The colorful Nyhavn neighborhood,
once a seedy sailor district, now boasts
a vibrant restaurant and bar scene.
LAURIE CHAMBERLAIN/CORBIS. OPPOSI TE PAGE: (FROM TOP) JOERG GLAESCHER 2005; KEN WALSH/ALAM Y
hall and down a busy, car-free shopping
promenade. I find myself in an orderly line
of two-wheel commuters pedaling past
medieval churches and baroque palaces,
as well as Arne Jacobsen’s bold, modernist
National Bank building. I’ve managed a
sightseeing tour of the inner city without
I come eventually to Christianshavn,
the old naval port, which is now home
to the avant-garde exhibits of the Danish
Architecture Centre and the quasi-legal,
self-governing “free city” of Christiania,
whose claim to fame was its warren
of cannabis-friendly café pubs. I find
a network of hiking and biking paths
that wind through the nearby forest and
past whimsical homes, many of which
were designed and built by Christiania’s
residents. A rural commune tucked into the
middle of the city is typical, I am learning, of
Copenhagen’s collaborative, human-scale
approach to urban living.
Copenhagen’s main retail street
and pounding heart is the Strøget, the
world’s longest pedestrian street, closed
permanently to automotive traffic in 1962.
I’ve been spending part of pretty much
every day there, and one sunny May
afternoon, I decide to hike the whole thing.
I start at the corner of the busiest
intersection in town, where I find an
inconspicuous monument to Copenhagen’s
slick urban planning—a traffic signal,
that is, hanging over a bike lane. Until
recently, this was the city’s most dangerous
intersection for bicyclists, because cars
turning right were frequently plowing into
bikes going straight ahead (the dreaded
“right hook” well known to urban cyclists
the world over). So the old traffic light was
duly replaced by two new ones: a right-turn signal for cars, and a second, which
goes green when the turn signal switches
to red, for the crowded lane of bike traffic
headed straight through the intersection.
At rush hour on a fine spring day, I stand
curbside at the intersection for a good
half an hour, gawking at the orderly traffic
as if it were a masterpiece hanging in the
Louvre. It is just so clever, so simple and
efficient. So civilized.
Finally breaking from my musing, I stroll
up a side street toward the busy Strøget.
I come to a broad plaza called Kultorvet,