“Welcome to the world's happiest nation” read the walls of the baggage reclaim at Copenhagen Airport. A bold claim for a country whose most famous exports are Carlsberg and pickled herring.
On a more serious note, Denmark is universally recognised as a country that’s got it all worked out, with Copenhagen leading the way. On top of low crime, homelessness, obesity and unemployment, there’s completely free higher education, world-leading healthcare, and a general feeling of tolerance and open-mindedness in all aspects of life. I heard somebody say that Copenhagen is the city that London wants to be, and after just a few days I can see a fair amount of truth in that. But until London does pull its socks up, Copenhagen and all the cinnamon buns you can eat are just a £20 Easyjet flight away.
Our particular flight departed Gatwick at 7:30am in the middle of September. In the days leading up to the trip we’d been nervously checking the weather, hoping that all the spots we’d researched would stay dry throughout the five days we were there. Copenhagen has 15 days of rainfall in September, so our chances of this were slim. Fortunately it was dry when we landed, and after locking our bags in the ‘boutique hostel’ we’d booked, conveniently located right outside the central station, we headed straight out along the wide cycle lanes towards one of Copenhagen’s most iconic spots, Jarmers plads.
The ledges at Jarmers are nicely situated on the corner of a busy intersection, which gave us our first real impression of Copenhagen: an endless flow of good-looking people riding bikes across lanes of considerate motorists, a far cry from my daily slalom between London’s busses and HGVs; a small minimalist cafe selling pour-over coffee and staffed by an American girl who couldn’t speak Danish; the smell of cannabis from the adjacent park; and most importantly a set of perfect knee-high ledges outside an office building without a security guard in sight.
In my experience, it’s rare to go skateboarding in a foreign city without at least one altercation with the police, over-zealous security guards or pissed off locals. In Copenhagen we encountered none of these. In fact, on the third day Matt pointed out that we hadn’t so much as seen or heard a police car, there was a noticeable absence of CCTV cameras around the city, and nobody locked their bikes. The Danes seem to trust their citizens to not be dicks, and somehow it works.
This is most evident in the self-proclaimed, self-governing neighbourhood of Christiania, an ex-hippy commune situated in a disused army barracks. Selling cannabis is illegal in Copenhagen, but in Christiania men in balaclavas quite openly sell weed, hash and pre-rolled joints from little stalls draped in camouflage netting.
The Danish attitude to equality and tolerance penetrates all aspects of life in the city, particularly its architecture and town planning. Many of the spots we visited were open areas of communal space that seem to have been designed with not just skateboarders, but everyone in mind. While Josh was filming a trick at Israels Plads, the rest of us were wondering why there were so many kids running around who were not at school. It took us a while to clock that the square doubled up as a primary school playground, and the kids getting in his way were on their lunch break. More areas like this were found in basketball courts, outside a handball academy and built into the headquarters of a bank in the financial district. The equivalent would be Canary Wharf and Heron Quays not just allowing, but actually encouraging skateboarders.
Although the majority of spots are located very centrally in Copenhagen, a few of the best ones are a bit further out. Bicycles are by far the best way to reach these, and skateboards conveniently clip into the rear rack of the hybrids we rented. After negotiating with the bike shop owner to allow us to return the bikes much later than the 6pm closing time, we set out first along the canal, then towards Nørrebro.
Unfortunately the good weather didn’t hold out for the entire trip. Rain was forecast for the Sunday so the decision was made to make the most of Saturday night in Copenhagen's Meatpacking District, Kodbyen (literally: Meat City). We holed up in WarPigs a slaughterhouse-turned-brew-pub, complete with drains for blood and hooks hanging from the ceiling. It turns out there’s a lot more to Copenhagen’s beer scene than Carlsberg and Tuborg, mostly thanks to the good people at Mikkeller. After sampling a few of their finest brews, including the delicious ‘Fuck Donald Trump’, we headed to notorious night-spot Jolene, after which point it all gets a bit hazy.
As promised, the rain came on Sunday, leaving us with only one and a half dry days left in Copenhagen. The tail end of a skate holiday is always perfect for revisiting a few choice spots and throwing everything at those final tricks. With that in mind we revisited SEB, Israels Plads and a few more obscure (and less fruitful) spots down by the canal.
Although the rain did hold off for the most part, the wind picked up to near-hurricane force and the temperature suddenly dropped; the first inklings of the harsh Scandinavian winter ahead. Despite one final downpour on the last day (and a final trip to the Mikkeller bar the night before), nearly everyone managed to stack a few final clips right up to the whistle, before boarding the big white and orange tin can back to London.