Wednesday, October 12

Aarhus, Denmark

Aarhus, Denmark, July 2016, the morning after the Springsteen show in Horsens. Our flight doesn't leave until late afternoon; four hours to see as much of Aarhus as our withered feet'll allow. The city comes as something of a surprise. It's Copenhagen that's spread itself out across social media, from the marble-countered coffee bars and chic hygge all over Instagram, to yet another shot of colourful Nyhavn on your Facebook feed. (I'm just as guilty: stay tuned for my own belated post on the capital.) But Aarhus? Who knew! Granted it doesn't have the size, historical and cultural significance of Copenhagen. If you're looking for Danish city lifestyle in a nutshell, though, Aarhus is a good bet. Canals, coffee, cobbled lanes, a university, art, medieval churches, beaches, and a lot of bicycles.  

Danish brunch at Cafe Faust. 'My tongue's confused, I've eaten so many different types of food in one meal,' you say. It's cloudy, only just warm enough to eat outside by the Aarhus River canal, which opens out into the docks and the Kattegat sea. Here a cruise liner sits out of scale with the dock buildings, corrugated containers, cranes and rail tracks. Tough to get a view out to the horizon unless you step on an actual boat.

In the other direction, the canal tightens and bends through Midtbyen, the city centre. We follow the water this way, through the shopping district, past long lines of cyclists and tall brick apartment buildings, towards the ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, the city's art gallery.

Art lover or not, the ARoS is worth visiting because it affords good views over the city, by way of both its height and its famous circular rainbow walkway, perched like a halo about its rooftops. The walkway is a fun novelty, the kind of thing I would've got overexcited about as a child. And that's the point - it's a family attraction, so it's busy and noisy, and I actually prefer the views from the rooftop itself, looking out over Aarhus as dark silhouettes walk a rainbow above my head. 

From the landscape of orange and grey rooftops we head back inside the museum. There's a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition on that I'd missed when it was in London, and a Grayson Perry retrospective. The Mapplethorpe show is really good, of course, and it even ends with a 'dress like Patti Smith' section.

The cobbled streets that form the Latinerkvarteret, the oldest part of the city, lace their way around huge medieval churches, department stores, tiny shops, and countless cafes, linking the station with the university. Møllestien is often cited as the city's prettiest street: a picture-perfect cobbled mews, all colourful cottages, trailing hollyhocks and roses, bicycles propped against spick and span exteriors. The residences here date from the eighteenth century (the street itself of Viking era) giving you a sense of the city's age, though Latinerkvarteret architecture stretches back as far as the sixteenth century and before.

Of course, hidden amongst all this history are several record stores, in the kinds of buildings where you have to stoop to enter, the interior full of musty darkness, unexpected steps and alcoves. There's nothing worse than finding a good record store when you have a plane to catch - what's the word for that half-hearted rummaging you do when you know you should be on your way?

It wasn't just the record stores; I didn't have time to see as much of any of Aarhus as I'd like. Those few hours left me with the sense of Aarhus as an easy-going university city, full of history and culture, like Exeter or York in the UK maybe. The kind of place you spend a few days in, not to 'see the sights' but to slow down, dwell in Danish hygge, make your way round every bar and coffee shop, linger on the streets. Apparently there are good beaches not far away too. I don't know what it'd be like in the dead of winter, whether it'd have enough of Copenhagen's capital city energy to sustain a worthwhile trip. And if you want a photo of Møllestien with the hollyhocks in bloom, you've gotta go in July.

On our way to the airport bus we pass a group of Springsteen fans. They spot my River t-shirt and we talk in broken English about last night's show. They're on their way to Sweden, to see him play in Gothenburg. I am jealous. I don't want to go home. I want my run of cinnamon buns, street haunting, and Springsteen to continue forever.

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