Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sunday Essay - all things Danish

Rosenborg Slot  was originally built as a country summerhouse in 1606 by Danish King Christian IV.  It was built in the Dutch Renaissance style, typical of Danish buildings during this period. 
One of my presents for Christmas was the English translation of Palle Lauring's A History of Denmark. It's an example of popular history, one written for a particular audience, in this case to educated the British on their Danish connection! It is simply written, no footnotes, but very useful and interesting nevertheless, in part because of its lack of academic clutter! Rather like the history columns i try to write, for example.

Reading the and other feeds on personal DNA tests, many Australians are astonished to see Scandinavian linkages pop up in their DNA. They shouldn't be. Those Vikings and especially the Danes got around! They just didn't raid the British Isles, they settled. For a period under Canute (Cnut), England was part of a Danish kingdom. The Normans who conquered England in 1066 were descendants of Norse invaders.

Kronborg Castle. From 1574 to 1585 King Frederick II transformed a previous medieval structure into a magnificent Renaissance castle. When the castle was destroyed by fire in 1629, King Christian IV had it rebuilt. Most Danish kings seem to be called either Frederick or Christian. Gets confusing.  
At the ending of the Viking age, Denmark and more broadly Scandinavian history drifted to the outskirts, the periphery, of British awareness. Kronborg was an exception.

It wasn't just its popularisation as Elsinore in Shakespeare's Hamlet, for Kronberg was a key strategic facility. Here the Øresund Sound between what is now Denmark and Sweden, the entry to the Baltic Sea, is just 4 k (2.5 miles wide). Denmark then controlled the land on both sides. For 400 hundred years, the tolls levied on shipping constituted a major source of revenue to the Dutch Crown.  Control of Øresund was strategically significant.
The Sound between Denmark and Sweden seen from Kronberg, Sweden in the distance. Its not a good shot because it doesn't give a proper feel of the closeness. The combined guns on either side could blast any ship out of the water before they could get through. 
If Denmark drifted from British perception, there was less recognition still in Australia.

In 1901, Australia had 6,281 residents born in Denmark. By 1947 that number had dropped to 2,759. At the 2006 census, 8,963 Australian residents declared that they were born in Denmark. A further 50,413 Australian residents claimed Danish ancestry, either singularly or with another ancestry. These are small numbers. There are no statistics on the number of Australians living in Denmark, but again the number was small until quite recently. A lack of awareness on both sides is therefore not surprising. .

Mary Donaldson was born in Hobart on 5 February 1972. Her romance with Frederik, Crown Prince of Denmark, attracted world wide coverage. Their 2004 wedding received saturation coverage in Australia.
Two things changed this. The first was Mary Donaldson's 2004 marriage to Denmark's Prince Frederik. The second was the focus on Denmark as the world's happiest country.

A Danish friend observed to me that Denmark did not have an embassy in Australia until the wedding. That's actually not true, a Danish embassy was established in 1967, but I think that it is true that the wedding actually had greater impact on awareness of Australia in Denmark than the other way around because Australians were already more aware of Denmark

The global focus on Denmark as the world's happiest  country is part of a broader global interest in the Scandinavian countries as societies that seem to work effectively. To provide a little perspective here, Denmark's population is 5.7 million, the total Scandinavian population around 27 million. These are not large numbers - Australia's population is 24.3 million and will pass that of Scandinavia over the next ten to fifteen years. Global interest far exceeds the relative size of Scandinavia's population.

Part of a mainly Australian group playing boules at a Copenhagen boulebar.
Denmark in general and Copenhagen in particular offers many attractions to young Australian professionals: 86% of the Danish population speaks English, while English is used as the main business language within larger firms; firms such as A.P. Moller–Maersk draw their Danish based staff from around the world; the life style is very comfortable despite high taxation rates; and Copenhagen is a setting off point for a Europe made close by cheap airfares and the Schengen Agreement.

The cost differences compared to Australia are substantial. Armidale is only 483 kilometers from Sydney, 366 from Brisbane, in flight terms. The cheapest one way flight (if you can get it) from Armidale to Sydney is $134. The full fare is $343 on Qantaslink. By contrast, the cheapest fare that I could find from Copenhagen to Athens (2,107k flight distance) was $79.  

Waiting for the train to Sweden. While still not onerous, the new border screening between Denmark and Sweden adds to time and inconvenience, especially for those living in Malmo who have to cross the border each day to work in Copenhagen.  
Whether Schengen and indeed European integration more broadly can survive the rise of right wing nationalist parties in Europe including the Danish People's Party is open to question. These parties draw their support especially from those who have not benefited from European integration and globalisation more broadly and are fearful of loss of identity.  I can understand their concerns. However, abolition of Schengen and more broadly any break-up of the EU would effectively re-allocate Denmark back to the periphery of Europe with considerable cost.

Nørrebro is Copenhagen's melting pot. Almost 89.6% of the Danish population is born in Denmark. The equivalent Australian number is 72%. Whereas Australia is a migrant country with multiple nationalities drawn in a continuing stream since the Second World War, Denmark is far more homogeneous, while the migrant intake is both more concentrated and more recent. 
I. wanted to get more of a street feel for the Danish migrant experience, including issues associated with recent refugee and especially Muslim intakes, so I went for a almost a random wander through Nørrebro   In the end, I didn't go far enough down Nørrebrogade (the main drag) to reach the highest migrant concentrations including the new mosque. However, I did get some feel for the mix of the place, a combination of students, gentrification, funky eating places, instantly recognisable social housing and a changing people scene.Its an interesting mix.

None of us can say what the future holds. For the moment, the people exchange will continue to increase. According to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs, around 700 Danish students now study in Australian annually. On the Australian side, a growing number of Australian schools and universities have exchange arrangements with Denmark, providing a familiarity that encourages later movement. And for those interested, you can now buy Danish sweets in Australia to go with the reverse supply of vegemite, tim tams and milo!        

Note to readers. This post took me longer to write than intended. However, I have brought it up on the original intended date.


kvd wondered just how we got by train from Denmark to Sweden given the water separating the two countries.. As he found through investigation, the answer is the Øresund bridge-tunnel, a remarkable piece of civil engineering. This story that he found on Twisted Swifter tells the story of the bridge and includes some quite remarkable photos.


Anonymous said...

Regarding the photo "Waiting for the train to Sweden" I was intrigued enough to see how that was possible as I had thought there was no land connection between the two countries.

Stumbled on this very good photo-explanation:

- which in turn led me via comments to another amazing engineering feat - the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel in the U.S.

And so, we learn :)


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi kvd. That's a great piece on the Øresund bridge-tunnel. I have brought it up in the main post. I knew about the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel but had no idea of its size.