Church of the Day – St. Erik’s, Stockholm, Sweden

St. Erik’s is the Catholic cathedral in Stockholm. In the 1840s to 1850s Sweden’s Catholic Queen Josefina from Bavaria helped begin liberalizing the rules for Catholics in Sweden. These new rules allowed immigrant Catholics (like her) to practice their faith although it was still illegal for Swedes to be Catholic. Police were even stationed outside the Catholic church to enforce the bans. St. Erik’s church was consecrated in 1892 and finally recognized as a cathedral in 1953 when a papal ruling allowed the the Catholic Church in Sweden to be recognized as a diocese. The church was expanded dramatically in size decades later.

The architectural motif at the top of St. Erik’s Cathedral almost looks like a gingerbread topping.

St Erik’s was founded in the 1890s. For 140 years St. Erik’s has had a very clear mission to meet the needs of Stockholm’s Catholic immigrant population. In the early days they were Catholic immigrants from Ireland, Italy, and Spain. Today they include immigrants from Eastern Europe and Central America. The church offers seven Masses on Sunday in five different languages: Italian, Spanish, Polish, Croatian and Swedish.

Narrow double tone spires hold up an interesting copper crown and St. Erik’s martyr’s sword as a cross.

This is from the old 1890s sanctuary looking toward the new 1970s sanctuary. The text on the triumphal arch says, “Let us approach God’s throne.” The straight-up traditional colorful Catholic interior design is unmolested by the Reformation. The side pulpit is not imperialistic like the one in Uppsala Cathedral, but made of wood with simple gray and gold paint. It was maintained during the expansion but is not used for sermons because this is now a fully Catholic church. The altars are the Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus and the Holy Heart of Jesus.

Here’s a view toward the original organ, which continues as the main organ for the church.

Built in 1893, with a Spanish trumpet added in 1983!

Much of the funding for the new part of the church came from East German donors, showing continuation of the ties to Bavaria. The combined space now allows seating for more than 600 parishioners and it does fill during high holy days and jubilees. The definitely modern ceiling is made of brass acoustic tiles. The original stained-glass windows were moved to this section. The choir organ and modern baptismal font are visible. This font is used for adult baptisms, with most others baptized in the 1893 baptismal font and chapel in the crypt. Even though the font is simple concrete with a brass cover, it has four padlocks to prevent it from “walking away.”

St. Erik’s has an “Our Lady of Guadalupe” shrine, something we saw at the basilica in Mexico City and all across Central America but were surprised to find in Sweden. (Note that Our Lady of Guadalupe is the Virgin Mary. The name comes from the town of Guadalupe near Mexico City, where five visions of her were seen.) Beyond the painting is a separate Guadalupe chapel with an altar and an inscription: “St. Mary of Guadalupe, bless your children from Mexico and South America who live in Sweden.” Stockholm has nearly 10,000 Central American immigrants, 70,000 South Americans, plus additional Hispanic North Americans, often with strong religious ties.

The eight-pointed stars on Our Lady of Guadalupe’s robe represent hope.

The Catholic Swedes have St. Erik. This one says, “Saint Erik. Thank you.”

Note the sword, as in the new copper spire.

St. Erik side chapel: The Swedish is “Holy Erik, pray for us.” Saint Erik is often portrayed with a youthful appearance. He was only 35 to 40 years old when he was assassinated by the Danish King Magnus II at the site that would become Uppsala Cathedral. In the “only the good die young” vein, legend says he was beloved by all, but clearly not so, at least by one rival who wanted to be his successor…and succeeded.

The early Renaissance Altomünster altar in a side chapel was a 1953 gift from the Birgittine monastery in Bavaria. Saint Michael appears at the top under the crucifix, asking, “Who is like God?” Relics from Saint Bridget/Birgitta (patron saint of Sweden) and her daughter Saint Catherine of Vadstena are among the items at the altar.

The original stained glass from 1892 includes panels for St. Birgitta, Christ handing keys to the kingdom of heaven to St. Peter, the Crucifixion and St. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. Paul and Peter are patron saints of the church, along with Erik as primary patron saint.

Saul on the road to Damascus, meeting the risen lord and becoming Paul, an important Christian missionary

The wooden Pietà from 1715 is quite small but impactful. The inscription is Lamentations 1:12. “Is it nothing to you, all you that pass by? Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me.”

Pietà comes from the Latin word for pity.

It’s not clear what the look is on the soldier’s face in this First Station of the Cross. Perhaps he doesn’t agree with the decision for crucifixion, yet he can’t say anything. The beginning of the Catholic prayer for the first station is, “Jesus, you stand all alone before Pilate. Nobody speaks up for you. Nobody helps defend you. You devoted your entire life to helping others, listening to the smallest ones, caring for those who were ignored by others. They don’t seem to remember that as they prepare to put you to death.”

First Station of the Cross, from the 1890s

Visited on September 7, 2021

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Church of the Day – Uppsala Cathedral. Uppsala, Sweden

Uppsala Cathedral was started by the Catholics in 1270 and consecrated in 1435. Church history explains that money shortages, cold climate and the plague of the 1300s contributed to this long time for completion. Quite understandable.

Unfortunately, 100 years later the Protestant Reformation came to Sweden and all the Catholic art, color and saints in the side altars were removed. A fire caused major damage in the early 1700s and when the cathedral was restored, it was given “a partly new appearance reflecting Sweden’s break with the Roman Catholic Church in the 1500s.” A bit of an understatement for most churches facing the Reformation.

Since then the structure has hosted coronations of Swedish kings and queens, become a crypt for some of them, and been a parish church, a choir hall for the Uppsala boys choir, a community center, an art gallery and a tourist attraction.

The cathedral is a French High Gothic design

Given the history and conflicting visions, the interior is a bit confusing. Local officials in the Nordics appear to be struggling with what to do with these large ancient spaces. Rising secularism means they don’t get much use as churches anymore so what to do with the most prominent building in your town? For now Uppsala is continuing to maintain the cathedral, as evidenced but the large crane in the pictures.

