Denmark A Summer Delight
Story & Photos by Elaine & Henry Levy
Copenhagen in July was a great escape from the New York heat this past summer. The crew at SAS Airlines made our flight smooth, satisfying and stress free. Before going to Denmark's capital city, we enjoyed several days in Hornbaek, part of what is known as the Danish Riviera.
"There was no place in the entire area to get Kosher food, so twelve years ago, we decided to open a hotel in order that observant Jewish visitors would have a place to stay. It has been very difficult, and is more of a hobby than a profit making business," said Mrs. Gutterman, of the huge commitment she and her husband Eric have made to continue the operation of the Hotel Villa Strand in the seaside resort of Hornbaek.
We had the good fortune of arriving at the Villa Strand on Friday morning, and were able to partake in the Sabbath festivities. Friday evening began with a visit to the local shul, which was founded in 1970 by the Guttermans and two other people, and is the only synagogue in all of Denmark's holiday resorts. A delicious Shabbos dinner, complete with all the trimmings, was served that evening. The Sabbath lunch was served buffet style, and the table was filled with such delectable dishes as poached salmon, roast chicken, corned beef, chicken salad, Israeli salad, potato salad, beets, string beans, pastries and fruit. Gefilte fish and chicken noodle soup preceded the feast.
Mrs. Gutterman personally supervises the kitchen. An Israeli chef, hired each summer, prepares the delicious Shabbat meals. The challahs and pastries are all home made.
Mr. Gutterman, who just turned eighty, has plans to open a facility adjacent to the Villa Strand, which would be used to cater weddings, bar mitzvahs and corporate events. With the sea just a few steps away, it would be hard to imagine a more ideal setting. There appears to be no stopping this dynamo who only recently sold the handbag business that made this all possible.
While the Guttermans host Jews from all over the world, over eighty percent of their clientele are non-Jews who come to Hornbaek to enjoy the serene atmosphere. Several of the rooms at the Villa Strand have been remodeled with modern bathroom facilities. The Hotel Villa Strand is at Kystrej 12, 3100 Hornbaek, Denmark, and their local phone number is: 49700080. Rooms start at approximately $120 for a double room, $165 for a family of four, and up to $335 for a luxury suite. All rates include a breakfast buffet.
Not only does Hornbaek offer beautiful beaches, swimming and surfing, but also has a mini golf course. Fishing is another popular sport at Hornbaek. The southern beach is stony, and not conducive to swimming. It is here that anglers wade in waste deep water with long fishing rods to catch sea trout, cod, salmon and garfish. It is also possible to rent dinghies and trolling boats from the Hornbaek Boat Rental. Tennis, golf and horseback riding are available a short distance away.
With a panoramic view of the Swedish coast, the harbour is the natural meeting place for the natives, summer visitors and tourists. The Hornbaek Harbour Festival is the highlight of the summer season, and takes place each year at the end of July.
A twenty minute train ride away from Hornbaek is the town of Gilleleji, a little fishing hamlet, with many summer villas. Gilleleji is one of the coastal towns that played a pivotal role in saving thousands of Jewish lives during World War II.
During the time of the Nazi occupation, the great majority of the 7,000 Jews living in Denmark were able to find hiding places with other Danes. At first they were hidden by friends or acquaintances, or in hospitals or nursing homes. The next step was their great escape to Sweden. These dangerous voyages were, to a great extent, carried out by fishermen, or in boats which the Resistance groups had acquired. The refugees had to be brought from their private hiding places to embarkation points where they would board ships that would carry them across the sea to Sweden. No place is this more personified than in Gillelji.
We were fortunate enough to meet Jan Christiansen, a retired real estate agent, and twenty-five year resident of Gillelji, quite by chance. He told us the story of how a hundred Danish Jews were hidden in the attic of the local church and fed by the townspeople under the noses of the Nazis who were trying to hunt them down. Jan escorted us to that church, and we were taken to the attic. One could only imagine the enormous strain of waiting in such uncomfortable and crowded conditions.
On the walls of the attic hang a proclamation from the State of Israel, and a plaque from the United Jewish Appeal attesting to what occurred on that very spot, and expressing gratitude to the people of Denmark for all the lives they had saved.
Just a fifteen minute walk from the church is another remarkable sight, a life-size statute of a man blowing a shofar, against the backdrop of the sea from which the lifesaving boat lift took place nearly sixty years ago. The sculpture was given to the town of Gillelji in 1997 by private Israeli citizens.
