and some days you fall off your bike.

In a city where bikes are the main form of transportation, accidents are pretty much inevitable, but don’t worry no one was (badly) hurt!

first, in case you need a quick refresher on how ingrained bike culture is, here’s a couple of photos from google image searches of biking in Copenhagen.

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none of the above images are even slightly unusual; bikes are for utility and everyday life here, so baskets overflowing with groceries, trailers towing loads or cargo bikes weighed down with people and things are all part of the everyday image of life in this city.

My host family doesn’t even own a car, so when they need to get a large amount of groceries, the Christiania bike is the way to go.

A couple days ago, I decided that if I’m to be truly culturally integrated, I’ve got to be able to ride one of those heavy monsters, so I took the Christiania bike out on the paths of Amager Strandpark

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Although it was heavy, and definitely different than riding a “regular” bike, it wasn’t nearly as scary as I expected. Maneuvering required a bit of getting used to, but these bikes are sturdy, heavy, and safe so it definitely wasn’t a scary experience. I jokingly referred to it as the Copenhagen equivalent of driving an SUV or a truck.

As I said before, with so many bikes on the road, crashes and falling off are just inevitable occurrences that spring up in day-to-day life. Predictably, they tend to happen when you’re using a bike in a way that’s not quite what it’s intended for… like putting a second human on the front rack.

This is my lovely friend Elsa, another full year exchange student, and the bike her host family has lent her has a front rack that looks deceptively like the perfect place to put another human who happens to not have her bike with her (me)

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it LOOKS like it’s made for another person to sit on.

Unfortunately, we decided that we should test out this front rack/chair on a downwards slope, and let’s just say we didn’t get very far before hitting the pavement. Luckily, the worst injury was a skinned knee and hole in my tights. We’re determined to make it happen before we go home in a month, just next time, maybe not on a hill.

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Vi taler Dansk og Norsk sammen

Not everyone is enthusiastic about trying to learn a foreign language, but if you are, Danish poses a particular challenge because even if you find the written language easy, it can be difficult to find people patient enough to try to understand a heavy American accent. Basically a huge thank you to my friend Anni who patiently talks to me even though I make fun of how silly Norwegian sounds. Although Swedish, Norwegian and Danish are all relatively similar, I can barely tell the difference between written Norwegian and Danish, despite the fact that they sound quite different.

Amagerpige i lårkort

To drive home my point about what Københavners say about Amager, I’m sharing this music video. The title is “Amager girl in a miniskirt,” if I could find the entire text of the lyrics, I’d translate them as well, but unfortunately my ear is quite good enough to do it without written lyrics.

Let’s Go to the Beach; AMAGER.

I’m sure that if you’re thinking of studying abroad in Denmark, sunny beaches are not exactly your expectation. But the weather in Copenhagen has been absolutely beautiful, so I’ve been doing just that.

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In Copenhagen, ‘beautiful’ weather still requires you to have blankets on all the chairs at cafes to stay warm. and for Hygge.

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BUT! we can still sit outside (with the proper clothes)

I live on Amager (pronounced like “Ahma” because that’s just the way Danish is), the teardrop shaped island that makes up the outer east part of Copenhagen.

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I love living out here because I’m close to the airport, a 15 minute bike ride from the center of the city, and most importantly, 10 minutes from Amager Strandpark, aka the beach, and one of my favorite spots in Copenhagen.

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It’s not exactly swimming weather

My host family introduced me to Amager Strand Park when the weather was still nice in August, and I fell in love with it, I avoided it all through the winter because I didn’t want to become disillusioned, but now that the sun is back, and I only have six weeks left in Denmark, I try to go almost every day.

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A new definition of appropriate beach attire.

As much as I love living in Amager, you can’t talk about it without acknowledging it’s (UNDESERVED) bad reputation. Danes have had terrible things to say about Amager for 200 years, even Søren Kierkegaard made jokes about its bad reputation. Perhaps it stems from the fact that originally, all the latrine waste from Copenhagen was carted over to Amager where the sheep grazed, earning it the nickname of “lort island” (which means “shit island”) until the city created “modern” sewage-a pipe that pushed the waste into Øresund/The Sound, but over by Sweden.

Despite the fact that this is not the case anymore, Amager is still the butt of many jokes in Copenhagen. For instance, in Danish, a lower back tattoo is called a “Amager Plade” meaning an Amager license plate, and even my own host family who lives in Amager love to make jokes about it; whenever my host sister starts acting up, Christian will shake his head and say “this is what I get for raising a child on Amager.”

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Regardless of what people say, I find it impossible not to love Amager Strandpark in this weather.

 

 Cesky Krumlov & Sudentenlands

 

View of Cesky Krumlov

View of Cesky Krumlov

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After our three days in Prague, we took a bus to Cesky Krumlov, a town near the Sudentenland mountains and the Austrian border.

