27 September 2006

Life-sized Cool / Copenhagen

[This piece was originally written for the Guardian's 'Been There' website]

Copenhagen is an aesthetic capital that is content with its laid-back, cool attitude and rather unimpressed with the delusions of grandeur suffered by other European cities. The city centre is a charming labyrinth of cosy streets peppered with trendy cafes and boutiques. The surrounding neighbourhoods are relaxed areas where the Copenhagener can be seen in its natural environment.

What the city lacks in Eiffel Towers and Big Bens it makes up for with its curious mix of historic buildings and ultra-modern design. In the summer months, flocks of bewildered American tourists from the armada of cruise ships (Copenhagen is the third-busiest cruise destination in the world) can be seen wandering about wondering what it is they should be looking at.

At least they can wander without worry, as much of the city centre is designated as pedestrian areas with "Strøget" being the crown in the work. The street stretches from the Town Hall Square to Nyhavn on the harbour. Wandering about a city has rarely been easier or more desirable.

With the strength of other European currencies the city is hardly as expensive as it once was. Shopping for designer items is a treat and done while taking in striking modern architecture like the new opera house or the Black Diamond building, both on the harbour. Design is often regarded as Denmark's greatest cultural export so they put a bit of elbow grease into it. The best way to get around is on a bike. The city boasts Europe’s most developed network of bike paths and you won’t be alone: 37% of Copenhageners cycle to work or school every day.

If "big is better" is your thing, then Copenhagen will disappoint. Upon seeing the Little Mermaid statue on her rock on the harbour generations of puzzled tourists have uttered the same remark: "But she’s so SMALL!" Upon hearing this a Copenhagener will merely shrug and remark, "She’s life-size". All with a crooked smile and a twinkle in the eye,

Which would be an ideal motto for Copenhagen. Life-size. An ego to match any other capital but an ego which is wrapped up in a Nordic coolness that makes any visit to the city a calming, groovy and aesthetically appealing experience.