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Betreten Verboten!

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Germany, Institutional, Team Fail

Just as one should expect by now for Team Fail, things were off track even by the time I woke up. Ben was sick and not really planning on going anywhere, and it was supposed to be our exploring day. I normally can’t stand exploring alone, not in the least because it’s never gone well for me before, but he insisted I give it a try, so I did, going to the easiest place I knew of, Beelitz-Heilstätten.

Beelitz is about an hour away, for one thing, in more or less middle of nowhere Brandenburg, but with this being Germany, it still had its own train station, so getting there wouldn’t be too much of a problem. And, from everything I could find about it online, walking around the grounds was legal, and going in more or less tolerated (which is the case for most abandoned East German sites, since they fell out of any ownership after reunification).

There was quite a bit of graffiti to watch from the train. Most of it went by too fast to get a good picture of, but I got this at least. I have no idea who these people are, but it seemed important.

Once I got there, it seemed obvious what to do. Go toward building, go in building, explore? Easy, right? This looks a little too good though, doesn’t it?

This can’t possibly be abandoned? But I’m standing right on the GPS coordinate from the UER database…

As it turned out, I was right. I found an open door, and walked right in on about 20 construction workers having lunch, and a foreman having a few choice words for me. And getting yelled at in German is just as effective as you might imagine… even only understanding half of it!

So I wandered around a bit more, and got to a shabbier, longer abandoned section. This time, there were more open doors, and the only people around were obviously explorers, although they seemed to only speak Russian. But they also looked like they knew their way around, so I followed them into a building.

This wasn’t the Beelitz everyone else got to see, but it was much better than nothing.

I’m pretty sure this is a Trabant. It’s also one of the most photographed abandoned cars on earth.

After that little bit of success, I was ready for a bigger building.

I get up to the roof, take one picture

…and then there’s a drone buzzing outside the window… It flies through the open window, oblivious of me, bonks me in the back of my head, and falls to the floor. I look outside, and the Russians are standing there confused. I bring their poor broken drone back down to them, and I can’t tell if they’re grateful, pissed off or both. They took the remains of the drone and worked on fixing it, and I moved on to another less awkward part of the complex. After all, this is the iconic building anyway…

And it was also fully, and freshly, boarded up. Again, of course it would be. I would be the one who would go all the way to Germany to find buildings that were boarded up probably only a few days ago, considering the construction crew was still on site boarding up the rest of the place!

Even walking around the outside was almost interesting enough though. It was my first time seeing a Communist statue – not quite a statue of Lenin but close enough.

But with only two days in Germany I decided I’d be better off going to something I could get in, so I went back to the train station. Which is just as abandoned as the rest of the complex, but still has two trains every hour!

I’m not 100% sure about this, but I think this is an advertisement left over from East Germany, promoting the various Eastern Bloc cities that it would have been possible for an Össi to travel to, with Berlin’s Brandenburger Tor and Fernsehtürm in the center?

Once I got back to Berlin, I stopped for some Currywurst and beer at a street cart, looked up another place to go (supposedly a children’s hospital), and tried to go explore that.

Something got lost in translation. The coordinates led me here, one block off the Kurfürstendamm, to a very not abandoned block in a very expensive part of town.

And that was well more than enough frustration for one day exploring alone!

Who Ate My Train?

Written by Concrete on . Posted in London, Team Fail

There was at least one positive to our bonus days in London: sunshine! Something not often seen in a British winter, and which we had yet to come across in four days in the city of fog. We tried to set off on another day of sightseeing, finally smart enough to take the train instead of bothering with the bus anymore, just to find that the trains weren’t stopping. Two of them blasted through the station at full speed, failing to make the Tulse Hill stop, with announcements counting down the minutes then apologizing for the cancellation of the train we just saw pass by.

After the second one, one of the frustrated passengers picked up the emergency phone and made a call to Transport, asking in classic British deadpan, “Who ate my train?”. and getting the answer that another one would be on the way.

