Copenhagen on Water – Copenhagen, Denmark

Climatic changes apparently cause the Danish weather to fluctuate from one extreme to the other. At this point, a very early summer has stabilized itself, creating ideal conditions for an ongoing renaissance of Copenhagen’s old harbor and canals.

Bus 901 or 902

Bus 901 or 902

After years of decline, the harbor area had its functions redefined – now aiming at homes, leisure activities, cafe and restaurant scene, hotels and education, often in renovated warehouses. The wet element is no hindrance, because a waterborne Harbor Bus, the yellow and dark blue 901 or 902, takes you easily to six stops distributed on both sides of the inner harbor, identical to the strait between Zealand and Amager. Departure both ways every 20 minutes, the trip itself takes 17 minutes. It’s a new way of exploring Copenhagen; close to walking on water.

The Harbor Bus is part of the local public transport. Tickets, available at ticket offices or on board the Harbor Bus, are also valid in S-trains, busses and Metro. One hour’s travel costs 21 Kroner plus 21 for a bike, even a free City Bike. A better investment is a 10-clip card for 130 Kroner; that’s 10 hours travel, 5 if you bring a bicycle. With such prices, you need not plan your visits ashore to the minute, only have in mind that time is money. Just scouting the surroundings is a good start, picking things for tomorrow’s must-see list.

Blessed with a Bike

The Royal Library, in 1999 pretentiously launched as the Black Diamond, is a practical place to start, near to everything, for example the vital Langebro, Long Bridge. You have already located the terminal with its modest yellow sign. Too bad – today’s first Harbor Bus fails to come! Sporting a bike is suddenly crucial. You head toward Long Bridge to enjoy an overall view. The adjacent island, Amager, must wait although important as the home of Kastrup Airport, Orestad City, the Oresund Bridge and extensive green areas, suggesting why Amager is advancing from low status to modern living.

Canal tour boat at the Harbor Pool

Canal tour boat at the Harbor Pool

Two different approaches to waterfront planning appear. The Amager shore, here called Islands Brygge, is one long temptation comprising old well-kept buildings, promenades, stretches of green, a harbor pool, cafes and bars slowly opening for the day. Behind it all, former factories give way to spectacular architecture. The opposite side is deserted in comparison, due to international hotels and office buildings threatening to push the promenade into the water; explaining why the Harbor Bus, actually on its way at last, skipped this location.

On a tiny quarterdeck, in noise and fumes of diesel, you wave goodbye to Long Bridge and the Brewhouse of Christian IV, whose prestigious buildings from the 1600s still characterize the capital of Denmark. He combined vision and enterprise, further proof of which are the Round Tower and Rosenborg Castle. With its reflection dancing on the Black Diamond’s facade, the Harbor Bus crosses diagonally toward the bridge called Knippelsbro. Black buildings, imitating warehouse style, accentuate the restored tower of Our Saviour’s Church, its winding banisters momentarily mistaken for a garland of gold, a suitable landmark during your next bike excursion.

Long Bridge, connecting Zealand and Amager

Long Bridge, connecting Zealand and Amager

Amsterdam may come to your mind when you see the lazy canal touching Christianshavn Square, lined by small boats, houseboats and worn-out specimens turned into cafes. It’s like a different town, plain and well-preserved, tailored for the working class by Christian IV. Never did he imagine that the compact Christianshavn should become trendy, a haunt for creative and artistic characters. Nor that an oasis of alternative living should be named after him: the Freetown Christiania. However, the King’s 24 children, half of them illegitimate, do indicate a lifestyle out of the ordinary. The street of Prinsessegade, right after the square, will take you to Christiania, but mind you, “You are now leaving the EU!”

The atmospheric Nyhavn harbor acts on warm days as a tourist trap. You decide to pass it. And the best is yet to come, at least if you like to set foot on previously forbidden land: Holmen opposite, a mix of islands and canals once totally reserved for the Royal Danish Navy. Approaching the new Opera, you may wonder how such mediocre architecture landed on Holmen’s best location. The protruding roof is a hit, though, creating ample shade without spoiling the view. Looking back at Skuespilhuset, a new theater at Nyhavn, is not amusing either, although it balances in the water on crooked legs.

Close to Royal

Skuespilhuset (theater) and the Opera

Skuespilhuset (theater) and the Opera

The Opera is situated at the end of a royal axis, with the domed Marble Church at the other end. The straight line proceeds between the palaces of Amalienborg, through a garden of fountains, planted there by the same man who paid and planted the Opera. His headquarters, nearly touching the royal axis, resemble a block of ice with spectacular windows, blue as the eyes of their owner: the 96-year old shipping magnate Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller, who is also busy hauling oil out of the North Sea. His discreet influence seems to overrule Denmark’s parliamentary system at times.

Canal tour boats, broad and flat, glide past like colorful carpets, their guides boasting the A.P. Moller-Maersk Group’s contribution to the Danish GNP and the cost of the Opera, before rejoicing at the Little Mermaid and the palatial cruise ships at Langelinie, backed by the North Harbor. A new Harbor Bus, 903, keeps shuttling between Nyhavn and the Opera, today staging a midday version of the Fledermaus by Johann Strauss. The 903 was on the local political agenda until an impatient Mr. Moller intervened with a gift. Later, even a 904 was introduced, in the less central part of the harbor.

Holmen North is the next stop. For centuries a separate town, skilfully ruled by the Navy, Holmen is these days synonymous with expensive houses, both restored and new, and military buildings transformed to academies of architecture, music, film, theater and dance. Abundant greenery and water alternate most pleasantly, making it possible for an old sailing ship to be towed into a canal to stage a birthday reception. Christiania seems light years away, but is in fact nearby. So are two royal pavilions, marking the last stop at Nordre Toldbod on the Zealand side, exactly where Queen Margrethe started her summer cruise on the royal yacht Dannebrog a few days ago.

The harbor of Copenhagen really deserves a high-rise landmark, an architectural masterpiece – hardly practicable under a City Council dominated by infighting. The Chief Mayor, Ritt Bjerregaard, Social Democrat and former EU Commissioner, makes decisions hard-handedly. She surely waits for Mr. Moller to lose his patience and again demonstrate his generosity. Thus operates an ice queen. Sharing the same frosty aura, the two of them might agree on some colossal structure the shape of an iceberg – no doubt a refreshing element in an age of rising temperatures.

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Illustrations by Helen Claesson

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