Danish Nationalism & Society

November 2006 - The Evolution of the Modern Dane

Free Museums Encourage Scholarship

November 4, 2006

In order to really understand the history of the Danish people, it is first important to get a context of experiences local society has experienced, both hardships and victories. The Danish National Museum provides a unique opportunity to explore background knowledge that better helped me understand some of the concepts my relatives were discussing during my visit in the fall of 2006. When I first arrived to this free museum, I was a little distracted by a celebration of a Congo Exhibit providing according music, free Holiday Carlsberg Beer and munchies. It was strange to see an African exhibit with so few Africans and from a primarily white perspective. The Eskimos of Greenland were fascinating and I would have liked to speak with professor-like kayak club boat builder Niels Horlyck-Jessen, visiting next summer, about the construction methods of their kayaks. The costumes were beautiful, reminiscent of the American Indians and Alaska Eskimos, because they included much leather and furs for warmth and dcor, but surprisingly, so did the kayaks. The boats were covered in another layer of leather, including straps to tie things to the boats in the bow and stern. Then, the navigators would wear special goggles to protect their eyes from the burning sun.

Then, I entered the Danish History and Identity section of the museum, which captivated my attention until the place closed. Denmark has been Lutheran since the Reformation in 1536. The Church and Crown's common goal was to explain to the people so they could understand the word of God and the King. They were to govern the population and eradicate the belief in magic and witchcraft. I wonder if this balance between religion and royalty every experienced any imbalance like in other parts of Europe where priests have been executed due to their threat to the king's overlying authority and power.

The Preists' Household marked a time for a new middle class. His household included a parish priest, wife, son, daughter, two farmhands, shepherd boy, maid, and day laborer. His duties included producing conduct books for servants, aid to the parish poor, supervising schools, and registering baptism and marriage and death certificate. The vicar's wife did no labor, but was responsible for the vicarage social life. This is similar to what I was reading in Northern Star about Finland. The newly appointed priest often married his predecessor's widow and it was common for priests to marry the daughters of other priests.

A famous Danish hymn writer was Thomas Kingo, who lived from 1634-1703. Perhaps Ula works with his music, but it never made it over to Lutheranism in the USA.

Regarding marriage and death, girls began sewing for their trousseaus as early as they could sew. A young girl knew that she would be married and buried in the same dress and began working on this project as one of her very first. Betrothal and marriage in Danish law forbade table or bed sharing prior to marriage, however many children arrived less than nine months after the marriage ceremony. The child is considered legitimate if the parents are married before birth.

In the peasant household, many different people contribute to this household including man and wife, son from the first marriage, three sons from the second marriage, the widowed mother from the first wife, a soldier or farmhand, and maid. Peasants leased land from nobility. In the 1800s, Agragarian reforms created freeholders of land and communal labor reform that finally granted some land to the peasants.

The famous Royal Copenhagen Porcelain was manufactured in 1775 and granted a 50-year monopoly. The three wavy lines indicate the Sound, the Great Belt, and the Little Belt. In 1779, however, it was taken over by Christian VII.

My relatives seemed to be disappointed over the stupid decision of land loss. The loss of Norway derived from the isolation faced during the Napoleonic wars. No trade of corn created a large discontent in Denmark. King Frederick VI sent his cousin to Norway as governor. The Kiel peace treaty then granted Norway to Sweden as compensation for the loss of Finland, ending a 434-year Danish and Norwegian union. Cousin Christian Frederick worked on a Norwegian Constitution, which was eventually granted in 1814 under the union with Sweden.

Poetry and literature celebrate the smallness of Denmark. They also recognize the peaceful people and past heroes. Nordic myths then seemed more of a scholarly pursuit by the time the 1800s rolled around. Niels' oldest daughter studies Scandinavian literature and I suppose this is a part of her repertoire.

One of the most interesting discussions to me was learning the background of Folk High Schools. Priest NFS Grundtrig, in the 1830s had a goal of educating the common folk to take responsibility for the future of their country by teaching them Danish History and the importance of community. They combined practical farming techniques with history and Nordic Mythology lectures to educate and inspire youth. I got to visit two of these schools that were AMAZING with their music and theatre focus in Tronderup (sp?) near Hans' farm. Even more schools were built in the wartime of 1864. Women were allowed after 1860. Most of their students came from the country.

