Hans Christian Andersen – Fellow Odense Native

Sometimes I’ve joked that I have two things in common with Hans Christian Andersen: we were both born in Odense and we both left – he at an earlier age than I, but I went farther away. Having grown up in a city with his “foot prints” all over has given me a certain feeling of “ownership”, and with that, I think a feeling of responsibility to share him. H. C. Andersen – as he is known to Danes – was born on April 2, 1805. He was born in Odense in the small yellow house on the corner of Hans Jensen Stræde and Bangs Boder – now known world-wide from postcards and photos.

HCA HouseWhen he was two years old, he and his parents moved to an even smaller house in Munkemølle Stræde. He was the only child of impoverished parents. His father was a cobbler. He was a bitter and disappointed man (who possibly drank too much) and never had the opportunity for an education. He was, however, devoted to his son and probably responsible for igniting the creative streak in the boy. While the mother was illiterate, the father would read to Hans Christian from some of the great writers of the 17th century as well as from The Arabian Nights, form where HCA later borrowed material for several of his tales. The father would on occasion take him to the theater, and when the boy showed a great interest in this, the father made a puppet theater for him. This became the boy’s most cherished possession; he would create his own plays at an early age, and make costumes for the characters from paper and scraps of material.

Because of his social status he had to attend the “poor school”, where he didn’t learn much. He was shy and awkward and didn’t associate with the other children, who most likely teased him mercilessly. But luckily, already at an early age he had an affinity for coming to the attention of influential adults, and he did not hesitate to ask for their help if he thought he might need it – something he took full advantage of throughout his life. This ability got him invitations to “cultured homes” where he would borrow books, and where he might be asked to sing and “declaim”, nurturing his hopes of becoming a performer – singing, acting, or ballet dancing: he tried them all, but without much success. His singing voice was not bad until his voice changed, he did have some bit parts in a couple of plays, but his shoes were a size 13 ½ and he was tall and lanky, so there wasn’t much hope for him as a dancer.

HCA Statue in OdenseHis father died when HCA was still young, and his mother had to fend for him. She would take in wealthy people’s laundry and wash it in Odense Å – the river that traverses the city – as was the custom of the day. (Tourist guides today still point out the rocks in the river where she is believed to have scrubbed the clothes.) She wanted HCA to learn a trade, and since he had shown an interest in sewing when he made his puppet costumes, she decided he should become a tailor’s apprentice, which he did, but only for a few days. He hated it, and complained to his mother that it hurt his long legs to sit on the table tailor-fashion, and he couldn’t stand sitting with his back to the window and not be able to see what was going on outside. So at age 14 he decided to go out into the world and become famous! He had seen a fortuneteller who predicted that “One day, in his honor, Odense will be illuminated!” He took this prediction to heart. He got on the stage coach with a few pennies in his pocket and a letter of introduction – from one of the influential people he had come to know – to the solo-dancer at the Royal Theater in Copenhagen. However, when she saw him perform, she thought he had lost his mind, and she sent him away. And wherever he went to try his luck – on stage or as a playwright, he was always reminded that without an education, he was going nowhere. So with the help of Jonas Collin, a prominent citizen in Copenhagen, who had seen potential in the young man, he was sent to boarding school in Slagelse. He hated it, but with some private tutoring he graduated when he was 23. And then he started writing!

HCA wrote poems as well as novels, but of course, it was his fairy-tales that made him what he is today. H. C. Ørsted, a famous physicist and friend of HCA, once said that while his first novel “The Improvisatore” would make him famous, his fairy-tales would make him immortal. The material for his fairy-tales he would often get from old folk-tales that had – up until this time – only been told orally. The Grimm Brothers had done the same thing, but for the purpose of preserving these folk-tales, and while they followed the accepted way of writing – followed the rules, so to speak – HCA broke with convention of the time and made use of colloquial language – the way people actually spoke – as he said “just the way I would tell them to a child”. He would make alterations to the folk-tales and add to them if he thought that would make them more interesting. This is what makes HCA a story teller, while Grimms were folklorists.

HCA Performance near his house“The Flying Trunk” is believed to have been inspired by “the flying carpet” from The Arabian Nights, whereas the idea for “The Emperor’s New Clothes” may have come from an old Spanish tale. Still others were original themes, such as “The Little Mermaid”, and many of his stories are more or less auto-biographical. The best known of these is, of course, “The Ugly Duckling”, who goes through so much ridicule and humiliation before turning a beautiful swan, admired by all.

SwansHe proposed marriage to at least three women, who all turned him down. These rejections inspired some of his tales (“The Sweethearts” (Toppen and Bolden) by Riborg Voigt, “The Little Mermaid” by Louise Collin, and “The Nightingale” by Jenny Lind, the Swedish singer).