The automated announcements counted down again, and finally said the train was in the station. If that was the case, it could only have been the Hogwarts express. There was nothing whatsoever at the platform, that was for sure. So he picked up the phone again, with a whole crowd becoming less and less gruntled by the minute gathering around, and inquired again, “who ate two of my trains?!” Predictably, the dispatcher was not amused, and told us that there had just been a train less than a minute ago, which was notably invisible, if it had arrived at all, a trait not usually seen on Southern Rail. Or any rail, for that matter. Eventually, she let us know that there was in fact a Train Eater, and it was located somewhere near Croydon, but getting farther away.

Eventually, one managed to get away from the Train Eaters and make its appointed run to London Bridge, and we finally got into the city. And were finally smart enough to take the Tube and not bother with the buses and traffic!

Just a little Shard:

Private Road — Children Dead Slow

With it being such a beautiful (and un-Londonlike) day we decided to go up to Primrose Hill and check out the city view before Camden Market.

Even more than the rest of it, Primrose Hill is a millionaire’s London.

And it’s a little too small to see in this picture, but we passed by Mornington Crescent and Cecil Sharpe House too. Just two minor landmarks for a geek with the epitome of two left feet…

After a beautiful sunset walk on the canal, we found Camden Town and we were HUNGRY!

First a little bakery that was painfully overpriced and had nothing of particular note except this poster…

Then toward Camden Market, and a vegan restaurant called inspiral foods that seemed oddly familiar. I figured out quickly enough why – I’d built their website about a year ago, and at the time never thought I’d be in London. Their food, despite being vegan, impressed me even more in real life than it already did just from having seen all those pictures at work. We also tried beer brewed from hemp seeds, just because the bartender pointed out to us it’s illegal in our country. But it was delicious too!

And then, we saw what we should have done. Half the price, twice the tasty. Street food stands of just about every country on earth, in a maze of indoor and outdoor stalls

After Ben’s performance at the Cambrian, he put me up to making a fool of myself on a piano in a little tea house, and butchering a few show tunes. Once we’d had enough of Camden (or, Camden had enough of us, as the case may be), we stopped by a pub with wifi to stress about the rest of the trip. In about half an hour, over one beer, we just reached the fuck it point, and booked a flight to Berlin, two nights there, a night in Szczecin, and a flight from there to Oslo on our way home. Without really giving any thought to anything, except no RyanAir was to be involved this time! With that out of the way, we embarked on our second mission: live jazz. We found a few places that should have music, but most of them were either far away or expensive, and there was still quite a while before midnight and our tickets to Ronnie Scott’s.

We settled for Charlie Wright’s, even though it was almost to Islington, and took the tube there, just to see that it was CLOSED. Of course. Team Fail!

Unable to find jazz, cheap booze or wifi, any of which could have led to a plan C, we just wandered around for hours until Bekki was ready to meet us, and then got into Ronnie Scott’s for the midnight show, with the same band we’d seen at the Cambrian, and some amazing guest musicians!

On the way back, Bekki helped navigate our drunk arses back to Tulse Hill on the night bus, and we got back at 4.30am to just about the one thing that could ruin this night… worried and angry emails from my mom, who had been wondering what happened to me, and calling bars, venues and hostels all over south London looking for me! Shit!

By the time that was settled, it was after 6am and people in the hostel were waking up already…

We didn’t have time to do much on our last (part) day in London except have lunch and go to the airport. On trains this time, without getting lost this time. The flight from “London” Southend (actually an hour and a half train ride away) to Berlin was quick and uneventful. And just like that, we were in Germany, a country we’d never even planned on going to!

I Can’t Even

Written by Concrete on . Posted in London, Team Fail

I woke up shortly after noon, with the kind of headache that could only mean spending another long night with our guest from the Highlands, Johnnie Walker…

The pub was already packed, and a crowd roared on occasion – it must have been the football. Flipping through the channels on TV, I found the matching match, England and Ireland playing Six Nations rugby. No one would be singing “Jerusalem” after this one, so we skipped the pub and headed out at halftime.

On our last full day in London, we decided to go looking for more culture, starting at the world renowned Tate Modern.

The structure, meant to resemble a power plant, defied any museum we’d seen before.

