A New Life in Dragor

By Jheri St. James

     Niels and Jennifer Larsen live in Naples, Long Beach, California, but Niels is from Denmark. In the spring of 2005, they traveled to Dragor, Denmark, a quaint historical town just outside of Copenhagen. Dragor is known for its small old houses, which for the most part have been kept in their original condition dating back 200-300 years. Along most of the streets in Dragor you cannot drive a car, thus the famous Danish bicycles are a common sight as that is the means of transportation around most of the streets and neighborhoods. Dragor does not have any industry other than tourism, but being located by the ocean it’s a popular spot for Copenhagen and other tourists. Dragor sounds like a fairytale village.

     “I’m sure most of the soil which has been collected has its own story and ours is a bit special as well. Jennifer and I went to my nephew’s confirmation (which is a rather big deal in Denmark), and since Jennifer has never taken part in such a gathering before, let alone the party afterwards, it is indeed nice to know that this soil will have its own little place among other “world wide famous” soil and not only because it’s from Denmark, but because the occasion for our trip was indeed special. We saw friends and family we haven’t seen for many years, while the soil was lying in its little bag just waiting to be shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to finally become famous. The soil is a mix of sand and clay and was collected from my brother’s house located by the ocean,” said Niels

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     The Kingdom of Denmark is in Northern Europe, and forms a link between Europe and Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway and Sweden). Denmark’s land border is with Germany; its long coastline is surrounded by the North Sea and bordered by the Baltic Sea. The country consists of a peninsula (Jutland) and many islands, for example, Zealand, Fyn and Bornholm. Greenland, one of the world’s largest islands, is self-governing but part of the Kingdom of Denmark. The 18 Faroe Islands, which have some degree of self-government, are also part of the Kingdom. Copenhagen is the capital city.

     The country is low and flat with rolling hills. However, the island of Bornholm is hilly and rugged. The coastline is particularly long because of the number of fjords, which can be described as coastline valleys shaped by glaciers and partially filled by the sea. The sides are steep and the water is very deep. Denmark has few forests; the island of Bornholm is the kingdom’s most densely forested area. In the countryside there is a variety of flora which supports hundreds of species of small animals and as many as three hundred species of birds. The white and graceful swan is Denmark’s national bird.

     Denmark has a strong economy. Since joining the EU the country has gained the benefits of trading within the economic union. Other important trading partners are the United States and Japan. Denmark has a well-established railway network, the Oresund Fixed Link, which connects Copenhagen and Malmo in Sweden. Seaports are hi-tech with deep-water and container port terminals. Airport improvements have been carried out to cope with increased traffic.

     Denmark is famous for its Vikings, heroic sailors who traveled the globe and were skilled shipbuilders. Denmark’s oldest written information is runic inscription on the Jelling Stones dating from the Viking age. The ninth century saw Danish and Viking expansion. Vikings from Scandanavia sailed as far as Greenland, Southern Europe, North Africa and Baghdad. Important Vikings were buried in ships, together with their horses and other possessions, but surprisingly the majority of them lived their lives working on their farmsteads. Other, more royal Danes lived and live in beautiful castles, which can be seen throughout the country.

Rosenborg Castle

Fredensborg Castle

     One expects that little Phillip Larsen will have an especially nice childhood in Denmark, with all those castles, and being the home of the original Legoland in Billund. He will probably listen to stories written by Hans Christian Andersen, the 19th century writer whose fairy tales have been translated into more languages than any other book except the Bible. Most likely, he will hear Andersen’s famous story of “The Little Mermaid”, as she is the National Symbol of Denmark, marked by a statue of her in Copenhagen. The sculpture is located on Langelinie quay, and was made by Edvard Eriksen as a paean to the production of the ballet by the same name performed at the Royal Theatre. Ellen Price, prima ballerina, was the model for this charming landmark.

     The Little Mermaid’s story goes something like this: “Far out at sea the water’s as blue as the petals of the loveliest cornflower, and as clear as the purest glass; but it’s very deep, deeper than any anchor can reach. Many church steeples would have to be piled up one above the other to reach from the bottom of the sea to the surface. Right down there live the sea people . . .” At the age of 15, the little Mermaid for the first time swims to the surface of the sea, where she falls in love with the prince she saved from drowning. She lost her fish tail when she sold her voice to the evil sea witch instead of the most beautiful legs any girl could ever have. She would win the prince and an immortal soul or she didn’t get her prince, but was transformed into deadly cold sea foam. There was some discrepancy there . . .

The Little Mermaid

     Besides Hans Christian Andersen, other famous Danes include philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, a forerunner of modern existentialism and author Karen Blixen, who wrote Out of Africa and Babette’s Feast, two internationally famous films. Peter Hoeg, of Smilla’s Sense of Snow is Denmark’s most prominent contemporary author. And Jennifer and Niels’ nephew Phillip probably will not be a neurotic person because of the Danish concept of hygge which, roughly translated, means cozy and snug, both good feelings in a climate so cold and in a family.

     But lest we start to believe that Denmark is a completely magical fairytale land, let us take a moment to remember the Black Death in the mid-14th century; border conflicts between Denmark and Germany, and problems with Estonia. A period of conflict between Denmark and Sweden led to Swedish supremacy in the area. Denmark retained control over Greenland, the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Norway. During the Napoleonic Wars, Denmark fought with the French against Britain. Denmark was defeated and Norway ceded to Sweden (1814). The kingdom of Denmark at that time comprised Denmark, Greenland, the Faroe Islands, Schleswig and Holstein. Eventually Denmark had to give up Schleswig and Holstein after war with Austria and Prussia. And, having remained neutral during World War I, Denmark, during the Second World War was occupied by the German Army. Now Denmark is a member of NATO.

     So even magical Denmark, land of the white swan, Little Mermaid, and many fantastic castles, has had its turbulent military history, like all the countries of the Common Ground 191 project, some in the past, some in the present. But with this soil from Dragor, we celebrate Phillip Larsen’s new life and a new concept of Abstract Expressionist peace art. May they both grow strong and healthy together on the ground of Mother Earth.

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