This entry is from Ken’s blog, “Tokyo Life”
I Visited Copenhagen during a business trip. It is the capital of Denmark. The business part aside, I had quite a few stories from my time there and so I have decided to take note of them here. It’s not exactly a deep or analytical piece, just fun stories from Denmark.
First of all, Denmark is in Northern Europe, in what is called Scandinavia. There is a bridge from Copenhagen to the Swedish city of Malmö, and it is possible to travel there in about 45 minutes. It seems that some people use the bridge often to go shopping in, or even live in, Malmö because of Denmark’s 25% value-added tax and higher cost of living.
The population of Denmark is about 5.5 million people, with a small population of resident Japanese. Christian IV was one of the early leaders of Denmark, and the country itself seems very much like a merchant’s city. Even now one of the largest ocean freight companies (Mærsk) is based in Copenhagen. You may know them from shipping containers labeled “MAERSK,” if you have ever been familiar with a industrial port.
Copenhagen has a very beautiful and historic cityscape, and I found that this is due to several reasons.
Firstly, it was never heavily damaged during World War II. When Germany invaded, they apparently had surrendered within a few hours. They apparently had decided that there was no way to win, and so planned to avoid any unnecessary bloodshed while surviving the war. In my opinion, it was a very businesslike idea. Thus, the condition of old buildings are very good. In addition, the country is actively preserving the historical buildings. New buildings can be built, but old buildings may not be torn down. Older structures can only be renovated and used for another purpose. This has had a very interesting effect. For example, what used to be an old wooden port warehouse had been renovated into a meeting hall; the older materials and architecture gave it a very nice atmosphere. To help support this preservation of buildings, I found that the government has put into place policies such as reducing fixed-asset taxes, collections for historical building management, and subsidies for renovations.
Regarding the architecture, the older buildings have high ceilings and large windows. The windows are said to be to collect as much light as possible; because Denmark is so far North, any sunlight becomes valuable. This also gives a great view out to the city, and when I glanced inside I would always see tasteful potted plants and lampshades.
Walking along the streets I also noticed that there were many buildings that had a half-basement below street level. I asked why, and it turns out that Copenhagen is built on a large layer of sand, meaning that the foundations of buildings do not reach a layer of rock. This leads to the buildings sinking very slowly, over hundreds of years. The buildings are adjusted every so often to stay level, and it seems there are no other issues because of this.
As I mentioned before, the population has mercantile ideals. As I heard from a local Japanese resident, the people of Denmark have an average of 6 different jobs before retiring, and switching careers or jobs is not seen negatively. They seem to focus of efficiency, and rather than working overtime or stressing about work the general feeling is to get things done in an organized manner.
The Danish people I met around work and at the airport were very refreshing to meet. They would not welcome me with a huge smile and overwhelming hospitality, and yet they were not cold or indifferent either. Especially coming from the far reaches of Africa, I felt a lot more sophistication.
As a developed country, Denmark of course has problems with an aging population. However, their birth rate is about 1.8, much higher than the 1.3 of Japan. With a reasonable population of 5.5 million and a culture of efficiency, it seems their social welfare systems are not having major problems. Even with a value added tax of 25%, the country is small enough that all of the citizens can see how taxes are being spent and can understand the reasoning.
During my stay there the winds where not carrying the cold air in, and so at the very coldest it would only be about -2℃. When the cold fronts do come in from the north, the temperature can decrease by up to 15℃ within 4 hours, going quickly to 10℃ below freezing. I heard that Danish kids build up a resistance to cold and can keep playing outside in the cold, because of the climate.
It is definitely not as large a city as Tokyo and might not be as exciting, but I definitely felt that I would be able to live happily there.