Friday, August 30, 2013

Old Meets New in Copenhagen

Copenhagen, Denmark is a mixture of historic and modern. The city was founded in the 10th century as a Viking fishing village. It didn't become the capital of Denmark until the beginning of the 15th century.  By the 17th Century it was a busy fishing village when the picturesque Nyhavn canal houses and restaurants were built.

Not to be outdone by their historic counterparts, contemporary architects have added disarming structures to the cityscape--like the Opera House, 

Orestad College.   

and The Crystal, headquarters of a Danish bank.

Danish sculptors, past and present have added to the juxtaposition of old and new. The Little Mermaid, based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairytale, was created by Edward Eriksen and gifted to Copenhagen in 1913. Just this month, she celebrated her 100th birthday. 

In contrast, a row of sculpted, but deconstructed, body parts line up on granite blocks in the city center. 

I believe the sculptor is Per Kirkeby.
My husband and I were struck by the philosophical decline from realism to nihilism in the city's art. It makes sense that you find a life-like representation and the dismembered body parts in Copenhagen; after all this is the city where Anderson and Kierkegaard are buried.  

(If you are interested in an explanation of how thought, art, music, and theology devolved, I would suggest you read Francis Shaeffer's The God who is There. Briefly, Shaeffer contends when culture gave up revealed truth, it escaped into a non-rational world.)

 However, I digress. Back to our tour of Denmark's wonderful capital city. Let me suggest the easiest way to get an overview of the city is by land and sea. 

The Hop-on-Hop-off boat tours take you under Copenhagen's historic bridges 

 while the Hop-on-Hop-off bus tours go by famous landmarks: The Trivoli Gardens, Copenhagen's amusement park. 

City Hall, 

The Amalienborg Palace,

and past The Church of Our Saviour's famous curling spire.

Back on the boat, you meander through canals and
and out in the harbor where new again crosses paths 
with the old.

Whether you are a history buff or a lover of all things modern, there is something for everyone in Denmark's pretty city.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Pointers from Past Danish Designs

We can learn so much from studying historic buildings about classic rules for exterior and interior design. Denmark has lots of old buildings well-worth analyzing for practical design tips.

For example, this historic stone doctor's office in The Funen Village in Odense, Denmark can offer guidance to today's homeowners struggling with exterior paint and roof color choices. 
The colorist's principle used for this stone building was: When choosing paint colors for a stone or brick home, match the chinking for the largest percentage of non-stone surface and choose a complimentary color for the details. Notice how the red-brown color on the door and roof framing is drawn from the stones themselves?

The thatched roof also matches the stone. Traditionally, roofing was made of natural materials--straw, wood, or slate. Consequently, even today you can never go wrong choosing gray-brown or gray-black tones for roofing.

What about this half-timbered house in Odense? How does the paint selection help emphasize the wood and downplay the stucco?

The darker colors draw the eye to the decorative timber while the stucco's neutral color remains in the background. 

As far back as the 17th century European barns were painted red. Supposedly, this was because farmers used a mixture of linseed oil, milk, lime, and ferrous oxide to kill fungi and moss and seal the wood from decay. Apparently, the mixture left the barns reddish in color. When the European farmers immigrated to the United States they brought their barn color-of-choice with them. 

Now, when choosing colors, homeowners should rely on the classics--like red for barns, slate gray or shingle brown for roofs, white for clapboard. These expected colors won't hinder a sale of a home the way a blue roof would.

The Danes make an exception from choosing classic paint colors in their row houses. Caution: I wouldn't follow their use of bright pastel colors when choosing your home's exterior--unless you live in Seaside, Florida. :)

Now, let's look into some Danish castles and palaces for tips on interior architectural details.

Floors in these historic buildings get special treatments.
An octagonal room calls for flooring to follow the shape, but note how the horizontal boards highlight the pie shape.
A rectangular room receives a rectangular pattern.
Texture on ceiling and pattern on floor make this hall an interesting gallery. The plain white walls and textured, but monochromatic, ceiling allow the floors to take center stage.

In contrast, in this room, the tapestry walls compete with the pattern on floor. If the floor pattern was a smaller-scale and monochromatic, it would have faded into the background, and the tapestry-covered walls would have been the uncontested focal point. As it is, they clash. I guess we can learn from mistakes made in the past, as well as from their successes.

