“I wish this boat would stop rocking so much,” I groaned to myself as I opened my eyes and looked in the bathroom mirror. It was only then that I realized I was standing in my hotel room in Copenhagen.
This was my first trip to Denmark. I had been in the furniture business for a few years and my brother-in-law/ boss suggested we drive from Glasgow to Copenhagen to visit the furniture fair in Bella Center in Copenhagen. At that time I was managing a shop that sold Danish Modern furniture and I was thrilled at the prospect of visiting some factories on the way there. Early one morning we drove south in my brother-in-law’s green Reliant Scimitar sports car to Harwich and took the overnight ferry to Esjberg.
On arrival in Denmark the countryside looked pretty much the same as the England we had just left: flat and characterless. But as the road signs were in Danish and driving was on the right hand side of the road we felt very cool. On our eastward trip to Copenhagen we stopped at one or two furniture factories. I had never seen such spotlessly clean facilities. All the machinery was gleaming and unlike Scottish factories, there was no dust in the air. Now I understood why Danish furniture was so beautiful. It was a marriage of ethos and simple aesthetics. Add craftsmanship to this and you have something of wonder. I am still an aficionado.
We arrived in Copenhagen and attended the show. While wandering around, looking at various lines, we bumped into people we knew who suggested we join them for dinner. The evening was memorable for two reasons. The first was that, we ate at a restaurant called “7 Smaa Hjem”(7 small homes). This was one of the top restaurants in Copenhagen in the late sixties and the food, to my unsophisticated Scottish palate, was like nothing I had ever had. (I have often wondered if I would still appreciate it now). The second reason was that after dinner, we went to see a really raunchy porn movie that almost brought up the whole meal.
The next day we met one of the reps we were friendly with. He looked really terrible. Bedraggled did not began to describe this man who was always nattily dressed and coiffed. We asked him what had happened and he didn’t say a word. He took out his card, turned it over and wrote on the back, “Vikingbåde”. His croaking voice said, “Give this to the taxi driver and be there at 7.”
The taxi took us down to the port and under a sign saying Vikingbåde, stood about a hundred people. We bought tickets and joined the crowd. At seven o’clock a whistle blew, the gate opened and everyone rushed towards a boat. We went with the flow, which led us downstairs to a large stateroom. Inside were long tables, piled high with food and bottles of aquavit. We sat down and noticed that even though there was enough food for an army, no one touched anything. The boat took off and after about 20 minutes, the whistle sounded and everyone dug into the food and started to drink.
Not being shy, we joined in. In talking to my neighbors the mystery was soon revealed. Duty on alcohol in Denmark was very high in those days. This ship sailed into international waters between Denmark and Sweden. When it reached that magic spot, the duty free bar was opened and booze became really cheap. The large amount of food and low-priced alcohol encouraged everyone to party. This lasted for quite a few hours and, on docking, I accompanied my neighbors and new best friends to the Luna Park in Tivoli gardens. Tivoli is a world famous amusement park and garden in the heart of Copenhagen. I vaguely remember riding a roller coaster for many hours then going out for drinks afterward.
The following morning, still suffering from “sea-sickness” I left the hotel and returned to Tivoli Gardens. It was a quiet, sunny, Sunday morning. The park was almost deserted and while ambling along a chestnut tree lined path, I stumbled across a brass band practicing. In Scotland in those days, brass bands were very much a coal mining (i.e. blue collar) enterprise. I was a middle-class snob and didn’t think much of them at all so I thought of moving on but a park bench beckoned and I sat down to listen. As the music played and the melodies soared over my aching limbs everything changed. My headache disappeared; my flesh stopped crawling and my eyes opened wide. Perhaps it was the sun, or the serenity of the park, but I know it was the music that healed my hangover and turned me into a lifelong fan of brass band music.