Odense, Denmark: Hans Christian Andersen Museum


Compared to the blocky ’70s architecture that dominates much of Copenhagen, the part of Odense where the Hans Christian Andersen Museum is located is downright lovely, full of cobblestone streets and low, colourful old homes closely packed together.  I was a great fan of fairy tales as a child, and though my particular favourite was Hansel and Gretel (as told by my grandmother), I also loved the works of Hans Christian Andersen, so I was keen to see his museum and childhood home.  In life, he was fairly peripatetic, and when he wasn’t travelling, tended to base himself in Copenhagen.  However, Odense is where he was born into poverty, and spent the first 14 years of his life, and it is thus home to his museum.

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Admission to the museum is DKK 85, which seemed positively modest after Egeskov (although apparently, if you also visited Egeskov, you can get a discount at the Hans Christian Andersen Museum and the toll bridge over from Zealand, which no one bothered to tell us, but I’ll be nice enough to give you the heads up).  The idea is that you follow footprints around the museum, which will take you chronologically through his life story.  The footprints were pretty big, so may have been based on Hans’ actual feet.

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The opening gallery offered a brief overview of Danish and world history during Andersen’s lifetime, which covered most of the 19th century (and the gallery dwelt a fair bit on the American Civil War).  After reading physical descriptions of Andersen given by his contemporaries, which were downright mean, and examining some of his clothes, we progressed into a temporary exhibition about his failures in love.  I was already beginning to feel quite sorry for Hans, what with everyone mocking his big nose and gawky frame (I can certainly relate to the former problem), and the unrequited love gallery only served to intensify my pity.

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In addition to two failed relationships with women in his youth (where each professed love, but ran off to marry another man), Andersen was infatuated in his later years with Jenny Lind, known as the Swedish Nightingale.  I’d heard of Lind before, as I’ve read quite a bit about PT Barnum and the various acts who worked for him (he hired her to perform concerts in his museum), but I wasn’t aware of her relationship with Andersen.  Apparently, after he declared his love, she publicly announced that she thought of him as a brother.  Kind of harsh, Jenny.  Andersen also had a close friendship with a man (probably platonic, but maybe something more), but even that went awry when the other man refused to let Andersen address him as “du” instead of “de.” As far as I could tell, this is somewhat akin to the use of tu over vous in French, where tu would denote a closer relationship than vous, but the “du” relationship in Danish is even more intimate.  According to the museum, the main problem with Andersen was not so much his looks as his lack of prospects and poor income when he was a young man.  Andersen’s paper cuttings in this section attest to his mood at the time, one of them depicting lovers hanged from a love noose.

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We next carried on through an attractive rotunda full of mosaic scenes on Andersen’s life, and then to the biographical gallery that surrounds it.  Here, I learned more about his childhood with a cobbler father who died young and an alcoholic mother, and how he moved to Copenhagen on the strength of his singing voice.  After his voice broke, he turned to acting, and then ultimately, to writing, surviving some pretty horrible experiences along the way, like an abusive schoolmaster, who was also his landlord, and having to attend school in his 20s with a bunch of children, as he was too poor to receive a proper education as a child.  This section also talked more about his writing and adult life, right up until his death from liver cancer, which was all surprisingly interesting, though the museum did assume a working knowledge of most of his fairy tales on the part of the visitor (fair enough I suppose, as why else would you want to visit it in the first place?).  My favourite objects in all of this were the aforementioned paper cuttings, which he was incredibly skilled at, and frequently included in notes to friends.

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It was then time to head into the replica of his childhood home, which is inside a small yellow cottage that you pass on your way into the museum (I believe his actual childhood home is several blocks away, though I’m actually quite confused about this.  His home is listed as a separate museum with its own admission fee, but inside the replica, there was a plaque saying Andersen was born in that room, so I have no idea what was going on).  It was full of tools and simple furniture, as would befit the family of a cobbler.  Back in the museum, there was a re-creation of Andersen’s sitting room in Copenhagen, which was much nicer and packed with Victorian knickknacks.