While his stories were intended for the entertainment of young readers, not for their “moral enlightenment”, HCA also wanted them to contain some food for thought for adults. This sometimes got HCA in trouble with his critics as well as some of his friends. They were upset with “The Princess on the Pea” because it was implying that “ladies of rank” were extremely thin-skinned – political correctness of the time! “The Tinderbox” was considered inappropriate and indecent because the soldier had the princess brought to his room where he kissed her, and some thought it displayed a blatant disregard for human life, because the soldier chopped off the witch’s head with his sword. These critics advised HCA not to write any more stories for children. If you haven’t read “The Tinderbox” lately, you might want to do that, and then decide if, by today’s standards, it is too “risqué” or too violent to be told to children.

The Tinderbox CharactersSource: H .C. Andersen – Eventyr & historier med introduction of Johannes Møllehave – Sesam

A Visit to Skagen and the “Wild Side” of North Jutland

As the Danish Sisterhood tour of Denmark is just months away, I was inspired to share some of my fond recollections of a trip to Skagen and Northern Jutland about 10 years ago.

During a family visit to Odense, we decided to make an excursion to some of the places we don’t normally visit.  My husband wanted to experience Skagen and I had never seen Råbjerg Mile, a ”wandering sand dune” that I had learned about in elementary school, so we set out for the northern part of Jutland.

Skagen is the northernmost town in the Denmark, located on the very tip (Grenen) of the narrowest part of Jutland.  Because of this unique location, there is only one road leading into the town, and the same road leading out, so you don’t have to worry about getting lost.  It is a most interesting, quaint little town, which during the summer months it is a veritable Mecca for tourists.  Skagen, of course, is a fishing town with a very busy harbor, but it is probably best known as a haven for artists.

Skagens Gren – the “end of Denmark

Skagens Gren – the “end of Denmark”.










During the latter part of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century a group of painters – Anna and Michael Anchor, P. S. Krøyer, and Laurits Tuxen were among the most famous – as well as poets (Holger Drachman, whose tomb you’ll find among the dunes at Skagens Gren) and other writers were all living and working there and socializing with each other.  Today the Klitgården  (formerly a favorite summer residence of Queen Margrethe’s grandparents King Chrisitan X and Queen Alexandrine), located on the beach just south of the town has been turned into a “home” for budding artists and scientists.

When you go to Skagen as a tourist there are two things you must see.  One is Grenen – the very tip of Jutland, where you usually can see the Kattegat and the Skagerrak come crashing together with tremendous force – although I’ve been there when it was as calm as can be – no excitement whatsoever!  The very tip Grenen is a nice, brisk walk form the lighthouse, but if you’re not up for walking, you can take Sandormen (the “sand worm”) – a small “train” that drives you to the “end of Denmark” on the hard packed sandy beach.  The other “must-see” is Den Tilsandede Kirke (the church that was buried by sand).  Several hundred years ago there were furious sand storms in that area that ruined entire villages.  While these villages are gone, the tower of Sct. Laurentii Kirke still remains, but only the top part of it is still visible above the sand

Den Tilsandede Kirke

Den Tilsandede Kirke

Even more impressive than the sights of Skagen – to me – was Råbjerg Mile – the wandering sand dune that reportedly “migrates” 15 meters towards the east each year.  I have never seen so much sand in my life – all piled up in huge dunes.  Råbjerg Mile is found about 10 miles south of Skagen and the dunes there can measure up to 41 meters in height.  Trust me, climbing to the top of the dunes in the loose sand was hard work, but the view from the top made it well worth the climb.  Some little kids were having a lot of fun rolling down the slope;  it looked tempting, but I don’t think I’d have been too popular if I had returned to the car all covered in sand.  The breeze was pretty stiff, so we got to see the sand in motion and ended up with quite a bit of grit in our teeth and sand in our shoes.

DSS National Vice President. Connie Schell, atop Råbjerg Mile.

I had read about Mårup Church, and knew that it was on the west coast of northern Jutland, so we decided to include that in our outing.  Mårup Kirke is an old church sitting high on a bluff above the North Sea.  Due to the force of the waves the bluff is being eroded and part of the old cemetery behind the church has already fallen prey to the sea, and, eventually, so will the church as each big wind storm takes away a portion of the bluff.

Mårup Kirke

From Mårup we continued a few miles south along the coast and came to Rubjerg Knude – another “sandy place” – where there, besides a “Sand Migration Museum”, is a lighthouse with an attached building.  We could only assume that it at one time must have been the lighthouse keeper’s house, but it is now practically covered by sand, yet another victim of one of Mother Nature’s mighty forces.  On the leeward side we could still see part of the wall and the windows.  There were several feet of sand on the floor inside, but on the windward side of the building the sand came right up to the top of the roof.

