Saturday, January 23, 2021

Royal Copenhagen

Reading Time: 5 minutesA fairytale town with imposing grandeur and contented charm, writes SANDHIR HOP

Volunteering as Protocol Manager during the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, I had opportunity to meet and greet a few times, a young, jeans-clad Danish bloke Frederik and his Aussie girlfriend Mary. Five years later they got married and became Crown Prince and Princess of Denmark. So upon arriving in Copenhagen, not knowing exactly where to begin exploring, this loose royal connection inspires me to go on an imperial odyssey. I start with Amalienborg Palace where the golden couple reside along with Frederik’s mother Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II, the present head of state.
Denmark is an archipelago comprising of over 400 islands. It is linked to Germany by a land border and to Sweden by a magnificent bridge. Fabled with stories of the 9th century Vikings, this Scandinavian nation boasts one of the oldest monarchies in Europe. Over centuries, the Danish rulers beautified their land with architecturally stunning edifices – palaces, churches, bastions and monuments that stand today as one of main attractions of Copenhagen, the capital city where most of the regal actions took place.
Like their British counterparts, the Danish royals don’t have any real power, but carry lots of prestige and charisma. They are highly prized by the people as a living manifestation of the country’s history and tradition. Also their simple lifestyle earns them respect. The Queen, who ascended the throne in 1972, is highly educated and independent, with her own interests and work as a stage designer and translator. The Crown Prince and Princess are said to live like any other Danish citizens and are often seen within the public domain without any royal hang-ups.
I reach Amalienborg Palace with the slim hope of spotting them somewhere, but disappointingly find they are all away in London for the Olympic Games. So I am left on my own to explore the regal quarters edged around an octagonal cobblestoned square. The centre piece here is an equestrian statue of Frederic V, the 18th century king who developed this palace and the adjoining neighbourhood as a new, smart and elite district to celebrate 300 years of his family’s rule of Denmark.
The palace complex consists of four similar looking stately buildings, three of which are official residences of the royal family members while the fourth is converted to a museum. Visitors are allowed to wander freely in the square, take as many photos they like of the bear-skin hatted guards, but access to the inside of the royal residences  is prohibited, though by visiting the museum one can peek into the pomp and grandeur of it all. I learn from an attendant that this palace became the royal home after their original abode, the Christianborg Palace was destroyed by fire
in 1794.
Copenhagen to some resembles a fairy-tale city, still largely low-rise with houses featuring oxidised copper on the roofs. The city area, criss-crossed with canals like Amsterdam, is small; you can easily walk from one end to the other in less than an hour. A walking tour is best for a hands-on encounter with sights and sounds of the Danish capital, however a canal cruise is highly recommended for a different orientation of the city, very colourful with centuries old gelati-coloured gabled buildings at the starting point in Nyhavn.
Copenhageners claim their city to be the safest in Europe, if not in the world. It’s true; your only fear will be getting hit by a speeding bicycle! Cycling surely is the preferred mode of transportation for the 1.2 million people here, keeping them fit in a clean environment. However there is also a good array of public transportation comprising of trains, buses and taxis.
From the Amalienborg Palace precinct I march up to see the Marble Church next door, whose large green dome, designed to rival that of St Peters in Rome, dictates the city’s top view. It took nearly 145 years to build this grandiose edifice, made mainly from Norwegian marbles whose lack of supply delayed the completion. It’s said at the end local marbles were used and you can easily spot the two types. You are allowed to go to the top of the bell tower for a breathtaking vista if you can negotiate 260 steep and twisting steps. I give it a miss and spend time at the brick-built Rosenborg Palace, a museum displaying a dazzling collection of crown jewels, perhaps comparable to the ones displayed in the Tower of London.
My next stop is the historically significant Christianborg Palace, now home to the Danish Parliament, Supreme Court and Royal Reception Rooms. It is located on a small island. I reach there walking through Stroget, the world’s longest pedestrianized street, flanked on both sides with trendy bars and cafes blended with an interesting mix of churches, statues and museums.
The hefty granite faced neo baroque palace I see today stands at the site where the city’s founder Bishop Absalon established a castle in 1167, making it the nucleus of a future metropolis. The castle was later replaced by a grand palace, renovated several times by future Danish monarchs who added more and more grandeur. A devastating fire twice destroyed large portions of it however, making it unliveable. The present version was built around what remained of the previous structures, but by then the
royals had settled at the Amalienborg Palace.
Another citadel that interests royal enthusiasts is the Kronborg Palace which is located in the nearby port town of Helsingor, 45 km north of Copenhagen.  Shakespeare has made this imposing castle immortal by making it the setting for his Hamlet. The half day trip from Copenhagen is thoroughly enjoyable to trace the dramatised paths of Prince Hamlet and his uncle Claudius who poisoned Hamlet’s father to become King of Denmark.
You can spend days in Copenhagen chasing royal grandeurs, but there are other attractions that demand attention as well from first time visitors; most significant among them being the Tivoli and the Little Mermaid.
Dotted right in the heart of the city in front of Radhus, Copenhagen’s grand red brick town hall, the 1843 established Tivoli Gardens is a colourful and vibrant park filled with adrenalin rushing rides, stage shows and top notch entertainment  that brings your childhood alive. At night, the lighting and fireworks display is impressive.
Perhaps Little Mermaid needs no introduction. Like Big Ben is to London, Eiffel Tower to Paris, the Little Mermaid is the iconic symbol of modern Copenhagen. Placed at the end of the city’s picturesque harbour promenade in 1913, this tiny bronze statue of a mermaid sitting on a rock and sadly gazing at the passing ships was carved by famous sculptor Edvard Erikson. He was commissioned to do so by Danish beer baron Carl Jackson who was inspired by the tale of a little mermaid falling in love with a prince as portrayed by writer Hans Christian Anderson in his ballet Little Mermaid. For many visitors it’s the first thing to see in Copenhagen and as expected the waterfront area is packed with busloads of tourists and souvenir sellers all the time.
As said, the city is small but attractions are big and varied. So I leave the once-upon- a-time home of the Vikings with a promise to come back, next time with better luck perhaps to spot some royals.

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