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The Sudentenlands are a ring of mountains that run almost in a circle around the Czech Republic, and have been habituated by mostly German speakers for hundreds of years. During the Austro-Hungarian empire, the ruler had incentivized the moving to the area because no one wanted to live there with its harsh climate and overgrown terrain.  Before WWII, it was the first part of Europe annexed by Germany, with approval from the rest of the West during the Munich agreement, because the area was populated by people who wanted to become part of the German nation.

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After the war, the Czechs decided that all the Germans ought to be removed from Czechoslovakia, so when they were deported, the Sudentenlands were left barren, and became overgrown again without the care of the people who had lived there for generations.

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Cesky Krumlov was one of the places that sustained absolutely no material damage from WWII, because Hitler liked the architecture of the charming medieval town. Even today, the place looks absolutely unreal, like something from a fairytale, with a majority of the tiny, sleepy, town taken up by a huge castle.

During our time in the area, we had a wonderful guide named Ollie, who was from Cesky Krumlov, and had lived through communism and the Velvet Revolution( the nonviolent transition of power from communism to democracy in the Czech Republic) after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

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She told us stories about how after the East was opened, it was very popular for Czechs in their teens and early twenties to hitchhike all over Europe for weekends, savoring their new freedom of movement. But seeing the west for the first time often was disillusioning; they had become so distrustful of the government that they assumed that EVERYTHING about western democracies was perfect.

They do not take kindly to communism in these parts

They do not take kindly to communism in these parts

She told of the first time she went to McDonalds in Paris, assuming it must be a fantastic restaurant, because the communist government had always warned about how terrible it was, and was surprised to find out that it was indeed, not so great a place.  Her stories of her own life as well as those of her family brought a human face to what we had been studying about Czech history for the last two months. Overall, our study tour was the perfect example of what it means when DIS tells us that we will have “Europe as our classroom” while we study abroad.

Sites of Genocide: Lidice & Lety

Where Lidice used to lie

Where Lidice used to lie

On a more somber note, we also visited two sites of mass murder that took place during WWII. A town called Lidice, and a concentration camp for Roma (commonly called Gypsies) named Lety.

Memorial at Lety

Memorial at Lety

Lidice was burned to the ground, all the men killed, and most of the women and children sent to concentration camps, except those who were deemed ethnically suitable to be Germanized. All this because they were suspected of harboring two Czechs who had been trained by British special forces to Assassinate Heydrich, one of Hitler’s high ranking officers who presided over Bohemia during WWII. The intention was to make an example of the town, in order to warn others who considered rebelling. During it’s time, the Allied Powers used it as a symbol to rally behind, on why we must protect the innocent victims from Germany.  Because of this, there are remnants of the tragedy found in the obscure places in the United States, for instance the town outside of Chicago that was renamed Lidice in honor of the Victims. Despite all this, I had never heard of Lidice before studying in Europe.

The actual visit was powerful, the former town has been left empty and desolate, a reminder of those lost. With a museum and a memorial built near the edge.

Memorial to the Children killed during WWII

Memorial to the Children killed during WWII

We were lucky enough to be accompanied on this trip by Torben Jørgensen, who specializes in Holocaust and Genocide Research, and (teaches a class on it) at DIS, as well as being  a favorite among students for just being supremely interesting. I’m not the first, and I’m sure I won’t be the last to blog about what a great experience it is to have him as a teacher and friend.

Torben Jørgensen

Torben Jørgensen

Later we continued to Lety, where a concentration camp specifically for Roma had been situated. It’s here that you begin to find some of the more complicated nuances of who perpetrated the crimes of the war. The Roma people have a long history of being persecuted for their migratory lifestyle and struggle to fit into mainstream society, and Lety was actually originally run by Czechs, before Germans took the camp over during the war. Furthermore the Roma Victim’s memorial is denigrated by the fact that a pig farm now lies on the land that used to be a concentration camp, leaving only a small, and fairly recent memorial off to the edge.

Torben explained that sadly, this may have to do with the fact that Roma are still heavily persecuted in Europe, often continuing to live on the outskirts of society. He also explained that “Atrocities will not be remembered unless the victims push for remembrance,” drawing light to the fact that history in some ways is a coping mechanism, for dealing with the darker sides of what humanity is capable of.  As human beings, we may want to forget things that have damaged us, but we must also realize the importance of remembering to cultivate empathy, understanding, and hopefully move towards a “better” world.

Prague

 

Beautiful Day in Prague

Beautiful Day in Prague

I just returned from my long study tour in Prague, Cesky Krumlov, and the Austro-Czech border area with my European Humanities course, which was a wonderful experience, both intellectually and generally.

In the three days we spent in Prague we attended a soccer game, saw a castle, visited Radio Praha (the Czech version of NPR) and met a controversial Czech Artist.  The best part is that it was all academically relevant to what we’ve spent the last two months studying.