Lighthouse at Rubjerg Knude









Usually we don’t think of Denmark as being the target of nature’s power, but I’m sure the people of the northern and western parts of Jutland – the area from which most of the migration to America in the 19th century incidentally came – must have a great respect for the whims of Mother Nature.

Lighthouse at Rubjerg Knude

Nordic Skiing: the Greatest Thing Since Sliced Rugbrød

During the dark and cold winter months, there comes an insatiable need for Danes, and Scandinavians as a whole, to seek nature and light. We do not see cold winter conditions as prohibitive, but rather an opportunity to explore nature and to find comfort from the mundane facets of life in quiet snow-blanketed stillness. No activity lends itself as well to midwinter than cross-country skiing (also known as XC skiing or Nordic skiing). It may come as a surprise that Danes are some of the most passionate people about cross-country skiing, frequenting Danish ski clubs and ski resorts in Sweden and Norway to the tune of 600,000 annually. Denmark’s geography is actually ideal for cross-country skiing since it is quite flat. No big hills to contend with here. According to the 2010 official statistics for Denmark, 40 percent of Danes consider themselves skiers.

The cross-country skiing tradition is rooted in Scandinavia and can be traced back thousands of years. In fact, the oldest ski in existence was found in a Scandinavian bog dating between 4500 and 2500 B.C. Denmark has close ties with the sport of cross-country skiing. You see, Denmark ruled much of Scandinavia at one time, and Denmark’s rule was not always welcome. A Swede by the name of Gustav Vasa, later crowned King Vasa, fought for Swedish sovereignty against Denmark and successfully made a cross-country ski trek from Sälen to Mora to get help building forces against Danish King Christian II. This historic trek has become memorialized in Sweden by an annual cross-country ski marathon competition called the Vasaloppet. It is the oldest, the most attended in terms of participants (more than 60,000 participants are registered for 2014), and the longest cross-country ski race in the world at 90 kilometers in length. We can thank Denmark for inspiring this world-renowned competition and we’re happy to say the circumstances are now more far more congenial than they were in 1520 during Gustav’s trek. Besides the thousands of Danes that participate in the Vasaloppet, Danish Crown Prince Frederick trains for and competes in cross-country ski events, racing the Vasaloppet in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

Are you ready to plan your Danish ski trip yet? Rold Skov (Rold Forest), just south of Aalborg, is a popular Danish destination for cross country skiing. For the latest news and tips on skiing in Denmark, Danmarks Skiforbund (Danish Ski Association, in Danish) is a great resource for the best places for your Danish ski tour. If you can’t make it to Denmark just yet, check out the Cross Country Ski Areas Association for all the places that you can enjoy cross-country skiing in the Unites States and Canada.

XC SKIINGWhat is so great about cross-country skiing, you ask? We say, what isn’t great about it?! It is completely accessible regardless of age or athletic ability. It provides a complete whole-body work out and is the most efficient at burning calories more than any other form of exercise. It’s safer than downhill skiing or snowboarding. The clothing is less bulky and more attractive than for other snow sports. It is great for recreational enthusiasts and athletes alike. It is tradition.

photoYou may not live in Denmark, but like Danes, don’t let that stop you from trying out this winter activity. Ski season is just starting in many places and you can easily rent gear if you don’t already own it yourself. You can get started by taking lessons. Most Nordic ski centers offer lessons and rental gear, as do many outdoor stores, local parks and recreation centers, and even some ski clubs. Some lesson packages include ski gear rental and others do not, so do your homework to get what you are looking for.

Unlike downhill skiing, cross-country skis are longer and thinner and the toe of the ski boot is attached to the ski while the heel remains free. Cross-country skiers can choose to ski classic style or skate style, both of which have a different method and slightly different types of ski gear. Classic style cross-country skiing is the oldest of all forms of skiing, and easier to learn than skate skiing. Our national secretary, Ava Hansen, is an avid cross-country skier and enjoys classic style skiing the best. In addition to your ski gear and clothes, Ava recommends this handy list of items to get you started on your Danish-inspired cross-country skiing adventure.

For a one-day ski tour:

  • Waterproof/water-resistant backpack
  • Whistle
  • Space Blanket
  • Lighter
  • Extra clothes (especially dry socks, gloves, hat)
  • First Aid Kit
  • Compass
  • Mobile phone
  • Trail map
  • Food/Snacks
  • Hydration
  • Insulated thermos of glögg, hot cocoa, or tea
  • Hand warmers
  • Ski hookers
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Handkerchief
  • Plastic bag for wet clothes
  • Ski wax