A World Of Contrasts In Copenhagen

Posted: July 16, 1989

Copenhagen is full of contrasts. It is Scandinavia's largest city, but also one of Europe's most pastoral, with greenery everywhere. Socially, it is one of the most forward-thinking cities in the world, but it is the seat of the oldest kingdom on Earth. It has the breezy, youthful attitude of an American West Coast city such as San Francisco or Portland, yet its historic monuments are among the best-preserved in Europe. Culturally, it is famous for the Royal

Danish Ballet . . . and pornography.

Copenhagen (it means "merchants' harbor") was founded in 1167 in a strategic spot on a narrow seaway connecting the North and Baltic Seas. The

Danish are almost gleeful about how frequently it has been overrun, by everyone from Norsemen to Nazis, and how resiliently it has bounced back. Denmark's resistance to the Germans in World War II was inspiring. The resistance museum, Frihedsmuseet, is worth a visit.

Americans probably know Copenhagen best as the home of Hans Christian Andersen. It is significant that Denmark's national hero is a storyteller, and maybe also that Copenhagen's most famous monument, the Little Mermaid statue on the waterfront, was purchased by one of the country's leading beer brewers.

THE BASICS. You'll need a passport to visit Copenhagen, but no visa. No unusual health safeguards are necessary: Denmark has a higher standard of living than the United States.

The krone (kroner is plural) is the basic unit of currency. You should get about 7 1/2 kroner for $1 in local banks, which is the best place to exchange. Virtually everybody in Denmark speaks some English, and nobody is offended if you don't know any Danish.

Unlike most of the rest of Scandinavia, Denmark generally is not frigid in winter - just dank and cold. Though it's certainly more crowded in summer, Copenhagen is one place where visiting in season makes sense. The long summer days and sunshine transform the city into a giant park.

GETTING THERE. TWA and SAS fly nonstop from New York's Kennedy Airport; round-trip excursion fares, with restrictions, are $801. Charters can be about $500.

GETTING AROUND. The city can be confusing outside downtown because of its ancient street plan, but generally it's a great town for walking (or bicycling - you can rent bikes). Stroget (the Stroll) is Europe's oldest and longest walking street, even if it does get pretty touristy.

Taxis from the airport downtown are about 75kr. - $10 on the nose. Buses (they run hourly) are 20kr. Buses in the city and electric trains, called ''S trains," to outlying areas are efficient and inexpensive. Conductors sell regular tickets - they work on a zone system - and various sorts of discount tickets are available at S stations. Ask about them.

NIGHTLIFE. Everyone thinks of Copenhagen as a sex capital. Pornography flourishes, sold mostly to foreigners. Information booklets sent out by the Tourist Board even include rather obvious ads for "escort services," but the

average Dane is no more promiscuous than the average anybody else.

In summer, nightlife focuses on the lush garden setting of Tivoli, Copenhagen's famous recreational and cultural center. From September to May, the Royal Theater is one of the few facilities in the world mounting comedy and drama, ballet and opera. The quality is high and the tickets are cheap,

because the enlightened government that has preserved Copenhagen so livably also underwrites the arts.

Danes love American jazz. There are lots of good clubs. The tourist office (Danmarks Turistrad, H.C. Andersen Blvd. 22 - in the wax museum building) provides "Copenhagen This Week," a must-get entertainment directory. It's also available from Huset, Radhusstraede 13, which is a sort of tourist office for the impoverished, mostly students. It can be very useful.

Danish beer is excellent, but expensive because of taxes. Hard liquor is almost prohibitively expensive. The Danes are not prudish about drinking, but their drunken-driving laws are draconian. If you have even one beer, do not drive.

ACCOMMODATIONS. Off-season, always ask for discounts; they can be substantial. The two best hotels are the Hotel d'Angleterre and the Plaza. Both can run 2,000kr. ($267) a night, double. At about half that price (and with about a tenth the character) are the Copenhagen Admiral and the Sophie Amalie. Perfectly adequate are the Absalon and Viking, about 700kr. Ask for a room without a bathroom, and prices plummet. Sofolkenes Mindehotel is a great value - clean, friendly and 350kr.

DINING. Smorrebrod are open-faced sandwiches of all sorts that have become a sort of Scandinavian national dish. They're not too expensive, and they're everywhere. Famous fancy restaurants (at least 400kr., or more than $50, for two) include Egoisten and Belle Terrasse (in Tivoli). Fiskhuset is a good seafood place. Det Kronne Kokken (The Green Kitchen) serves a tasty vegetarian buffet. Virtually every sort of ethnic cuisine is available in Copenhagen, much of it good.

SHOPPING. Denmark has some of the highest taxes in the world, but refunds of the 22 percent value-added tax are available at most large stores and on most large purchases. Ask! Danish houseware design is world-famous; the best stores are Royal Copenhagen (it owns Georg Jensen and Bing & Grondahl, so skip those stores), which also sells seconds at deep discounts, and Illum Bolighus. They're next door to each other on Stroget.

Furs can be a great buy if you know the going prices and shop around. Top- quality coats can be purchased at good prices at Nilsson of Copenhagen and Eschel Krag. The touristy Otto D. Madsen offers goods of lower quality, but at supremely low prices (for furs).

DON'T MISS. The Round Tower, erected in 1642, offers a great view of old Copenhagen. Christiansborg Palace is the seat of Parliament and the location of royal reception rooms. The monarchs live in Amalienborg Palace, where the changing of the guard at noon is a sight to see. Both major breweries (Carlsberg and Tuborg) offer tours. Nyhavn, the waterfront area, is exciting and attractive.

But for spring and summer visitors, Tivoli is Copenhagen's number-one attraction. It is like no other park in the world: Illuminated by 100,000

lights, it boasts botanical gardens, slot machines, fireworks, restaurants, carnival games, theaters, concert halls featuring ballet and classical orchestras, and a Ferris wheel, merry-go-round and other rides. Everything in and around Tivoli is more expensive than it would be elsewhere, but the atmosphere is worth the premium. It opens in mid-April and closes for the season in mid-September.

INFORMATION. Contact the Danish Tourist Board, 655 Third Ave., 18th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10017; phone 212-949-2333.

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