Unfortunately, so did the art, and mostly in underwhelming ways. The first piece visitors to the museum encounter, a giant but inscrutable Christo sculpture, might have been the highlight.

From there, the art quickly descended into the absurd – works so simple anyone could come up with them, paired with explanations so verbose and self-referential they probably out-arted the artists themselves!

Except this one. Which is almost definitely a lost work of Jacob Huxley that somehow found its way to London.



Yes, this is “art”, not just a ceiling vent that fell into the exhibit area?

This is “art” too. There are two drops of off-white paint, the exact color of the canvas, just off center toward the lower left. They convey no known additional meaning.

But that was more than these ones have. Three blank, matted canvases, that are officially, by pronouncement of the Tate committee, modern art.

So is this. Finally something I’d put on my wall, maybe, but I still find it hard to believe that it cost Tate £150,000 to exhibit!

At this point, every next piece we saw elicited another groan and another “I can’t even…” as we tried to digest explanations made of mostly distilled hipsterdom. It only made sense to create one of our own, outside an artisanal restroom. I think it’s some kind of social commentary on millennials in the Western world, but it would take a critic to know for sure.

After a while, we did at least get to an older section with some “real art” like Picasso and Dalí

And probably best of all, the view from the top!

On the way out, we crossed London Bridge, a seemingly obligatory stop on a tour of London.

Of course, it started raining almost immediately, cutting short our time in the City of London. (An interesting fact here – the city of London has a population of under 10,000, and an area well under a square mile. Historically, in medieval and early modern London, this was the area inside the city walls, and was brutally dense and filthy, with the castles and palaces safely away from the City itself. Most of what one thinks of as “London” is actually the 32 boroughs, which range from inner ones like Westminster and Buckingham to fully suburban outer boroughs like Croydon.)

Forced indoors slightly sooner than we might have liked, we picked out a jazz club for the night, the Cambrian in Brixton. At first we were just there to listen, but a couple of pints convinced Ben to ask if he could get on the list for a song, even though the band and most of the guests were professionals. It seemed like the show was about to end without his chance, and then the band called him to the stage, and he impressed everyone with “Body and Soul.” Even more incredibly, he impressed the band enough to be invited back for an appearance at Ronnie Scott’s, one of the world’s top jazz clubs! Unfortunately, with us leaving London in the afternoon, that wouldn’t be a possibility, but still, quite the debut!

We spent the night, just like the last few, getting absolutely pissed on another few bottles of Scotch and purloined wine, and staying up until all hours with the staff of the pub.

On our way out of London, we stopped for lunch at Southwark market, a street market in an African neighborhood near Elephant and Castle, and picked up some Turkish pastries and Ghanaian palm beer to drink (along with the rest of the stolen wine) in a nearby park. And then it was on to Liverpool Station, for another “Amazing Race” moment running around in circles looking for the train to Stanstead (there is none) then the bus to Stansted (there is one, and it’s expensive and overcrowded) to catch our flight to Berlin.

Once we got to Stansted, that’s when all our trouble began. Trying to print our tickets at the checkin kiosk, we found we’d have to pay £140 EACH (!) just to get on the plane. All because we missed an impossible online checkin window that ended 24 hours before the flight, and we bought our tickets only 14 hours before takeoff. So we went to the Ryanair counter to try to get an answer on this, and at least give them a piece of our minds, and all we got were more fees, yes they could check us in, but not only would we have to pay the airport checkin fee, but also the ticket counter fee. Or they could change our flight to one leaving in a few hours, but then we’d have to pay the checkin fee, the ticket counter fee and a change fee. Or they could put us on a plane the next day, but then we’d have to pay the full price of the ticket, and a change fee, and a ticket counter fee. Plus the £10 delay fee we had accrued just for slowing down the line, which we had to cough up to even leave the counter.

It became obvious at about that point that we were better off never flying Ryanair again (oh, and there’s a fee for that. The missed flight fee is also £140, and after you no-show for a flight, you have to pay that if you ever want to be able to book a ticket on their shitty excuse for an airline again!) Fuck Ryanair. Really, just fuck them!

