SI Vault
Horace Sutton
June 17, 1957
On a glorious week in June all Denmark explodes with enthusiasm in riotous celebration of Midsummer Eve
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June 17, 1957

Danish Dazzle

On a glorious week in June all Denmark explodes with enthusiasm in riotous celebration of Midsummer Eve

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When summer arrives full tilt on the lush green shores of Denmark, it seems to do something to the Danes that it does not do to people elsewhere. Other people may paint their porch chairs and break out the gin and tonic; the Danes paint up their countryside and break out into paroxysms of delight. An observer abroad in the land during Midsummer Week, the third week in June, will find the populace as carefree as a man who has been dieting on Danish Dexemil. Bicyclists race on the ordrupbanen; jockeys gallop their mounts on the galopbanen; horses leap fences at the sportsrideklubben; yachts catch the breezes of the Oeresund and sail within the shadow of Sweden; and lady scullers of the Klampenborg Kajak og Kano Klub wheel their kayaks and kanos over the summer-soft sea, at last unfrozen.

All this is exciting enough to make a visit in Midsummer Week more than worthwhile, but anybody in these precincts on Midsummer Eve, which falls on the night of June 23, will find all Denmark being served up on a flaming skewer. Any landowner with a backyard, a broad lawn or, better yet, a bit of beach is expected to build a bonfire and invite a crowd to watch it burn. Since the Danes firmly believe in having a fire inside as well as out, the ceremony is further commemorated by swallowing small shots of akvavit, a northern white lightning whose fire one soothes by drafts of cool Danish beer. Really enterprising hosts surmount their bonfires with the effigy of a witch who, along with her evil spirits, is supposed to be dispatched by the burning faggots to the Bloksbjerg, a home for displaced witches in the Harz Mountains of Germany.

Over at Tivoli Gardens, the mammoth amusement park in the very center of Copenhagen, a huge fire is lighted on a float in a lake, a bombardment that would have caused Stalingrad to capitulate erupts out of the water, and great cascades of sparks fall out of the sky silhouetting the town hall in fire and gunpowder. To cap it all, the Tivoli witch appears on a fireworks broom and rides at least part of the way to Bloksbjerg on an invisible wire.

The arrival of the late June weeks has a special significance for the graduating student. A student may pass his exams and receive his diploma, but he is never really graduated until he dances with his class three times around "the horse," an equestrian statue of Frederik V. Then, still wearing student caps, the class boards a horse-drawn charabanc, a wagon decorated to the wheel hubs with light-green branches of the beech, the national tree of Denmark. The driver, equipped with a top hat with flowers stuck in the band, cracks the whip and the wagon rolls off down the Str�get, the shopping promenade. There are parties at home and parties out at Bellevue by the sea, and by 5 or 6 in the morning the students troop down to the Langelinie promenade where the famed statue of the Little Mermaid sits by the shore. They watch the sun rising, and then, arm in arm, they walk down to the Central Station, the only restaurant open at that hour, to have breakfast.

By midmorning much of Copenhagen is pedaling the seven miles to the beach at Bellevue, where the white canvas lockers stand like rows of sheiks' tents in the sun. Young costume changers who prefer not to bother with the formality of the tents wriggle into their suits under blankets. Paddle boats whose flanks proclaim the glories of Glory Shampoo lazy about in the water. Chauffeurs sit in the shade. Sailboats loll offshore. Warships ride the rim of the horizon. Speedboats drone like mechanical bees. A distant regatta is confetti in the far-off mist.

For five kroner (70�) for seven minutes visitors may use the facilities of the Dansk Vandski Forbund, the water-ski club. Seven minutes is three times up and down the slalom course. The Danes, who water-ski until New Year's (it is apparently too cold after that), give their big water-ski show the Sunday before Christmas.

Most yachts take out from Skovshoved, a few miles from Bellevue, which shelters the roklub (rowing club), the Kongelig Dansk Yacht Klub (Royal Danish Yacht Club) and the Skovshoved Vandskiklub (water-ski club). The Oeresund Sugen is an international regatta (June 27 to 30) which draws 150 boats from Finland, Norway, Sweden and the Danish provincial towns which run an Olympic coursemodified for local wind conditions. Dragons, Knarrbad, Scandinavian Folkebad, Snipes, Finns and Pirate dinghies all compete. There is even a race in the tiny Optimist class, a ready-made, square-sail, tub-shaped, 7-foot scow that comes in a build-it-yourself kit costing $35.

Whether sailing Optimists or sloops, the Scandinavians descend on Skovshoved in blue-and-white sweaters, in rough Faroe Island knitwear bought at Nyhavn harbor shops for $10. They come in oilskins and yachting caps and knitted skullcaps and pipes, and soon the fleet is offshore, making a pleasant vista for those who sit under the ancient beech tree alongside the Bellevue Strand Hotel and watch the spinnakers fill with the summer's breeze.

Horsemen, meanwhile, take their mounts over flower-bowered hurdles at the sportsrideklubben, a nest of fashionable tweed and leather tucked away in Bernstorff Park, a former royal preserve, dripping, in June, with bushes of golden rain. The Danish Derby runs in the middle of the month, bringing a crowd of 25,000 to the race course at Klampenborg, just inland from Bellevue Beach. Here, where a galopbanen is a race track, a fuldblods is a Thoroughbred, and the newspaper picks are posted under a heading called pressenstips, the bet is five kroner, and the season lasts from May to September. The big derby day has been carried by such U.S.-named nags as Onkel Tom (1914), San Francisco (1935) and Far West (1950), all of whose names are embossed on the tribunes.

The Danes like to race aboard bicycles too, and at the ordrupbanen velodrome the bikemen wheel around the boards two or three times a week, on days when the horses are not racing, commencing after the football games, which start at 1:30 p.m. There are races Sunday evenings beginning at 7, and the daily bet runs about 80,000 kroner, ($11,360), but on Thursday, which is payday, the ante edges up over the 100,000-kroner mark. The track is not only handy to town, but some houses are indeed so close to it that some suburban Danes can sit on their sun-swept porches and watch the wheels skim past their railings.

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