If you chose to take the train to Copenhagen the first impression after arriving at København Hovedbånegard (central station) is an intense smell of warm, sugary pastry, cinnamon and coffee. It draws you directly into one of the little 7-eleven convenient stores in the station hall where they sell all sorts of snacks, including those sweet-smelling kanelsnegel (lit. cinnamon snails) for about 3 bucks. Of course you can get them, homemade, all over town in one of the numerous local coffee shops, but somehow they will never taste like the one on that first day. That’s how it was for me anyways.
Leaving the station there is the pompous entrance of the Tivoli – the second oldest amusement park in the world built in the 1850s during the reign of King Christian VIII in order to amuse people so they wouldn’t think as much about politics. Right behind, there is another massive, impressive building, the Copenhagen City Hall (Københavns Rådhus), which was inaugurated in 1905. I’m cycling past those buildings every day on my way to the train station and back home, still fascinated by their presence. I decided to look for a room in Nørrebro, a multicultural district, northwest of the city centre which my ‘free city map’ described as “multi-ethnic and trendy” with “special shops, upcoming artist, music bars and chillout” (it is also the district where much of The Killing was filmed). During the 1980s, up until the late 2000s, Nørrebro was site of several violent clashes between Danish police and militant squatters. After prolonged conflict regarding the fate of the squatted Ungdomhuset (The Youth House) – an underground scene venue for musicians and a meeting point for varying leftist groups, the building was torn down in 2007.
After successfully hunting down a little room on the fourth floor of an old brick building in Nørrebro, I collected a couple of old wooden boxes, pallets and second-hand furniture, just like in New Zealand – which immediately made me feel at home.
While settling in I also started exploring the vibrant neighbourhood. Nørrebro is its own little village with plenty of cafes, bars, vintage stores, greengrocery stores and cheapish Shawarma places (Dönerbuden/Kebab-places). Soon I found my Stammkneipe (favourite bar), called Tjilipop which is a cosy, little caffe/bar just across the road. Every Wednesday it hosts Speake’s Corner, a songwriter showcase featuring all sorts of talented local and international artists. They also have various live bands playing on Saturday’s. A couple of streets away is Blågårds Apotek which used to be an old pharmacy. In the late 1970s they turned it into a cosy, non-provit tavern which now hosts a jazz-jam on Monday’s, the ‘songwriters playground’ on Wednesdays and other live concerts during the weekend. There is also Temple Bar on Nørrebrogade which hosts open mic nights every second Tuesday and different live acts each Saturday. If that’s not enough, cafe Retro has another open mic night and live music from Thursday’s till Saturday’s.
During those first weeks of exploring the city, I had several conversations with locals who were mostly quite open, friendly and interested in what I am doing or where I was coming from. One thing that struck me was their seemingly consistent reaction to my nationality. I’m from Germany. “Ah, Berlin is awesome,” “I’ve been in Berlin, it’s an amazing city,” “Berlin is so, so cool”. I agree, Berlin is a great place. Copenhagen is a great place too, and everybody knows that. However it seems that Berlin is its ‘bigger sister’ who is admired – not in an envious way – but in a way that seems to say “Copenhagen is cool, but not as cool as Berlin.” Maybe that is some sort of Tall Poppy reaction, that doesn’t allow Copenhageners to stick their head up too high or perhaps it legitimises their elation of Copenhagen if there is another city which is officially “so, so cool”. Anyways, it is definitely an interesting relationship between the two urban spaces which I will continue to explore in the following few months.