Old streets, new streets and art in Aarhus

The day dawned bright and directly into my face as we woke up for our day of exploring Aarhus. Out the window I could hear gulls cawing and pigeons cooing, the jazzy pigeon having returned, and miraculously the sky was mostly clear of clouds.

In the kitchen we made cheese toast and sipped tea and coffee while I planned the agenda for the day. A quick search revealed that, inexplicably, the two museums I was most interested in were closed on Saturdays. On Saturdays (There was another museum that I’ll have to return for, the Museum on Women’s History, which boasts this charming billboard).

A good thing about museums

A good thing about museums

In addition, the managers of the tourism office, in their infinite wisdom, had decided that the best time for the tourist office to be closed was weekends. The only logical conclusion I can draw from all of this is that the people of Aarhus are just not that interested in other people visiting their town.

Despite these setbacks, we hit the streets soon after for some history, and soon found it just down the street. Having found it, we followed the arrows located at random in the neighbouring Botanical Gardens until we found the entrance, which was exactly half-way around the enclosure.
You thought I was kidding about the anti-tourism thing, didn’t you?
Once we were inside, however, I felt willing to forgive Aarhus. Den Gamle By (The Old Town) is an open air museum, a familiar sight in Scandinavia. Someone in the past decided to gather houses from as early as the 1400s and as late as the 1970s, plonk them into the centre of Aarhus and fill them with antiques, re-enactors and exhibits. You wander the streets, nibbling traditional cakes, bumping into the pastor’s wife as she bustles around her small house, barely fitting through the doorways in her hooped skirt.

Old fashioned bakery

Old fashioned bakery

There were stilts that we tried out and raced on, horse drawn carriages that we took for a ride around the Botanical Gardens and geese that bullied anyone who crossed their paths. We explored for a few hours, looking into shops, watching people cooking in old fashioned kitchens, remarking on how many shards must have gathered on the apprentice glass-maker’s bed under the work bench.

Friendly carriage horses

Friendly carriage horses

We even found people making and selling beer in a cellar, getting around the liquor licensing laws by selling only the glasses that they promised would be filled up again the next time we visited. There was even a beer that I liked.
Soon after, before the glow of my astonishment and teensy bit of tipsiness had faded, we headed back out into the 21st century and to lunch.

After lunch (very tasty burgers) we went to the second most highly rated attraction in Aarhus; ARoS. From the outside it was a brick block with a circular glass rainbow on the roof, and smoke billowing out of a pipe on it’s side. Inside white staircases twisted up on either side of a large open space, designed to mirror Dante’s Inferno.

Inside ARoS

Inside ARoS

I’m not usually interested in modern art, because I don’t often understand it, but I was completely swept away by the contents of ARoS. I swung in a clear ball of a chair, deciphered writing on lighbulbs, walked under a corridor of spinning fans, through a room of swinging mirrors and glass that threw odd silhouettes on the thin cloth walls and a room showing four perspectives of a person diving into a pool, the water shooting up slowly in reverse on one and bubbles settling underwater on another.

Room of spinning mirrors

Room of spinning mirrors

Then we found the source of the smoke. Through glass doors was a room filled with white, smoke-machine smoke and lit in shifting pastels. We went in holding hands, even then were only able to see the shadows of each other through the dense clouds. Following the walls and voices we made our way back out and very nearly went back in again. It was disorienting and exciting, and summed up in a sense all of the experiences of art that I had at ARoS.

Having climbed up the staircases, we went onto the roof and circled the glass rainbow. As we walked, the panels gradually changed shades, though you could only tell the difference once you looked back. Aarhus went from blue to orangey-pink via green and yellow, it’s moods seeming to change along the way.

Aarhus from the rainbow

Aarhus from the rainbow

After a full circuit we descended to the basement where a corridor lead past rooms with projections of faceless men with groping hands, absurdist lounge-rooms, endless mirrored balconies and giant eggs with crying faces. I think I could have stood in the mirror room for longer than I did, staring at an eternity of myself, my face and the back of my head, but there was one more exhibit we had to see.

