Fifth in a series of articles on the Summer 2001 visit to Denmark by the Friends of Denmark, hosted by the West Indian Society there
When living in Africa years ago, we were introduced to a Danish social worker who worked internationally but kept her permanent residence at her birthplace in Gilleleje. Dr. Paulsen is usually home in the summer, and we were fortunate during this trip to Denmark to schedule a day's visit.
Our trip began with a bicycle ride from our host's home to the local railroad station, where we took an inner city B train to Copenhagen Central, then an inner city A train to Hellerod, where we transferred to an independent train which took us for a 30-minute trip through Grib Skov, the largest forest in Denmark.
We ended up in Gilleleje, which is on the northern tip of Zealand, after a total travel time of about 2 ½ hours. The cost was about $7 per person round trip.
Gelleleje: Still a fishing village
There are two special places in Gilleleje as far as I am concerned: the church and the smokehouse. When the church was begun is unknown. Christianity was brought to Denmark in 900. The regional church in Solberg as built in 1140, and the Danish church was reformed in 1536. The Gilleleje Church was first mentioned in 1538, when the fishermen of the community hired their own pastor and broke from the regional parish. In the 1730s, the church received a new foundation of boulders, and the old roof, built of recycled ships' timbers, was raised.
As the Nazi Germans invaded Denmark and the Gestapo set out to exterminate the Jews, some 2000 Danish Jews fled through Gilleleje to Sweden ahead of them. During the first five days of October 1943, the initial Gestapo roundup, 348 Jews sailed from Gilleleje in small fishing boats. On the sixth day, 182 Jews reached the boats, 20 were hidden in the church hall and 81 were hidden in the church loft. Unfortunately, the church was too small for so many and had become known for its use. All but one of the Jew were taken that night (the survivor having made it out onto the roof).
Many Danish churches have a ship model suspended from the ceiling. This is to commemorate the close relationship between the Danes and the sea. Gilleleje, being a major fishing village, has four ships in its church: Anna, Argus, Ferdinand Larsens minde, and Henry. The oldest is the brigantine Anne, which dates to 1830.
The pulpit of the church is baroque in design, carved in the 16th century. There are two original altar candlesticks from 1575 and a chalice from 1662. The truly medieval baptismal font is on loan from the National Museum to replace the original font, which was removed and later replaced by a 1780 pewter basin.
The waters around Gilleleje surpass all international standards for purity, and the beaches have been awarded the coveted international Blue Flag indicating they are free of contamination. As dawn breaks, the fishermen return to the harbor with their catches. At the fish auction hall, the catches are sold in a unique language understood only by the initiated. Some fish then are smoked on site in a distinctive whitewashed smokehouse with dual chimneys.
While I enjoy pickled herring of almost any style, when it comes to fresh smoked fish, I am partial to mackerel. This normally fatty fish releases its excess oil, leaving a moist flesh to spread on fresh multigrain bread and crackers, and blend well into various spreads.
But for us, the absolutely best part of a visit to Gilleleje is sitting with Dr. Paulsen in her yard surrounded by flowering bushes and fruited trees. A table with smorgasbord, cheese, a fruit tart and tea is the perfect accompaniment. Here we can remember long-ago activities and plan new ones with an understanding friend.
The Swedes who would be Danes
Our second major side trip while visiting Denmark this time was to southern Sweden and the area known as Scania. Long before the Viking period (790-1050), this area was an important part of Denmark. With forts on the two sides of the Oresund Sound and a few active fighting ships, the Danes controlled traffic in and out of the Baltic. The highways of the day were waterways, and the Danes imposed a tax on all ship captains.
Finally, after a war in 1658, Denmark was forced to cede the mainland to Sweden. Even today, however, many families in Scania believe they should be Danish and fly their own flag, which has a red field with a yellow cross. (The Danish flag, or Dannebrog, is a red field with a white cross, while the Swedish flag is a blue field with a yellow cross.)
Within minutes of boarding our bus, we were passing over one of the engineering marvels of the 20th century — the Sound Bridge. This causeway bridge spans the Oresund between Kobenhavn (Copenhagen) and Malmo. At the time it was built, it was the longest single-span bridge in the world, eclipsing the bridge between Fynn and Zealand.
Our first stop was the village of Dragor, where we visited an ancient Danish-style church which abutted a Danish King's farm.
As luck would have it, while our bus passengers were scrabbling to access the church toilet in the yard, the local mortician rolled a body into the sanctuary. He then proceeded to deny us access to the church on the premise that we would disturb the dead parishioner. We were able to view the church's rock foundation and flying-buttressed wall, both of which have stood for almost 1,000 years.
A clock in need of interpretation
Next we drove through the suburbs of Malmo to Lund. The church at Lund is remarkable for its architecture, mosaics, crypt and clock.
According to legend, the area where the church was constructed was known as Troll Hill because an infamous troll lived there. When the troll learned a permanent and expanded structure was to be built on his hill and further disturb his peace, he became quite angry. To appease the troll, a monk promised him anything if he would join in the construction effort.
The troll agreed, and, when construction was complete, he asked for the sun and the moon. The monk replied it was an impossible request. The troll countered with the offer that, should the monk guess his real name before sundown; he would cancel the demand. If not, the monk would forfeit his life.
As the sun set, the monk, sitting in the crypt, became increasingly tense and began to hum an old tune his mother had sung to sooth her children. Finally he burst out singing "Finn, Finn, I am, I am." The troll, hearing his name, flew into a rage, grabbed a nearby column to destroy it and became fused to the stone. Viewing the crypt, all but one column is smooth stone. That one has a raised humanoid figure grasping it.
The immense church clock is a unique work not only of art, but of science. At the top is a knight who beats his sword against a drum to sound the hour. Next there is a display of figures with trumpeters at the extremes with Mary and the Christ child in the center. On the hour, doors open and the magi parade before the throne.
Farther down is a large panel of star signs and such information with elliptical tracks for several devices to travel on. The bottom third of the "clock" includes a huge revolving disk with all sorts of hieroglyphics too detailed to read from behind the safety restraining rail. After I studied this 15-foot-high contraption for some time, it all became apparent:
A. When the knight strikes the drum, it counts the hour.
B. At noon the herald's trumpet and the wise men come out to parade past the Virgin and Child.
C. I need an expert to interpret everything else, including the time other than the hour.
After a lovely long drive along secondary roads through forests and farmlands, we arrived at the Swedish port of Helsingborg across the narrow strait from the Danish port of Helsingor. Here we embarked on a ferry for the return to Denmark. After landing, we made our way to Kronborg Castle (Elsinore), the famous castle of Macbeth built in 1575 complete with Dutch Renaissance Baron
ial Hall.
Unfortunately, we arrived late in the afternoon. The castle is used in the summer for various play productions — "Othello" had just finished and "Macbeth" was due to open the next night. Therefore, the courtyard and interior of the castle were closed.
However, we were able to walk the ramparts, and one of our Danish hosts fired three of his model cannon to give us an idea of the art of warfare when the castle was a major player in international commerce.
As the day ended, we traveled down the coast road back to Copenhagen and our hosts.
Next: The obligatory brewery tour, shopping and the goodbye ball.


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