To the outsider, Denmark, and indeed most of Scandinavia, is a difficult one to figure out architecturally. The rural buildings, businesses and homesteads are all low-rise and their basic design probably hasn’t changed since Viking times. This makes it hard to work out what is ten years old, a hundred years old or even a thousand years old. They have those long sloping roofs, only one or two floors and they occupy a large footprint.
I’m guessing this makes them easy to heat, and it means they won’t get blown over by the fierce winds that blow across this predominantly flat country. The Big Bad Wolf would have his work cut out in Denmark, even the little pigs are safely tucked up in their solid low-rise sheds.
I’m sure the Danes themselves know a new building from an old one, but whizzing by on a bus from Bilund Airport they all look pretty much the same to me. However, in Ribe, you really do know you are in Olde Denmark. It is the Danish version of York.
This picturesque Jutland town claims to have been around since the early eighth century. Then again, Danish brewer Carlsberg also claims to have the best lager in the world….I’m guessing they ‘probably’ haven’t tried Polish Warka or Czech Budweiser Budovar, my current favourites for the title.
Having wonderful Danish hosts to show you around helps in interpreting Danish culture and history. For one thing, without their expert local knowledge, I would never have experienced the best breakfast in the world. And that’s a definitely, not a probably.
If you would like to try this marvelous feast for yourself then it can be found at the Kolvig Restaurant which nestles by the river. Click here for their menu. It is the Kr 165 Brunch that is indeed the most historic thing in Ribe. I suggest you book a table in advance as it gets very busy in the tourist season, as does Ribe generally, but in breezy mid-February we had the town to ourselves.
Ribe’s stunning cathedral meant that I was back on familiar ground in terms of prattling on about old architecture. A beautiful Romanesque Catholic church which had elements of Gothic added to it in the 13th century.
All that fancy papal decoration was then plastered over with protestant plainness in the Reformation of the 16th century. If all this church history sounds fairly tedious to you, then you should read my new book about early art and architecture. As you might expect, I liven the subject up considerably with a sprinkling of swear-words and some amusing arse-gags.
For those of you that couldn’t give a monkey’s about church architecture, and have no intention of buying my new book (click here, just in case you missed the first link), then the cathedral also has a big tower to climb up. There are around 250 steps, but it is a grand view from the top. The panoramic vista gives you an idea of how the old Ribe Vikings readied themselves in their longships and sailed off down the river to the nearby sea, and then on to the shores of Great Britain to impregnate themselves into our DNA.
It is strange to think how closely we are related to our European cousins in our genetic make-up; be they Italian Romans, French Celts, German Saxons or Danish Vikings…and yet we thought it a splendid idea to vote for Brexit. Naturally, all that had gone wrong with our wealth-divided and nostalgia-obsessed country could only ever be the fault of the EEC. Nothing at all to do with the sleazy and self-serving politicians that we’ve had for decades in Westminster. Heaven forfend.
This was our first trip abroad for two years, thanks to Covid, but also the first in which we experienced the full reality of the Brexit that some of us voted for. For instance, there was having to join the much longer non-EEC queue at Bilund Airport, and the piss-poor exchange rate that gets you half a potato to the pound. There were all the extra online forms we had to complete just to get back into Britain, and then the shambolic cattle market that passes for passport control at Stanstead Airport.
No doubt all of this is cunningly designed to confound any Johnny Foreigner that can still be bothered to sneak into our sceptred isle. Still, at least we’ll be getting our traditional blue passports back and there will be jobs aplenty if we all want to be lorry drivers or care workers.
Oh, and our cucumbers/bananas will now be straight/bent, or whatever it was that we were getting all upset about.