Up one floor from the basement sat the Boy, staring out at the room from over his arm. He is 4.5 metres tall and extremely realistic, from his wrinkled fiberglass toes to his thick mop of brown hair. Despite being so huge, the scuffed boyish elbows and defensive posture make him seem vulnerable, and I wonder what sort of impression we might have gotten had he been displayed in a smaller room, with his head nearly touching the ceiling.

Boy

Boy

There was another figure that seems to fool you with it’s realism in the museum, that of a living statue. Fooled by her soft looking skin, apparent skill and sensible sneakers under her dress, I put a couple of Danish crowns into her hat, only seeing as we were leaving the small plaque with the name of the statue and artist.

Not-so-living statue

Not-so-living statue

Having soaked our fill of art and history, we went to the Latin Quarter, where a festival was underway. Our host had told us that a street festival for multi-culturalism was going to be held on Saturday night, so we went to have a look and were soon lost in a crowd of boozy, partying Danes and other foreigners, following or swimming against the tide of party-goers. As Australia doesn’t have laws allowing drinking on the streets, this kind of thing was completely strange to me, but the relaxed, happy atmosphere went some way to convincing me that maybe drinking on the streets could work, if you can adopt the laidback Scandinavian attitude.
With the parentals in tow, and not really wanting to get stuck with giant plastic glasses of beer in the rain, we escaped down a side street and found a tiny wine bar. One of the two barmen gave us tastings and recommendations, and we settled in, sipping our glasses and warming up as the rain and wind continued outside. Then, once again hitting the streets, we went in search of food and had a very nice meal at a steakhouse. The red wine sauce was absolutely wonderful and not a trace of it remained on my fella’s plate by the end of the meal.

Glimpse of sun in Aarhus

Glimpse of sun in Aarhus

Fed, watered and footsore, we then walked back up the hill to the apartment, to sleep and prepare for the return to Sweden. The next day we breakfasted and packed, bussed to the station, boarded the train, changed trains, passed the fields of canola, arrived in Fredrikshavn, boarded my ship and bade goodbye to Denmark, for now.

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Cannons, crepes and a copper mare

Last week Göteborg was transformed from a little town bracing itself for Autumn to cosmopolitan city full of art, food, folks and culture, carrying an umbrella just in case.

The festivities had begun on Sunday, the day that we returned from our Stockholm weekend. My partner slid back into the normal working week and I began the next level of Swedish classes, so plans to visit the Kultur Kalas faded into the background. Whenever I passed through town I’d be aware of some commotion, and a gathering of tents just around a corner. The local papers that I grabbed as I caught my bus to class featured pages of schedules, descriptions of events and reviews, all trying to pull me in.

It wasn’t until Wednesday that I was finally dropped into the middle of the party, in an authentically Göteborgare way.
We had just finished our evening at a Swedish language cafe, when we tagged along on an exploratory mission to the city centre. Via tram and feet we approached the hub and after turning a corner were suddenly in the middle of a crowd of people, circling, gathering and rushing past food stalls. I completely lost track of where I was in town, and had to rely on the ‘Älg kebab’ and ‘British Fish and Chips’ signs to navigate.
Once we reached the other side of the crowds, we wandered to the main square of Kungsportsplatsen where an audience was gathering in the shadow of Kopparmärra. An American was jokingly threatening the oncoming clouds as his Swiss compatriot tried to sort out wiring and keep the audience distracted. They started their show, acrobatics and music and silliness that had the audience clapping along, but even the most skilled performance couldn’t keep us tied to the stands as the rain began to pour down. After sheltering in a cafe, we used a break to run to a floating restaurant to dry and drink. As the evening wore on we tailed off, facing the rain and still milling crowds for the trip to our warm, dry homes.

A drum band in a canal

A drum band in a canal

In the meantime I read in the paper that a singer I had heard of was going to be performing on Thursday. I had read about Sofia Jannok in Swedish class, an interview in which she discussed the feelings of distance and difference that she felt as a Swede raised within Sami culture. She sings in Swedish, Samisk and English, and is a very strong supporter of native rights and Sami culture, and so my interest piqued, I looked forward to seeing her in person.