At 389 feet, Uppsala Cathedral is the tallest religious structure in Scandinavia.

The impressive sanctuary rises to 89 feet and symbolically appears in the mission statement for the church. “The cathedral gives you sanctuary from the storms of life, warmth and rest and is a place for people’s faith and life to grow.”

Painstaking restoration has provided a much more interesting appearance than some other churches whitewashed during the Reformation.

The high altar was historically used for ordination of Swedish bishops and remains in use on feast days.

Murals and stained-glass windows were added in the late 1800s.

Detail of the ceiling over the sanctuary and altar.

“The angels sing about the birth of Christ, as they did on Christmas night at the birth of Jesus.”

King Gustav I (Gustav Vasa) is buried with his three wives in one side altar (but only two are depicted). A falling out or not enough space? Carl Linnaeus (the father of botanic taxonomy), Nils Rosén von Rosenstein (the founder of modern pediatrics), and Archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Nathan Söderblom (a founder of the ecumenical, interdenominational movement) are also buried in the cathedral.

King Gustav I and 2/3 of his wives.

Johannes III (son of Gustav I) is resting comfortably, perhaps depicting fatigue after his long and unsuccessful campaign to reconcile Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism during his 24-year reign as king in the late 1500s. He may also be regretting having to murder his half-mad brother King Eric to take over the throne. (Note: This is a different Eric from Erik IX, the 12th-century king, who was named Saint Erik. Erik is a very common name in Scandinavia!)

King John, at peace at last.

Side altars: One is empty, one is a kids’ display, and one has Saint Erik. In general the 20 of them are a mishmash like this. This is understandable as these were initiated as individual small churches inside the larger one and apparently no one ever organized a unification.

The side chapels provide something for everyone.

Side pulpit – A couple hundred years after the Reformation the dowager queen Hedvig Eleonora gifted the pulpit to the church as part of the recovery from the 1702 fire. This style is described as “imperialism.”  It’s highly unlikely that this is what Martin Luther had in mind.

Much more gold than the Reformationists would approve of. (None)

Saint Erik is the patron Saint of Sweden, credited with bringing Christianity to the country. He was killed on this site by Danes in 1160. There is an issue with “Saint” Erik. He was never officially beatified by a pope. Usually bringing Christianity to your country is good enough for sainthood (see St. Patrick) so it’s not clear where things got hung up in the Catholic bureaucracy for Erik. Saint Erik and Saint Olaf are doing better than Saint Lars who lost his head somewhere along the way. Actually Saint Olaf was martyred by pagans when he attempted to introduce Christianity. Saint Lars is very hard to find anywhere.

The cathedral has been the reliquary for Saint Erik’s remains since 1273. Saint Birgitta’s relics are also here since 1990.

The old organ from 1871, heralded as “the breakthrough of Romanticism in organ-building.”

2,532 pipes

The new 1990s organ used by the Uppsala Boys Choir, a 100-year-old choir founded by Nathan Söderblom, mentioned above.

4,175 pipes

This exhibit is meant to use light-reactive sound works of tones, light, and color, transformed into movement and visual recordings that spread spherically throughout the church room so the “eye can listen.” We couldn’t figure out how to get it to work.

It looked impressive.

How the cathedral looked in earlier years…

Taken from the same spot as the 18th-century photographer above was standing.

(BTW: The quality of the 1700s photograph looks more 19th-century to me.) At that time the cathedral did not have a central spire. It does now. This is relevant today because Notre Dame in Paris had a central spire that was lost in the recent fire. Some of the designs for the “new” Notre Dame have excluded a central spire.  If you are on the committee selecting the new design do you go with a central spire or not?

The crane is an impressive bit of technology. It is nearly 400 feet tall and is somehow able to haul weighty objects up and stay standing in a strong wind on that one spindly leg. There must be some computer smarts at the top maintaining the center of gravity directly over the one leg.

Good thing Sweden doesn’t get many earthquakes.

Visited September 6, 2021

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From Göteborg to Uppsala, with stops along the way

Where else but Scandinavia will you find a traditional windmill…

This is the Crown Torp mill, actually just north of Malmö, taken as we’re speeding along the highway.

and a few miles down the road a modern wind farm?

Sweden has more than 4,000 modern wind turbines as of July 2021.

We rented a car and drove north along the Øresund and then the Kattegat sea from Malmø toward Göteborg. Nancy was in Gothenburg once before in 1994 to visit a photo lab. Her recollection was that the area reminded her of Upper Michigan and Wisconsin! It’s still the same; there are a lot of trees. When we saw an interesting spire above the trees, we pulled off the highway and found the Tronninge church.

Trönninge church, built in 1894

The Trönninge Church was locked, but walking through the cemetery was interesting. The names on nearly every older headstone ended in -sson: Neilsson, Gustafsson, etc. This is a patronymic naming system where a son takes his father’s first name as his last name plus -son. A daughter takes her father’s first name plus -dotter. The Swedes gave up this practice in the early 1900s. Somehow the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has painstakingly worked through this history with documents, headstones, family Bibles and more to show the connections between generations despite so many changes in surnames.

Nancy’s Norwegian lineage shows a similar pattern with a slight variation in spelling of “son” and “daughter.” A couple generations back: Andreas Christensen, son of Christen Danielsen, son of Daniel Olsen, son of Olle Danielsen…Also Olsdatter and Jensdatter and Edjesdatter somewhere in there. (Join for free to see your own family tree. Maybe you have a -sson or -dotter you didn’t know about.)

When we arrived in Gothenburg we found a Friday environmental protest, just like the Firedrill Fridays that Green Peace and Jane Fonda did in Washington D.C. Here it’s the youth-led Fridays for Future, inspired by Greta Thunberg. Later in Stockholm we saw the spot where Greta sits in front of the parliament building every Friday, but it was a Monday so nothing was happening.

Fridays for Future in Gothenburg

Göteborg, like most of the cities we’re visiting, has an excellent public transportation system. We really enjoy traveling by metro, tram, train, bus, ferry…once we figure them out!

This is where “Thomas the Tram” goes to sleep at night in Gothenburg.

