I’m sorry for the extremely delayed post, as I became quite busy.
Last July, I went to Copenhagen, Denmark for a summer program that was nearly a month long at the University of Copenhagen. The class I took was about Søren Kierkegaard’s philosophy, focusing particularly on Either/Or and The Sickness Unto Death. Now, I wouldn’t call myself as good in philosophy, but I immensely enjoyed my philosophy classes as an undergraduate student, so, wanting to relive those days, I applied for this program and, fortunately, was chosen.
It was my first time to set foot in Europe, and on my own, at that, so I was excited but nervous. That nervousness soon turned to enjoyment as the days went by.
Class was challenging because Kierkegaardian texts aren’t exactly the easiest to understand. Even now, I can only wish that I could boast of understanding Kierkegaard, because I don’t think I can. Nevertheless, I read all the assigned texts and tried to understand whatever I could, and I tried to participate as much as possible in the discussions. I enjoyed the exchanges between A and B in Either/Or.
Luckily, our professor was witty, calm, and affable; he’d always try to make Kierkegaard easier to understand, while asking questions that challenged our critical thinking skills. I also liked how he described Kierkegaard, as I got the impression that Kierkegaard was such a strange person. (I was particularly interested in his failed romance with Regine Olsen, and how he died with only one friend left.) I’d say that the most beautiful things I learned from this class were Kierkegaard’s concept of joy as being intimate to oneself, right at this very moment; and how love is embracing the other’s “weirdness” (our professor’s translation of the Danish term for it).
Some lectures made me think of Psycho-Pass, an anime series that I’m an avid fan of, so I related Kierkegaard to Psycho-Pass for my term paper. My grade arrived just a few months ago, and because European institutions have rather high standards, and I didn’t understand Kierkegaard as well as others did, I got a so-so grade for this course, but I’m glad to have taken it.
Of course, I also made new friends during the course of this program. My Japanese roommate was an undergraduate schoolmate in Tokyo, and I guess she’s the one I talked to the most. (Being an introvert, though, there were a lot of silent moments most days.) I also made friends from China, Australia, Singapore, Germany, Hungary, and the UK. (There weren’t many Danish students in our class, so it’s unfortunate that I didn’t make any Danish friends.) I enjoyed having dinners together; those times were opportunities to taste their delicious cooking and experience their hospitality.
While I didn’t make Danish friends, I found that the Danish, in general, were approachable and helpful. During our first day, when we were looking for our dorm, a man offered to help us and even invited us to party with him! Clerks, employees, and servers would also make small talk every now and then. For instance, at 7-11, when one of the employees learned that I was living in Japan, he said that he was studying Japanese and tried to practice some phrases with me. I wished him luck with his studies. Denmark isn’t exactly a melting pot of cultures, so people would sometimes express curiosity – in a friendly and polite manner; don’t worry – about me and ask where I was from, what my country was like, and so on.
And now, on to the sightseeing! Whereas Tokyo is filled with buildings and skyscrapers, Copenhagen was like something out of a fairy tale or historical drama to me. It’s a small city, unlike the mega-city that is Tokyo, so it wasn’t too difficult to cover all the major tourist spots. We were in Copenhagen during a good time, as their summers meant long days (with the sun setting as late as 9 pm!) and, with the exception of some days, clear skies. Even so, the weather was often quite cool, akin to spring in Tokyo. I was glad to have escaped the hellish summer heat of Tokyo!
I especially loved the iconic ports of Nyhavn and Christianshavn. I was lucky that during the times we visited those places, the weather was sunny, making for lovely photos. Nyhavn was truly as beautiful as it was on postcards and photos online. There were plenty of people just relaxing and having a meal or drink by the canals, and it made me a bit envious how the Danish seemed to lead slower-paced lives, with enough time to enjoy the little and/or finer things in life. I read about how the Danish government really takes care of its people, and how work hours aren’t as long or grueling, so I kept thinking about how lucky the Danish are!
Our department was in the heart of Stroget, the central shopping street. It was strange but amusing how our department was one separate building from the rest of the campus. We didn’t even notice the entrance at first, because it was such a nondescript building, easily obscured by the shops’ signs and displays.
Christiansborg Palace, which houses the Danish Parliament, and the Black Diamond (a.k.a. the Royal Library) were also nearby. I studied at the Black Diamond once or twice, and loved it there – the quiet environment was conducive to studying, and the place itself was also beautiful as a tourist spot. I even spent some time reading outside, taking in the cool breeze and occasionally gazing out at the water.
The Round Tower, where one could get a view of the entirety of Copenhagen, was another tourist spot within the area.
Many other tourist spots were a 10- to 15-minute walk away. For instance, there were the King’s Gardens – where we sat on the grass, drank, and talked after class – and Rosenborg Castle, the inside of which is now a museum.
