The 500 metre quayside of Nyhavn stretched to the glistening waves of the Øresund, connecting the Baltic and North Seas in one long profitable channel. These life-giving waters, which throughout much of the 900 year history of Copenhagen had provided an outlet for all communication with the wider world; the commerce, travellers, wars, foodstuffs, ideas, diseases, and the pickled herring which provided the lucrative foundation of the first settlement in 1167.
“But if you could time travel back to the 1830s, then the picturesque canal scenes of Nyhavn today would be replaced by drunken sailors staggering from bar to brothel to bar, the stench of rotted fish, animal manure, roaming livestock, rolling barrels of herring, and the occasional corpse being fished-out of the murky waters. Nyhavn, or ‘New Harbour’ was the roughest, toughest part of town for a few centuries, and if you fancied getting robbed, drunk, beaten, raped or murdered then this was as good a place as any to expect it to happen.”
Blind date – I’d just bid farewell to my latest group of happy and wiser international visitors. We’d met as total strangers just four hours earlier outside the Copenhagen City Hall. They’d found my tours on the internet through Airbnb Experiences, TripAdvisor or TourHQ. It was like a blind date, but by the first fifteen minutes we’d click, and through the shared adventure get to know and like each other so well that even today many of my friends on social media are those that I’d met on my tours. My visitors loved my funny accents, juicy, irreverently unusual facts and vivid storytelling – these are things that I’ve never found hard as a writer of books, journalist, public speaker, and history nerd.
Streets paved with gold – A clarinetist had played the same soulful repertoire since I had begun the season in April 2019. Like the musician, I was earning a good living during the short Nordic spring and summer. As I passed by the canal I was smiling to myself. I knew that the job was hard on the feet and the larynx, but kind on the pocket, and the good people that I’d met from all parts of the world made me feel that there was indeed hope for humanity, and for that and a myriad of other reasons I found that I loved my job. Although we never formally knew each other, both the clarinetist and I were on nodding terms and happily squeezing the golden goose. Like in a fairytale, we had even magically changed colour from white to golden brown since late April – not because of a magic spell, just because of the onset of good weather after a long bleak winter, which often had made me think that Denmark should be closed from November to April.
The fairytale capital of the world – Copenhagen had over the summer of 2019 been bursting at the seams with visitors, attracted by it’s peaceful reputation, it’s cooler temperatures compared to the globally-warmed south of Europe, and it’s delightful old-fashioned charm. Also in it’s futuristic vision on how cities can be infinitely functional and a joy to live in, with great modern architecture and design, a democratic and brilliantly led government that put the people first, groundbreaking environmental initiatives, and it’s blissful promise of fresh air and clean waters to swim in – even in the capital city. The added bonus of witnessing the fleeting joy of some of the happiest people in the world was the climax of this massively popular Wonderful Wonderful destination.
Cruising to disaster – It wasn’t without problems though, with Copenhagen finding itself greedily raking in the visitors but woefully neglecting to supply the infrastructure. A victim of its own success, as all through the summers of the past decade the city had been overrun with grotesque cruise liners, which spilled 5000 travellers out at a time like migrating lemmings; transporting them through the quaint streets in diesel-belching coaches to wreck the sights, piss the locals off, buy a miserly coffee, then return to dine on their all-inclusive buffets onboard ship and sail away to wreck other destinations. And all the time the cruise ships never paid local taxes, only discharging their sewage like a sly fart, and continuing to run their stinking engines like gross and needy parasites. The city and the world needed change, and a re-think on how to make a happier balance with the needs of visitors and how to make sustainable tourism. But the money and success was getting in the way from a cohesive vision, it had simply gone to their heads.
Last orders – It was October 2019, the days were drawing in. Candles flickered and distorted in the old window panes of the eighteenth-century houses that lined the canal. The clean waters reflecting the higgledy-piggledy outline of the wooden framed buildings painted in yellow ochre, soft ‘Swedish” red, sea green, periwinkle blue and cream. The air filled with delicious cooking smells, the gentle clanking of its old wooden fishing boats and trawlers, and the happy babble of visitors enjoying huge ice creams despite the nip in the air.
The season drew to a close, but it never began again – Covid-19 didn’t arrive in Denmark by boat like the bubonic plague, it flew around the world in record speed. Thankfully, because of the aforementioned compassionate government here in Denmark (led by a woman – Mette Frederiksen), we are tentatively back on our feet – but I never received another tour booking all spring and early summer. Instead, in shock, I dug my garden up and planted vegetables, cherished my children and, witnessing world leaders fall apart – began a magazine to save the world called World-Wide-Words. Everything passes, but not foreign tourists really, not yet this year.
And so I put my thinking-hat on – I found that the only way to rise above fear and sadness was to be more creative and industrious than ever before. I conceived a revolutionary way to sustainably, and at a social distance, visit this great city.
Wonderful Copenhagen – We all know that visitors and travel will return, indeed this summer – with other parts of Europe closed, Copenhagen and the Kingdom of Denmark beckons with her model looks and behaviour – something that has gained the respect and attention of the world during the current crisis. But now and in the future we will have to be different here and all over the world; more cautious, more sensitive to the fragility of humankind and that of the planet. We have in truth been given one heck of a reprimand by Mother Nature. We simply went too far.
WWWalks Copenhagen was born in July 2020 – and I think that the app captures and distills all the nutty charm, vision, sensitivity, and beauty that my visitors always really enjoyed. Wonderful Wonderful Walks Copenhagen blows the dust off history and offers a kiss of life to the future, with sustainable and very entertaining tours of the fabulous city. In many ways it resembles a rollicking historical movie, with the audience a key player as they move from stage to stage around this fascinating, ancient, and worthwhile destination. You can either take the tour with friends, family or alone in the city. Optionally, from the comfort of your armchair wherever you are in the world! You’ll find music, audio, video, great photography and my original, well-researched and animated commentary. I’m so proud of what it’s become and evolving into, she’s a beautiful baby! And the family is growing, with more sustainable tours in other less frequented and unusual parts of Copenhagen and the surrounding regions on the way.
Perhaps a a new digital generation of applications called a “H-app-y”?
You’ll now find the app live at:
App store: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/id1524370030
A review on either of these platforms would be like gold dust to help the mission become established!
Heather Gartside is a British author, journalist and photographer living in Denmark and around the world since 1992. More details at https://heather-gartside.com
*Reasons To Be Cheerful (Part 3) was a great song by the excellent and underrated 1970s and 80s band, Ian Drury And The Blockheads.