We’ve had great weather for most of our Scandinavian trip. Loving the flowers and outdoor activities.

Lots of opportunities for kayaking in the waterways of Gothenburg. (That’s not us.)

Gustav Adolf is a big figure in Sweden. Actually it’s Gustav Adolf II who was the most influential. He ruled Sweden in the early 1600s and greatly expanded the geographic empire, until he died in battle at age 37. There’s even a college named after him in Minnesota, Gustavus Adolphus College. We are seeing statues of this Gustav all over Sweden. Later Gustav Adolfs…not so much, as they tended to lose some of the territory GAII gained.

Gustav Adolf II (in Gothenburg)

We stopped at the Gothenburg Cathedral, a Protestant church with a pristine interior of gold and white.

After driving east through more forest for a couple hours, we found the Habo Kyrka at the southern end of Vättern Lake. This is one of the most interesting churches we’ve ever visited because of its artwork, which also served as teaching lessons. The lower side walls are covered by the Ten Commandments. The Apostles’ Creed is on the ceiling. The Lord’s Prayer is on the upper walls, with the Lord’s Supper and the Blessing on the ceiling. Truly spectacular. (More on Habo Kyrka’s amazing artworks here.)

Heading north on the east side of the lake, we HAD to make a stop at Gränna, “the candy cane capital of the world,” or at least it seemed worthy of the title. We stopped in six “polkagrisars,” about half of the shops along the main street making and selling candy canes and candy sticks.

Candy canes come in red and white…
..and in every color and flavor imaginable, even gin-and-tonic and margarita flavors.

Every shop had a sweet-smelling back room with a couple young folks at work. The rolling of the candy cane sticks reminded us a bit of the cigar rolling we saw in Miami. The different colors and flavors are twirled together and picked up and stretched and swirled to get to the right thickness. Then they’re measured for the correct length and cut with scissors. We were given an excess end from one stick that was too long. It had a candy cane flavor but it was warm and soft. Quite unexpected.

Scissors and a ruler are all the equipment needed to finish the candy sticks.
Vättern Lake looking very Finger Lakey (just a bit bigger than Cayuga)

Our travel along the lake coincided with annual Vätternrundan bike race around the lake, 315 kilometers or 195.7 kilometers in a single day. Because the event generally gets more than 20,000 participants, racers are spread out in small groups, starting as early as Friday evening and finishing sometime the next day. Elite bikers might finish in nine hours or less. Non-elites might be lucky to get to the finish line before it closes on midnight Saturday. (By popular demand there is a shorter 100-kilometer, 60-mile race that allows ebikes, but getting that far on the bike’s battery charge can be quite tricky!)

The Vätternrundan route, an annual non-competitive race since 1966

Nearly 200 miles in a single day is a lot of biking. Because of safety concerns Swedish Traffic Law makes it illegal for anyone to drive a car within six hours of completing the race. Smart law!

We drove past a number of groups of these elite bikers traveling as teams.

Our destination on Lake Vättern was Vadstena and the abbey of Saint Birgitta/Bridget. This is Pilgrim Centrum, one of the main destinations for pilgrimages within Sweden and the other Nordic countries.

Saint Birgitta Church in Vadstena

Heading east to Uppsala, we visited the 750-year-old Uppsala Cathedral, once Catholic, then after enduring the Reformation, Protestant. Inside are the remains of Saint Erik and an interesting exhibit of water-filled bowls that (should) recreate music of the 100-year-old boys choir.

Like so many buildings we saw in Sweden, Uppsala Cathedral was under renovation.

When we walked around Uppsala’s botanical garden, we stumbled across an awards ceremony for the “garden shed cultivation competition” (according to google translate). This competition has been held annually for 30 years.

An interesting collection of home-grown produce.
This gentleman was quite proud of his prize-winning kohlrabi. Biggest we’ve ever seen. We think he won the shovel and the little box of gardening goodies too.

Uppsala Garden itself is gorgeous.

Here’s a very formal section with pyramid evergreens.
Then there’s this dahlia jungle.

It was another beautiful day in the park. We’ve been fortunate to have blue skies and sun almost every day for nearly two weeks.

Locals enjoying a game of boules.

When we retired to our hotel room in Örebro one night, we found the usual (but unusual for us) arrangement with separate comforters on two sides of a double bed.

Note sure about the significance of a cockatiel!
Finishing a very busy two days with a Göteborgs digestive (cookie)!

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Hej Hej, Malmö

We crossed the Øresund Bridge by train from Copenhagen to Malmo, not much different from crossing the Golden Gate. No immigration control, no COVID checks, no passport stamp. Is this a different country? Yes, we are in Sweden! Hej! (pronounced Hey!) = Hi!

View of the Øresund Bridge heading to Copenhagen from the rooftop bar of our Malmö hotel.

Actually Malmö was part of Denmark until the 17th century, but now it’s Sweden’s third-largest city. We saw just a small part of it in a short tour of the Old Town.

Our first stop leaving the train station was at the sculpture “Non Violence” known as “The Knotted Gun,” by Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd. This one is actually a replica of the original that was installed in New York City as a memorial to John Lennon after his murder. There are about 30 replicas around the world (14 of them in Sweden), symbols of the Non-Violence Project.

Continuing with modern sculpture, we saw “Rubato,” by Eva Hild.

Rubato. Its curves contrast with the cubic structure of surrounding buildings.

For a more historical perspective, we toured Saint Peter’s Church, once Catholic, now Protestant after the Reformation in the 1500s. (Click the link for a detailed report.)

Sankt Petri led us on a visit to several other churches on Sweden’s pilgrimage routes.

As we noted in the church blog, Saint Peter’s is the tallest building in the Old Town. BUT the city has built one fancy new tower (and plans for another bookending the other side of the harbor, according to our bartender). The Turning Torso is 623 feet tall, with 54 stories of offices, homes, meeting rooms as it twists 90° from the base to the top. It is highly environmentally friendly, with lots of sustainable features.

The Turning Torso stands out above surrounding building, trees…and beyond.
Striking contrast: the “high-rise” Slottsmöllan mill, which operated until 1945.