Then came the idea of Grundtuigianism, a protest against established churches. Their belief was that a person should be a good human first and then a good Christian. They wanted the individual to choose their own priest, not the local government. Grundtuig began to form their own churches, free scholarship and folk high schools and cooperative societies. My relatives were fundamental in creating their own free church, in Toftlund, when they moved to south Jutland and it is the same Free Church the children were baptized in and Hans and Vebieke were married in. I think Heniette and Swen Whig are also members. Surprisingly perhaps, they don't go to church all that often when it is mandated by the state. Perhaps we have a different view of the church and how it plays a role in our lives.

New farming techniques began in 1850-1914. A fall in the price of corn meant that Denmark imported more. This increased the English demand for milk, butter, and bacon, which continue to be the main farming staples. The cooperative nature of farming became integral to production. Farms began a democratic union where each farmer was given one vote. This led to cooperative stores and dairies.

Hans told me that he had an organic farm several years ago, but changed in the last two years when the market was flooded with too many organic milks and it no longer became cost effective. If nothing else, it created a greater awareness of environmental and better farming practices and he was grateful for it.

Then, I walked around Copenhagen three times in the dark trying to find different places. Why do I always go to the Stroget shopping street in the dark? Eight years older this time, it seems like I was not missing very much, even if the stores were open this time, later on a Friday night. It was kind of fun to see the first Saturday of the month celebration of free Carlesberg holiday beer upon the beer train and small parade.

When my toes got cold, I returned to Dan Hostel. Its location on H. C. Andersen Blvd is very near the train station and highly recommended, www.danhostelferie.dk.

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Odense, a city of students and scholarship

November 2, 2006


I left Ribe from the Bramming station with Ingeborg and Kresten for Odense. Once there, I remembered how much extra time I have to plan when arriving in a new city. Also, I cannot expect to cram it all in because it is not a reality for a first-time visitor. Once I finally locked my bag at the H. C. Andersen Museum, I searched forever for the classical music museum of Carl Nielsen. I ended up across from the Kunst Museum, tracing S. Jutland painters and others in a more pastel and less captivating rolling grasslands of 100 years ago. Some of my favorite artists included the Dali-like modern paintings of Harry Carlsen, Peter Hansen's "Landskab red Lerbjerg" 1903-05, and the sculptures of Helge Holmskov. Knud Hridberg's modern "Spot System Mandela" from 1970, kept making me see a red 15-degree line across his 9 x 9 yellow and red dotted mural. I also enjoyed Svend Whig Hansen's "Torso" sculpture.

Later, I discussed H. A. Brendekilde's 1889 painting "Udslidt" with Niels Horlyck-Jessen. The most grandiose painting showed a farmer collapsed in a field being held by his distraught wife. The first to cultivate this field, as noticed by the rocks he had just moved, his poor dress, small but newly built house in the background shows a real image of hard-working Danes as his wife calls out to God in pain and for help. The painting questions what is Denmark going to do with its poor? A socialist state, it finds works for its poor and I didn't run across a single homeless person in my entire visit, even in Copenhagen. Even for new immigrants, the state apparently finds them work and housing until they figure out what they are going to do. Strangely enough, much controversy exists surrounding racism in the country. Remember, the Danes are the ones notorious for the comic poking fun at Muslims. For many years, Turkish people have been living in Denmark and I noted many veiled Muslims in Odense, but apparently a problem exists with the onslaught of Somali citizens in the opinion of many Danes that refuse to assimilate. Some laws are being discussed to prevent immigration.

After that, I visited the Andersen Museum with cousin Swen.

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Viking Remains from Ribe and Roskilde

October 29 & November 3, 2006

The Ribe Viking Museum tells the story of 1000 years of civilization upon which and nearby the town of Ribe, Denmark's oldest town, still exists. While doing road construction, some years ago, workers came across some very old remains of an early trader's market from 700 AD, later becoming one of the best displays of everyday Viking life in all of Denmark.

The early traders were bead-makers, based on the waste found near fireplaces and malformed glass beads found lying about. On the northern riverbank, 10,000 cartloads of sand were spread over a ploughed field, showing the careful planning and organizing involved with giving each merchant their own space. The Danish King Angentyr and Missionary Willibrod are noted on the coins found in the dirt, officially stamped by the King.