So we got on the bus back to London, and then a train back to Tulse hill, and then into the pub for a more passionate round of drinking than usual.

And when the pub closed, occasionally ventured far enough from the bottles of Scotch to take some random artsy pictures of the back porch.

Once I was drunk enough to stand the thought of trying to book a ticket again, we bought another pair of tickets to Berlin, leaving on Wednesday, giving us another day and a half in London to occupy…

I’ve Seen the Flag on the Marble Arch

Written by Concrete on . Posted in London, Team Fail

And right from the start, London meant business. If business means separating tourists (and locals, I’m sure) from their money as expediently as possible. Just to leave the airport (Luton, since we took a cheap flight) cost £52 for a train to our hostel in Tulse Hill. And despite that, we had to wonder the whole time if we were on the wrong train, there was almost no directional signage anywhere to be found, and even the locals didn’t seem to know where exactly Tulse Hill was, or if this train was in fact going there.

When the train finally assured us that we’d arrived at Tulse Hill, it was obvious we had found the Londoners’ London. It’s not the kind of a place a tourist would wander into – not too distant, or scary, just off the beaten path enough to probably blend in with a hundred other stations and neighborhoods just like it.

Whereas our hostel in Copenhagen was quiet, almost to a fault, we could hear this one from the train station door! (Not surprising, since it’s only across the street, but still…) In the reviews, people said the place was loud, and it was impossible to sleep, but even trying to check in at a reception desk surrounded by a pounding reggae dance floor was close to impossible. Once we at least paid, the manager Bekki showed us to our room. Which, contrary to our reading of the listing on Hostelworld, contained just one bed. Oops…

Perhaps it was because of this apparent touchstone of British culture that no one had thought to question the reservation…

We had never heard of it, but it was something we would hear quite a bit more from, traveling through London together as a Bill and Ben. And even after downing a few shots of duty-free scotch and trying to ironically comprehend an episode of it, the show still defies all logic. Unless England has some kind of psychoactive flowers they’re holding back from the rest of us?

Once that was sorted out, and I was relegated to the dorms, we went down to the pub for some hideously expensive pints. (Which turned out to be relatively cheap for London, £8 for a beer isn’t unusual!), and after the pub closed, stayed around to party with the bartenders and other hostel guests. We had no difficulty reaching the bottom of the bottle of scotch, or finding another at the 24-hour liquor store (something much needed in America) to continue the memorable, forgettable night much longer than we should have.

Waking up the next afternoon, we figured we might as well see London’s landmarks, or as many as we could pack into half a day. Thinking it might be cheaper, we tried to board a bus toward Victoria Station instead of the train, being quite scared to buy another train ticket after the £52 soaking from the airport! But the driver wouldn’t let us on without Oysters (and wouldn’t tell us where to get one). The next person we asked knew, we got the Oyster cards, and caught the next bus.

At Victoria, I spent a while arguing on the phone with the people I was supposed to meet up with the next day for some urbex, and for being hopelessly unable to come up with a plan, they canceled the whole thing on me, costing us an hour and leaving us with no plans for Sunday and no good reason to go to Portsmouth anymore.

By the way, these are actually slightly smaller inside than out. And no longer contain phones or time machines.

At least we were close to Buckingham Palace and the tourist circuit.

Even if The Queen was absent, and there was just one lone guard, not the usual parading and changing of the guards. (Also, anyone know what happened to the red coats?)

This is not the Marble Arch. We sure took enough pictures of it though thinking it was!

We tried to check out the Speaker’s Corner, where usually something political is going on. For us, though, all we got was a parliament of pigeons.

An umbrella store. How British…

Eventually we found the actual Marble Arch. Which is much smaller, less impressive, and mobbed with tourists.

The constant crush of people continued all afternoon, shoving our way through Oxford street to the British Museum. We probably should have just avoided the whole mess, having no interest in Soho or shopping… it could just as easily have been New York but for the cars driving on the wrong side of the street. By the time we reached the Museum, it was nearly closing time.