Malmö is known as the City of Parks. The greenery and water features are very pleasant. The windmill is in the Slottsträdgården, which surrounds Malmöhus Castle. The fortress was built in the early 1500s, separated by a moat, which remains today.

More mute swans like we saw in Copenhagen. These are posing, showing us their best side.
Every moat needs a life preserver for the tourists who get a little too close to the swans.

Beyond the moat and another canal is another park, Kungsgarden.

This heron proved to be alive, not a statue.

Kungsparken has a dozen or more statues, including one of Diana, the Roman goddess of hunting, surrounded by a herd of 15 leaping deer, including some coming up from the ground. If you wonder where Diana is, she is actually made up of a badger holding several bears, which support pigs. Atop her head a swan hangs its neck down as if it is a ponytail.

The Roman goddess Diana fittingly represented by animals.

A decoration in a small chapel in Saint Peter’s Church refers to the importance of Malmö’s merchant trade. Malmö’s connections to the Hanseatic (German) League mean the town and other areas beyond have significant German language and other influence.

From the Merchants’ Chapel in Saint Peter’s Church in Malmö

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Church of the Day – St. Peter’s in Malmö, Sweden

We stopped in Malmö, Sweden, and found St Peter’s (Sankt Petri kyrka). It was built between 1300 and 1380 as a Catholic church in Malmö, which was then Denmark’s second-largest city. Then 200 years later as the Reformation took hold in Germany and moved to the Nordic countries, it converted to a Lutheran church, which it remains to this day.

“The church played an important role as a spiritual centre during the Reformation, with the Reformer Claus Mortensen active as a priest in the church. One of only four occurrences of violence due to iconoclasm during the Danish Reformation occurred in St. Peter’s Church in 1529, when Claus Mortensen led the destruction of much of the ornamentation in the church, deemed “too Catholic” by the Reformer. Of the more than sixty pre-Reformation altarpieces, only one survived more or less intact. It was also following the Reformation (in 1555) that the interior of the church was whitewashed.”

Claus Mortensen has a tombstone in the church with this epitaph “destroyer of the papal cult and sower of the true gospel.”  It’s highly likely Claus was not a regular at the monthly ecumenical meeting.

The exterior of St. Peter’s Church is very much the same now as when it was constructed.

St Peter’s from our hotel, just across the canal from Malmö’s central train station.

As with most Old Towns, the church spires rise high above the other buildings.

The sanctuary is bright and airy after the 1555 whitewashing. More than 60 Lady altars were removed from the sides during the Reformation. When we visited on a Thursday afternoon a service began, but there were only a handful of attendees. It wasn’t clear whether that was COVID-related or people simply wanted to enjoy the beautiful day outside.

Note the very ornate side pulpit on the left.

When Claus was finished ripping out all the Catholic icons, he installed a stone slab with a simple wooden cross for the altar. About 50 years after Claus’s death the Malmö parishioners rolled this altarpiece in over his grave and put it above the altar. The church provided a full explanation of who the people are in the altarpiece. Starting from the top is Christ, next are Peter and Paul, then Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Next are the crests for the Swedish king and then Moses and John the Baptist on the bottom.

The altar can be used to tell many stories.

The view toward the back with the side pulpit and one of the church’s several organs.

In 2019 the church installed a high tech organ, one of the most modern in Europe. It also had a ~1500 organ, one of the world’s oldest still playable organs, but moved it to a museum. Not to worry, the church still has three more organs from 1797, 1914 and 1951.

This keyboard / NASA control center can play all four organs at once.  

The new organ pipes are just to the left of the altar. Claus Mortensen is just to the right of the pipes.

Here’s another view of the side pulpit, with so much going on. Note that Moses is at the base holding up the pulpit. This is meant to indicate that the priest’s gospel is based on the Ten Commandments.

The small figure hiding above Moses’ left shoulder is the Evil One, who is resisted by the word of God from the pulpit.

Detail of the Last Supper, one of six reliefs on the side pulpit.

Who is the small apostle? And which one is Judas?

The baptismal font is in a side chapel known as the Chapel of the Merchants. The medieval frescoes are among the best preserved in the entire Nordic region. They were whitewashed during the reformation but in 1906-1907 they were restored. The floor is actually gravestones.

The fresco most visible at the top is “The Veil of Vernonica.” That’s Peter on the right holding the veil.

Saint Peter appears in one of the tall stained-glass windows. (St. Paul has a matching one.) The windows tell the story of their lives from becoming disciples to being martyred.

The stained-glass windows are from 1935 to 1937 by artist Hugo Gehlin.

Sankt Petri kyrka is a pilgrimage site, part of the Pilgrimsvägen Skåne Blekinge, the long road that will connect the pilgrimage sites Santiago de Compostela in Spain, Vadstena in Sweden and Nidaros in Norway. This piqued our interest in traveling inland to Vadstena (home of Saint Birgitta’s Convent Church) rather than simply rushing to Stockholm.

Coincidental side note: Virginia, our daughter’s mother-in-law is about to start her journey along the Santiago de Compostela, walking five to eight miles a day. At Saint Peter’s we learned words to inspire her: “A pilgrimage bears the stamp of the pilgrim’s seven keywords: simplicity, slowness, silence, sharing, freedom, spirituality, and light-heartedness.” 

Visited Sep. 2, 2021

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Our Swan Song to Copenhagen

We wondered which came first in Denmark, Hans Christian Andersen’s stories about swans or the Danes’ love for swans. Probably a lot of synergy involved. We know Andersen appreciated swans from the loving way that he wrote about them. The mute swan, the one with the long curved neck, orange beak, and white feathers, is the national bird of Denmark. Of course, that declaration didn’t happen until 1984 so Andersen’s stories might have prompted the recognition.

Hans Christian Andersen, perhaps dreaming up his next story.

