, and besides, as one pointed out, the stickers were not even fuzzy like the original. But I was quite happy with my stupid experiment. In an attempt to execute a mass hypnosis, I scattered the stickers all over town, and then waited for people to smile when they heard my name. 

But after a month of waiting, I realised that I needed to change my approach. So I placed the sticker on the lapel of my coat. And on my dress, and on my bag, and on every layer of clothing in my wardrobe. The first thing that happened was that I met a lot of happy people. Everywhere I looked, people were smiling at me, little smiles, big smiles, happy smiles, genuine smiles. Sometimes I would be in a crappy mood, and forget about the sticker, and someone would send me a smile and make me feel instantly better. 

The other thing that happened was equally fantastic. The people I met every day, on the post office, at the bakery and the vegetable market would (smile and) call me by name. It only seemed polite to ask them their name too, now that they knew mine, and so I got to know the names of a lot of the people I met in my daily life. And I am amazed at what a difference it has made. When I go the post office today, they know if there is a package waiting for me even before I do, because they remember seeing my name on one. And this is also how I came to know my friends from my local vegetable market. My sticker is still stuck to the register, and whenever I enter the store they yell to all the customers to smile to Sandra. Okay, so sometimes you are not in that mood, but more than often you get there real fast. All in all I consider my social experiment a big success. I still have some stickers left, but at this point they work as I hoped: sticker or no sticker, people smile to Sandra.

This picture I found on flickr, it was taken the day after my birthday back in 2005.

09 June 2010

A local hero

I still remember the Henry Heerup lithograph with the swans hanging above the stairs in one of the many locations I called my childhood home. It could very well be that it was a piece for sale in the gallery, but it felt like ours, and I loved the soft shapes and friendly characters. Heerup was asked to make a lot of murals in Copenhagen, and some of them are still around today. Like the fantastic milk mural from 1953 with the breastfeeding twinmother. And the landmark commercial from 1985, for at travel insurance company on Vesterbro,  that became the very last piece he ever made. The theme is inspired by the popular Danish children's song "the journey of a small elf" (oh, what a stupid translation, what can I do?), for my Danish reader "en lille nisse rejste". I am partial to his earlier work, but I still like this one, and I could not imagine this corner without it. I posted the picture on flickr today, and to my surprise someone left a note saying it was butt ugly. The only redeeming quality was apparently the graffiti work in the lover corner (that I had left outside the frame on purpose).

Okay, so we can not discuss taste, I don't even want to. But I do think it is important to allow certain things that has a value to someone else to exist, even if it falls outside our palette. There are so few of these works left, that it should be possible to let them survive? I on my part will set an example by not vandalising the massive, uniform and intimidating office buildings taking up the entire waterfront in Copenhagen. How is that for at start?

The European Travel Insurance

Milk, it's yummy.

Looking for a good and explanatory Heerup link, I discovered that he grew up right here on Norrebro, and that he was fond of working with trash in his sculptures. And he had a great sense of humor too: a big lover of elves, he founded the Elves Union, of which he was the president and only member. He is laid to rest on the Assistens Cemetery on Norrebro, and I almost feel like I owe him a visit...

**** UPDATE ****

It turns out the twin mural is not by Heerup, but rather Hans Scherfig (sorry Scherfig). I will post another Heerup milk mural at a later point.

08 June 2010

The 3rd dimension

Street art have taken a playful turn in Copenhagen. I first noticed the 3D movement about 5 years ago, when "tingfinder" (thing finder) stickers were attached to everyday objects, hanging from the drainpipes on Norrebro. Then came the "OEPS" girls with the plastic beadwork, that quickly became so popular that it did not stay for very long on the street before it was collected by a fan. And these days there is a reworking thing going on, using what is already there to make something new. The canvas needs no longer be a wall or even a flat surface, and the media is not limited to the invasive black markers or spray paint.

Instead of subtracting from what is underneath, it draws your attention towards it. It is unlikely I would have given this bear another look, have he not had on a clown collar and a coal nose. I predict that advertisers will pick up on this and start paying for it any day now.

The 3D glasses works extra well when placed on a poster face...

This one I took today: the classic Copenhagen yellow bus. A new favourite!

March 2005 "thing finder for kinky", whatever was attached was already taken.

Street art just makes me so happy!

06 June 2010

Souvenir de la fête

A little something left behind for us on the bicycle lane on the bridge, after the Distortion paint party friday. This particular bicycle lane is 5 metres wide, the girl is placed near the sidewalk, and even so the few bicyclists that passed me deemed it extremely annoying and dangerous that I insisted on taking this picture. Nag, nag, nagging at heavens door.

PS! Summer has arrived.

04 June 2010


The annual Distortion party is on in Copenhagen. It started 10 years ago as an underground party, popping up in your neighbourhood, with a sound system on a cargo bike, and plenty of cheap lukewarm canned beer. Over the years the 5-day party has gained a large following, they have a bigger budget, and every single event is followed religiously by the press. The program is extensive, and every day the party moves on to a new neighbourhood, yesterday was mine. According to the Distortion newsletter the body count on Norrebro yesterday reached 29.700. Not so underground anymore.

The police kept an eye on things, staying back, and the spirit was in true Distortion style all over friendly. No broken shop windows, and no destructive bonfires in the street. With the new found budget the loudspeakers have grown larger, and it was nearly impossible to separate the different kinds of music placed so close together. Looking back I am not sorry that I missed the half hour monster pillow fight on Sankt Hans Square, or any of the larger events within the block party. I was happy with the paint party on the bridge, and the amazing balloon guy with his flying boats. And mostly I am happy that the 29.700 drunken, peeing party heads today has taken all the fun with them to Vesterbro.

No Distortion block party is complete without the trapped octopus.

A flying boat on each side of the bridge. The balloon man fought hard to make this happen.

An open 30 meter long canvas, free for all to decorate, with a Jamaican and Gambian show on top.

Grab a brush.

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