28 March 2015: København, Danmark

Paco and I were racking our brain trying to think of a famous Danish person, modern or historical. There’s got to be a famous singer or something, or mathematician. No, I think it’s Sweden that has the strong music scene. Well, if someone asked you about a famous Swiss person, could you name one? Because I’m not sure I could. Yeah, Euler was Swiss. Right, I knew that, like Galere Euler, that hallway in one of EPFL’s main buildings. Hm. A famous Dane? A great Dane, you might say. I can’t think of one.

We dropped off our bags at our hosts’ house and went on our way to visit a couple of the better-known places in Copenhagen. That’s me, Paco, and Manuel. First, the statue of The Little Mermaid, right on the water. There we were, trying to find our way to The Little Mermaid while realizing we can’t think of any famous Danes. If you see the irony, please feel free to roll your eyes, because it took me until the moment we were finally standing in front of the statue, at least an hour later, to realize ‘oh, I bet Hans Christian Andersen was Danish.’ Yup, he was.

The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid

Many people describe the statue as underwhelming, uninteresting, or something along those lines. It’s a nice statue, and personally I like that it’s based on a fairytale, if a gruesome one. But I see their point, it’s not the most interesting to do or see in Copenhagen. So what is? There are a couple possibilities.

Our hosts told us we should go to Christiania, a commune within Copenhagen, operating under its own law. So the next day, we met up with my friend Jenna, a CMU student spending her semester abroad in Copenhagen, and went to check it out. According to Wikipedia, Freetown Christiania operates in anarchy. Based on my experience, I would briefly describe it as a makeshift neighborhood with lots of graffiti and street art where smoking pot is legal. While I’m sure that is a crude oversimplification, it’s legalized marijuana that gets the commune all its attention, at least from tourists like yours truly. Disclaimer: we didn’t smoke while we were there.

The side facing Copenhagen of a building in Christiania. This picture is allowed since we were outside of the commune. Note, no trades to be seen.

The side facing Copenhagen of a building in Christiania. This picture is allowed since we were outside of the commune. Note, no trades to be seen.

There were signs screaming ‘No Photos!’ everywhere, since selling weed is still illegal, but I’m guessing it’s still the backbone of their ‘economy.’ Walking around, we tried to speculate how the commune is run. Direct democracy? Communism of some sort? Anarchy, like Wikipedia claims? How much government did they actually need? How does this place even work? Jenna said she’s heard that, in order to become a resident, all of the current residents have to unanimously agree you are ‘cool’ and that you can live there.

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Here we are, CMU in Copenhagen! This is Nyhavn, which translates to New Harbour, a popular tourist area in Copenhagen. We came here after Christiania to eat waffles, and we ran into another exchange student at EPFL for the semester. His friend practices photography, hence the perfect photos. Left to Right: me, Jenna, Paco, Manuel

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EPFL photo! Left to Right: me, Pierre-Luc, Manuel, Paco

That night, our second of two nights, we were exhausted. One of our hosts, Philip, mentioned a bar down the road that he liked, and we decided to go together. Different people like different bars, so bar recommendations aren’t particularly valuable if you don’t know a thing or two about your recommender. But it turns out Philip knew exactly what these tired American travelers were in the mood for: a low-key place with a pool table and beer that wasn’t overpriced, for once. We played a Danish version of billiards called skomager, which translates to shoemaker. We talked, made jokes, exchanged stories. A normal, straightforward, enjoyable night. And then the night became new and different, at least with respect to my life and experiences. We walked down the road, behind a supermarket, and, like any other sane person, jumped into the dumpster.

I had never gone dumpster diving before. I had never even considered going dumpster diving before, but when in Denmark. And so, I was far more excited to jump into a pile of garbage than what I imagine is normal. This was exciting because it was new and different, but not stupid. It was logical. The process made sense. Obviously you go to a supermarket’s dumpster. You don’t make a mess outside the dumpster, or they will put another lock on. The bakery uses black bags, so you open those and there are some pastries and a lot of bread. Sometimes there are bags of meat, but you have to check it. You have to check everything. Duh. In the winter things don’t go bad as fast. We got bread, and cream cheese, and bananas, and ginger, and grapes, and apples, and even flowers, white roses. It made a great breakfast the next morning.

Before I wrap this up, this post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning that one of the best parts of this trip was the people we stayed with. Paco knew someone whose brother, Xavier, was in Copenhagen and happy to host us. He was half Danish and half French. I mentioned Philip already. There was Aggi, who is a vocal major. One of my best friends from the States is a vocal major, and I love that connection. There were a couple other people as well, all very welcoming and easy to be around. All real, live Danes. They were always happy to talk in the off moments, and all those Scandinavians have perfect English.

So, did we find the most interesting thing to do in Copenhagen? I don’t think I have the authority to definitively answer this entirely subjective question. But let’s review some possibilities: wander Freetown? Jump in dumpsters? Eat overpriced waffles? My conclusion is the same one I always seem to draw, and I hope you are hungry because it’s nice and corny: the most interesting thing to do in Copenhagen is to talk to people. Meet new people. That guy at the not-kebab-but-sorta-like-kebab place. The soldier from out of town who was a bit confused. Our hosts. Our hosts’ friends. Aggi’s dog, who I guess isn’t a person to talk to. The coffee shop barista. The girls in the parliament building. The college students dressed in banana costumes and coconut bras. Does it matter that we were in Copenhagen? I don’t know, I hope so. I guess you can meet new people anywhere, and supermarkets everywhere have dumpsters for scavenging, so why not go to Copenhagen?

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