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When I saw a sign directing me downstairs to the Cabinet of Curiosities, I HAD to venture in.  It was primarily a collection of Andersen’s possessions, ranging from his shaving set and hat to a rope he carried everywhere with him in case he had to escape from a fire via a hotel room window.  Now, that’s the kind of paranoia I can relate to!  Like Jane Carlyle, and pretty much every other Victorian with time on their hands, Andersen also made a decoupage screen, which was displayed here.  I really must take up decoupaging one of these days…

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Throughout the museum, we found anecdotes from people who knew him, most of which were pretty harsh.  Dickens hated him after Andersen came for a month-long visit, and one of Dickens’ daughters referred to him “that bony bore.” Someone else remarked that he was almost impossible to shave in his latter years as he’d lost all his teeth, and his mouth never stopped making chewing motions.  I just spent the whole time feeling sorrier and sorrier for Andersen, though I guess at least children liked him, which is probably more than I’ve got going for myself.

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The museum also housed a library full of his titles published in over a hundred different languages, many of which I’d never even heard of (the languages, that is).  The final hallway held a collection of illustrations to his fairy tales done by modern artists, some of which were quite good, though I was disappointed no one had tried their hand at the dog with eyes as big as tea cups (or the dog with eyes as big as towers, for that matter!).

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Aside from his fairy tales, and that terribly inaccurate film from the 1950s (with Danny Kaye,”I’m Hans Christian Andersen, Andersen that’s who,” which I still get stuck in my head now and again), I didn’t know much about Hans Christian Andersen prior to visiting his museum. I have to admit that I didn’t go in expecting much, but I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality, and definitely recommend it to anyone passing through Odense.  I’m glad I got the chance to learn about Andersen’s fascinating life, as I now see him as a very sympathetic character who even seemed to share some of my quirks (which will perhaps give a new dimension to his fairy tales). 4.5/5

Copenhagen, Denmark: Tivoli Gardens

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The first time I heard of Tivoli Gardens was whilst watching Passport to Europe with Samantha Brown (which was one of my favourite pastimes before I moved to London when I wanted to feel more discontented than usual) a year or two before I’d ever even been to Europe. As soon as I saw her eating a massive candy floss (cotton candy) I was sold on the place, and have been keeping it in the back of my mind for a good seven years, until at long last I found myself in Copenhagen.

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Due to my unfortunate tendency towards motion sickness, pretty much the only rides I can manage are straightforward wooden coasters, with no loops or anything, and even then, I have to be drugged up on Dramamine.  But I do love a good old-fashioned amusement park of the sort that are in increasingly short supply, with promenades, gardens, and a surplus of greasy/sugary food coupled with a modest admission price.  Admission to Tivoli, without a ride pass, is DKK 95, about 12 quid, which is a bit pricy considering all it buys you is the right to walk around the premises, but still better than dropping £40+ on somewhere in the UK or USA.  If you want to go on the rides, it’s an extra DKK 355 for unlimited rides, or alternatively, you can buy individual tickets, which will end up with each ride costing the equivalent of £4-9, so not the best deal. We just skipped them altogether, allowing me to pig out without risk of puking.

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The first clue that Tivoli is cooler than your average amusement park comes when you learn that the theme is based on Tycho Brahe.  The only thing I remember from 9th grade astronomy is the story of Tycho Brahe – I mean, the man had a silver nose, and possibly died from holding in his wee too long at a banquet, that’s memorable stuff.  You’ll find an amazing Tycho Brahe fountain hidden in a quiet corner of the park next to a self-serve ice creamery, but the main way the theme manifests itself is through a few rides featuring steampunky looking rockets.  Everything else seems to be based on either the sea, or world landmarks, a bit like a slightly less commercialised version of Epcot.

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The other main theme is a scary-ass clown, who pops up through the park (though fortunately, we never saw the real thing).  They seem to love clowns on the Continent, and this one is over-the-top terrifying.  Be careful about turning your back on him, as he may have the ability to eat your soul.

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As you can see, Tivoli is otherwise quite lovely, with loads of gardens and fountains interspersed with rides and game stalls.  It’s especially pretty after dark, when everything is lit up, including the fake Taj Mahal, and there’s a special light show over one of the fountains.  There’s also various musical acts performing at different times throughout the park, so there is entertainment to be had outside of the rides and carnival games.

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Tivoli is ringed by restaurants and cafes, most of which you can eat at without entering the park, though if you want proper carnival food, you really need to go inside.  Since we weren’t riding the rides, most of what we did was eat.  I had to get the giant, made to order candy floss, but I also had an ice cream with Tycho, and delicious it was too.  There’s also lots of fried things, and of course the ubiquitous Danish hot dogs, but I definitely gave those a miss.