So we did the one thing that made sense, and ran around there as fast as we could, trying to appreciate with excessive speed as many priceless antiquities and trophies of the Empire as we could before they made us leave.

I’m pretty sure this thing was on a textbook I had in college

Is this vaporwave?

I think this was something Etruscan. People seemed to think it was very important.

It’s chess, but one side gets all the pieces, and the other side gets 24 pawns

The Rosetta stone was here, but I somehow completely forgot to take a picture of that one. So here’s an Easter Island Moai head instead

By this time it was already dark and a fine British rain had started to fall (of course).

We continued our wandering through the West End, still trying to see Trafalgar Square and Big Ben. We end up sidetracked at a casino, and try to take some of the bite off of London’s expense by dropping £50 on the blackjack table and winning ourselves a nice dinner and a few pints. I think you can guess what would happen to Team Fail.

Once we were done going through the motions of being tourists, and it had started raining enough that we didn’t want to walk around any farther, we tried to get directions for a bus back to Tulse Hill. Asking in a nearby store didn’t help, so we just got on the first bus that seemed like it was headed the right way, and it got us close enough. On the ride there, a helpful old man told us just how overrated and even MORE expensive Paris and Amsterdam were, and that we should try Berlin and Prague instead.

In Tulse Hill we picked up some frozen curries, a few pints, and another bottle of Scotchy, Scotchy Johnny Walker black label Scotch. Of course we weren’t the only drunks in the pub and hostel. I ended up in a bit of an altercation with a bloke Dennis who claimed he used to play for Millwall FC some years ago… he heard me speaking American, saw my rather substantial girth, and immediately started going off about McDonalds and the NFL and how Americans are just too fat and ugly to handle real football, let alone to have any kind of responsible role in the world. Once I figured out he was pissed beyond reason, I set out to reach the same state as quickly as possible, chugged the beers, and went downstairs for more…

If anything, the pub was even crazier, with a dance floor going (disco never died in Europe) and a louder, rowdier, drunker than average clientele. Once they were all shown out the door, the party raged on in the hostel, and we made it through two more entire bottles of scotch (and an assortment of other stuff) pissing the night away. At some point during all this, I booked our tickets to Berlin on Ryanair, something sober me would probably have known better than to try…

At the end of all that though we did get to experience Tandoori chicken pizza. Which might not have been quite as awe inspiring as smørrebrød, but certainly a delicious end to our second night in London!


Written by Concrete on . Posted in Denmark, Team Fail

I woke up with that strange sense of “where the fucking fuck am I?”

There were people in the room speaking French, and I was on the top of a creaky bunk bed. Nothing made much sense to me at first. It took me much longer than it should have to remember that I flew to Europe yesterday, or that I was in a hostel in Copenhagen. Ben was already up and ready to go to a Danish dentist, we missed the first appointment but again what else can we expect, we’re Team Fail.

We only planned for one day in Copenhagen, and it was obvious from the start that we love the place. So our goal was to see as much as we can, and try to experience as much of Denmark as we can before the flight to London.

Just like the Danish parking lot, Danish rush hour comprises a lot of bikes, more than even New York or Portland, and just a few cars. I’d fit in so well here.

I wish I got a better picture of the clock on the train station… it’s an architectural anomaly, with (by far) the world’s largest Nixie Tube, an array of neon lights displaying the numbers — the first electronic display, before the invention of now-familiar LCD and LEDs.

I fell in love with the place. I could easily imagine living here…

I’m not sure what we were thinking when we wandered into a book sale at a monumental old church. Of course neither of us could read any of the books, nor did we really want to carry them all over Europe. I did buy (and eventually break, before I had the chance to listen to it) a record that looked like it might be the Danish folk music we’d heard in Christiania.

These covered streets aren’t unusual in Copenhagen. These are the kinds of architectural choices that would make even Boston or Toronto just that much more inviting.