We saw swans in open waterways across Copenhagen. These three are in front of St. Alban’s Church, swimming in a moat just outside the walls of the Kastellet (the Citadel), a star-shaped fortress built in 1626. The white swan is probably the mom. The two gray ones might be two younger swans, or cygnets, who still have their youthful coloration although they appear to be fully grown. As H.C. Andersen wrote in “The Ugly Duckling“: “It doesn’t matter about being born in a duckyard, as long as you are hatched from a swan’s egg.” They were all grooming themselves, plucking out tons of feathers, so maybe the mom was teaching the young ones to get rid of the gray.

It was hard to get a photo of these swans as they were constantly in motion grooming themselves.

We also saw swan statues. In the King’s Garden outside Rosenborg Castle is the famous fountain, “The Boy on the Swan,” which was initially installed in a slightly different form in 1735, three generations before H.C. Andersen was born in 1805.

The Boy on the Swan, sculpted by H.E. Freund

The swan boats on Peblinge Lake offer a nice leisurely way to enjoy all the water surrounding the city center. These swans are making a killing at $16/half-hour. The building behind them, the Søtorvet, was an early (~1875) residential development built by prominent city folks including J.C. Jacobsen, who founded Carlsberg beer in 1876.

Swan out for a joy ride on Peblinge Lake

Denmark’s swans have made it onto Royal Copenhagen porcelain. Since 1908, this long-established Danish china company has minted collectible Christmas plates. In 1974 the Christmas plate was an owl, but somehow the swan made it onto an AFTER Christmas plate.

The building at the back resembles Grundtvig’s Church

Back to Hans Christian Andersen, who is everywhere in the city: H.C. Andersen Boulevard is one of the main streets through the downtown area. There is the Hans Christian Andersen Experience (a Ripley’s operation that we chose not to visit). A memorial to the writer in King’s Garden shows him with book in hand and two illustrated stories at the base, one “The Ugly Duckling,” one of his swan stories. The other is “The Stork,” an explanation of the concept of storks delivering babies, with a rather macabre twist at the end.

Hans Christian Andersen
The Ugly Duckling (now a swan)
The Stork (delivering a baby)

Another of Andersen’s most famous stories is “The Little Mermaid.” One of Copenhagen’s most famous statues is the little mermaid herself sitting on a rock in the harbor. The sculptor Edvard Eriksen created the statue in 1913, with his wife Eline posing as the mermaid.

The Little Mermaid, forever trapped in a world of her longing.

The artwork was commissioned by Carl Jacobsen, a local businessman whose name you might recognize. Who is Carl Jacobsen? He’s the son of J.C. Jacobsen (mentioned above), the founder of CARLsberg beer. Carl is credited with making the brewery internationally known.

Brewery tours are not operating while Carlsberg City is closed for renovation, so we had to buy a can of the hometown brew.

Here’s another statue that ties to swans and Hans Christian Andersen, but probably less recognized by most of us. Tycho Brahe was a 16th-century astronomer, who was able to expand the understanding of the skies without using a telescope. One not-so-fun fact: He lost his nose in a sword duel at a young age and lived with a prosthetic made of brass for the next 34 years. He’ll never smell the flowers in the setting of his statue in the botanical garden in Copenhagen.

Tycho Brahe, fittingly in front of an observatory (although he never visited this one).

So what is Tycho Brahe’s swan connection? Hans Christian Andersen wrote “Svanereden,” “The Swan’s Nest,” as an ode to his beloved Denmark. Tycho Brahe was the only individual he called out by name. Brahe made the heavens more visible.

Denmark’s queen has a pretty big connection to swans. She contributed to the screenplay and was the production designer for a 2009 film, “De Vilder Swaner.” “The Wild Swans” is an H.C. Andersen story about 11 brothers who are turned into swans and their sister who must weave shirts of nettles to change them back to humans. Note that Queen Margarethe II was 69 in 2009, pretty impressive even if she weren’t a queen.

As we leave Denmark, Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Swan’s Nest” is our swan song.


THE SWAN’S NEST by Hans Christian Andersen, 1852

Between the Baltic and the North Sea there lies an old Swan’s Nest, and it is called Denmark. In it have been born, and will be born hereafter, Swans whose names shall never die.

In the olden days, a flock of Swans from that nest flew over the Alps to the green plains of Milan, for it was wonderful to live there. These Swans were called Lombards.

Another flock, with brilliant shining plumage and clear, truthful eyes, alighted at Byzantium, nestled around the throne of the Emperor, and spread out their broad white wings like shields to protect him. Then Swans were known as Varangians.

From the coasts of France arose a cry of terror-terror at the bloody Swans who, with fire in their wings, flew down from the North! And the people prayed, “God save us from the wild Northmen!”

On the fresh turf of an English meadow, near the open shore, with the triple crown on his kingly head, his golden scepter stretching out over the land, stood another royal Swan.

And on the far shores of Pomerania the heathens bent the knee, for thither too, with drawn swords and under the standard of the cross, had flown the Danish Swans.

“But all that was in the ancient days!” you say.

But in times nearer our own have mighty Swans also been seen flying from the Nest. A flash of lightning cleft the air-lightning that blazed over every country in the world-for a Swan had flapped his great wings and scattered the twilight mist. Then the starry heavens became more visible and seemed nearer to the earth. That Swan’s name was Tycho Brahe.

“Yes, that was years ago,” you may say. “But what about now, in our own generation?”

Well, in our own generation we have seen Swans soaring together in glorious flight.

We saw one gently sweep his wings over the golden chords of the harp, and sweet music thrilled through the lands of the North. Then the wild mountains of Norway lifted their crests higher in the blazing sunlight of ancient times; the pine and the birch rustled their leaves; the Gods of the North, the heroic men and noble women of Scandinavian history, came to life again against the background of deep dark forests.

We saw a Swan strike his wing against the hard marble mountain till it broke in pieces, and new shapes of beauty which had been shut up in the stone stepped forward in the bright sunny day. Then the nations of the world raised their heads in wonder to gaze at the glorious statuary.

A third Swan we have seen spinning threads of thoughts that spread from land to land around the earth, so that words fly with lightning speed throughout the world.