An axe and nail bits are found, proving the importance of shops and trade. Cattle farming seems to have been the bane of these peoples' existence, at the natural center for both sea and land traffic, along natural river fjords. Bronze castings also help speculate what products would have looked like, as their symbols and designs were stamped into the designs of pottery, beads, and other goods.

In fashion terms, and in the pre-elastic days, women wore peasant blouses, jumper dresses, an apron, a cape, probably a wool scarf and leather moccasins. The recreation showing a Viking man showed that they wore a muslin shirt under a wool robe, with short pants and stockings, and a wool cap.

Excrement and manure indicate human health conditions. We are lucky this was preserved, as many of the bodies have since decomposed, or like the Romans, we would have no clues into this ancient race. The faith of the people changed drastically by Ansgar's Christian mission. Like the other parts of the world, they first combined the new with the old traditions of iconography. Amulet's of Thor's hammer, for example, also include the cross upon one side. Another example of this secularization can be found in the gravesites of the 8th century when people were cremated and buried with grave goods. In the 10th century, with the onset of Christianity, people were no longer cremated and were buried without any grave goods to take with them to the afterlife.

Housing came in the form of villages, single farms, and manor farms. Many favored farming on or near the more fertile marshland. I was not aware of whether or not they had learned of the fuel-potential of peat bogs. Maybe Dublin will provide more clues about the regional differences of Irish and Danish Vikings and agricultural technology.

In the Middle Ages, in 1000 AD, Danes practiced Catholicism. With the Lutheran Reforms of 1536, all of this changed. The church rituals from human life between rich and poor were ignored, unlike the great differences separating them, during Catholic times.

Housekeeping included and surrounded the slightly raised fireplace, where no clay pots ever touched the fire. Smoke was let out the roof or collected in the room. The kitchen was the only well-lit and warm room in the house with train oil lamps, wax candles, and fire-burning stove. ##At mealtime, people would sit with their bowl in their lap and eat with spoon, knife, or fingers. If they had a table, it was simply some wood planks resting on trestles. Some food staples, however, included porridge and cabbage, boiled meat, and bread. Peasants, themselves, would bring produce grown in the surrounding areas, which Ribe citizens would then supplement with farming. By the end of the Middle Ages, though, beef was eaten regularly and fish only during periods of fasting when they couldn't eat any meat at all. The habit of very little fish still continues today, despite being so close to the water in all parts of the country, after having exported the best fish to Spain for many years.

People approached the church with much religious zeal and only those who were baptized could be buried in the churchyard cemetery, per God's rules. I wonder what they would think about DK parishioners, today, who pay for a 30-year old grave plot and then are recycled for the next person if they didn't sign up for a second term. Strangely, Hans told me that cousin Heniette Jessen and Swen Whig will be buried, replacing some earlier relatives in the same place when they die. I guess if it's going to be someone, it may as well be someone you know. How far is this idea, though, different from the vein of the reincarnation theory?

War, however, brought fights between the king and the country's enemies or the between the king and factions within Denmark. In 1247, the town of Ribe changed hands between King Erik and brother Abel several times.

Three classes of estates existed amongst the people with clergy at the top, knights as second most important and leaving citizens and peasants at the bottom. Merchants created their own group and gave credit to the farmers who enabled them to build riches without land. The wealthy had great influence in government and citizens made only gradual progress. Tradesmen, later, developed into citizens or merchants with special trading privileges, making them exempt from customs at markets, and giving them the allowance to being included at ALL market towns.

When Luther came, it created a war and a "sign" of religious freedom. Of the seven Lutheran Sacraments, Luther kept only two: baptism and communion, which we still practice today. Some of the older generations or those unwilling to go along with the change described it as the poisoning of Lutheranism all throughout Jutland. A great fire of 1580 changed all this religious discourse, however, that became a real boon to Rive because the city became exempt from the King's taxes for seven years. After the mid 17th century, though, the town suffered from war and a decreasing number of I habitants. Kobenhavn was named capital and the monarchy moved to a new port. In 1736, though, Peder Terpager began writing a history of Ribe, comparing both written and archaeological sources (he lived from 1654-1738).

The RIBES VIKINGER discussed much of the Viking's everyday life as farmers and merchants, but the ROSKILDE VIKINGESKIBS MUSEET told more about their travel and defense. Visit either museum's websites at www.ribevikinger.dk or www.vikingeskibsmuseet.dk.