Another ‘Danish parking lot’… most Danes don’t even lock their bikes. With bikes being as overwhelmingly popular as they are, and Danes having access to a basic income and socialist state, there is little need for petty crime. (In fact, there are substantially more bicycles than Copenhagenites… most people own at least two: a commuter for the weekdays and a faster road bike for weekend rides, and, for suburban Danes who commute by bus or train, a third bike that stays near the office!)

We spent all morning wandering around looking for a good place for breakfast, checking out a few restaurants before finally finding a bakery that appealed to us.

At first we just got a few pastries and orange juice (confusingly called appelsinsaft), but the baker implored us to try more and more, and introduced us to the concept of sørdansk: things that are peculiarly Danish, and suggested a few things that we had to taste later on: smørrebrød, frikkadeller and gammel-Dansk (more about these later!)

Satisfied, and late for the dentist, we continued toward the office, through the Milk Gate, something of a local landmark. The sign, which has been there since World War II, admonishes everyone to drink a half-liter of milk every day for a long, healthy life (½ liter mælk – hvår dag – hele livet), and, on cue, plays a jingle to that effect as well!

While Ben was at the dentist, I took the opportunity to wander around the local neighborhood, Enghaveplads, a traditionally working-class area of Copenhagen. These red-brick buildings, some of them, like this, emblazoned with socialist slogans (here: WORK AND PURPOSE), are the equivalent of “the projects” in the US, or “council housing” in the UK – homes originally provided to the working poor. In Denmark, however, none of the stigma attendent to these places elsewhere, with the effect instead being that Copenhagen remains an affordable place to live, and (although I haven’t seen the inside of one of these places) if this is the equivalent of our inner-city, the housing provided to all Danes is at a much higher standard than many of us in the ‘middle’ class can afford anymore in the US!

Of course, not everything is perfectly clean. Nor should it be. It wouldn’t surprise me if graffiti is tolerated, even accepted here, at the skatepark in Enghaveparken.

The enormous blocks of social housing look out on this square and pond, apparently home to a Hitchcock worth of birds!

Even the ALDI was impressive in its own right. If this store is any indication, Danes are years, even decades, ahead of us in terms of food. Most of the store was filled with organic groceries, fresh meat, dairy, produce, local beer and wine, and prepared foods. Almost every product proclaimed, “økologisk” (similar in meaning to our ‘organic’, but actually enforced), while processed foods were relegated to bottom shelves and an international area with a small American section.

Where our bodegas would push junk food and slushies, Danish corner stores have racks of fresh fruit. An apple or orange, even here in the inner city, is about 40 cents, a cheap snack in a country where the minimum wage is $22.50 per hour.

And some inspiring words for us wanderers…

For lunch, we decided on a place we’d seen on the internet, where we could try the Danish national dish, Smørrebrød. Delicious smørrebrød!

Smørrebrød is something of a national obsession in Denmark. While its literal definition (and base ingredient) is buttered bread, there are dozens of traditional varieties, and most Danes will eat it for breakfast and/or lunch on working days (usually made at home and brought to work, but increasingly popular from shops like this). Nowadays, it is often ordered an office at a time, the day before, off of a rather extensive menu and delivered to the workplace at lunchtime. Apparently some places also serve it on a conveyor belt like the kuru-kuru sushi of Japan, but Rita’s had premade smørrebrøden available at a counter instead. We were there rather late for lunch (Danish lunchtime tends to be before noon, as weekday breakfast, when eaten at all, is usually a small snack) and only a few of the flavors were still left. Of course we tried every one. Each of these sandwiches costs DKK 15, or just under $2, and three or four of them make a very satisfying meal.

To an American palate, the ingredients in these things are downright strange. The Danish palate seems to favor combinations that accentuate all six primary tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, spicy and umami. One of the most traditional varieties, dyrlægens natmåd (veterinarian’s midnight snack, or nightmare, depending on the translation) comprises rugbrød, a very heavy, rather bittersweet, beery rye bread, sweet butter, paté, herring in aspic, bacon, and something not entirely unlike pastrami, topped with onions and a slice of beet. (previous photo, top left) They also had frikkadellen, which are basically dry-ish meatballs made of beef, pork and veal, and were a distant second to the smørrebrød.

