Tuesday 2 November 2021

Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen - Danny Kaye was right

In the 1980s Peking, as it was called, was full of cyclists and Copenhagen was full of cars. Now it's the other way around. 

Danes are friendly people but watch out for cyclists who have the right of way, though they are much nicer about almost running you down than the young battleaxes of Stockholm. 

The disused church of St Nicholas in Copenhagen, now an art gallery, with its large banner proclaiming 'IN ART WE TRUST' seems to sum up Denmark (and Europe) looking for a substitute for God. 

Art, science, eliminating poverty, Marxism have all been tried. Non-discrimination is the latest attempt. Another attempt at finding the meaning of life, as Douglas Murray says, is by taking nice holidays.

Although Douglas Murray did not mean this, holidays are more than materialistic and self-indulgent means to refresh oneself. They have their spiritual dimension. Solitary travel is one of the most pleasant forms of introspection. I think Laurence Durrell said that. Mircea Eliade said that one travels abroad to explore ones subconscious mind.

Both men were right. A friend of mine, Michael Noonan, says that holidays are modern pilgrimages to find meaning and rediscover life.

I have just returned from a four days 'mini-vacation' in Malmo, Sweden and Copenhagen. The return tickets from Bucharest to Malmo with Wizzair cost 67 lei, less than £12 or €13. There is easily enough room in the minimal hand luggage (Wizz possibly have a laptop in mind) for four nights away. If you are luxurious and self-indulgent splurge on front row seats. 

An infrequent bus from Malmo airport to the railway station cost €15 and required a long wait but I found a splendid Pole called Bogdan who took me and a minibusful of Romanian workers for €10. busbogdan@hotmail.com

Since they built the bridge between Malmo and Copenhagen, a 36-minute £10 rail journey is all that separates them and the two cities make a good combination

In Bucharest virtually everyone now is wearing a mask in the street, though it's not required by law. In Sweden and Denmark I didn't see a single mask in four days except in the airport. Even in the airport masks are only worn by people queuing to get on a plane.

Malmo was bathed in thin sunshine and is very pretty in autumn, has a fine cathedral with a remarkable mediaeval painted roof, discovered and revealed a century ago, and a delightful old town. Its main claim to fame is being the birthplace of Anita Ekberg. 

But more interesting than Malmo is Lund, Sweden's oldest town or city and her Canterbury, Oxford and Cambridge in one, ten miles away. It was thought to have been founded by King Canute, but it was recently discovered that it is older still. English towns of course are much older. Lund cathedral is very beautiful as is its close.

The Turning Torso has been the landmark of Malmo since it was built in 2005.

What struck me about Malmo is how modern architecture in Sweden is beautiful - in England modern architecture and modernity in general seem ugly. Why I don't know, but I do know that Swedes and Scandinavians in general have a great yearning to be modern. I don't think the English, whatever their politics, do. 

In 1963, when Harold Wilson spoke about forging "a new Britain" in the "white heat of the technological revolution" and the Victorian buildings of the country were being demolished, they did. Communities and towns were destroyed but pretty well everyone regretted this by 1979 and instead the post-war political settlement was demolished by Margaret Thatcher.

In Malmo I lunched with a man who thinks the indigenous Swedes are going to become a minority in the country and surprisingly fast, but though I have read much about riots and crime in Malmo it seemed exceptionally peaceful. 

The public housing estates where the immigrants are housed were spick and span and empty. Nothing at all like the Muslim areas which surround Paris such as St Denis. In 2019 55% of the population of the city had at least one foreign parent, but the very few people I saw on the street were white and Nordic looking.

I asked a Filipino who had been adopted at the age of one by Swedes if she felt Swedish and she seemed unsure. Are you proud thinking about Swedish kings, I asked. She still seemed puzzled and I realised that Swedes don't think that way. That's how Romanians think. 'Are Swedes patriotic?' 'No', she said, 'but we probably should be more'.

In Malmo 13 thirteen murders took place in 2018, eight in 2019 and five last year. That's not many by British standards. There were 122 homicides in Birmingham last year, but it is a lot more than in the 1960s and in 2019 there were on average three bomb explosions a week.

The Malmo police say the fall in the number of murders is because they have apprehended a number of gang leaders after hacking an encrypted app called EncroChat. 

Meanwhile the number of shootings by gangs in Stockholm has surged. Police Commissioner Erik Nord said this summer "It is no longer a secret today that much of the problem of gang and network crime with the shootings and explosions have been linked to migration to Sweden in recent decades." 

85% of gang members are immigrants or the children of immigrants, according to the Economist. Another commentator has said the percentage is much higher.

