When summer arrives full tilt on the lush green shores of Denmark, it seems to do something to the Danes that it does not do to people elsewhere. Other people may paint their porch chairs and break out the gin and tonic; the Danes paint up their countryside and break out into paroxysms of delight. An observer abroad in the land during Midsummer Week, the third week in June, will find the populace as carefree as a man who has been dieting on Danish Dexemil. Bicyclists race on the ordrupbanen; jockeys gallop their mounts on the galopbanen; horses leap fences at the sportsrideklubben; yachts catch the breezes of the Oeresund and sail within the shadow of Sweden; and lady scullers of the Klampenborg Kajak og Kano Klub wheel their kayaks and kanos over the summer-soft sea, at last unfrozen.
All this is exciting enough to make a visit in Midsummer Week more than worthwhile, but anybody in these precincts on Midsummer Eve, which falls on the night of June 23, will find all Denmark being served up on a flaming skewer. Any landowner with a backyard, a broad lawn or, better yet, a bit of beach is expected to build a bonfire and invite a crowd to watch it burn. Since the Danes firmly believe in having a fire inside as well as out, the ceremony is further commemorated by swallowing small shots of akvavit, a northern white lightning whose fire one soothes by drafts of cool Danish beer. Really enterprising hosts surmount their bonfires with the effigy of a witch who, along with her evil spirits, is supposed to be dispatched by the burning faggots to the Bloksbjerg, a home for displaced witches in the Harz Mountains of Germany.
Over at Tivoli Gardens, the mammoth amusement park in the very center of Copenhagen, a huge fire is lighted on a float in a lake, a bombardment that would have caused Stalingrad to capitulate erupts out of the water, and great cascades of sparks fall out of the sky silhouetting the town hall in fire and gunpowder. To cap it all, the Tivoli witch appears on a fireworks broom and rides at least part of the way to Bloksbjerg on an invisible wire.
The arrival of the late June weeks has a special significance for the graduating student. A student may pass his exams and receive his diploma, but he is never really graduated until he dances with his class three times around "the horse," an equestrian statue of Frederik V. Then, still wearing student caps, the class boards a horse-drawn charabanc, a wagon decorated to the wheel hubs with light-green branches of the beech, the national tree of Denmark. The driver, equipped with a top hat with flowers stuck in the band, cracks the whip and the wagon rolls off down the Str√∂get, the shopping promenade. There are parties at home and parties out at Bellevue by the sea, and by 5 or 6 in the morning the students troop down to the Langelinie promenade where the famed statue of the Little Mermaid sits by the shore. They watch the sun rising, and then, arm in arm, they walk down to the Central Station, the only restaurant open at that hour, to have breakfast.
June 16, 1957
By midmorning much of Copenhagen is pedaling the seven miles to the beach at Bellevue, where the white canvas lockers stand like rows of sheiks' tents in the sun. Young costume changers who prefer not to bother with the formality of the tents wriggle into their suits under blankets. Paddle boats whose flanks proclaim the glories of Glory Shampoo lazy about in the water. Chauffeurs sit in the shade. Sailboats loll offshore. Warships ride the rim of the horizon. Speedboats drone like mechanical bees. A distant regatta is confetti in the far-off mist.
For five kroner (70¢) for seven minutes visitors may use the facilities of the Dansk Vandski Forbund, the water-ski club. Seven minutes is three times up and down the slalom course. The Danes, who water-ski until New Year's (it is apparently too cold after that), give their big water-ski show the Sunday before Christmas.
Most yachts take out from Skovshoved, a few miles from Bellevue, which shelters the roklub (rowing club), the Kongelig Dansk Yacht Klub (Royal Danish Yacht Club) and the Skovshoved Vandskiklub (water-ski club). The Oeresund Sugen is an international regatta (June 27 to 30) which draws 150 boats from Finland, Norway, Sweden and the Danish provincial towns which run an Olympic coursemodified for local wind conditions. Dragons, Knarrbad, Scandinavian Folkebad, Snipes, Finns and Pirate dinghies all compete. There is even a race in the tiny Optimist class, a ready-made, square-sail, tub-shaped, 7-foot scow that comes in a build-it-yourself kit costing $35.