While that’s just one variety, it’s a good example of what we would encounter in the remaining sandwiches, which contain various challenging combinations of ingredients (corned beef and peaches?!) that all managed to go beyond merely delicious, to the point that we stayed and talked with the chef, and ordered seconds, thirds, et al until we were absolutely stuffed and the shop was out of new flavors to try! Most of the combinations are pretty much evident from the photos, except for the meats, which included breaded codfish, paté, liver, bacon, pot roast, and perhaps venison (or elk or moose?). Even this depleted selection had an incredible variety, and I would say, the most inspiring meal I’ve had in quite some time, if not ever.

Nørrebro amazed us just as much as anywhere else in Copenhagen. A block or two from Rita’s we found this sustainable structure: a grassy hill covering over an abandoned (or perhaps closed for the season) community centre.

Did I mention how much I WANT TO MOVE TO COPENHAGEN?!

This, however, was rather strange… we couldn’t find any interpretation of these that wasn’t wrong on at least some level.

And another inspiring message: “Freedom is a road seldom traveled by the multitudes.” If Copenhagen isn’t freedom, I’m not quite sure what is.

These are on some of the major roads in Copenhagen. For some reason my camera didn’t capture the numbers, but they count how many bikes have passed in the last hour, day and year. And the numbers were beyond impressive. Close to 10,000 so far for the day, and almost a million for the year, and it’s only the end of February. I can only imagine what the summer totals must look like!

I took a picture of this because it looked important. I’m still not sure what it is.

This is the old town, somewhere near Skindergade, the college nightlife area. We had some time before any jazz clubs opened so we stopped in the first bar we could find, LA og København. There was something ironic about going to an ostensibly American place in Denmark, but the bartender was unmistakably Danish, and glad to help us discover the sørdansk way. He made it very clear that Danes are one drunken, party-loving people! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a place before where 10 shots and two tankards of beer is a common, acceptable drink order, and the nightly special happened to be Fisch (a searingly strong peppermint schnapps), and his personal special, a mango-based tequila shot which was much more delicious.

Sorry about the blurry shot here, but… how about this for an example of foreign branding? What says romantic spa treatment like coming face to face with the salty slimy lips of a giant halibut?! I would say something was lost in translation, but the German and Danish words are so close (and so many Danes know English) that it could be nothing but intentional!

And from there we caught the early show at Charlie Scott’s Jazz Club. Like everything else in this city, nothing short of amazing. The musicians, (and this just their house band) played 30s-style jazz at the level of almost anything at the Rochester jazz fest! We tried one more taste of sørdansk here – gammel Dansk (literally, Old Danish), a liqueur that tasted like everything wrong with Jägermeister. It was bad. It was awful. But it is uniquely Danish, and we had beer (Tuborg Øl) to wash it down, and awesome jazz to distract us from the aftertaste!

Then, all too soon, it was time to head for the airport and fly to London… and I missed this place already. Someday I’ll be back to Copenhagen!

Team Fail: From The Rescue!

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Denmark, Team Fail

It started out of spite… a few days after New Year’s, I bought a ticket to Copenhagen, for the end of February. I had just had a bitter argument with my parents about the possibility of going hiking in Iceland this summer, and they even offered to use their leftover airline points to get me there… until I was forced to admit I had no idea who was coming with me yet, even though the trip was at least six months away. So I decided to go farther, and sooner, and just kind of hoped that if I waved tickets to Europe in front of enough faces, someone would bite.

I should have seen it from the start, that there would be a lot of failing going on. It was a total scramble finding anyone to go to Europe with me, even after I bought tickets for a few friends who found various reasons they couldn’t go. Five days before the flight, I was at Mendon Ponds flailing around on Nordic skis with Ben and his dad, and the idea came up. Monday night, it became official, he had the tickets, we were going. Tuesday night, we tried a desperate bit of research, which mostly consisted of finding the first hostel we could in the cities we thought we were going to, and watching a few episodes of Anthony Bourdain. Wednesday afternoon, we were in the airport, as ready as we could be for it all to start.

