I sit writing this on my laptop looking out the window at dozens of strapping blonde Danes whizzing by on their cycles to college or work in the city of Aarhus. Cars are few and far between and the bus system is perfect for someone like me from Bangalore who has never used a cycle.
Denmark conjures up pictures of biting cold winds and freezing conditions in most people’s minds. However the weather is a balmy 23 degrees celcius and I show off my colourful kurtis minus any woolies, to appreciative glances on my way to the School of Journalism. This is a country quite unlike any other in the world, with smiling inhabitants who quite effortlessly speak perfect English and architecture which has a beauty quite unlike any other in the world. It’s a great place to holiday in as the Kroner converts to approximately Rs 7 which goes a long way as against 47 to the $ or almost 90 to the Pound! And I assure you shopping is just as good if not better and the guilt factor of splurging in the supermarket on cheese and chocolates flies out the window.
This is a country with a history to rival ours in India. The oldest existing evidence of human inhabitation in Denmark are traces of hunters habitation from the end of the last Ice Age c.12500 BC. The unification of the country under a central power began in 700AD and was finally completed under Harold I Bluetooth in D987 as stated on the runic stone in Jelling, where the word Denmark appears for the first time. The Jelling stones are often regarded as Denmark’s birth certificates. Later during the Viking age in C 600-1100 and this period was characterized by frequent Viking expeditions which led to the conquest of England for a short time in the 11th century and took the pillaging Vikings as far as Ireland, Northern France and Russia. However the Danish Viking kings never managed to turn their conquests into a lasting empire.
Being steeped in history there is a lot for the tourist to see. Thankfully there are no glass and chrome structures in the down town areas and most of Aarhus in the city consists of mellow yellow brick buildings, like the large and imposing train station. Spires peep out at intervals reminding one that this is a Christian city with almost 90% of the inhabitants who are Lutheran. Maybe that’s why they are all so happy with their Welfare state. Imagine 55% of whatever they earn in Denmark is taxed but I am very sure that if we Indians had half the facilities and the infrastructure the Danes enjoy we would not grumble at being taxed too. However being a welfare state, the Danes are supposedly insular and have very strict immigration laws.
The people of Aarhus are very proud of their City Hall which was built in the ‘40’s by one of their famous architect sons. Guides are provided who take small groups around to admire the building which has flooring of bog oak which is millions of years old and has been carefully cut and laid. The chairs in the main municipal hall have been made of ‘pigs skin’ as the guide revealed and the Danes export over 21,000 pigs as against just 300,000 inhabitants!
Denmark has a small open economy which is highly dependent on trade with other countries. As foreign trade accounts for most of the GDP, Denmark has a strong interest in the free exchange of goods and services between countries and the biggest container line Maersk is based out of Denmark.
While picking post cards to send home to the family at the Post Office, one realizes that Denmark is the oldest monarchy in the world. The post woman was extremely happy to give me an 8 Kroner stamp to fix on the pc with a picture of her Queen Margrethe II. “ Our Queen is regarded with great respect and affection by the whole nation,” she said.
The history of the Danish language can be traced back for more than 10,000 years. However the letters ae, o with a line through it and a with a zero above it did not enter the language officially till 1946. What is interesting is if one emigrates to Denmark the country is very particular that the language is learnt and spoken well by the immigrant.
Catch a flight to Copenhagen and take the train to Aarhus. Your love affair with the country will begin at the station as you wait for the train and then slowly fall in love with the view as the train speeds to Aarhus.