On the day of the concert I had fika planned in the city, and as I had not had time before, I decided to get lunch from one of the stalls in Brunnsparken. Drawn by nostalgia and curiosity, I got in the line at the Australian tent, and ordered a crocodile burger. The best way I can describe it is a mix of chicken and fish, and not necessarily in a tasty way.
After fika, during which I was happy to remove the flavour of the crocodile, I wandered around the many displays and activities. Most were for children, who ran around under the supervision of their parents, playing in giant see-through balls or trying out crafts of various kinds. Unlike the crafts that I usually see at such festivals, these were actually engaging and useful, ranging from weaving and carpentry to making porcelain cups. I saw many children and their parents tackling the construction of small wooden carts and twisting strings through looms, with an intensity that I don’t often see for crafts.

As I exited the park, leaving the cries of the children behind me, I saw a crowd gathered along the side of a main road that was fenced off. A closer look showed two sand tracks on the road, and my suspicions were soon confirmed when a pair of horses with trailing buggies flew past. Horse racing along a main road is also something I haven’t seen before at a festival, but I have to assume that people just do things differently here in Sweden.

The winning horse

The winning horse

The crowds, food and festivities continued as I made my way to the concert area, where I settled down to wait for my partner and friends so join me. The atmosphere of festivity was contagious, and the afternoon quickly passed, bringing friends and then Sofia Jannok. She was wonderful, and though I couldn’t understand much of what she said, she had great passion and an ability to yoik. Our evening ended after another journey around the food stalls at Brunnsparken, losing ourselves among the fudge, crepes, goulash and sausages.

A bridge from a canal

A bridge from a canal

Our final visit was on Saturday, which started with an activity that I had been hoping to try for some time.
Göteborg is criss-crossed with canals, some of which were originally the moat of the old city, and for much of the year a small boat makes it’s way under the bridges and through the canals, showing people the city from a different perspective. I had not yet done this, so decided that a day with so much on display in the city and lively crowds wandering around, would be an ideal time. The tour started well, the guide giving us facts I hadn’t known in both Swedish and English, as we ducked under low bridges and waved at those on the land. Soon we were in the harbour, seeing the old heart of the city whose fate now hangs in the balance.

The old harbour

The old harbour

As we rolled over the waves, we were also confronted with a makeshift boat, planks of wood stuck onto two inflated tubes and covered with comfortable sofas and a table. We were also treated to the sight of mooning from some of those enjoying their day out. Aside from their questionable greetings, I would have quite liked to float along on their boat, nibbling snacks and seeing where the boat drifted.

The tour finished and we spent a while walking around, listening to a trio of sisters from Ireland, then an underground rock band from Iran. Smells and sights surrounded as, and as the night approached we had a bite to eat and then walked down the street to the harbour for the final event of the night.

On a stage and mingling around stalls were people in 17th century outfits, some carrying guns and all trying to look authentic. Crowds were gathered on the steps of the Opera House and along the waterside, peering downriver constantly and impatiently. Finally a ship slid out of the distance, tall and graceful even without it’s sails out. Soon after another ship floated towards us, this one with a Danish flag.

Cannon smoke

Cannon smoke

A sudden boom rang out, accompanied by a flash of light, and then the costumed soldiers on the river side erupted into a barrage of shots across the water, backed up by blank, but still deafening, shots from the cannons on the Swedish ship. The Danish ship soon ‘sank’ and was replaced by another, which was also seen off. This repeated a few times to cheers, booms, crashes and flashes as the sun slowly set and cold began to set in. Finally the Swedes won a decisive victory, and the two Danish ships disappeared down the river, to yet more cheers.

The Danes depart

The Danes depart

The excitement passed, we made out way through the crowds to the centre of town, the boom of cannons and taste of exotic food following us home, ending the first but not last Kultur Kalas that we will enjoy here in our not as new home-city.