It didn’t take long for the gremlins to appear. Pouring over $9 beers in the airport bar, our flight to New York got delayed again … and again. Then just as it looked impossible to make our connecting flight, a ticket agent stopped by the bar and let us know there was a plane ready, and about to leave NOW!. We got to JFK with plenty of time to spare, but they wouldn’t let anyone off the plane. We had missed the gate by 9 feet, and a tow truck would have to be called in to move the plane in line with the jetway door. During that improbable delay, we decided we could be nothing else but Team Fail, seeing the world propelled by nothing more than curiosity, sheer incompetence and plenty of booze.

Even though we were on the red eye flight to Europe, it was just too exciting to sleep much, so we listened to jazz and played chess and watched a movie about a disgruntled chef who finds himself through a food truck, and eventually the 7-hour flight was over, and we were on the ground in Copenhagen, Denmark! We found the train to the city center, and with only minimal wandering around in circles, our hostel, complete with what we would soon recognize as a typical Danish parking lot:

And then came the jet lag.

Maybe it was noon in Denmark, but it was still 5am to us, and we were up all night.

Perhaps because of that, or just because I was 50% of Team Fail, I immediately started failing as soon as I was in Denmark, starting with trying to get my phone working so my parents wouldn’t panic and wonder if I got here in one piece. I tried everything I could think of and then some to make the thing work… then realized it was in airplane mode! Oops. By the time I got that settled, the hostel had cleaned out our room, so we took a nap for a few hours before trying to explore any of Copenhagen.

When we woke up, it was a wet but warm Danish evening. Certainly nothing like the below-zero and constant snowfall Rochester had blessed us with over and over since Thanksgiving.

We decided we may as well take our chances and see the more offbeat side of KBH, Freistad Christiania. Perhaps most famous outside Denmark as a lawless drug den, Christiania is a former commune (and still extremely progressive area) built on a former Nazi military base, which is de facto independent of Copenhagen and Danish law. The drugs were certainly there, on the aptly named Pusher-street, near the entrance of the village. It was about what you would expect an open-air drug market to look like: market stalls selling paraphernalia with impunity, and slightly camouflaged (behind tapestries and tiki curtains, with almost cartoonish drug dealers standing around in front of them) market stalls selling actual weed and mushrooms, for (to Americans anyway) bargain prices.

Because of this rather unusual activity, and the fact that this is still illegal in the rest of Denmark, taking photos here is strongly discouraged for obvious reasons, under penalty of… whatever angry Danes do.

A few blocks away from Pusher-street and the green light district, Christiania seemed like more of a bohemian night spot, quiet on a winter weeknight but obviously much more lively on weekends and in the summer. Nemoland (“nowhere land”), closed for the season, is the apparent center of this scene, with a huge outdoor stage and surrounding bars and restaurants. We picked the only one that was open and had live music on a February night, which was a strange mix of 50s modernism and 70s post-hippie aesthetic, and named Operæn (little opera house). I made something of a fool of myself trying to order beers, or, in Danish, Ø, off of the bar’s menu. But eventually we had some of the local microbrew, Christianstads Øl, and then under a haze of green smoke, the music started: traditional acoustic Danish folk music, bringing everyone together – and it couldn’t be a bigger variety of people, from Copenhagen locals to college students to businessmen in suit and tie, and three older Roma women in traditional attire, dancing the ländler.

When the music stopped, we wandered around some more looking for food; the only other places open were a Greenlandic bar that didn’t take too well to outsiders, and a döner kebab stand. The lack of options led us to a great choice though; even if it wasn’t what Anthony Bourdain would have done, there isn’t anywhere in Rochester to get a döner, so it did us quite well at the time.

After we got back to the hostel, we met a Parisian girl waiting for the rest of her group to arrive, and started looking over plans for the next day. She and her friends were interested in old castles and the Little Mermaid statue, so it didn’t seem all that likely we’d stay together for long, but we did venture out again looking for that organic food truck we couldn’t find by the train station when we first got there. Of course we couldn’t find it, but we got to see Tivoli, from the outside anyway, and made a new friend that we might not get to see again.