Sociologist Petra Åkesson in 2006 found that 90% of all robberies reported to the police in Malmo were committed by gangs. She interviewed gang members, one of whom told her, "When we are in the city and robbing we are waging a war, waging a war against the Swedes".

As I said, I saw no sign of any of this.

Both Lund and Malmo are put completely in the shade by Copenhagen, which is astonishingly lovely. I spent 48 hours in Copenhagen and want to go back because I left so very much unseen. 

I thought 48 hours would be enough but it needs 72 at least, plus extra days for  Rosklilde, Elsinore and other nearby places.

It's a little like Gdansk, where I recently was, but prettier and not built in the late 1940s. It resembles Amsterdam - bicycles, canals, Protestantism, 17th century buildings - but unlike Amsterdam it isn't cutesy.

It's not by accident that I left Denmark to last to visit among European counties. Albania is much more my sort of thing but nevertheless I loved Copenhagen. 

The Danish capital doesn't have an edge, it's the sort of place your grandmother would love, but the old lady has very good taste. 

The National Museum alone can eat up a day easily. It is full of marvels and blessedly not family friendly (apart from the ghastly Viking exhibition bathed in blue light and accompanied by music). Nor does it dwell as much as I expected on the purported evils of colonialism. 

Here are wonderful early 20th century Eskimo masks from East Greenland, which was terra incognita until the nineteenth century.

I am pleased that I walked to see the statue of the Little Mermaid, itself very unremarkable, because returning I lost my way and saw the city. It is only when you get lost that you see a place. 

Perhaps it is only when you lose you way that you find yourself.

St Nicholas's Church at dusk could be an illustration for a ghost story, perhaps by Sheridan Le Fanu.

Sweden and Denmark have all the things libertarians disapprove of, like high taxes and a generous welfare state, and yet their economies do well. Why? Because of Swedes and Danes, who are very individualistic (they move out from their parents early and have a high proportion of one person households, children are not dependent on parents and wives are not dependent on husbands) and yet paradoxically very egalitarian, very conformist and very socially cohesive. 

It may be that the lack of a feudal system and serfdom in the Middle Ages is an important part of the explanation.

Do individualism and conformism always go together? I think so. They do in America too, which also never had a feudal system, though America did have slavery, which was similar to serfdom.

However, although Americans are conformists who disapprove of eccentricity, and America is egalitarian in theory, the USA has a huge gap in income between the rich and the working class. It is not at all a cohesive society. 

Why is that? I presume it is because it's a heterogenous immigrant society devoted to money making and competition, without any sense of kindred, whereas Sweden and Denmark are ethnic states, or were until the 1960s. 

Getting on is rather frowned on.  They have left-wing state Lutheran churches and are monarchies.

I leave readers who are American or have visited America to say more. I do know that Minnesota, the American state much settled by Scandinavians, has a leftish political culture but a sober, hard-working, honest culture.

In Copenhagen I stayed at the Alexandra Hotel, which is owned by a trust and whose profits benefit retired hotel employees around Denmark. It is a sort of museum of 1960s Danish design and was what they call a counter-intuitive choice for me, since I detest the 1960s and all that flowed from that baleful decade.

The furniture in the hotel is, predictably, very uncomfortable. 

I suppose in the early 1960s artists and thinkers thought the future belonged to the West and hoped to be part of an era with beautiful style, art, books and ideas, but alas it was not to be. Western civilisation was already in grave decline.


  1. Conformism in Scandinavia goes back to the mediaeval Laws of Jante, which state:
    You're not to think you are anything special.
    You're not to think you are as good as we are.
    You're not to think you are smarter than we are.
    You're not to imagine yourself better than we are.
    You're not to think you know more than we do.
    You're not to think you are more important than we are.
    You're not to think you are good at anything.
    You're not to laugh at us.
    You're not to think anyone cares about you.
    You're not to think you can teach us anything.

  2. Very interesting - you make good use of your travels to broaden our knowledge as well as your own! Stimulated to look further, I see from Wikipedia that the Law of Jante, although it no doubt formulates a mindset that goes back at least to the Middle Ages, comes from a 1933 novel.

    1. Thank you very much for correcting me. I was misled, though I had some doubts. It certainly sounds 20th not 14th century.

  3. A prime example of this is the murder in cold blood of Sir David Amess. He was singled out just the same way Bobby Kennedy was. Even if you forget Jews and Israel and change it to a support of Indian Kashmir you have our own politicians being murdered for their beliefs. Never before have we seen this. It is only Muslims who behave this way. There was a blanket of media avoidance over why and who perpetrated the crime. They made out Angela Rayner’s comment a week earlier (all Tories are scum) had something to do with it. My personal belief is that it is probably over. I’m not going to hang around much longer.

