When the Danish summer is good, it really is very, very good. Many Danes go south for their summer holidays, to be sure to see the sun. This year July was cold and rainy, but just as people went back to work and school, August teased out the sun. We have had plenty of warm days with bright blue skies and lovely mild sunshine, perfect for a cycling trip.
Biking in Denmark is a different thing to what we see in Brisbane. People depend on their bike for transport, to get them from A to B. Hence people ride their bikes in all kinds of weather, commuting to work in their regular clothes. Lycra is rarely seen in the city scape which is dominated by wide, busy cycle paths and cycling lights at intersections. Cars turning the corner have to wait for cyclists wanting to go straight ahead. No helmet required, though most children wear one. The bikes can be the racers people in lycra prefer in Brisbane, they can be mountain bikes, but are most regularly just ordinary town bikes with baskets or a wooden crate over the front wheel or on the back. Or perhaps they are Christiania Bikes with a square box in front of the bike for carrying children, boyfriends, loudspeakers or goods.
This week we packed a ‘mad pack’ (Mick’s anglification of the Danish ‘madpakke’, meaning packed lunch) and hopped on the bikes for a land-based circumnavigation of Amager.
Amager is a 95m2 large island just east of inner city Copenhagen. We got there by cycling across the cycle bridge in the south harbour. The cycle bridge is adorned with nearly as many love locks as bridges in Paris, but unlike the ones in Paris these have been allowed to stay – perhaps the structure is built for the extra weight? Across the water we reached Islands Brygge. Like a lot of Amager, Islands Brygge is on reclaimed land. It was created in the 1620s when under Christian IV dykes were built and draining works done to create extra space for the military forces that had outgrown Slotsholmen. Since then the area has been the harbour for ships from Iceland, but now it features a Harbour basin for swimming, the Humanities faculty of Copenhagen University and residences.
We turned right to go south. A lot of construction work takes place here – perhaps Amager will become a fashionable place to live yet, if it can shake its poor reputation. It is still known as Lorteøen – the Shit Island – since the night soil men brought the effluent of Copenhagen city to the island and refuse stations were established where people of Copenhagen could get rid of their rubbish until 1970.
We came through Nokken, a recreational area with curious tumble-down cottages. Nokken was initially used by harbor workers as a fishing area, who built shacks for comfort. Later people moved into the home-made houses and today people are arguing with authorities about being allowed to stay there year round. It did look like a nice area to spend your summers, so close to the city, yet by the waterfront and so green. Through Nokken we took the western path by the sea past the nature reserve at Kalvebod Fælled – country reclaimed in the 1930s and prone to flooding. These low-lying wetlands host many birds, though the rampart blocked our view and we had to stop at the hideouts to observe them. The wind blew in our face and it got even more windy when we turned the corner to the southern path, both of us wondering if we were too ambitious to think we could get all the way to Dragør and back.
Then we got back to the natural island of Amager and Fasanstien (the Pheasant Path) took us through forest where we were sheltered from the howling wind. The gravel path snaked its way through the southern most part of the island and out onto the beach up the east side of the island through Store Magleby toward Dragør.
Store Magleby was the settlement of Dutch farmers invited by King Christian II, in 1521, to come farm the land to increase the diversity of produce for his Belgian wife, Elizabeth. This tight-knit community of immigrants held onto their culture. For 300 years they spoke Dutch, education was conducted in Dutch at the school and service in the church was in Dutch until Danish nationalistic policy demanded that Danish be the only language in 1811. This policy later got Denmark in hot water with the Prussians in 1864, but that is another story.
Eventually, Store Magleby and Dragør grew together. Dragør was an important fishing harbour, hauling in herring in great numbers and site for connection to Scandia in Sweden across the sound. Today, The Bridge of Scandinavian crime drama fame is the way to get to Sweden. Dragør remains a postcard of cobblestone streets and small old yellow houses with hollyhock growing up the walls in all manner of colours and butterflies fluttering about.
Before we got to the idyll of Dragør, we stopped by Dragør Fort to have lunch on the lawn. Here we were met with another of Dragør’s historic income sources – geese. They were very curious of us and perhaps expected to be fed. Some hissed loudly but soon lost interest and went off to graze, keeping the lawn short and well fertilised.
The way home on the east coast was less pretty, but fast and efficient. We passed the industrial areas of Copenhagen Airport, as well as a cranky bicycle rider in lycra. Without a bell. Tsk, tsk. We stopped on Amager Strandpark, an artificial island with 4.6 km of beach, to drink a cup of tea and relax before venturing through the city in peak hour.
By the time we got home, bums sore, we had nearly 50 kilometres behind us. Summer days in Denmark may be few and far between, but when they turn up, they are certainly worth savouring, especially because Denmark is full of so very many wonderful places to visit on a bike.