June 5, 2015
“To Travel is to Live” Hans Christian Andersen
You guessed it, we traveled from Munster, Germany to Odense, the birthplace and childhood home of Hans Christian Andersen, in Denmark. Five hours on the Autobahn gives you plenty of time to ponder and come up with observations and theories.
First, I am getting the hang of the Autobahn. Germans are predictable and they follow the rules. They actually conform to speed limits when posted. There is also a strict protocol for who can reside in different lanes of traffic. Beware of not being the fastest in the left lane. The right lane is for the timid and the trucks. The middle lane, if there is one, is great except when trucks pass trucks. In that lane you need to develop your timing so that you can quickly pass on the left and retreat to the center without disturbing the interceptor, rocket drivers who hate applying brakes. I think I managed to comply with protocol all day and got no angry flashing lights. As I said, the Germans are predictable because they follow the rules. That is easier for me than the Italians for whom rules are suggestions and the Greeks who make up their own.
The Northern plains of Germany are as flat as Kansas but green and full of different crops unlike the corn fields of our Midwest. They are also festooned with windmills generating electricity and solar panels atop every farmer’s south facing barn. And despite traveling through some of most industrialized areas on the planet, the scenery was quite nice. Maybe it is the rain. But it was nice to rarely see any litter, except at the picnic road stops. Not sure why there is litter there and no where else. The free bathrooms even have soap, water and hand dryers. Nice change from a typical roadside bathroom. We knew we were in Denmark when we passed a sign that said we were there.
The elephant symbol is very popular for some unknown reason with the Danish.
We stopped in Odense after crossing the bridge that separates Jutland from the island of Funen. We were there to play homage to its most famous son, HC Andersen. And we were also trying to see the town she last saw in her college days a few decades ago. We found the childhood home of Hans. It consisted of one room. His Dad cobbled in most of it while Hans slept in a wooden chest that doubled as the family bench. The whole place was smaller than one of our storage sheds with a six foot ceiling. Hans had a humble upbringing, but he achieved greatness to be recognized as a Danish National Treasure for much of his adulthood.
We we all know many of his stories. Hollywood and Disney have made fortunes retelling his tales and tales of his life. Unfortunately, he never managed to find a female companion despite his best efforts. He was madly in love with the Swedish Nightengale, Jenny Lind. She rebuffed his attempts at romance with her. Of course, he was not the only one to be ignored by Miss Lind. An entire gold camp in Calaveras County named their diggens in honor of Jenny Lind.
I think that Hans made a long lasting contribution to Danish society besides inspiring Danny Kaye to sing about Copenhagen. His stories usually had happy endings unlike his contemporaries the Grimms in Germany. While they were gathering stories that gave generations of children nightmares, Hans’ stories had both pathos and humor. Of course this might be unfair to the Bothers Grimm as they were collecting scary stories used by German parents while Hans made up his own tales. Anyway, this might help explain some differences in the national personalities.
Denmark is considered by pollsters who study these things to be one of the happiest countries on the planet. They alternate with fellow Scandinavians, the Dutch and the Swiss for the title of the happiest place on earth. Perhaps HC Andersen had something to do with this.
As we walked the streets and parks of Odense, it was impossible to not see a sense of tranquility and enjoyment of life. The playgrounds were nice and filled with happy cherubs. There was no yelling or screaming or other behaviors I tend to associate with modern parenting skills I see in supermarkets and Costco. I am sure I am idealizing but on the other hand, what changed over the last twelve hundred years. These Danes terrorized the coastal regions of Europe for a couple centuries.
Today their longships have been replaced by bicycles and their weapons are now the soccer ball and the golf club. It is strange to just sit and use your imagination to suit the young men in Viking garb and the young women as Viking shield maidens. It is not much of a stretch.