All we have to do is look up to find more pointers in these historic structures. For the past several years, designers have been urging us to make our ceilings interesting. It seems that we are late to the game.
 Look at this masterpiece...
and at this baroque ceiling! 

Doorways are another often forgotten element in our home design. The Danes were not guilty of overlooking the impact a door can make.

This door draws you in by its shape and size. 

I hope you enjoyed the things I noted on our tour in Denmark. My next post, I will take you on a tour of Denmark's capital.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Lessons from Viking Ships, a Cathedral, a Castle & a Palace

Our second day in Denmark, my husband and I took a day-trip with a young, former member of the Danish Parliament to see four historic sights: The Viking Ship Museum, Roskilde Cathedral, Kronborg Castle, and Frederiksborg Palace.

Looking at the amazing feats of human ingenuity, I wondered what inspired the men? Why did they risk their lives to cross the ocean? What motivated them to plan, finance, and build castles? And why construct lavish cathedrals? Were they driven by pride or envy?  Was worship a driving force? As I tried to decipher motives, I also wondered what the lives of Scandinavian ancestors could teach me?

The Viking Ship Museum
The oldest historic ruins on the tour were five Viking ships. Between 800 and 1066 AD, Danes, Swedes, and Norwegians sailed all over Europe and the North Atlantic to plunder and trade.
The ships were not large, especially in comparison to our ocean liners, but they were seaworthy. In fact, the ships carried the warriors as far north as Iceland and as far south as Sicily. The proof is found in their building materials from many different countries.
By the end of the Viking era, the Danes themselves came under attack. To protect their capital they intentionally sank the five ships to block the fjord and deter advancing enemies. Over 900 years later in 1962, the ruins of the ships were raised from the sea and came to rest in this museum.

The ships' remains hint at their owners' motivation. It seems that the Vikings risked their lives to gain goods and land. However, the ships' skeletons also revealed what was of ultimate importance to them. When their homeland was in danger, the sailors sank their source of livelihood to protect their homes and families.
A replica of the Viking ships sits dockside for visitors to examine.
As we left the parking lot, I processed what I had seen and concluded that the museum is a living testament to being thankful for what you have, rather than striving for more.

Roskilde Cathedral
The second sight my husband and I visited was the Roskilde Cathedral, resting place of 39 Danish monarchs.
After King Harald Bluetooth converted Denmark to Christianity, he built the Roskilde Cathedral in his capital. Little did he know that this edifice would become the cemetery for generations of royalty. Already, reigning Queen Margrethe II is having an alcove constructed to house her crypt when it is needed.
On seeing all the tombs, my husband asked our guide, "Today, do Danes believe in the resurrection?"

"No," he replied.

Such skepticism contradicts the message of the cathedral which King Harald built as testament to his rejection of Nordic superstition and conversion to Christianity. The king who had his family memorial inscribed “that Harald who .... turned the Danes to Christianity”; he also had the family memorial stone illustrated with an imprint of the crucified Christ.

Putting the two opposing realities together, I wondered: Is the resurrection of King Harald's Christ as superstitious to Danes today, as Nordic deities were to the king? If there is no resurrection, where does that leave the monarchs? But, if what King Harald believed is true and there is a resurrection after death because of Christ's sacrifice, what difference would it make to the Danes? And, if there is a resurrection, how should I live?

Kronborg Castle
Photo: Thomas Rahbek
Our politican-guide also took us to Kronborg castle, the landmark made famous by William Shakespeare's Viking-revenge-tale, Hamlet. In the play, Kronborg is called Elsinore, and the Danish King Frederik who built Kronborg is Hamlet. The macabre atmosphere of the actual castle is reinforced in the basement, where  Hoger the Dane, the legendary hero, sits ready to retaliate if Denmark is attacked.
Kronborg Castle is located at the narrowest point between the Baltic Sea and the North Sea. The geography allowed the Danish king to collect taxes from all the trading ships passing through the straight. In fact, a third of all Denmark's expenses for several centuries were financed by that "cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching".
Elsinore is actually Kronborg Castle. Photo from Head in the Sand blog.
King Frederik II's motivation for erecting the fortress is obvious; he wanted to protect his domain. The castle's name "Crown Castle" also speaks to his aim: Danish dominance of the region and his rule over Denmark.