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I suppose there’s not really much more to say about Tivoli.  I’d highly recommend it if you’re in Copenhagen, as it does have a really nice atmosphere, reminiscent of a smaller version of Conneaut Lake Park as I remember it, admittedly through the golden glow of childhood.  The rides probably aren’t the most thrilling, but if you spent as many hours as I did mooning over pictures of old Victorian amusement parks as I did as a child, you’ll love it, though you’ll probably wish, as I did, that they at least had a funhouse or Laff-in-the-Dark ride for the nausea-inclined amongst us to enjoy.  And now I’ll leave you with a few more random pictures from around the park.

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Copenhagen, Denmark: National Museum of Denmark (Nationalmuseet)

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I think the National Museum of Denmark was way too big for me to thoroughly review it without stretching into 5000+ words, so I’m going to do my best to give an overview, and some highlights (and still go way over 1000 words, nuts to brevity!).  The Nationalmuseet is on a scale similar to that of the National Museum of Scotland, and probably most other national museums in countries where the collections aren’t divided up into individual museums for art, antiquities, social history, etc.  Really we should have allowed two days for it, but all the museums in Denmark are closed on Mondays, and Tuesday was our last day in Copenhagen, so we had no choice but to cram it all into one exhausting afternoon.

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The first thing we noticed, thanks to the banners hanging outside, was that there was a temporary viking exhibition on (they always have viking stuff, but this particular exhibit is only on until November).  Entrance to the museum, and Viking (as the exhibition is so eloquently called, which makes me want to insert an exclamation mark after it) is free, but admittance to is by timed ticket, so be sure to pick one at the admissions desk when you arrive to ensure you get a slot. We had about 45 minutes to kill before Viking(!) so thought we’d pop into the Middle Ages and Renaissance collections, not realising that the gallery just went on and on and on, and once you got sucked in, it was a long way back to the exit.

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Most of it was the sort of stuff you’d expect: religious art (see Sad Jesus being sad above), suits of armour, and fancy furniture, but a few things stood out.  The tiny coffin above was pretty awesome; there was even a wax worm crawling out of the corpse’s nose!  I really liked the replicas of typical rooms in various kinds of early modern households.  They also had a few remaining artefacts from the Kunstkammer belonging to one of the King Christians (I have no recollection of which one it was, sorry!) which the catalyst for the foundation of the Nationalmuseet.

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Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to give most of the galleries more than a cursory glance, as it was past time to enter Viking(!), which was in an extremely dark room on the second floor.  I didn’t get to play the Viking(!) game, as the guide was taking forever to explain it to the people in front of me, and I got sick of waiting, so I don’t know whether that would have enhanced my experience, but I wasn’t that impressed.  It was basically just a random scattering of objects with descriptions that I didn’t really get to read, as the other people in there were hogging the touchscreens (and I always get slightly annoyed when signs are all on a special screen, instead of having a plaque on each object). The best part was writing a message on a special “rock” with runes (it is my Viking name, which I have decided is Jessica the Surly.  You’ll probably agree it’s apt), but I still much preferred the permanent collections, and ended up wishing we had skipped Viking(!) and devoted more time to them.  Oh well.

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The Nationalmuseet had a tonne of ethnographic collections, but it seemed similar to stuff I could see at the British Museum, and my feet were killing me, so we skipped it in favour of Danish history.  “Stories of Denmark,” which dominates the second floor, seemingly contains something on every aspect of post-1600 Danish history.  It was another giant gallery, with maze-like hallways that wound off in random directions, so I’m  not convinced we saw the entire thing, but that didn’t seem possible without backtracking.  I don’t know much about Danish history, but this exhibit made it seem similar to much of the rest of Northern Europe, except most of the kings were called Christian, and one of them seemed to have abnormally huge eyes, or a terrible portraitist.

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There was a small collection of torture implements hidden in one corner, and other interesting bits strewn throughout, though as I said, I was genuinely quite glad to have the opportunity to learn more about Danish history anyway.  For example, I learned that they had a revolution of sorts in 1848, which led to the creation of their first constitution, and also influenced the production the excellent chamberpot shown below.  Not that I condone violence against the nobility, but the verse under the picture translates to, “Both traitors to be sure, so on you Danish piss we pour.” Ok, it’s not the most amazing rhyme (it probably sounds better in Danish), but it’s funny nonetheless.

