Think of Vikings and you picture big, strapping men. But the average Viking male was barely 5-feet-7-inches tall. And pretty vain, considering that combs, tweezers and ear spoons are among the common artefacts from that era. Giuseppe Liverino, my friend and guide through Copenhagen, tells me about their iconic helmets: “They didn’t come with horns. That’s just something Hagar the Horrible will have you believe.” I gasp. Everything I knew about the Vikings has been proved wrong on my very first day in Copenhagen.
A fairy tale city
Denmark’s capital was declared the ‘Happiest Country on Earth’ in 2013 and 2014 by a UN report (currently, it is among the top three). Tivoli Gardens, an amusement park, is where the inspiration for Disneyland sprung from. Copenhagen was also home to Hans Christian Andersen and I pay a visit to his most famous character, the Little Mermaid, also the most photographed statue in the country. She sits perched on a rock, overlooking Copenhagen’s harbour, awaiting her prince. A chatty local reveals with a guttural laugh, “Pranksters once left a dildo in her arms!” Perhaps it’s the ability to not take oneself too seriously that makes the Danes a happy lot.
Despite Denmark’s many laurels, it’s the Viking history that most intrigues. After all, one of the most feared people in ancient history originated here, over a thousand years ago. Today, this is where you see their mystic rune stones, fortresses, and more. Back in the day, the town of Roskilde, (35km from Copenhagen) was home to the powerful Vikings, thanks to its location right by the (Roskilde) fjord. Those very shores today house the Viking Ship Museum. Enter the museum’s sprawling grounds, and you’ll find men dressed in tunics and trousers made of wool and linen; animal-skin pouches slung from their waists, and helmets sans horns to complete the look. The re-created town also comes with expert marksmen making warriors of little children as they teach them to nail the bullseye.
Longships were the Vikings’ biggest feat. A building within the museum features the remains of five original Viking ships. A prosperous town, Roskilde expected trouble from invaders. So the skilled ship-builders built five ships to block the fjord, or the entrance to town. These armours remained hidden until 1962, when a dam was being built. Despite being heavily damaged, they were put together and subsequently christened the Skuldelev ships after the spot where they were found.
As I ponder the distances they covered, on cue a voice says, “These ships took the Vikings far and wide. Recently, we’ve found evidence that shows that the Vikings discovered America 500 years before Columbus!” This is my tour guide at the museum, Marie. Looking up at the ships, it’s apparent that ship-building was a respected art, passed down from master to apprentice. It was the Vikings’ attention to detail that formed the building blocks of modern-day naval engineering. The bottom of most ships (bilge) was constructed such that it didn’t go too deep into the water. This allowed them to sail right onto the shore, which was an advantage when plundering towns.
I make my way back to Copenhagen to explore the thriving nightlife. If you’re looking to hang out with the cool kids, the hipsters, or the ones who hate being labelled, head to Vesterbro, a district that’s thronging with coffee shops, alfresco bars and cosy pubs. At Mikkeller, a beer lover’s paradise that serves up 40 different types of brews, I strike a conversation with Marcus Thomey, a student and die-hard Copenhagener. So much in love is he with his city that he has the skyline tattooed on his chest, with a longship taking centre-stage. With that, I am convinced that even though the Viking age may have come to an end, they live on in Copenhagen.
Need to know:
* Getting to Copenhagen: Fly Mumbai/Delhi to Copenhagen via Dubai on Emirates.
* Getting to Roskilde: Take the train from Copenhagen to Roskilde, (approx 20 mins). Or hire a car and drive, it takes some 40 minutes.
* Attractions in Copenhagen:
1. A free walking tour is a great start. Info on other tours here: Copenhagenfreewalkingtours.dk
2. Experience the story of the country at the National Museum of Denmark. It covers the first Mesolithic hunters up to the current avatar of Vesterbro, the hippest part of Copenhagen. (En.natmus.dk)
3. Pick a sunny day to see Copenhagen as you sail down a serene canal with a guide. (Stromma.dk).
From HT Brunch, January 31, 2016
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