Yes, our Lord protects the old Swan’s Nest between the Baltic and the North Sea. Let mighty birds speed through the air to tear it to pieces. It shall never be! We have seen even the unplumed young ones circle the edge of the Nest to fight with their beaks and their claws, their young breasts bleeding.

Centuries will pass, and the Swans will still fly forth from the Nest, and they shall be seen and heard in every part of the world. Long will it be before the time comes when in spirit and truth men say, “That was the last Swan! The last song from the Swan’s Nest!”

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Copenhagen, One of the World’s Most Bike-Friendly Cities

At first Copenhagen seemed like a traffic nightmare, with cars and bicycles whizzing past in every direction. But very quickly we realized that everything was extremely well organized with lanes and lights and rules for cars, bikes and pedestrians AND everyone following the rules. No more jaywalking like we’re used to doing in the US! About half of the residents of Copenhagen commute to work or school by bikes. Since Copenhagen has about 500,000 workers, that’s a lot of people out on bikes.

Morning commute in Copenhagen

There are even “bike SUVs.”

Bike sport utility vehicles can haul groceries, kids, or fresh Danish pastries. (BTW, the croissants in Copenhagen are delicious!)

We decided to join the bikers – although we avoided the morning and afternoon rush hours. That would have been too stressful, for one of us at least. We rented bikes to get around the city at midday and see some of the sights.

Michael likes his shiny red girl’s bike and Nancy LOVES her ebike.

Copenhagen has lovely parks, and many of them. We had a couple sunny days so the Rosenborg Castle and King’s Garden were very popular with young people, families with strollers, university students doing teambuilding, and older folks like us. We even saw a group of kids playing Kubb, the Scandinavian log-throwing lawn game Pat and Jordan gave us. With Danish charm, the kids invited us to play.

Kubb, a fun game for one and all!

Statues are scattered throughout the park including several of Hans Christian Andersen or inspired by his stories. Rosenborg Castle was built 400 years ago by Christian IV. It was used as a royal residence until 1710, when the then monarch and subsequent generations chose other accommodations. (As an aside, one of the young people we met told us how approachable the Danish royals are. Queen Margrethe II waved to her outside a coffee shop where she – the young person, not the queen – was working. The crown prince delivered his kids to school by bike SUV, just the way everyone else does.)

The castle moat remains from days when “no trespassing” signs were not enough.

The castle now holds the crown jewels, which require guarding even if there are no royals in residence in the castle. We saw the high-helmeted guards heading for a changing ceremony. They walk more than a kilometer from their barracks to the Rosenborg gate. We wondered how some of them could see where they were going. (Our young advisor had a friend who was a guard for two years. He told her they can’t see; “just follow the feet of the guard in front of you.”)

Nearby, the botanical garden offers a peaceful spot for strolling, with lots of trees, water, and greenhouses.

Water lilies in Copenhagen’s botanical garden

We stopped for a Chandon Garden Spritz (Chandon champagne with spritz added. Lots of bubbles!) at the Marchal Restaurant of the Hotel d’Angleterre, an establishment on Kongens Nytorv in the heart of Copenhagen that has been around for 265 years. It was a great place to people-watch as bike commuters whizzed past.

Michael enjoying his Chandon spritz at Kongens Nytorv…
…and opposite, Christian V enjoying his reign as king of Denmark and Norway (1670-1699)

Continuing on, Tivoli Gardens is a theme park filled with thrill rides. It opened in 1843, making it one of the oldest amusement parks in the world. In fact, the park inspired Walt Disney to build Disneyland. The most popular ride is the roller coaster installed in 1914, one of the oldest wooden roller coasters operating anywhere in the world.

Tivoli Gardens has four roller coasters. We’re not sure how many of them are in this photo.

By night Tivoli Gardens becomes a magical place of lights and music.

The Orient section holds some of the wilder rides, but its nighttime silhouette exudes serenity.

For a change from the historical buildings and long-established parks, we cycled past a modern waste-to-energy plant. The power generated here is enough to heat 72,000 homes.

CopenHill puts out stack gases like other incinerators, but it’s burning waste, not fossil fuels.

CopenHill is also a ski resort with an outdoor dry, green ski run. The green refers not to the beginner rating but to the color and eco-friendliness of the Neveplast fibers used instead of snow. This is the kind of innovative thinking Scandinavians are known for; turn something functional into something fun!

The green part is the ski area, open year-round because there’s no melting snow. (aerial photo from BBC)

With the inside of the “hill” used to generate power and the top of the hill used for skiing, what can you do with the side? Build a climbing wall! At 279 feet tall, it is (currently) the tallest man-made climbing wall in the world. Impressive and very formidable. Not sure how you belay someone to this height.

Quite a bit taller than the typical climbing wall at REI. At least there is a safety net at the bottom.

We have to mention our rest breaks for food. One of the Danish specialties is smørre­brød, an open-faced sandwich that is as much a work of art as it is a meal. Deconstructing this one: Rye bread (not the soft rye we get in the States, but a hard, dark sourdough with cracked grains), remoulade (basically mayo with seasoning and turmeric or chili for color), deep-fried plaice (flatfish), salmon, shrimp, and microgreens. What? No ketchup?

Michael did eat the whole thing!

It wouldn’t be a trip with Michael without visiting various churches of the day. We stopped at Grundtvig’s Church and Frederik’s Church.

Frederik’s Church, aka the Marble Church, which took 140 years to build

The farthest point of our cycling trip was the beach at Amager Strandpark. At less than a half-hour bike ride from Rosenborg Castle, it’s quite accessible. The water temperature was reported as 60.8°F, but it seemed much warmer, at least as warm as Keuka or Tahoe, even swimmable. Alas, we didn’t have our suits with us.

Here’s the sandy beach with the ski hill visible just a few miles away.

From here we could see the Øresundsbron (Øresund Bridge). The cable-stayed structure is about 10 miles long, with a top level for cars and lower level for trains. We will be crossing by train to our next destination, Malmö, Sweden.

