City Guide Copenhagen

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Style Life

Issue 01/2009


Text Ilona Marx Photos Andi Zimmermann Illustration Roman Klonek

Merely functional objects are not enough for the Danes. They have to look good as well. This attitude seems to be embedded in the genetic coding of Copenhagen’s 1.7 million residents. We, at least, were deeply impressed from the minute we set foot in the airport at Kastrup – the power of creative minimalism, and the atmospheric lighting bowled us over. A prize-winning one off?

By no means at all! Light has always had a special role to play in Scandinavian countries; that may have something to do with the fact that it is in pretty short supply here in the winter. In any case it has led to an inordinate number of designers being motivated to dedicate their energy to the topic: a large proportion of contemporary light designs come from Denmark, most notably those of Poul Henningsen. In fact the whole subject of interior design has been a favourite topic in this sunshine-deprived country for the past couple of decades. Simple but not cold – that is how one could perhaps succinctly sum up the Danish style. The figurehead of this design movement is Arne Jacobsen, who died in 1971; not only is he not forgotten, he is pretty much omnipresent. His architectural masterpieces easily rival any built to date, his armchairs, chairs and lamps as well as his stainless steel collection are world famous – and can be frequently admired in Copenhagen, thanks to its plentiful vintage shops.

But plenty of other creative minds have contributed to the beauty of Copenhagen: the architects, Jørn Utzon, Kay Fisker, Vilhelm Lauritzen, Henning Larsen and Hans J. Wegener, for example. Copenhagen certainly lives up to its reputation as ‘Style Central’. However, good taste is all too often a question of money as well. But that doesn’t seem to be an issue in Copenhagen. Whereas in other metropolises the gulf between rich and poor seems to grow exponentially, it seems that in Copenhagen every one is doing okay. At least on the streets poverty is hardly visible – and, disarmingly, the sight of extreme wealth is also just as rare. In fact a rather egalitarian breezes seems to blow through the city spires.

Palpable tolerance – Denmark was the first European country, in 1989, to recognise and introduce same-sex marriage – and a pronounced feeling of social responsibility and conscience are the direct consequences. A life almost entirely free of sexism and chauvinism sounds like paradise. And cosy comfort really does seem rife in Copenhagen; it’s so typical for the Danish attitude to life that there is even a specific word for it: “hyggelig” which is a cross between feeling snug, intimate or homey, but in the end comes down to being one thing: typically Danish.

So the biggest danger in Copenhagen seems to be getting run over by a speeding cyclist on one of the highway-wide bike paths. Or shopping until you drop with all the stylish furniture and progressive art for sale. As Ilona Marx and Andi Zimmermann discovered to their peril on their tandem bike tours through the Scandinavian metropolis, there were certainly no shortage of opportunities to lighten their wallets.

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