The central station was also close by. Speaking of trains, Copenhagen’s trains were far more spacious than Tokyo’s, and I don’t think I ever witnessed anything like rush hour.
Near the central station were Copenhagen City Hall and Tivoli, the world’s second oldest amusement park. I’m not sure if I just wasted an opportunity, but I didn’t check out Tivoli, as I was saving my budget for other things.
We also visited Amalienborg Palace, which is the royal family’s winter home. Part of the palace was converted into a museum that featured recreations of former kings’ rooms. Also, every noon, the palace grounds had a ceremony for the changing of the guards.
Speaking of museums, Copenhagen has plenty of them (and art galleries, too), so it’s a must-visit place for curious and artsy people. Amalienborg’s and Rosenborg’s museums aside, I also went to the National Museum, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, which was home to sculptures and paintings owned by Carl Jacobsen (whose father founded Carlsberg Breweries), and the National Gallery of Denmark.
It’s admirable how, like many other European countries, appreciation for arts and culture is alive in Denmark. It’s something that I wish I could see in the Philippines. My stay in Denmark coincided with the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, and I was able to watch some street performances.
We also saw Copenhagen’s beautiful, elaborately designed churches, such as the Marble Church, Church of Our Saviour (which has a tower where one can view Copenhagen from a considerable height), and the Copenhagen Cathedral. I also tried attending Mass at the few Catholic churches there.
And what is a trip to Denmark without seeing the famous Little Mermaid statue? Many tourism websites have called the statue a disappointment, because it literally is little, but I didn’t feel disappointed at all. Perhaps it’s because I already knew that it wasn’t a large statue, and because I still considered it an icon of Denmark anyway.
The (in)famous Christiania was another place on our agenda. It’s a hippie commune, so it has a distinctly different feeling from the rest of Copenhagen.
The highlight of the program was a weekend bike tour of places that Kierkegaard visited and/or mentioned in his works. (I couldn’t ride a bike, though, so I rode the train or walked at some points.) The tour was sponsored by the university. First on the itinerary was Frederiksborg Castle (which, like Rosenborg, also housed a museum) in Hillerød, where I had the chance to dress up as a Danish aristocrat.
Next, we went to Gilleleje to see the Kierkegaard stone, as our professor read some passages from Kierkegaard’s works. We had a good night’s rest at a cozy hostel, and, in an example of how our professor really went out of his way to make sure we had a comfortable time, he went out in the rain to buy us pizzas, after we got to our hostel late and couldn’t find any nearby restaurants.
Finally, the next day, we went to Kronborg Castle, which was featured as Elsinore Castle in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
The bike tour was a great experience, and in many ways, it was thanks to our professor, who did his best to account for everyone’s considerations.
What about Danish food, you ask? First, though, I must warn you that eating out in Denmark is quite expensive, and can drain your wallet quickly. Groceries aren’t as expensive, so we cooked our own meals most of the time.
But of course, we tried the food! Bread is a staple of the local cuisine; there were so many kinds of bread, baked goods, and pastries being sold at the bakeries that it was hard to remember what all of them were called. I remember rugbrød (rye bread) quite well, though. Passing by a bakery when hungry was never a good idea, as the smell of freshly baked bread was extremely tempting.
Denmark’s most famous dish is smørrebrød, an open-faced sandwich with various fillings on top. Some common fillings are fish, roast beef, and frikadeller, a Danish meatball. Our favorite smørrebrød place was Rita’s, near Nørreport Station, where the sandwiches were quite cheap at about DKK18 (about USD3) each. (It’s common to order 2-3 sandwiches.) Rita’s smørrebrød was so delicious that we went there twice.
Hotdog sandwiches are popular street food in Denmark. In fact, the pølsevogn (hotdog stand) is a common sight around Copenhagen. You may think that that’s ordinary food, but the bread and hotdog are quite different. I’d say that the Danish hotdog is meatier and juicier, and, if I’m not mistaken, it actually uses meat, and not a mishmash of internal organs.
I didn’t expect that I’d be able to go to Europe anytime soon, much less this year, so I’m grateful for this opportunity. I’m also glad that I got a stipend, and that I was able to save and earn enough money for this exchange program, as Copenhagen is, I think, an even more expensive city than Tokyo. It’s been 4 months since the program ended, but there are times when I still think of those warm, sunny, and lazy summer days in Copenhagen, of those times when I’d just take a stroll down the city and relax at a park. Having grown up in Manila and currently living in Tokyo, I’m more used to concrete jungles and highly urbanized settings, but I’d really love to visit Copenhagen again to enjoy life at a more relaxed pace. Tak (Thanks), Copenhagen!