Tuesday, September 27

Horsens, Denmark | sunlight and Springsteen

It is a strange thing to be writing about a last-minute trip to a small town in Denmark, now that I'm over nine weeks and five thousand miles away from that time.

Before that, though, there was Horsens, Denmark, mid-July 2016.

A great side-effect of obsessive love for a musician or band is that when they tour, you have a reason to explore places you've never been to - or never heard of. When I find some face-value pit tickets for Springsteen's Horsens show, I have to look up which country Horsens is in. I haven't even heard of nearby Aarhus, second largest city in Denmark. If it wasn't for Springsteen I'd probably never have travelled to these places; they now hold almost sacred status in my mind.

Because before I know it I'm on a plane to Billund Airport: bewildered at a bus stop in the middle of rural Denmark: then stood in the car park of CASA Arena Horsens with a cluster of European Springsteen fans, feeling completely at home.

What I want to write about, though, is not the Springsteen show itself, but the bits in between: the glimpses of Horsens the trip necessitated, the insight into Danish life away from hip cool Copenhagen.

Tiredness hits almost immediately after retrieving our Springsteen pit queue numbers. Rather than hang about the portaloos, trucks and creased grass of the arena, ready for the next roll call, we head back over the hill into the centre of Horsens. It takes a while to track down a coffee shop that isn't attached to a hotel or restaurant. Those hip, subway-tiled, Edison-lightbulbed coffee shops dotted around Copenhagen don't much exist in these smaller towns. There is one place, Kaffe Brød & Co, though without the hipster population of a city, the clientele here are a confused mix of teenagers and pensioners. More importantly, however, it offers good, strong coffee and big chairs to nap in.

Near the cafe sits Torvet, the town's main square. A sun trap most of the day, this space is overlooked by the giant red brick Vor Frelsers Kirke. An orange bicycle leans against its crannied walls (Denmark is good for aesthetically placed bicycles). The square is wide and quiet, save for the adult-sized musical swings installed in the centre. As you swing, ethereal notes play, and if all five swings move together, they produce this beautiful, slightly ghostly orchestra effect. I can't quite capture how it makes me feel to swing slowly in that quiet sunshine, generating music with every stroke of my legs.

The walk between the arena and the town centre grows familiar over the next twenty-four hours. Much of Horsens is made up of wide suburban streets, almost American in their neat affluence. There are butterflied allotments, small red mailboxes, locals gliding along on bicycles. The arena where Springsteen will play sits at the edge of town. Here the countryside begins abruptly: haystacks, tractors, the fresh smell of soil.

Later we stand outside the swimming pool next to the arena. We're sweaty and tired, and suddenly nothing's more appealing than the turquoise water within. Half an hour later we're floating in it, like starfish, watching the sun dance along the ceiling.

That evening, the 9pm roll call is marked by a blazing sunset. Nothing in the air but golden light and the giddiness of Springsteen fans the night before a show. A caravan, painted all over with flags and band names and stars, booms Bruce out of a pair of speakers. As Born To Run plays we walk down the street towards the station, the sun so low and dazzling in the sky. I've never felt happier.

8am the morning of the show; rush hour, but there's no such thing in rural Denmark. The train from Aarhus to Horsens is cool and quiet. A red bandana is tied round my wrist and I have a handmade cardboard sign tucked under my arm. My heart is jumping. I want to be forever in this moment: sweeping through sunlit fields, on my way to a Springsteen show.

Between morning roll calls we walk the streets of Horsens, stocking up on sugar and caffeine. The warm hush of the morning gives way to heat and noise as the streets fill with sweaty faces. Springsteen's music plays from parked cars and moving vans, from shops and from huge black speakers set up on the pavement. It's like I've wandered into a dream world where the sun always shines and everybody else loves Springsteen too.

Queueing in the afternoon, though, the heat becomes overwhelming. There's temporary respite in a nearby field, listening as the breeze carries the saxophone strains of the arena's soundcheck. A Danish dog walker finds us dozing in the grass. She says hej, and many other things in Danish, the only two words of which I understand are 'Bruce Springsteen'. I nod enthusiastically. It's a mark of how unusual a venue it is for Springsteen; not a cosmopolitan city but a place where locals are faintly bemused by this American rockstar landing in their quiet town.

And then the interminably long three hours before the show. Standing in line in the heat, anxious to secure a spot in the front row, beads of sweat rolling down our backs, striking up conversation with Bruce fans from around the world. A guy from Dublin on his own. A girl from Scotland (I saw her at the Glasgow show too, and will bump into her in September in Philly). A Danish family. The mother plaits her daughter's translucently blonde hair as they wait. An extremely enthusiastic German fan who produces endless bags of Haribo from his pockets and gleefully talks about his 'Bruce shrine' where he keeps all his pit ribbons and tickets. He ends up a couple of people along from me on the front row, and is the best dancer in the arena.

And then the show itself. I promised I wouldn't go all 'evangelical Springsteen fan', so all I'll say is that it was different, oddly magical, special. I posted something about it on instagram this week:

Every time I listen to the song 'Frankie' (@springsteen's, of course), in the opening riffs I see the hot open fields of Denmark, the bluest sky, early sunlight shining through little glass lanterns. It's an image that's come to define this summer for me. They talk about the 'long hot summer' you get in between school and college in your late teens. I never really allowed myself one though: I spent the weeks in my room, pale, shy, calorie counting, hunched over a laptop. 2016 feels a bit like it's been my belated long hot summer. I've had bare legs since April, I've not seen a drop of rain in two months, I have freckles and farmers tan lines. I've travelled to a few new countries and moved to a new continent. Found spaces that make me happy, or whatever the feeling is that's closest to the opening bars of 'Frankie' and the Horsens sunlight.
A photo posted by Kate (@_katefm) on

And that is where I'll end it. Thank you Horsens, for your bright streets, for the five pastries I ate, for Bruce, for an almost transcendently joyful two days.

'Talk softly tonight, little angel
You make all my dream worlds come true.'

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