The first time my feet touched Danish soil was in the summer of '82. I took a red bus (the national bus service for the nation) from Flensburg in Germany to Ribe, a small picturesque town dominated by a church. When I got off the bus the very first person I encountered was a mailman delivering letters by bicycle. He said, "good day" in Danish but there's a likely chance he could have said it in English had he known my native tongue (the Danes speak English better than many Americans). It was his willingness to greet a stranger that was refreshing to me, it would also prove to be typical of the people I'd come to know in a nation with a flag that displays the symbol of the cross.
My adventure in the nation started the minute I entered it. Esbjerg would be my next planned
stop ( there's a story for the city too, but later) and then on to Frederica to photograph the old city walls (which was really no more than low ramparts). I bought some postage stamps there too (I use to collect stamps as a hobby) and then took the noon train to Odense, the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen, the place where I intended to stay at a campsite for a few days.
The train that afternoon was the kind with the little separate compartments and I found one that was empty and put my backpack in the rack overhead. Just before the conductor blew the whistle (the signal for the train to depart) this guy stuck his head in the door and asked if the seat opposite me was "free" in Danish. I can still recall what Peter was wearing that Friday. He had on a white shirt with puffy sleeves, like the ones they may have worn in the middle ages and a tan corduroy sport jacket. I don't remember his pants. His hair was longish and dark brown with a heavy moustache. He looked like a between-jobs movie actor. And he wanted to talk. He told me that he was a medical student and that he planned to be a doctor like his father and his grandfather. He said his passion though was music. He wrote his own songs and played the guitar.
When we got to Odense, he invited me to an outdoor cafe on a parkside lake for a beer. There were rowboats lined up idle and I made a good shot which later sold. I think Peter was impressed with my love of photography (my passion back then) and after we had finished our drinks he said, "I'm living in the small village of hookup about 6kms south with three other people and if you would like you can put your tent up in our backyard". That was fine with me! So we walked back to the station where Peter had parked his bicycle, the one he would take home. Because of my backpack I'd have to take the bus. It would be easy Peter said. And it was.
When I found my way to the red brick house, on a road with a hog farm on one side, a horse farm on the other, and a barley farm next door, Peter was standing in the window. By that time too, it had been decided that I'd sleep in the vacant room (another memember of the house was away for the weekend). There are three things I still remember about the place. First, that wonderful plum tree in the backyard with its delicious fruit, the b/w poster in the living room with a birth control pill between two fingers and the word "HUSK" in bold letters across the top (the word for "remember" in English), and the unusual crack between the bathroom door and the floor. Someone had written in English (it was there before I came along) "Beware of Limbo Dancers". The gap was almost wide enough too! That whole weekend was fun.
I had no intentions of going the Copenhagen originally. After all, this was Scandinavia, a budget traveler's nightmare. I'd already convinced myself the place would be just another big city with not much charm. But Peter had other plans. "One out of every five Danes live there", he reminded me. He made a phone call to his brother Plys (whose real name is Klaus) who studied veterinary medicine (he would carry on the tradition too but in a slightly different way) at the only school in the nation for that training. When he got off he turned to me. "It's all set-up for you to stay in my brother's flat as long as you like because he leaves for Africa day after tomorrow. You can hitch to Nyborg and then take the ferry and then the train". It all sounded so complicated. How could I tell him I had never hitchhiked in Europe before. Who would pick me up anyway? Well, I could try!
I only waited 20 minutes! I was offered a ride by a real honest-to-goodness farmer's daughter who drove me all the way to the ferry docks. I would arrive in Copenhagen that afternoon and Plys would meet me at a subway stop a short walk from his apartment. And that's where the story begins tomorrow. By the way, the photo is of Peter and his family taken this summer. Our friendship on the other hand, goes back 23 of them.
We went bicycle riding that first afternoon. I bought along my camera and got some great shots of the farms and of the village church. I encouraged Peter to clown around for me and we did one shot where Peter was in a golden field of grain at sunset with an open black umbrella (I use to have some crazy ideas for portraits).
Get more info at: www.visitodense.com or www.dt.dk