Not Quite a Coping Haven

A STAGGERING 5.59 MILLION FOREIGN TOURISTS STAYED IN COPENHAGEN LAST YEAR, WITH THIS NUMBER IS EXPECTED TO DOUBLE BY 2030. THESE MODERN DAY PILGRIMS ANNUALLY SPEND AROUND 51 BILLION KRONER AND KEEP 60,000 COPENHAGENERS EMPLOYED (INCLUDING ME) BUT COPENHAGEN SOMETIMES ISN’T SO WONDERFUL OUT THERE ON THE FRONT LINE.

Heather Gartside

It’s 10:30 am on a sunny July morning in Copenhagen. Twenty coaches belch acrid diesel fumes and jostle in position for sparse parking spaces close to the Little Mermaid statue. Tourists from all four corners of the world spill across the promenade. I hear them mutter, ”Is that it?” ”She’s so small!” The mermaid’s bronze heart has been breaking for many years; as she gazes sadly towards the land and her unworthy prince. All around her smiling tourists swarm for photos, perilously close to this vintage pin-up girl who has fronted a remarkable piece of branding. A campaign which presented Copenhagen as the fairytale capital of the world from the mid 19th century onwards. 

Alone at last! The Little Mermaid at midnight

Golden oldies

It was a time when Denmark was recovering from bankrupcy and collapse following the Napoleonic Wars, and had successfully turned the national gaze away from continental ambitions and into more inward, healing and creative pursuits such as the Danish Golden Age. Wonderful Copenhagen was born, inviting sooty industrialised travellers to slip into a neverland of dreamy renaissance spires, pleasure gardens, the poignant tales of Hans Christian Andersen, the Skagen school of painters, harboursides populated by salty old sea dogs and the whiff of herring on the cool maritime breeze.

A blonde having more fun

Slippery slope

”Arghh!” An elderly American gentleman has stumbled on the cascade of worn boulders leading down to the forlorn mermaid. These original stones take out at least four tourists whenever I visit with groups, my people carefully forewarned and directed towards some slightly less dodgy steps to the right of the statue. Of the 300 people wearily ticking another cultural treasure off their bucket list, a handful help the fallen up again regardless of race, creed or colour. Laughing-off the-total-lack-of-service-scandi-approach, and wonder at the ”wonderful wonderful” absence of health and safety. 

Raw uhygge

”Excuse me, excuse me” A fierce Copenhagener is out with her yappy white dogs. ”Can you get out of the way!” She’s angry, sick of the shambling visitors who clog up the thoroughfares and bespoil her nordic minimalism. The rest of the world had been looking out for each other that July morning, but she pushes her way through regardless, an ugly grimace playing on her tight lips. The once happiest people in the world are getting distinctly uhyggeligt.

Rude food

I’ve been guiding many Singaporean groups this summer; the lure of an ice cream for the kids and the purchase of a rubbishy souvenirs from a kiosk nearby is too much after witnessing all those tumbling international tourists and mini mermaid. I hover close, and am often appalled as sniggering young danish assistants mimic the thick accents of my charming guests, but shape-up and give me that blue-eyed arian welcome to my caucasian questions. My tender travellers notice and are hurt by the insulting behaviour – I check their change and usher my humilitated visitors back to our stinking coach.

Missing the boat?

In the distance huge liners hover, sometimes 5,000 passengers per ship disembark to discover a Copenhagen which has cultural treasures at every turn, but with an infrastructure which simply cannot cope with the volume of diesel belching coaches, polluting liners, or aged travellers falling like flies on slippery corporation boulders and cobblestones. All were attracted to Copenhagen for it’s safety, cool climate, cool style, efficiency, friendliness and hygge which ensured it to be voted ’the world’s top city’ by Lonely Planet in 2019. But sadly, not for visitors.

The International Denmark – October 2019

Talk to a time traveller

Franciska Rosenkilde, the deputy mayor for culture and leisure, has admitted that there are problems regarding the massive influx of tourism and pledged to investigate solutions in collaboration with local groups and organisations. Talk to a tour guide, Franciska! I don’t return home across the world with tainted impressions of this great city, but I do witness every day why good people will probably never return and why the locals are getting increasingly hostile.

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