The next stop on our long northern journey took us to a rather strange island shrouded in history, mystery and avant garde film…
We left Stockholm at 4am — the sleepless morning after an incredible Paul McCartney concert — for a long bus ride to the port of Nynäshamn, and a slow rolling ferry to the island of Gotland.
I’ll be writing about Gotland and Fårö in the January / February issue of Outpost magazine. You’ll be able to read all the details in my column, Adrift on the Continent, told in highly polished magazine prose.
So I’m going to skip ahead a bit, and jump past our explorations of those two islands. I’ll just say now that they were one of the highlights for me on this incredible 7 week trip.
When it came time to leave, there were no Viking longships waiting for us, and no convenient ferry connections to our next destination, either. And so, for the first time since we landed in Lithuania, we continued our journey by plane.
A brief flight across Sweden set us down in the city of Malmö, where we hopped a train across the Oresund bridge to Copenhagen, Denmark.
Our very long 6 country journey would finally wrap up here. But there was still a week and a half to go, so I didn’t have to think about that yet.
Copenhagen is the largest city in Scandinavia, and throughout the region’s history, it was also the richest.
This fishing port and centre of the herring trade grew in wealth from the bounty of the sea, but it rose to prominence in the 15th century, when Denmark’s King Christian IV (1588-1648) transformed it into a true world capitol.
At its height of its power, Denmark controlled Sweden, Norway and Iceland — vast territories which completely dwarfed it in size. The fortunes of the Danish empire took a dip in the early 19th century. But this cultural powerhouse was soon back in action, making its mark on the intellectual landscape with writers like Hans Christian Andersen and thinkers like Soren Kierkegaard.
Today Copenhagen is a city of hip shops, cafes and bars, with copper-spired churches and palaces to add historical appeal, and a collection of art that rivals any city in Europe.
It’s a little edgier than Stockholm — there’s more graffiti and it lacks the Swedish capitol’s outdoorsy simplicity, which had made me feel so at home there. But this busy city has so much to explore.
Number 1 on my list was a short train ride along the coast of Zealand to one of the world’s top modern art centres.
We spent a lot of time staring at Doig’s enormous canvases and imaging the narrative that they might contain. But the real highlight of Louisiana for me was an installation by the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.
The walls and ceiling are made entirely of mirrors, and the floor is water. You stand on a small black platform in the centre of it. There are coloured lights hanging all around you, and they reflect away into infinity in all directions.
Standing inside that installation, with the door closed, I felt like I was floating at the centre of a vast cosmos, with stars stretching out to the end of time in all directions. It was completely disorienting and absolutely mesmerizing, and it took me out of myself.
Kusama is shit nuts, but this installation really worked. It was one of the best I’ve ever experienced.
The other “artistic highlight” for me was a couple of visits to Denmark’s Statens Museum for Kunst.
We stopped by to see a temporary exhibit called What’s Happening, which explored turning points in experimental art from 1965 to 1975. But it was the Nordic art that really spoke to me. We ran out of time to see it properly, having been cruelly kicked out at closing time. And so a second visit was in order.
Throughout this trip — first in Tallinn and then in Helsinki, and now here — I found myself drawn to the work of Edvard Munch. Not “The Scream” — which seems to be the only painting anyone ever mentions in connection with his name. But his incredible Nordic landscapes. He captures the cold northern light so perfectly — all those blues and greys, and those vast bleak expanses of coastline, forest and lake.
This Baltic and Scandinavian journey has left a mark. I’m feeling a very strong call to return next year, to spend part of the summer here, immersed in that light and that air, and that melancholy Bergman atmosphere (…but without the crack ups or mental illness…). I’d like to do some sort of project which captures this light, and to see what effect it has on my writing.
There was lots more to explore in Copenhagen, of course…
A Man Ray exhibit at the NY-Carlsberg Glyptoteket, alongside their permanent collection of classical antiquities and sculpture…
A taste of royal living at the 17th century Rosenborg castle — a friendly, warm place, the sort of castle you can actually imagine living in and not just ruling from…
And so many design shops, record stores, cafes and quiet canal-side streets.
I have to admit that I was feeling pretty groggy by then, and so I took it fairly easy and agenda-free, just soaking up art by day, and sipping a freezer-cold caraway spiced akavit from Aalborg in the evenings, accompanied by a Bergman film.
And so our time in Denmark wound down. And so did this long northern trip, which had taken us from Cologne through Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, across the gulf to Helsinki, by ship to the Åland islands, by boat again to Stockholm, across rough grey seas to Gotland and Fårö, and finally here to our last stop in Denmark.
It was my first non-airport visit to Copenhagen. And I know it won’t be my last.