With their hygge culture of hunkering down in dark times into a land of cosiness and contentment, lit by candles and fuelled with porridge and steaming mugs, it could have been suggested that the Danes were well prepared to manage lock down.
Denmark was one of the first countries to shut up shops and close its borders earlier this year – on March 13 – but also the first country to re-open schools (in April) and bars and restaurants not long after, once the situation was under control. When governments in other European countries were asking their people to wear masks and restricting social activities and entertainment options, Denmark was internally open and everything felt pretty normal here this summer.
On June 7, while British theatres, pubs and music venues remained closed, I went to the first post-lockdown performance at the Copenhagen Opera House. Every other seat was empty, but that took nothing away from the spectacular performance. Afterwards, we enjoyed lunch and a glass of wine at Raffen, the open-air food market in a former industrial complex at the old dockyard. From June onwards, we were socialising, eating out and drinking in pubs. Most were back in their offices and the shops were open, with no rise in case numbers. In fact, daily new case numbers were in single digits. I think most assumed that we had done what needed to be done: we could now get on with our lives.
Looking back now, I feel very lucky and am grateful for the wonderful summer we had, so much of which was spent having fun outdoors. We had a blissful summer of BBQs with friends, almost daily swims in the canals, Friday night dinners and boozy picnics in the parks. Like many Danes, I holidayed within the borders and spent a sunny week exploring the little Danish isle of Bornholm, enjoying long walks on sandy beaches and sunrise swims, not to mention the gluttonous hotel breakfast buffets, seemingly a thing of the past everywhere else. Every Saturday at midnight, depending on where I was in the city, I could hear or see the Tivoli theme park fireworks.
Come mid-August, like most other countries in Europe, case numbers were rising – and this blissful normality departed. First, Danes were asked to wear masks on public transport (from August 22) – not an issue for many, with around a third of journeys in Copenhagen made by bike. On September 17 tougher measures were implemented and it was recommended that masks be worn in bars, coffee shops and restaurants when not sat down, while all social venues were ordered to close by 10pm.
Copenhagen’s famous food scene has taken a big hit. Before the pandemic, there were 16 restaurants in Denmark with 23 Michelin stars between them. That number is now 14 as Relæ and 108 have closed. I was at organic restaurant Amass the night before the 10pm closure rule came in and spoke with head chef Matt Orlando. He told me: “It’s huge for us – we’re ordering 25 per cent less food due to the early closure.”
At Denmark’s only three Michelin-star restaurant, Geranium, where a meal sets you back £320 a head without wine, head chef Rasmus Kofoed explained: “Up to 80 per cent of our clientele are tourists. It was hard without them when the borders were closed, but it’s meant that locals who wanted to come and couldn’t get a table now can.” Indeed, I haven’t seen many tourists in Copenhagen this summer, although I usually avoid the city centre and attractions such as The Little Mermaid statue.
Life-long Copenhagener Jonathan Hermansen summed up for me how Danes are feeling about the second wave: “People are more worried this time around as, despite tough action, cases have still risen”. However, support for Danish Prime minster Matte Frederiksen remains high.
Its easy and free to get a Covid-19 test here. Even as a tourist you only need to show a boarding pass to get one at the airport for free. After an internal flight this week, I took a walk-in test at Copenhagen airport. There was no queue and no hassle. I walked into the testing centre, had my tonsils tickled and was out in three minutes. After three days without a text notification, I know that my test was negative.
The new restrictions aren’t stopping Copenhageners from getting outdoors and staying active, minus the masks. Cycling from place to place is the norm here all year round and the waterways belong to the people for exercise and leisure. Before work, residents walk or jog along the waterfront, some even brave a dip in the channel wearing nothing but their birthday suits (and without a passing eyebrow being raised). On the water, there is a steady stream of kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders, pleasure boats in pursuit.
As we head towards winter and the darker, colder months, I suspect the Danes will trust the authorities and strictly adhere to the new rules. They’ll light candles and snuggle in a cosy corner with a book, covering themselves with a blanket, and wait for the wave to pass.