    1. That is very saddening, Simon. You told me you are thinking of moving to France. I read that many French Jews are talking of going to Israel. It sounds like a novel I read (I read few novels or books), Submission by Michel Houellebecq. I am also reminded of something Lord Weidenfeld said in an interview on BBC radio in March 2015 shortly before his death, that if things became hard for them as a result of anti-Semitism "Jews could go to Israel but...the rest?" and that the people of Europe might be stuck with "millions of not-so-friendly people".

    2. "Jews could go to Israel but...the rest?"

      To Russia.

  4. A fully vaccinated plane passenger, 51, was infected with coronavirus and found dead in his seat on Pegasus Airlines Flight 1043 from Istanbul, Turkey, to Hamburg, Germany.


    1. This is the link. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10156793/Fully-vaccinated-air-passenger-infected-Covid-dead-flight-Turkey-Germany.html
      I don't think there is any moral to be drawn from the story, do you?

    2. 'Forensic pathologists performed a postmortem on the body and concluded that the man had probably died mid-flight.'


    3. 'The police spokesman said that third-party negligence could be ruled out. One assumes a natural cause of death, an autopsy did not take place.'


    4. 'In the meantime, it can be ruled out that the man had already been brought on board dead.'


    5. And his last word was... coffee or tea?

  5. While the Nordic countries have a strong welfare system funded from the public coffers, I understand they meddle in economic affairs far less than in most other countries (via excessive regulation and intrusion). I may be wrong, but the Heritage Foundation ranks a couple of the Nordics as having a very free economic system. Despite the welfare state and large tax burden, the stability and relative lack of whimsical and everchanging regulations can stimulate a strong economy, it seems.

    1. That is what is often overlooked. https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/10/27/nordic-countries-not-socialist-denmark-norway-sweden-centrist/

  6. On a different note, since there is no "like" button here, I'd just like to say that I enjoy these travel musings immensely. They have the right balance of real world descriptions combined with abstract analysis, and these two components complement each other very well.

  7. Acts of violence occur so frequently in Malmö that news of one blurs into the next. This year, there already have been 29 explosions in a city of just 320,000. Sweden as a whole is on pace for about 150—or about three per week (as Quillette has reported previously). These are attacks by criminal gangs that usually target other criminals. But the victims are sometimes innocent bystanders. In one recent case, for instance, a female student was severely injured in the face when she happened to pass by a shop that exploded in Lund, a ten-minute car ride from Malmö. The more spectacular attacks have left whole cities such as Malmö fearful and traumatized, as a grandmother explained in a recent Facebook post about a bombing that blew out the windows of a residential building where her grandchildren were sleeping—”… two very frightened Swedish children, whose safe existence just fell apart.”

    Writing for the newspaper Expressen that same day, Malmö-based journalist Fredrico Moreno likened his city’s bombing epidemic to a terror spree: “The bombs that wake us at night, that explode so that glass windows fly into bedrooms, have taken thousands of Malmö residents hostage…Friends tell me in passing how they have refurbished or switched rooms at home so that the children are not hurt when there are explosions nearby.”

    As Sweden’s national police chief put it last week, there is “no equivalent” to this bombing campaign in any other Western country. And the violence extends beyond bombings. On Saturday, gunmen killed a 15-year-old boy and critically wounded another at a pizzeria, minutes after yet another explosion in Malmö. Witnesses reported the sound of “an entire clip being emptied.” In August, the city was shaken to its core when Karolin Hakim, a young doctor whose boyfriend is a well-known figure from the city’s criminal underworld, was shot and killed in an affluent Malmö neighborhood. She was carrying her infant baby in her arms. The killer placed a bullet in her head when she was already lying on the street.

    As with many Malmö residents, there is a personal dimension for me. In August, 2017, I was awakened at 2:30am by burglars attempting to enter my home. I was alone with my then 5-year old twin daughters when four men smashed the glass panes of the antique door on the ground floor. I carried my sleeping daughters upstairs, called the police and desperately looked around for a makeshift means of self-defense. The best I could manage was a hammer. Over the phone, a police officer urged me not to make my presence known to the intruders, whose silhouettes I could see on the frosted window as they poked around the area where I kept my daughters’ bicycles. Thankfully, my neighbor happened to come home late that night, inadvertently scaring off the burglars when he turned on the stairwell lights in our shared entryway. From my bedroom window, I got a good view of the four men as they ran down the street and disappeared.


  8. Very saddening news about crime in Sweden here. https://rmx.news/article/sweden-is-the-most-dangerous-country-in-europe-writes-germanys-top-selling-newspaper/?fbclid=IwAR0LUy6Ta93MYyg6PeylrmjuLiCQuw5GiYXlgxKqjK9chn9eAjxzl0H9NPY