Before we leave Denmark, here’s a collection of Danish coins, kroner, that are still in use today. We did a trade of US dollars for kroners with our young advisor who is on her way to Florida in December. She told us that Denmark chose not to adopt the Euro, even though they joined the EU, because they liked keeping the coins with Queen Margrethe II on them. After all, she’s so approachable! (She’s even a film set designer, at the age of 81, no less.)

Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II and unique hole-y coins.
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Church of the Day – Grundtvig’s Church, Copenhagen

Grundtvig’s Church was built in memory of the priest, hymn writer, and educator Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig (1783 – 1872). His significance for Denmark was so great that it was decided to build a memorial in his honor. Two competitions for proposals were held in 1912 and 1913, with a church designed by architect Jensen Klint selected as the winner over simpler columns and statues…and at much greater expense, roughly twenty times what was planned! The foundation was laid in 1921 and the structure was completed just as WWII was breaking out in 1940. This was built from the ground up as a Danish Protestant church so it was never originally a Catholic church that had been converted during or after the Reformation.  

Many of the nearby buildings have the same yellow bricks and similar red roofline. The intent in selecting the site on then-unpopulated Bispebjerg Hill was to create a new neighborhood with affordable, high-quality homes for the working class. Funds for construction were collected from people across Denmark and Danes living abroad, with the Danish government matching the amount collected. Thus the church belongs to all Danish people.

Here is a view of the imposing façade. The full structure is made of five million yellow bricks.

Let’s go inside…

The interior of the Grundtvig is very monochromatic, with none of the Technicolor the Catholics like. It’s a striking contrast to the Catholic De Krijtberg church we saw in Amsterdam.  

Of the architect, Jensen Klint, it’s said, “he integrated a number of simple numerical ratios that provide the inside of the church and the building as a whole with a sense of harmony that is easy on the eye.” Yes!

The altar…The tin candlesticks were designed by Jensen Klint’s son Kaare, who actually completed the church after his father died in 1930. Kaare Klint became known as the father of modern Danish furniture design. He designed the chairs in the church too.

Jensen Klint used this same seven-branched candelabrum in four other churches he designed.
Continuing with family involvement, the crucifix was designed by Jensen Klint and formed by Helle Bentsen, his daughter. They were a very talented family.

The church is similar in size to Copenhagen’s cathedral. It has seats for 1,440.

Looking toward the back of the church
Jensen designed the baptismal font in the form of eight mussel shells, old baptismal symbols.

It has been noted that the church is like Grundtvig himself. The bricks are humble building materials, but stacked to dizzying heights they “unite the heavenly and the worldly just as in Grundtvig’s hymns.”

Each pillar is made up of more than 30,000 bricks.

You won’t find saints, popes, or stained glass here but there is a ship, quite common in Danish churches given their seafaring history. Model ships are given by sailors who have been rescued from sea peril, fulfilling their promises to God or a saint for their protection. There are more than 800 model ships in Danish churches.

This is the Grundtvig’s Queen Alexandrine, a four-masted bark. It’s the biggest model ship in Denmark.

The church’s monochromatic interior is similar to the Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik, Iceland.  The Danish and Icelandic branches of Protestantism are closely related.

The vaults rise 22 meters (72 feet).

The Grundtvig Church organ has the largest organ pipes in Denmark.

A total of 4,052 pipes!
The outer pipes are 33 feet long and weigh 900 pounds each.
An organ worthy of Bach’s compositions!

Although we didn’t find Reverend Grundtvig here in his church, we did find this statue of him across town in front of Frederik’s Church.

Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig (1783 – 1872)
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More Amsterdam Images

Bringing you along to enjoy several more sights in the city…

A few folks famous for their Amsterdam connections:

Even without the caption, the beret should tell you this is Rembrandt van Rijn!
Anne Frank, out in the fresh air and sunshine at last.
Wilhelmina, queen of the Netherlands for 57+ years, a rare FEMALE equestrian statue (side saddle no less)
The Royal Palace on Dam Square
How it looked in 1672, painted by Gerrit Adriaenszoon Berckheyde (painting in the Rijksmuseum)

A Rembrandt self-portrait in the Rijksmuseum

As the apostle Paul
Not famous but recognizable to any parent: “Screaming Child, Stung by a Bee” by Hendrik de Keyser

We couldn’t get tickets to the Van Gogh Museum but we saw this Van Gogh in the Rijksmuseum.

The man with one ear painted this “Portrait of a Man with One Eye” while staying in the asylum in St. Remy.

Another spot we didn’t visit but appreciated from outside: the Stedelijk Museum, with modern and contemporary art in an appropriately modern and contemporary architectural structure.

AKA the Bathtub Museum

Lots of Delft china in the Rijksmuseum.

What is it? A Delft flower tower.
The tower is in bloom. What fun!

What about Dutch wooden shoes? We didn’t see any in use…as shoes.

Although these shoes held tulip bulbs
And these in Delft blue decorated a Christmas tree.

And Dutch tulips? It’s not blooming season but it sure is planting season. Tulips, hyacinths, amaryllis, cyclamen, allium…

Bulbs are everywhere in Amsterdam’s flower market. Get your hyacinths here.
A bit of plastic inspiration as a hint of what spring will bring.
Next to our hotel was a free performance by an inspiring street orchestra, the Ulysses Ensemble, (not a band, a full orchestra, complete with a very enthusiastic French horn player).
Some of Amsterdam’s more unusual nightlife. Roving (drunk?) iguanas. Why? Why not?

Finally some tulips in a window display…

The bottle contains El Trumpo juice: bleach. Amsterdammers poking a bit of fun at US politics.

Saying “Doei!” (Bye!) from Amsterdam. Next is Copenhagen.

The sign says “Dike alert. Neighborhood Watch.” Be ready to put your finger in the dike to prevent flooding.

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Lovely visit to Amsterdam!

A year and a half after we originally planned to visit Scandinavia, we have arrived. Well, almost. Our planned trip last April was via a repositioning cruise to the Atlantic coast of Europe, then Netherlands, then Sweden and Norway on our own. But COVID…

Now Norway won’t let us (Americans) in, but Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden are welcoming us with mostly open arms. It helps to have had three COVID vaccinations. So on to our adventures.