Hm, why did we build the home we built?

As imposing as this edifice looks it would not be invincible today; I wonder what defenses we build today will seem futile in another century? 

Frederiksborg Palace
Not to be outdone by his father, Frederik II, Christian IV of Denmark set out to build a palace better suited for a King than the Kronborg Castle. Construction began for Frederiksborg Palace in 1599 and lasted for 22 years. Seeing the architecture and the interior treasures, it is amazing it could be completed in such a short time.

The exterior Renaissance architecture,
the intricate brickwork detail,
the carved marble entranceways,
and sculpted bronze statuary contribute to an extravagant whole.

Yet, Christian IV was not content with an architectural masterpiece, he also commissioned extravagant gardens. 
As phenomenal as the landscape and palace are the most elaborate part of Frederiksborg Palace is the chapel. It is downright opulent. 

King Christian IV must have been strongly motivated to finance and oversee his over-the-top 22 year building project. What kept him going? Was his strongest motivation--self or God glorification? Is there anything I feel passionate enough to spend 22 years seeing it to completion?

Hopefully, this mini-tour of Denmark caused you to self-reflect. It sure made me think!

(My next post will be on the interiors of this castle and Frederiksborg Palace. They are inspiring!)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Birthplace of Fairy Tales

Odense is a quaint, small city in Denmark. Home of Hans Christian Anderson, its cobblestone streets, colorful houses, lush fields and meandering river were the setting of many of his fairy tales. The town still gives scope to the imagination.

Couldn't you picture a young couple from the past sneaking into this church on a Saturday at noon during the weekly organ concert?

The swelling chords coming from the silver pipes would muffle their clandestine conversation. 

Bright windows and white walls would fail to cheer the young lovers who would soon part.  An observer would understand the sorrow, when they watched the young sailor point to the ship model and the heroine cross her heart promising to pray for his safe return. 

Today, this 1000 year old city is as colorful and quaint as in by-gone days. 

Fairy tales are performed in the summer months on a grassy knoll in front of Anderson's birthplace.  An actor playing the author introduces his make-believe characters to the audience who have made the pilgrimage in his honor.
Today, as in yesteryear, citizens of Odense bike along the lovely stream which meanders along one side of the town. Visitors, as well, can rent bikes and follow the trail to the zoo and The Funen Village, where half-timbered houses from all over Denmark have been reconstructed. 

Windmills and farm buildings from the 1800s also have been carefully taken down and reconstructed in this outdoor village to preserve life as it would have been lived in Anderson's Denmark.

Just around the corner from The Funen Village visitors can stop for a feast at a five star restaurant, Sortebro Kro.

Patrons can eat inside in quaint dining rooms

or enjoy the summer breeze on the patio.

On our visit, Bill and I chose the alfresco dining. White linen tablecloths and live miniature violets in hand-thrown, white pottery vases hinted at the five-star service and food to follow.

Our young waitress was in a three-year technical training program to become a server extraordinaire. She waited on us attentively without being overly solicitous. Before the meal, we were each served two complimentary preliminary appetizers (amuse-bouches) hinting at the culinary extravaganza to follow. 

The first course was a combination of tiny potatoes, cherry tomatoes, leaks, carrots, shrimp, and eggs topped with a delicate, edible wild flower. In the citron sauce the flavors exploded. 

Afterward a young baker brought out an assortment of freshly baked breads, some hearty, some light and crispy--all delicious.

My second course was scallops and gooseberries in a melted herb butter. The presentation was pure whimsey.

The third course was a turbot in lettuce spring roll with french peas and mushrooms in clarified butter. 

Then to cleanse the palate before the main course, we were served a buttermilk cucumber sorbet.

As an entree, I enjoyed duckling while Bill had turbot.

My dessert was buttermilk sorbet with wild strawberries and lemon cookie crumbs.

Some of Bill's dessert strawberries were sliced; others were quartered, but all were smothered in a cream-strawberry puree and topped with raspberry sorbet and crushed lemon cookies. Never have strawberries been so sweet and flavorful.

Finally, as we left, our waitress handed us a miniature basket with four hand-dipped chocolates. Unforgettable!

If you are going to Denmark, put Odense on your itinerary and don't miss Sortebro Kro. The world-class cuisine and the city's charm are sure to capture your imagination.