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In the Royal Library Garden of Copenhagen, between the hydrangea beds and behind the central fountain, there sits a man whose weathered, forlorn features are etched into bronze. Widely known as the Father of Existentialism, Søren Kierkegaard paved the way for later thinkers through his discussion of the angst and despair which are inherent to the human condition. (Fun fact: Kierkegaard literally means graveyard in Danish) Apart from that, his religious works lay much of the groundwork for Protestant faith. Kierkegaard’s personal life was marred by tragedy; he was sickly his whole life, most of his siblings and both his parents were dead by the time he was an adult, and he was so internally conflicted that he broke off his engagement with his fiancee in fear that marriage would change his prior perception of her. The statue did an excellent job of preserving him. With streaks of copper oxidation down one cheek and a slight downward glance, he looked sad. Not the oh no I just dropped a pizza roll type of sad, but the I understand every facet of life and the only thing left to do is despair type of sad, which is of a significantly higher magnitude.
This was much different from what I expected, with the initial mindset that all statues look the same if you’ve seen enough of them. I sat around for a bit to watch a heron strut around the fountain and look at dogs coming by near the Tuborg stand. It was a very calm place- a great reprise from the bustling shopping streets and tourist destinations nearby. While many parts of the city have been modernized, it is easy to see how the curved streets and old castles and long, cold winters could have shaped his thought. I learned from the website linked to the Google Maps page is that the Assistens cemetery in Nørrebro housed the final resting place of Kierkegaard as well as many other notable Danes. That will definitely be worth a trip after my essay on the sustainability of the LEGO company.
While we are on the topic of statues, an interesting comparison is to The Little Mermaid statue located a couple miles Northeast past Nyhavn where I visited the day before. The OG version of the fairytale, which is a lot darker, is as follows: 1. The little mermaid (TLM) rescues a prince from drowning and falls in love with him. 2. TLM exchanges her voice for legs with a witch so she can be with the prince, with a clause that if she doesn’t marry the prince then she dies. 3. The prince enjoys her company, but ends up in an arranged marriage with a princess and leaves TLM. 4. TLM is offered the choice to kill the prince to save her own life but declines, and dies. All that being said, her statue is also sad but in a different way. It instead embodies tragic loss and the possibility of what could have been. Or maybe she’s mostly annoyed that there are tourists constantly swarming the area and shining their cameras everywhere. Who knows?
On the first day our resident advisors told us that the house we were living in is older than the United States, so please don’t wear shoes onto the wooden flooring, thank you. Also just casually there’s a castle a hundred feet, excuse me, thirty and a half meters from our front door. The combination of IKEA furniture and squared stone, of nightclubs and church spires adds so much character to the city. It serves as a practical, very enjoyable place to live for a modernizing community, but looking up once in a while, past the pigeons, past the neon glow of 7 Elevens, you can see historic buildings preserved from as early as the 16th century. As I was writing this in Studenterhuset, a boy just drew an abstract portrait of me and said to keep it and look for his signature once he became famous. I intend to frame this piece as soon as I arrive back in Ann Arbor.
This blend of old and new also means that many parts of the historic district in which we reside haven’t changed much in centuries. One might wonder how many unfortunate pedestrians have tripped over the uneven cobblestone or gotten lost in the winding alleyways and crooked streets. This unique aspect of the city makes it very easy to lose yourself in the music of street accordion players, or the guy strumming Ed Sheeran covers down by the plaza fountain, or even the saxophone player playing Despacito on loop for hours at end (Please stop). The moment you realize that the last 6,200 steps have been in the wrong direction can also be a stressful one, but after all, isn’t the whole point of studying abroad a process of re-discovery? Copenhagen helped me to put on a fresh new set of lens and allow three weeks of living out an alternate identity.
The unique atmosphere of the city may also give some insights as to how the Danes tend to live their lives. Stereotypically known as the happiest people in the world, one may attribute that to the chocolate or excellent healthcare program, but ultimately, it comes down to a shared, live in the moment kind of mindset rarely seen in other populations. Since poverty rates, number of felonies, and work hours are all much lower, a relatively large percentage of Danes have less to worry about than people from other places. So, with lots of life liberties and potentially fewer stressors, the Danish are better able to embrace things as they are. If you are interested, read about the concept of hygge, why it’s untranslatable, and what it means culturally.
Upon first bite, the thrumming, fluorescent restlessness of everyday life seeped away and all that was left in the world was my being and a perfect vessel of ambrosia to complement. When the buttery, flaky exterior shell crumbles into a cascade of pure sensory pleasure, nothing will ever be the same again. The infinite is realized again and again as the subtle undertones of honey roasted almond, elderflower, and dark molasses in the cream cheese filling resurface one after another, like waves crashing on a pale white cliff. The filling in this breakfast Danish (Here they call it a wienerbrød, since it originated from Vienna) is conceptually flawless. And the funny thing is, I bought it for just 13 kroner, roughly $2.20, at a 7 Eleven on the way towards my classroom. It may have been the case that I was just really hungry, but the quality of convenience store pastries blew my mind. This was far better than almost anything I had ever eaten back in the States, Think, if a Speedway hot dog had the ability to cause you to question the nature of your existence, you’d be as shook as I was in that moment.
For years to come, I may fondly reminisce on this experience and once more yearn for that feeling of continuity. Or on the contrary, nostalgia could be the predominant element, and instead, despair for having had and lost such a wonderful thing! Enough with being dramatic though, convenience stores and Nettos (a chain of small local markets) were some of the highlights of the trip because of how close and cheap they were. You could make a cured meat and cheese platter paired with a fine Italian for under $6. I guess what all this might mean is that going to Copenhagen, I had no idea what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect to get lost in the damp, bat-infested dungeons of Kronborg castle or enjoy spending time in a graveyard, but I guess that’s why it’s important to leave home once in a while and experience new things.
I’m gonna be really sad to leave. It had finally gotten to the point where tourists would ask for directions in Danish and I was able to point them in the right direction, and I finally knew how to make a picture perfect Smørrebrød, which includes pickled herring, prawns, capers, a soft-boiled egg, remoulade, a thin slice of French brie laid out carefully on lettuce, and the rye bread where all these ingredients call home. If my small-time sheep farming career takes off then maybe I could afford a beach house off Amager Strand and live here when the weather’s nice.