Planning for our recent trip to Germany to visit Liebling and Chiquito, we got to thinking about how close their home in Kiel is to Denmark, and whether we might manage a northern excursion from there. I’ve got Danish ancestors along several branches of my family tree, and I thought how interesting it would be to go and see where some of them had lived.*
When it came down to it, we weighed the time we had available, and the leg room in the back of their compact car, and decided that we didn’t need to walk around the actual villages where my ancestors lived in far northern Denmark–we could instead walk around some nice village in far southern Denmark, and that would be a good first taste.
This ended up being a good strategy, as the day we traveled was the Thursday before Easter. Sometimes called Maundy Thursday in the English-speaking world, it’s called Green Thursday in German. I don’t know what it’s called in Danish, and we didn’t get a chance to ask. On that day, for all intents and purposes, Denmark was closed.
I don’t mean that the border was closed. They let us into the country (there was police presence at the crossing, given recent terrorist activity, but we didn’t have to produce our documents). We could wander around, but all the shops were closed. And it wasn’t a holiday as we’ve experienced in Spain, where the shops are shut but the streets are full of people. It seemed eerily quiet as we walked around. There were cafe tables outside of restaurants, complete with fleece blankets (yes, it was cold), but no one sitting at them.
Still, we got to see some churches with architecture very typical of the region, and we wandered around the grounds of Gråsten Slot, the summer palace of the royal family. I imagine my ancestors didn’t have much to do with the royal family generally (with the exception of one great great great grandfather who received a medal from King Frederick VII), but the royal family would have been a feature of the world they knew, so that was a point of connection.
It was an interesting trip, even without any grocery store anthropology.† And once we got back into Germany, we stopped at a store to buy some pastries that are typical of those you can get in Denmark, if you happen to be in Denmark when it’s open. I learned from Chiquito that the sort of pastry we think of as a danish isn’t actually Danish, so we didn’t have to be disappointed that we’d missed out on getting one.
*As it turns out, as in many places in Europe where a lot people have been living and dying for millenia on limited acreage, you don’t typically find cemeteries with ancient mossy headstones and hard-t0-read dates in antique scripts. Instead, a family might lease a plot for 25 years, and when that time has passed, the plot is leased to some other family. I don’t know how many times they do that before the land is given a rest and a new cemetery is set up elsewhere, but my hopes of showing up in Hjørring, Denmark and walking around the cemetery among ancient statuary to discover a headstone for Giertrud Nielsdotter, born about 1663, with mention (by complete name) of her adoring parents, turned out not to be an option.
†One of the ways I try to get to know a culture is by looking at the sorts of things that normal people eat, and grocery stores are one good window into that world.
[Images: El Guapo, familysearch.org]