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About Denmark

denmark_about_cop.jpgA travel poster was one of my first impressions of Denmark. It illustrated Denmark's Royal Family roots reaching back to 'Gorm the old' - I don't remember when 'Gorm' lived but I do know that King Erik VII moved to Copenhagen in 1417 and that the Danish Royal House is the oldest in the world. Copenhagen's history is evident in its buildings, streets, and entrenched traditions - but it is also thoroughly modern. In the search for new products for Norhouse I have just returned from my first visit to Denmark for many years and I can confirm that the country, the first Scandinavian, and a rather uncertain member of the European Union, maintains, and continues to develop its vibrant, creative and attractive individuality. Say 'Denmark' and many Americans will reply design, pastry, Legoland, Victor Borge, and most of all, Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen. Britons would probably reply cheese beer and bacon, Denmark's important export products. Norwegians, perhaps still chafing from the long period of Danish dominion, claim that Denmark's fertile soil was scraped from Norway by glaciers. All agree that Denmark is a country to be reckoned with in the future.

Though the cobbled squares and copper spires of historic Copenhagen remind us of the past, the city, more European than Scandinavian, embraces the very latest modern developments. From Architecture to Zoology, Denmark is in the fore and the new Oresund bridge connection to southern Sweden has opened up a whole new concept of regional development. Copenhagen's icon, The Little Mermaid, fuses the country's maritime traditions with the equally world-encompassing reputation of Denmark's favorite son Hans Christian Andersen. The waterside location, imaginative transformation of obsolete canal localities and buildings of Nyhavn into shops, small cafés, restaurants, and apartments, and numerous other attractions make Copenhagen an unbeatable tourist magnet.

As a tourist, your best bet is to arm yourself with a Copenhagen Card for 24, 48 or 72 hours of free or discounted admission to the major sites and public transportation in the city. Not that you need much transportation: Copenhagen must be one of the most 'walkable' cities in the world, probably because the city was originally surrounded by a system of ramparts and moats. When people began to move outside these perimeters the fortifications were transformed into a series of parks and lakes. This development, together with the absence of modern skyscrapers, account for the uncluttered, open aspect even in the heart of the city.

With its unique, city center location, The Tivoli Gardens, which attracts both tourists and locals with a fascinating combination of funfair and culture, is a good place to start your sightseeing. Next on your list might be the 17th century royal residence, Rosenborg Palace, where the Danish Crown Jewels and other treasures are stored. From Rosenborg you can walk through the King's Garden to Amalenborg Palace, the current residence of popular Queen Margrethe II where, if you arrive by noon, you can watch the Changing of the Guard. If you think two castles in such a short time is a bit much, consider that you would have to visit 648 more if you were to visit all the castles and manor houses in Denmark.

From Nyhavn, where Han Christian Andersen lived when he first came to Copenhagen, you may walk along the canal to the Little Mermaid and then into 'Stroeget' - the world's longest pedestrian street. Here you can 'shop 'til you drop' in trendy boutiques and world-famous stores like Royal Copenhagen and Georg Jensen. If you like challenges rather than charging, why not visit the Town Hall and climb to the top of the 17th century 'Round Tower' for a bird-eye view of the city? Alternatively, at Our Savior's Church you can climb an outdoor spiral staircase to reach the top of the tower and count for yourself the number of spires, or even, on a clear day, catch a glimpse of the Swedish coast.

Nor all history is ancient and the 1939-45 war, when Denmark was invaded and occupied, made a lasting impression on the country's psyche. In the Museum of Danish Resistance you can re-live the Dane's heroic resistance during this period. Other specialized museums are Tojmuseet, (The Armory Museum) the Carlsberg Museum (for beer and eroticism!) the Theatre Museum, and the Tobacco Museum on the pedestrian street.

Copenhagen's architectural diversity is often one of the first things to impress new visitors to the city. From the delightful 17th century, Dutch-style town houses that line the quay at Nyhavn, to the dynamic, modern extensions to venerable old buildings such as the Ny Carlsberg Glypotek, the National Art Museum and the Royal Library, the message is clear: this is one of the world's great design capitals. And with little wonder - the Radisson SAS Royal Hotel and the Danish National Bank are among the buildings designed by Arne Jacobsen, the 'father of modern design'. In fashion too, Danish designers are catching the eyes of international catwalk watchers.

As with any country, Denmark is the product of its people, who, from authors to nuclear physicists and architects to pianists, have delighted and dazzled the world. Danes are friendly, easy-going people who enjoy the good life. While Norwegians must stand in line to buy their 'snaps' in the Liquor Monopoly, Danes can pop into the nearest grocery store. One of my favorite stories is about the new product of a Scandinavian company: the Finns designed it, the Swedes manufactured it, the Danes sold it - and the Norwegians criticized it! Danish salesmanship and PR awareness is legendary. Remember the tremendous impact Danish furniture had in the '50s and '60s? Now, in preparation for the 200 years anniversary of H.C. Andersen's birth in 2005, twelve 'Ambassadors' have been appointed including Susan Sarandon and Harvey Keitel. The 'ambassadors' will spearhead an international campaign to honor, and to increase the awareness of this well-loved author who wrote much more than popular fairytales.

Funen is just one of 406 islands (most of them uninhabited) that comprise the Kingdom of Denmark. It was here, in Odense that H.C. Andersen was born and this is a reminder that Denmark is abundantly more than just Copenhagen. Get to Odense as early in the day as possible to avoid crowds. Similarly, an early arrival at Legoland, in Billund will make your day easier. Visit Helsingoer, better known as Elsinore where Kronborg Castle was the inspiration for Shakespeare's 'Hamlet'. A more modern author, Karen Blixen of 'Out of Africa' fame, had her home in Rungsted. Her house is now a museum filled with personal belongings and souvenirs of her days in Africa. The list of things to see and do in Denmark is almost as long as the number of islands - Viking remains in Århus, the Iron-age Tollund man and Anders Jorn in Silkeberg and quiet, unspoiled Bornholm, an island nearer Sweden than Denmark.