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It was quite gratifying to see an Aebleskiver pan amongst the collections.  I know they’re a big thing in certain parts of America (not Cleveland though, we’re not really known for our Danish population), but Americans have a knack for taking the best, most fattening dishes from other countries, that are only eaten on special occasions in their country of origin, and turning them into everyday things (I’m not knocking it, it is what it is, and American paczki are FAR superior to Polish ones), so it was nice to see that Danish people do actually eat aebleskiver, even just at Christmas.  Wasn’t really helpful on my quest to eat some, but still.

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Though they’re best known as the inventors of Lego, the Danes do seem to love all toys, and the museum had a special toy gallery, with a rather good dollhouse collection. They were all open at the back, so you could peek behind to see the interiors.  The toys only took up two rooms, and then we found ourselves back into Danish social history, this time 20th century.  I put some Elvis on the jukebox as a nice soundtrack for walking around the rest of the gallery, which included a mock hashish hut like the ones you’ll find in Christiania (with authentic smells!).  I’m pretty positive we took a picture of it, but now I can’t find it.  Sorry.

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I was incredibly hungry and cranky at this point, as I’d only had two small cinnamon rolls for breakfast, but my boyfriend had heard they had a noteworthy longship in the permanent Viking collections, so we trudged through the entire ground floor to get to it (turns out we could have gone in from the opposite direction, but we didn’t realise that until after).  I saw a lot of Viking ships on this trip, so I don’t think it particularly stood out, but I was SUPER cranky.  (In fairness to me, it was my birthday, so I think I was entitled to be a bit of a brat.  I don’t know what my excuse is the rest of the time.)  We totally skipped over Danish pre-history and classical antiquities, so I can’t comment on them.

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I think the moral of the story here may be that if you want to take advantage of all the Nationalmuseet has to offer, give yourself at least two afternoons there, and take snack breaks!  Even though I wasn’t in the best mood, it was undeniably a very nice museum, and everything had an English caption in addition to the Danish one.  If you only have a short time to spend there, I think “Stories of Denmark” or the Renaissance galleries are the way to go, depending on your interests (I’m sure the Viking gallery is good as well, but there are loads of Viking museums all throughout Denmark, so I preferred to devote my time to lesser known eras of Danish history).  4/5


Kali…Kali Ma!!!!



Copenhagen, Denmark: The Police Museum (Politimuseet)

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I’ve long wanted to go to the infamous Black Museum in London, but as I’m unlikely to join the police force any time soon, it’s probably not a practical option.  However, Copenhagen has a police museum that is open to the public, so it seemed the obvious place to visit on my birthday.  In case you couldn’t tell from the opening picture, this post has some slightly gory themes/musings towards the end. If you’re unusually squeamish or delicate, consider yourself warned.  Now, onto the museum!

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The museum is located in what is evidently the Nørrebro quarter – all I know is that it was a fair walk from our hotel near Tivoli.  Some information that is possibly more helpful is that the museum is only open on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays from 11-4, so plan accordingly.  I missed out on seeing the Medical Museum due to their similarly limited opening hours.  Admission is DKK 40, which I think is about 5 quid, so positively cheap by Danish standards!  (Seriously, everything in Denmark was insanely expensive.)

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None of the captions or signs are in English, though the man working there kindly let us borrow a couple of the English guidebooks from the shop, and gave us a bit of background information on the museum.  It is housed in a former police station (circa 1884), and has been open to the public since 1993; it has been a museum since 1904, but was only used for training officers prior to 1993, rather like the Black Museum.

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The museum opened with a room holding a collection of old police and watchmen’s uniforms, and detailing the evolution of the police force in Denmark.  There was a most intriguing picture depicting all the forms of punishment under early modern law, which included various modes of execution and torture.  Unfortunately, we quickly realised that though the museum was absolutely packed with informational signs, the guidebook only bothered to translate about 10% of them, in addition to providing a brief overview of each room, rife with typos.  I did try to puzzle through the Danish, in hope of cognates, but it was just too bizarre to make anything of it.  Because of this, I couldn’t help but feel I was missing out, a feeling which would only intensify as I made my way through the museum.