Gillelji was an interesting and an emotional journey, and one that should not be missed. From Hornbaek, we traveled to Copenhagen by train, a short 1-1/2 hours away. We stayed at The Plaza/Sofitel, conveniently located across the way from the central train station, and the world famous Tivoli Gardens. The accommodations were roomy and comfortable, and an excellent, full complimentary breakfast was offered each morning.
Copenhagen is a charming city. You can take a stroll along the man-made canals, visit one of several parks, or even bike around town without paying a bike rental fee (as part of the city's program to encourage people not to use cars). There are many outdoor cafes, created after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, that contribute to the lure of the city, as do the pedestrian walkways, the shops and life of the city. Each July, Copenhagen hosts an international Jazz Festival, with music and performances at venues throughout Copenhagen, most of which are held outdoors and are free.
A worthwhile investment is the Copenhagen Card. This enables the user access to over sixty museums and other sights, and free rides on all trains, and buses, including to airports and nearby towns.
Our first day in Copenhagen was spent with Marete Christiansen, a scholar who has done extensive research on the Jews of Denmark. Marete not only provided us with a rich history lesson, but also gave us a tour of the city. It was interesting to learn how many Jewish connections there were. For example, Hans Christian Andersen, the famous story teller, died in the arms of a Jewish woman. The front of Our Lady's Church is adorned with majestic statutes of King David and Moses. When asked why these statutes were there, a priest replied, "They are here to show us the way". It was also interesting to note that the Hebrew word for G-d, Adonai, is inscribed in gilded letters above the doors of Holmens Kirke, the naval church, as well as on the exterior fa�ade of many other churches in Denmark.
In September of 2003, the new Jewish Museum of Denmark is scheduled to open on the former grounds of the Royal Library. The theme of the museum, which was designed by Daniel Libeskind, who was also the architect for the Berlin Jewish Museum, is Mitzvah. It represents the Jewish experience in Denmark since the time of King Christian IV, who in 1622 invited Sephardic Jews to his country. This fifteen year dream of Bent Silber, Chairman of the Museum, reflects the commitment of the Danish Jewish Community, as well as the Danish Government. It is expected to be visited by Danes, school children and tourists, and become one of Copenhagen's "must see" exhibits. For a preview, visit the Jewish Museum's website at: www.jewmus.dk.
The Museum of Resistance is another worthwhile attraction. It was alarming to note from the exhibits how many similarities there were in the early 1940s to the present time, especially the growing indifference to the surge of anti-Semitism, which is occurring throughout Europe!
One of the most striking buildings in Copenhagen is the main building of the library, or the "Black Diamond" as it has become known. In addition to housing 200,000 reference books, the Black Diamond features a bookshop, a restaurant with a spectacular view of the harbour, a courtyard for exhibitions, and a hall for concerts and meetings. The Library's collection of Judaica and Hebraica includes over 100,000 books and manuscripts. Some of the greatest treasures of Jewish religious and secular literature can be found here.
Of course, one cannot visit Copenhagen without seeing Tivoli Gardens. Tivoli Gardens is Denmark's most visited tourist attraction, and is Europe's third largest amusement park. Aside from the rides and games, Tivoli has several open-air stages and theatres. Some of the world's greatest singers, orchestras and dance companies have performed at Tivoli. Sting, the Beach Boys, Phil Collins and Cher are among those who performed on the open-air stage; and jazz entertainers such as Ray Charles, Natalie Cole and Tony Bennett have performed at Tivoli during the Copenhagen Jazz Festivals.
The restaurants at Tivoli cater to a wide range of tastes from modern, fusion cuisine, to fast food or Danish food. We ate at the Divan II, which is one of the most popular Danish restaurants, and one of the oldest.
The best time to visit Tivoli is in the evening when the lights reflecting off the waterfalls, statutes and gardens give it a fairytale appearance.
A visit to Denmark, especially in the summer when the days are long and the weather is mild, is highly recommended. What made this trip especially gratifying was the opportunity to learn about and to observe the strong and positive influence that many Jewish citizens had in this country. For more information about travel to Denmark, contact the Danish Tourist Board, 655 Third Avenue, 18th Floor New York, New York 10017; telephone: (212) 885-9727, or visit their website at: www.visitdenmark.com
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