As soon as we got off the plane and train in Amsterdam at 9AM local time, midnight-ish for our bodies, coffee sounded like a great idea. We stopped for a double-caffeine boost and sampled a Dutch pancake. It was really good, a very light crepe, this one with thin-sliced apples and cheese. Other options were not just sweet, but also savory, with ham, pesto, guac, salmon, mushrooms, chili peppers, you name it. We are definitely going to try to recreate on our griddle at home. Maybe we can invent one for the abundant tomatoes and lemons from Kathy’s garden!

Dutch pancakes: a welcome welcoming treat

When we could lift our heads to enjoy the views, we found ourselves in the land of canals, bicycles, and flowers. The next image combines all three. The Westerkerk’s tower, with a Rembrandt blue dome, stands above the myriad canals in the Jordaan district, just a few blocks from the Anne Frank house. She heard the church’s bells every day during the two years her family was hidden. If only she could have hopped on a bike to get out of town.

The Westerkerk with one of Amsterdam’s many bikes and canals

The church’s dome is actually a crown. In 1489, Maximilian I, who would later become emperor, gave Amsterdam the right to use the crown in its coat of arms in return for support the town gave him in his quest for power. In 1578, Amsterdam joined the Prince of Orange and ousted the town’s Roman Catholics, moving to the Reformed religious path. The Westerkerk is now a Lutheran church, quite austere on the inside.

The Amsterdam coat of arms has a crown just like the Westerkerk.

The town coat of arms is everywhere. We’ve explained the crown, but why XXX? First, XXX is not for the famed Red Light District. That would be XXX written horizontally. Instead it is the three Xs in a vertical line. These are St. Andrews’ crosses or saltires. He was one of the apostles and was crucified on a diagonal rather than vertical cross (allowing him to suffer longer). What does that have to do with Amsterdam? It really isn’t known! But the pattern is ubiquitous. Find an Amsterdam t-shirt and you’ll find the triple vertical Xs.

On to the horizontal XXX: Prostitution is legal in De Wallen (the Red Light District). The businesswomen are their own bosses, renting their “offices” (windows bathed in red light and backed by small bedrooms) for 50 to 80 Euros during the day and 100 to 150 Euros in the evening. Theoretically they could make up the cost of the rental in an hour or two because they charge 50 Euros for 15 to 20 minutes. There are between 200 and 400 of these window brothels in three separate areas in the city. (This info is all thanks to Google research, not personal experience.)

It’s rude to photograph a “working girl,” but from this distance even her mother wouldn’t recognize her.

When we visited De Wallen, most of the folks on the streets seemed to be tourists like us, enjoying a walk along the canal, not interested in engaging with the ladies. We did observe one gentleman trying to negotiate a deal, but the young lady either didn’t like him or the amount he offered and she sent him away. It’s always good to be your own boss.

Besides brothel windows and sex shows, there are a few restaurants, hotels and other shops in “De Wallen.”

We didn’t see many police in this area even though it was very crowded at times. Instead Amsterdam practices some common sense crowd control. First cars and bikes are not permitted on the streets and pedestrian traffic is one way. The area does not allow drinking outside of bars and restaurants (with a 95 Euro fine if caught), although smoking pot is quite prevalent. Most conspicuous are the red-jacketed ambassadors. These men and women are here to HELP tourists with directions, rules and advice so they don’t get into any trouble in the area. It seems to work.

The red-jacketed guys are unofficial peacekeepers.

The Netherlands is the home of many of the Dutch masters painters and the Rijksmuseum is the place to go to see their artworks. Among the most famous is Rembrandt’s “Night Watch,” currently undergoing a massive restoration. We were intrigued by “Fishing for Souls,” painted by Adriaen Pietersz van de Venne in 1614, not long after the Catholics got kicked out of town. This interesting painting depicts the conflict between the Protestants and the Catholics. The Protestants, in black on the left, are far more successful in rescuing souls than the less organized Catholics on the right. They seem to know how to keep the boat from sinking, while the Pope-captained boat on the right appears to be floundering. Lots of other artistic allegory going on here such as the brighter light and the trees in leaf on the left (Protestant) side. Even the facial expressions are more clear. We could have used Paul’s help to understand many of the artworks in this museum.

Fishing is lovely on the left (Protestant) side.

Take a closer look at the pope.

Which pope had this long Cyrano de Bergerac nose?

When in Amsterdam, visitors must drink Heineken, the beer first made here in 1864. We stopped at the Heineken Experience in one of the original breweries, unused now since 1988. A key learning was that the beer should be poured so the bottom of the foam lies at the “arms of the star” on a Heineken glass, preventing the bubbles from escaping from the beer and keeping the taste fresher. Be sure to try that at home.

Scrape a blade over the top of the glass to even out the foam. Then serve…

While the orange bike festooned with plastic blooms in the earlier photo appears to be for decoration only, its brethren are everywhere in the neighborhood, so much so that we’re more likely to be hit by a bicycle than a car.

Try to find your bike parked in this mess!

We rented our own bikes to join the locals. Fortunately it was on an overcast Sunday when the bike paths were less crowded. We did some of the Rondehoep, Amsterdam’s most popular Strava route. Apparently Rembrandt sketched up and down this portion of the path along the Amstel River. Two historic windmills are now private homes.

The artist at work. Rodin said, “Rembrandt, the colossus of art! We should prostrate ourselves before Rembrandt and never compare anyone with him!”

When impending rain made us look for shelter, we found this delightful pancake house, which serves pannenkoek (a large pancake) and poffertjes (little pancakes). After a great meal, we found out it was a cash-only restaurant and we had no Euros or debit cards with us. Fortunately the proprietor rescued us, taking our USD (not the norm) or we’d have been washing pancake plates for a long time. The Pieters-Geeris family sold their food at fairs for decades and opened this seasonal house of pancakes in Ouderkerk in 2013.

Poffertjessalon in Ouderkerk will get a very favorable TripAdvisor review! “Dank je wel!”

So we’re ending our trip to Amsterdam the way we started, with pancakes.

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