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Other rooms on the ground floor included a replica police station, one with a chair set up for mug shots (which I really wanted to sit in, but I didn’t know if the sign said, “Please sit down” or “Don’t sit here under any circumstances!” as it was in Danish, so I stayed away), a motorcycle room, and one filled with riot gear.  I’m pretty sure you could sit on one of the motorcycles, as some Danish youths were doing it when we passed by.

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Another wing housed the old jail cells, most of which are now filled with displays, though there was a soiled mattress in one for that “authentic” prison experience.  There was a pretty neat collection in here of things the prisoners made, many of them composed of partially masticated bread, as I suppose they haven’t got many other building materials.  I enjoyed the jumping jack, and the bread flowers, as well as the story of a famous Danish escape artist who rather stupidly sent a postcard to the warden from a post office near the barn where he was hiding and was subsequently re-arrested.

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Having finished with the ground floor, we made our way upstairs, which was where they were hiding all the really good stuff.  There was a section on prostitution, sex crimes, and, a bit oddly, gambling.  Highlights here included a homemade wooden penis that some man forced his wife to use, and some kind of tube-like masturbatory device (which can be seen in the right picture at the top of this post, toward the lower right of the case).  I don’t know, perhaps I’m coming across as too flippant, but finding homemade sex toys in a case devoid of context since I couldn’t read most of the information makes it difficult for me to take them too seriously. There was also a collection of special coins given out to Danish prostitutes that they could redeem for medical care, and some illegal gambling machines from the years before casinos were legalised in Denmark.

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Another room was I think mostly on bank robbers, and possibly on assassination attempts, but it’s hard to say as the guidebook didn’t offer much help.  However, the best was yet to come, in the form of the murder room, which even had a special warning outside the door about the grisly nature of things.  The space was dominated by a case running the length of the wall full of various apparatuses used in sensational murder cases, and the drawers beneath held fairly gory pictures of the victims.  Everything was numbered, so you had to match up the numbers on the drawers with the ones on the objects to find out what was used for each murder, which I did whilst providing a running commentary for my boyfriend on the methods chosen.  I feel like my obvious delight in this is making me seem like a horrible person, but I think most of us must be interested in the seamier side of life, or places like this wouldn’t even exist.  That said, I can’t even watch horror movies unless they’re cheesy ones like the original Evil Dead because I get too freaked out, so I’m not sure why stuff like this doesn’t bother me, but somehow just looking at pictures after the fact makes it less horrible.

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Once again, due to the scanty info in the guidebook, I was left with more questions than answers.  The one that plagues me the most has to do with the sausage grinder in the case. The accompanying crime scene photo showed a woman lying bloodied on her kitchen floor near the grinder, and the grinder was circled in the picture, but as the guidebook didn’t discuss this crime at all, I have no idea if the grinder was actually a murder weapon, an attempt to dispose of the body, or just happened to be in the room at the time.  I don’t know why this bothers me so much, but it does.  I even googled “Danish sausage murder” but it just took me to a bunch of Danish cooking blogs (Danish food is gross, but it’s not THAT gross, though I suppose Pølsemix is borderline…).  There was a 19th century sausage maker in Chicago who dissolved his wife’s body in an empty sausage vat, and a Serbian serial killer who ground up one of his victims to try to dispose of the body, but even they didn’t actually turn their victims into proper sausages.  I need to know, especially since every Danish kitchen seems to have a meat grinder knocking around in it, due to their inexplicable love of hotdogs.

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The last room was dedicated to forensics, but again, the guidebook didn’t have much to say about it, and I was so fixated on the role of the sausage grinder at this point that I couldn’t pay proper attention to it anyway.  I suppose I should have asked the man at the admissions desk about the grinder, but I didn’t know if my weirdness would translate well, and I didn’t want him to think I was some kind of psychopath (though I apparently have no issue with coming across as a goon on my blog).

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So, because I wasn’t able to read about 90% of the museum’s contents, I’m only going to give it a 3/5.  I thought the things I was able to learn about were fascinating, and I obviously enjoyed (if enjoyed is the right word) the murder room, but I was honestly sad that I couldn’t learn about everything there.  I don’t want to sound like an obnoxious American tourist, but I wish they would have some English captions, or at least a more professionally put-together and comprehensive guidebook (I’m even willing to offer my editing/proofreading skills, which are obviously excellent), because I think then it would easily score a 4 or maybe even a 5. Despite this, I am very glad they are open to the general public, and it’s still worth seeing if you share my sick fascination with the darker side of humanity!