IMG_1382 IMG_1316Our core course has been focused on how a people form their identity and what factors have a potential to complicate ones concept of self and belonging. We’ve focused primarily on metanarrative of WWII, first studying the concept of a Danish/German Identity as found in the borderlands, and then Czecho-German identity.

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A famous photo taken in Weneceslas Square in '68; waiting for communist tanks to roll into Prague

A famous photo taken in Weneceslas Square in ’68; waiting for communist tanks to roll into Prague

Recreating famous photos

Recreating famous photos

The Czech Republic is just twenty two years old. It was part of the German ruled Austro-Hungarian Empire for hundreds of years, became one half of Czechoslovakia after the first world war, was annexed by Germany during the second world war, liberated by Russia (not the United States) in May of 1945, and a part of the Communist USSR/Eastern Europe throughout the cold war, until finally becoming the Czech Republic in the early 90s.

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As an American, the class has been particularly interesting because I’ve learned a lot about first about WWII, and then the Cold war that was never included in courses taught in the United States, but also has drawn attention to how different an Americans concept of identity is than someone from Western Europe.

The United States as a concept is a nation formed by the mixing and melding of various identities. Many people identify as Irish-American, Italian-American, Jewish-American, Chicano, or the like. The concept of a hyphenated identity is not nearly as prevalent within many places in Europe. Anecdotally, Denmark is a place where someone with a Swedish mother, and Danish father will consistently be called Swedish by other Danes.

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Soccer Game

Soccer Game

While I know seeing a soccer game doesn’t seem relevant, I promise it is! In fact sports teams in general can be a huge contributing factor to identity; I had never thought about it before, but the same applies in the United States. Southerners are notorious for identifying with an SEC school’s football team, New Yorkers divided between Yankees & Mets fans.

Cerny

Cerny

We also met David Cerny, a Czech artist responsible for some seriously controversial  works, as well as absurd ones like the one above outside the Kafka museum.

David Cerny- part Rockstar, part controversial artist.

David Cerny- part Rockstar, part controversial artist.

A group at David Cerny's Bar

A group at David Cerny’s Bar

Lastly, I felt extremely lucky to be in this course because it it actually the last time it will run in its current version. Unfortunately, this fantastic course has suffered from under enrollment, presumedly because of its interdisciplinary approach, so beginning next semester, the European Humanities department at DIS will be focusing on a more discipline specific approach, offering Literature in St. Petersburg, Art & Cinema in Prague, Philosophy in Athens, and Comparative History (which looks most similar to the current Memory & Identity) in Berlin and Warsaw. As much as I loved my course, I find myself being a little bit jealous of the future Humanities students at DIS for the options they’ll be offered.

To do in Prague: Hemingway Bar

With three days in Prague under my belt, it’s safe to say that I love the city and would highly recommend a visit there to anyone interested. Although more extensive blog posts will wait until I get home, I haven’t shut up about the Hemingway since I went Sunday night.

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We arrived in Prague on Sunday, and after a group dinner with my core class (which is typical of DIS) I went to meet up with a friend of mine who is spending a semester abroad in Prague.

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We hadn’t seen each other in almost a year and decided to grab a drink to catch up. He suggested the Hemingway bar, warning me that it was “a little expensive” but had really interesting and tasty drinks. I can say with absolute certainty that I’d recommend it to anyone; it had a nice ambience and the mixology of the drinks was fantastic. I insisted on going back, and over the three nights I was there I had a “red carpet”- a fruitier take on a whiskey sour, a “dark &stormy”- which was pretty much a mojito with ginger instead of mint, and a lavender martini. It was the type of cocktail bar that I could NEVER afford in Copenhagen, but was quite reasonable in comparison.

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How do you say “lame” in Danish?

The thing about DIS is that since you get THREE WHOLE WEEKS of time off from classes to travel, the on class weeks tend to be pretty hectic with regards to classwork, often making it hard to find time to blog. The last two weeks have been no exception. I’m off to Prague for my long study tour early tomorrow morning, and of course I would decide that now is an ideal time to blog, even though I haven’t finished packing.

My last week has been a whirl of midterms and short papers, but luckily my friday was left essentially free for me to relax and prepare for my upcoming travel. Last night a friend of mine from the folkehøjskole was performing at a nightclub in København, so I invited two other American friends from DIS to go watch see the performance.

Of course, nearly everyone from the højskole was there, so after the performance we headed all went to a bodega to catch up. When I got there, one of the Danes asked where my two American friends had gone, and when I explained they were tired and had headed home he responded “lame!” I took that as an opportunity to try to learn a new word, asking “how do you call someone lame in Danish?” His response: “Fucking Svenska.” I burst out laughing because, for those unaware, the word “Svenska” actually means “Swedish” in Danish. When I asked if it was really appropriate to condemn an entire ethnic group, especially with our half Swedish friend sitting right next to him, he looked shocked that I had actually understood the word. To me, one of the most rewarding parts of learning Danish is that, as an American, people usually underestimate how much you understand, and are often shocked if you achieve even elementary proficiency.