At first entry to the Roskilde Museum, a 15-minute video shows how these fine fishing, trading, and warring ships were found and preserved.

The word VIKING means PIRATE and their civilization only lasted from the end of the 8th century until the end of the 11th. They were experts at cultivating towns, merchant, and land acquisition. Their strikes on towns, churches, and monasteries, however, were prompted by the ego and desire of some warriors wanting riches or notoriety to follow them and their descendents into the afterlife. By 920, Vikings controlled much of Britain and northern France until they were met by a more effective resistance, that I think was William the Conqueror, during the 1066 Norman invasion period a the Battle of Hastings.

Their voyages took them all over Europe and to the east coast of North America and Greenland (still owned by the Danes). The Vikings made Roskilde their capital of their empire in 1000 and their King created a system of bonfire alerts atop all the hillsides to inform of approaching enemy ships.

They traveled by sea, river, and coast. Moreover, this museum is famous because they blocked the harbor with the five ships found here as a part of their defense. In the 1950s, a rumor told of five medieval warships in the harbor, yielding Denmark's best archaeological find, ever!

900 years old, water was pumped out of the self-contained areas containing the ships to best preserve such fragile materials. In the meantime, researchers dug around the ships to carefully extract the difficult-to-maintain form the wood used to form when exposed to a different climate. Then, a constant bit of water always covered the wood so it would not disintegrate. Next, polyethanolglycom was gradually mixed in as the boats were depressurized with the water until it eventually replaced the it entirely and fused with the original wood cells of remaining ship shells. After the compound took hold, they began the reassembly of the boats from the numbered pieces they had removed from the sea. The process took 25 years!

The Vikings, themselves, consisted of Danes, Gauts, Norwegians, and Swedes, who all spoke the same language with a sprinkling of Saami who spoke their own language. They were farmers, fishermen, and hunters. Some created crafts to trade; only a few were actually pirates. In Southern Scandinavia, their farms were grouped together around the town, but in Sweden and Norway their stood alone. The towns, themselves, supplied Western Europe with exotic goods.

But, with trade brings robbery and theft and many looked to the Vikings for protection. Like that of modern day gangs or the mafia, they struck a deal for protection. Part of the groups they were protecting the people were even their own band of Viking pirates who were raiding towns of furs and slaves from Finland to sell to the Eastern markets (e.g. Turkey and Constantinople).

Of all the ships recovered, researchers learned that the shipbuilding technique was very different. TRADE SHIPS were wide and deep for storage. They included a sail and oar assistance. WARSHIPS were built to be long and narrow for speed. Sails were constructed with tar or ochre to prevent wind from passing through the wool. Then, tar was used again on the outside (references to Kokkola, Finland's longstanding tar economy). Finally, the boat was painted with bright colors.

The largest warship that was rumored to have been constructed in Dublin could speed from a 6-knot average to 14-knots at warring speeds. The warship from this museum was 30 meters long and took 340 trees to reconstruct a similar model. The trees were split in the direction of the wood grain for strength in 44,000 man-hours to complete. In 2007 this ship will take a 65-man expedition to Dublin, where it will reside until 2008 to test the no-technology against the strong currents.

Something I found very interesting in one of the museum's exhibits is the derivation of the days of the weeks derived from Norse Mythology. ODIN, the Zeus or father of the gods, was known as the god of wisdom, poetry, and war. He is often pictured atop an eight-legged horse with his two ravens. Wednesday derives from the Danish word Wooden (Odin). THOR, Odin's son, is known for strength and fighting evil. He is often pictured in a goat-drawn chariot. His hammer always hits its target. Thursday derives from Thor. Lastly FREY and FREYA, were the son and daughter of Njord. She was goddess of fertility and is often pictured in spring or at wedding celebrations. Friday is named after Freya. Seeing remnants of the ancient religion carved into beads and pottery piqued my interest.

When I visited this museum, I had taken a taxi for 8 from the station, however, after checking my bag behind the counter, it didn't seem like such a long walk back, only about 2-3 km. Let me tell you, I think my luggage backpack had expanded to 30 kilos and I still had my front pack and a couple of new Viking and Norse Mythology paperbacks and my Turkish dishes in the duffel bag to carry up a gradual hill. By the time I arrived at the main street, I was really wondering why I had made the extra stop for the museum at all, much less having to search for the well-recommended Satchmo Caf, just off the main road.

Suggested readings:

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