Whether sailing Optimists or sloops, the Scandinavians descend on Skovshoved in blue-and-white sweaters, in rough Faroe Island knitwear bought at Nyhavn harbor shops for $10. They come in oilskins and yachting caps and knitted skullcaps and pipes, and soon the fleet is offshore, making a pleasant vista for those who sit under the ancient beech tree alongside the Bellevue Strand Hotel and watch the spinnakers fill with the summer's breeze.
Horsemen, meanwhile, take their mounts over flower-bowered hurdles at the sportsrideklubben, a nest of fashionable tweed and leather tucked away in Bernstorff Park, a former royal preserve, dripping, in June, with bushes of golden rain. The Danish Derby runs in the middle of the month, bringing a crowd of 25,000 to the race course at Klampenborg, just inland from Bellevue Beach. Here, where a galopbanen is a race track, a fuldblods is a Thoroughbred, and the newspaper picks are posted under a heading called pressenstips, the bet is five kroner, and the season lasts from May to September. The big derby day has been carried by such U.S.-named nags as Onkel Tom (1914), San Francisco (1935) and Far West (1950), all of whose names are embossed on the tribunes.
The Danes like to race aboard bicycles too, and at the ordrupbanen velodrome the bikemen wheel around the boards two or three times a week, on days when the horses are not racing, commencing after the football games, which start at 1:30 p.m. There are races Sunday evenings beginning at 7, and the daily bet runs about 80,000 kroner, ($11,360), but on Thursday, which is payday, the ante edges up over the 100,000-kroner mark. The track is not only handy to town, but some houses are indeed so close to it that some suburban Danes can sit on their sun-swept porches and watch the wheels skim past their railings.
At the beginning of Midsummer Week, the Danes of Frederikssund, 25 miles from Copenhagen, stage a nightly saga of ancient Viking history in an outdoor hillside theater. The cast is composed of local bricklayers, merchants, teachers and shipbuilders, who come to work each night of the 10-night stand, pedaling their bikes down the highways wearing fierce red beards and horned Viking helmets. There are seats for 1,500 visitors and room for 2,000 more on the grass, all of whom look down the slopes to the stage setting, where meat roasts on a spit, kids and goats and Labrador retrievers come and go, presumably on cue, and the actors merely mouth their lines, the voices and music coming from dubbed-in tape recordings.
With something for everyone, Midsummer Week comes to a close with a giant farmers' exposition called the Bellahoej Livestock Show and Agricultural Fair. A forest of red-and-white flags is run up on the green hillside and the farmers come from Zeeland and from Lolland-Falster bringing their proud Percherons with blond manes, their milk cows and pigs. The bull that waddles off with the fair's big prize is, as a Dane explains it, "more or less a national hero." It is the colorful, keen competition of Bellahoej at the end of each Midsummer Week that makes Denmark one of the best dairies in the neighborhood.
Breakfast at a Danish hotel is served with a paving block of butter which is not only a national habit but a national advertisment. Visitors looking for Danish pastry will find it called Vienna bread. (In Sweden it is known as Danish Vienna bread.) And it is, of course, perfectly true that the Danes are probably the biggest cold cuts eaters in the world. Smorrebrod, or open sandwiches, are dispensed in automatic machines and in elegant restaurants but nowhere with as much variety as in Oskar Davidsen's, an elderly and dark-paneled establishment which is prepared to serve 177 different kinds of open sandwiches, all listed on a yard-long menu. Despite the fact that it overflows with tourists (Danes retreat from it in summer), Davidsen's sandwich of 200 thumbnail shrimps piled in soldierly fashion on a slice of dark bread is worth the trip.
Krog's down in the fish market, where the fishwives in their newspaper hats clean scales each morning under a statue to their unbeautiful selves, is suffused with the dignity of a great restaurant. In the soft light and the quiet it offers a lobster soup that requires a half hour's advance notice, and a house specialty of fillet of sole steamed in hock with tarragon leaves and garnished with shrimps and salmon, peas and lobster-and-shrimp sauce. At $1.28 a portion, only the fish need be in hock. Krog's is also a good place to try the local Limfjords oysters as well as plukfisk, which is Danish cod and potatoes in a thick white sauce.
