I was only in Copenhagen for a day in which time I strolled down Stroget, ate some excellent pickled herring in Nyhaven, enjoyed the excellent cinnamon and cardamon buns of Danish bakeries, relaxed on a cruise boat around the harbour during which the guide was openly contemptuous of the tourist obsession with the little mermaid statue, and spent hours in Tivoli Gardens which offered a carnival of free entertainment for all generations and many tastes. Tivoli Gardens was perhaps the greatest surprise, and maybe a key to the famed tolerance of the Danes. This amusement park in the centre of the city is much more than an amusement park – it offered stylish vegetarian dining (Nimb Gemyse), modern ballet performed to the music of John Adams at the pantomime theatre, a rock concert of a leading Danish singer at which people aged from 12 to 60s stood, danced and enjoyed the music together, and gentle mingling of many generations and cultures.
In the afternoon we took a break from the urban centre and took a train to nearby Roskilde, which I learnt is an ancient site of Danish history, once the a trade and sea route hub for Vikings. It was founded somewhere between the 7th and 9th century. Roskilde means “Ro’s Spring”, and indeed we walked past the spring on our way from visiting the remarkable, world heritage Roskilde cathedral, dating from 1275, to the Viking Boat museum, which unfortunately we were too late to enter. Roskilde provided an insight into some deep roots of Danish culture: the Viking heritage, Christianity and the Danish Protestant Church, and its enduring monarchy. Here at Roskilde Cathedral are buried 39 Danish monarchs, and a tomb is being prepared for the current long-serving queen, Margrethe II, monarch since 1972. This tomb is remarkable for its beauty, and there is a small exhibit on its crafting, which in open Danish style has been undertaken for several years. The tomb will be like clear glass, with wrapped remains held in an impressed centre. It is quite exquisite as both applied art and a symbol of Danish political self-image.
When in Copenhagen the Danish elections were under way, and held a few days after we left the city. I watched some results come in subsequently on Swedish television from our hostel room in Stockholm. The Danes saw something of a reversal of the claimed trend towards right-wing populism. The Danish nationalist, right-wing party lost ground, in part due to its involvement in some scandals over the misuse of public funds. Retrenchments in some public services and a decline in the quality and reliability of public health services also led to a loss of votes for the centre right/liberal governing coalition party. So, it led to a new government forming from a small majority for the “red bloc.”
I was not in Denmark long enough to learn more about the great enigmatic victorious hermit of existentialism, Soren Kierkegaard. A statue of Kierkegaard stands in front of the Danish Royal Library, where his unique and unusual writings are held, but I was unable to visit either/or indeed come to grips with the fragmentary and pseudonymous texts. Like Kafka, Kierkegaard was a writer who was unable to establish kind, familiar, intimate relationships. He broke off an engagement with a woman, and separated himself into his literary and philosophical hell. He is another forbear of fragments and confused identities. Despite his troubled personality, he had a remarkable influence on philosophy, literature and many aspects of culture, including on the great traditions of humanistic psychology, such as Binswanger, Rollo May and Carl Rogers, which has done so much good for the world.
I have read a little Kierkegaard, but the depth of this influential enigma awaits me; like the depths of Denmark and Copenhagen they invite me to further interpretation, insight and curiosity. The pseudonym used by Kierkegaard for his first major work – Either/Or – was (translated from Latin) “Victorious Hermit.” Let that be an inspiration to me.