I had an opportunity to spend four days in this beautiful country in early June of this year. One day was spent in the capital Copenhagen, one was spent visiting libraries on way from Copenhagen to Ribe and the remaining two days were spent in Ribe, near which was the site of the headquarters of the largest manufacturer of library furniture in Europe and perhaps the second largest in the world. That would possibly explain as to how in that short span of time, I was taken on visits to several leading libraries of all genres which meant that I visited more libraries than I had ever visited throughout my life! The stunning and neat lines of library shelves with intelligently designed lighting to ensure that the light fell on the titles of the books was something I had never seen before. The interplay of wood and metal was handled in a very aesthetic fashion. Also, the children’s sections were just as innovatively designed and lighted. It was therefore not surprising that the libraries continue to attract a number of visitors in this age when there is a feeling that we can have all the information that one wants in the confines of one’s home. Quite obviously, the right environment is what is required for somebody to either do a serious study or refer to a number of sources simultaneously and both of these are provided by the libraries. In quite a few libraries, there are attached cafes, so that one can break the monotony by sipping a cup of coffee or bite a sandwich.
A DESIGNER CHAIR IN ONE OF THE LIBRARIES (INBUILT SPEAKER IS PARTIALLY VISIBLE)
A number of these libraries which we visited were public libraries, with electronic readers to help public to borrow and return books without any human intervention. The investment in the public libraries has been partially facilitated by the fact that Denmark has one of the highest tax rates in the world. Denmark has also some of the most welfare oriented schemes for its citizens. It is this which accounts for the fact that a local Dane who loses his job is entitled to a substantial compensation for four years! When I was there, I was witness to a few protests and demonstrations against the proposed move by the government to reduce this period to two years! Because of the tax structure prevalent, everything in Denmark is outrageously expensive.
Denmark is a small country with a population of just under six million; nearly seventy-five percent of the population has surnames ending in Jensen, Nielsen, Hansen, Pedersen or Andersen. Incidentally, Hans Christian Andersen, the writer of the famed fairy tales, is from this place and his works are said to have been translated in a number of languages only a little less than the number of languages in which The Bible has been translated! One of his creations “THE LITTLE MERMAID” has inspired a sculpture which features on the must see lists of all visitors to Copenhagen. However, I could not see that sculpture on the rocks by the sea, because, the little Mermaid had travelled to Shanghai to be a part of the Denmark stall at the World Expo for a few months. My Danish colleague however assured me that I had not missed anything really interesting, because of two reasons: one, the sculpture on display is not the original sculpture and second, most of the visitors are disappointed after seeing the actual sculpture. The latter could be arising out of great expectations about the little mermaid’s size when in fact the sculpture is quite small in size! But perhaps, size has nothing to do with what visitors look for; otherwise, how can one explain the popularity of the equally small MANNEKEN PIS in neighboring Belgium?
Despite the small size of Denmark as a country (excluding the huge Greenland which belongs to Denmark), in view of there being more than 500 islands, it has a coast line exceeding 7000 kilometers! No place in Denmark is more than 70 kilometers from the sea; the large shipping operator MAERSK is also from Denmark. Denmark is well known for its design and innovations; the famous Sydney Opera House has been designed by a Dane. Bang and Olufsen, a well known brand of consumer electronics known for its design features is from Denmark and it is said that the Danes are among those that have the highest per capita spends on consumer electronics. Denmark is flat as a pancake and the rich agricultural tracts feed a number of cows: the world famous LURPAK butter and the equally famous Danish Pastries owe their origin to this place
Denmark is also well known for a few aberrations; it was the first European nation to have legalized same sex marriages. It was the country in which the caricaturing of a religious figure a few years back drew protests world over. And recently, around the time I was there, a local pop artiste who renamed herself after a religious city was at the receiving end of a volley of eggs! Nudist Beaches are quite popular in Denmark, although if it is not a dedicated nudist beach, anyone without clothing has an obligation to show consideration of other users by keeping a reasonable distance from them!
More than one-fifth of Denmark’s energy requirement is met by Wind Energy; Vestas ranks as the world’s leading maker of wind turbines. There is so much of attention paid to alternate forms of energy that in one hotel in Copenhagen, the gym bicycles have power generators attached and anybody who generates a certain quantity of power earns himself a free meal! Cycling to work and other shopping centres is fairly common; that perhaps explains why most Danes have trim bodies.
Before I move on to tell you about Ribe, I must mention an outstanding gastronomic experience which I had in a very quaint restaurant adjoining a designer furniture store. The chef’s name was Bo Bech and while I cannot vividly recollect all the items that were served in his signature vegetarian meal called “Chlorophyll”, the dessert which I had was unforgettable. This consisted of Danish Strawberries with crushed buttermilk! Yes, crushed buttermilk! Bech explained to us that buttermilk mixed with sugar syrup is poured in a container containing liquid Nitrogen at minus 197 degrees Celsius, which results in a snowy texture for the solidified buttermilk!
ONE OF BECH’S EXOTIC DESSERTS
For those of you who are interested in knowing what the other items in the menu are, please visit http://www.foodsnoblog.wordpress.com It is unfortunate that Bech has wound up this restaurant with a view to reopen it in a different location, but I am told that he has restaurants in other parts of Europe!
Ribe is Denmark’s oldest town; it is celebrating its 1300th anniversary this year and I was privileged to stay in Hotel Dagmar, which is the oldest hotel in Denmark. It dates back to around 1581, looks as though it could collapse any moment, has sloping floors, no right angles at all, but is cute all the same.
A DOORWAY INDICATING RIBE’s 1300th ANNIVERSARY
And the town with a population of under ten thousand has a river running in the middle, cobbled pathways and an ancient cathedral. During the summer, at around nine in the night, the famous night watchman of Ribe takes tourists on a walking tour of Ribe with a liberal sprinkling of humorous anecdotes, which is lapped up eagerly irrespective of whether it is fact or fiction!
THE NIGHTWATCHMAN OF RIBE WITH ME!
HOTEL DAGMAR: OPERATIONAL SINCE 1581
THE RIBE CATHEDRAL
I exited from Denmark through the international airport at Bilund. The town Bilund is better known for its association with LEGO and its blocks; it is said that if all the blocks which Lego has manufactured till date were to be distributed amongst the world’s population, each person would get 56 blocks! By the time I come back to experience all that I had only heard about Denmark, this number will perhaps go up by five blocks!!
August 11, 2010