We have all those friends who are smart, successful, and good-looking to boot, but who you always find yourself giving a morale boost every now and then (while still thinking inside of you in secret. , is it real ?). I found myself doing this at city level this week in Copenhagen. I had been invited to speak at a conference with the simple name “Copenhagen: Cool or Boring?”. My contribution was to explain why we conduct an annual quality of life survey; which makes a great city for Monocle (and for you, our readers – I hope you don’t mind me speaking on your behalf this time); and, yes, why Copenhagen takes pole position so regularly, including this year.
During the three days that I was in the city, I did a newspaper interview Borsen, made contacts and spoke with the attendees of the event, and again and again people came all surprised that cute little Copenhagen was so beloved. The tone is reminiscent of a Jane Austen tale in which a nice lady flirtatiously holds a fan in front of her face and blushes when suitors express their love. (At least in this version of my story, I can introduce myself as Mr. Darcy gone mad.)
The problem is, the evidence is everywhere you look. Michael Solgaard, the endearing and beloved cultural editor of Borsen, suggested that we start our interview by bike – he had his; I borrowed one from my hotel. Over the next hour, we seemed to be driving through a large part of town, all on dedicated, well-used cycle paths and with Solgaard acting as both a tour guide and instructor on the town’s cycling etiquette ( basically you seem to have priority when you’re with him). Solgaard also carried a bag with towels and bathing suits on him, because on Mondays he leaves work early to take his granddaughter for a swim (you can see why they are struggling here). We drove through even the supposedly sketchiest parts of town, me looking like Miss Marple with a big wicker basket in the front of my two-wheeler, and everything looked OK for the stranger. Later, in front of a carrot cake in a cafe in the shade of Notre-Sauveur Church, with its famous exterior staircase wrapped around its bell tower, Solgaard asked me about the city’s global appeal, pretending to be surprised knowing that he was pretty amazing. When I asked him about the Copenhagen problems, he wondered if there weren’t too many festivals. I look forward to a carrot cake return to London.
Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon
It became a recurring theme: people told me they never work late, how all of their university fees were paid for by the state, how they found downtown apartments at a decent price , and how they thought that children had an easier and safer life than in many parts of Europe. Yes, they pay exorbitant taxes, the cost of living for things like food was high, and like all cities there were clearly some struggling people. Corn.
One evening I went by bike to a party for Thomas Lykke, friend and founding partner of famous design studio OEO. His birthday drinks were at a restaurant called Hija de Sanchez (which he designed) in Nordhavn, a former port area that is turning into a sprawling new residential area. Once again I arrived on my bike, on lanes lined with ambitious plantations and as I approached my destination there was a nice boathouse on the water and people had just finished kayaking. I looked out of the windows of beautiful apartments at the families having dinner on this autumn night. At the foot of the new apartment buildings, there was a lot of life in the shops, cafes and restaurants. It was town planning well done. I parked my bike among all the others that were so modestly secured and thought, “Let’s see if anyone dares to ask why Copenhagen ranks so high in our survey.
On the plane back to London, just like on the departure flight, many people boarded without any masks or with their sirens uncovered. Pre-flight announcements emphasized that everyone should wear a mask when not eating. The refusniks, however, continued to stare at their phones with their masks hanging like squirrel hammocks under their chins. The crew didn’t say anything. There was an announcement that due to heavy fog we had to turn off all electrical equipment for take off so that there was no risk of it interfering with the plane’s fogger (I think it was is the technical term). People continued to use their phones; a man was talking on his even as we took off. A young woman next to me who was clearly friends with the crew kept her giant headphones on without a word. Back in London, there were posters telling you to hide on the tube. Four staff members stood near the ticket gates – no masks for them. I don’t like masks but I’m happy to wear one if I think it makes others more comfortable. At this point, however, the game is over and the message should change to match the facts: “Nobody here cares, right?” “
Mr. Tuck would like to point out that his beautiful column was not inspired by today’s godfather. Next week it promises to be a Danish-free zone. He won’t even come close to a “kanelsnegle” – a cinnamon bun for you and me. Although on this point we may not be able to trust him.