The Coq d'Or, while not in the gourmet class, is all the same a pleasant place finished in crisp Danish décor, and one might also paste in one's hat the name of the Seven Small Homes, a restaurant which, when it wants to put on the dog, dispatches its dishes from the kitchen surrounded by a battery of lighted sparklers. Frascati's on the Radhusplads was always such a pleasant place for an outdoor snack, but last summer the rush of tourists nettled it somehow, and innumerable visitors, this one included, found the waiters and the waiting more than patience could bear.
No one, of course, needs go hungry with Tivoli right in town. Within the 20 fey acres of this well-illuminated (120,000 bulbs) fairyland there are no fewer than 23 restaurants. Two of them, known simply as Divan I and Divan II, have been going since 1843. One, the Wivex, is reputed to be the largest in Europe. One of the best certainly is La Belle Terrasse, which is white and brass, glimmering with bulbs that reflect in the lake near by.
Aside from eating, one can in Tivoli unleash frustrations by tossing baseballs at dishes, sail a mechanical boat down a lake, watch free vaudeville, listen to the visiting BBC Symphony or the Boston Symphony playing in the concert hall, or catch Tivoli's own ballet company. A boy guard rigged up in shaggy busbys, red jackets and white ducks parades through the grounds on weekends, and at the Pantomime Theater white-powdered Pierrot, eye-batting Columbine and masked Harlequin perform the classical commedia dell' arte nightly before a packed open-air house of upturned young Viking faces.
After Tivoli and eating, the next best amusement in Copenhagen is to shop. The Danes provide the utmost convenience for this adventure, lumping most of the best stores in a short promenade known as the Amagertorv. In this corner you will find Bing and Grondahl who make china and figurines, Royal Copenhagen who also make china and figurines, and Georg Jensen who make money. R. Wengler has rattan furniture at considerable savings if you want to bother with the shipping, and Illums Bolighus has tableware, lamps, linens and furniture, but the sledding here is a bit rough unless your Danish is well oiled. There has been a run lately on Danish minks, notably on the houses of A. Leidersdorff, Birger Christensen and A. C. Bang, who is mink purveyor to the crown.
Probably the best assortment of Danish goods under one roof—furniture, stainless steel, silver, pottery both fanciful and usable, Wiinblad's great posters, teak salad bowls and toys can all be found at Den Permanente, a permanent exhibition of Danish arts and crafts. It is the main and sometimes the sole outlet for more than 350 Danish artisans, and the salespeople, all of whom seem to speak Oxonian English, know the ropes about dispatching goods to the U.S.
It is the shortest of walks from Den Permanente in mid-Copenhagen to the newest of the city's hotels, the Mercur. It has 220 beds, high-speed elevators, sharp-lined Danish decorating, small functional rooms and small functional tariffs. In many ways it is like its forerunner in new hostelries, the Europa, which was built along a Copenhagen waterway a few years ago. A tall shaft, it delights in adapting high-speed American ways, all performed with a Danish accent. Its Top-of-the-Mark-like glassed-in restaurant on the 17th floor, for instance, serves everything from a grilled cod-roe sandwich with remoulade for adults to a slice-of-chocolate sandwich for children.
The advent of rakish new hotels has hardly diminished business at such standbys as the Angleterre, a staid and venerable place with a sprightly sidewalk café in summer, a small bar inside and a somnolent air after 8 p.m. Its competitor, the Palace on the Radhusplads, also opens a sidewalk café with the advent of the Scandinavian thaw. Summer has at last come to Copenhagen when the Palace, as is its custom, posts the back-home baseball scores in the lobby for the benefit of its American customers and when it turns its ballroom into a sylvan garden restaurant, so green and burbly, so redolent of midsummer that a satyr whistling on his Pan pipes in the stage grass might very well pass unnoticed.