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Denmark - Culture

Denmark Culture

The Danish language belongs to the northern branch of the Germanic language group, and bears a strong resemblance to other Scandinavian tongues. Famed Danish writers include Hans Christian Andersen, whose fairy tales have been translated into more languages than any other book except the Bible; the theologian and philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, a forerunner of modern existentialism; and Karen Blixen, who penned Out of Africa and Babette's Feast. Peter Høeg, of Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow fame, is Denmark's most prominent contemporary author.

Internationally, the best known Danish film director is Carl Dreyer (1889-1968). Dreyer directed numerous films, including the 1928 masterpiece La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, which was acclaimed for its rich visual textures and innovative use of close-up. Of late, Danish cinema has attracted attention with the wonderful Babette's Feast, and with the adaptation of Danish author, Martin Andersen Nexø's book Pelle the Conqueror, by director Bille August. The leading director of the new millenium is Lars von Trier, whose films Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark have received awards at the Cannes Film Festival; the latter won the Palme d'Or in 2000.

Carl Nielsen, Demark's greatest composer, wrote over 100 works, ranging from string quartets to opera; he is the author of the utterly charming choral work Springtime in Funen (Funen was Nielsen's birthplace); a clarinet concerto, arguably the finest of the 20th century; and six symphonies, of which the fourth, The Inextinguishable, and the fifth, with its almost neurotic drumming, being the best known. The Royal Danish Ballet, which performs in Copenhagen's Royal Theatre from autumn to spring, is regarded as northern Europe's finest. Denmark is also a leader in industrial design, with a style marked by cool, clean lines applied to everything from architecture to furniture and silverwork.

Danes pride themselves on being thoroughly modern, so the wearing of folk costumes, the celebration of traditional festivals and the clinging to old-fashioned customs is less prevalent in Denmark than in most other European countries. Visitors will find Danes to be relaxed, casual, not given to extremes and tolerant of different life styles. Indeed, in 1989 Denmark became the first European country to legalise same-sex marriages and offer gay partnerships the same rights as heterosexual couples. Perhaps nothing captures the Danish perspective on life more than the concept of hygge which, roughly translated, means cosy and snug. It implies shutting out the turmoil and troubles of the outside world and striving instead for a warm intimate mood. Hygge affects how Danes approach many aspects of their personal lives, from designing their homes to their fondness for small cafés and pubs. Danes can give their host no greater compliment than to thank them for a cosy evening.

Nothing epitomises Danish food more than smørrebrød (literally 'buttered bread'), an open-faced sandwich that ranges from very basic fare to elaborately sculpted creations. Danish food relies heavily on fish, meat and potatoes. Typical dishes include flæskesteg (roast pork with crackling), gravad laks (cured or salted salmon marinated in dill and served with a sweet mustard sauce) and hvid labskovs (a stew made of square cuts of beef boiled with potatoes, bay leaves and pepper). The rich pastry known in most countries as 'Danish' is called wienerbrød (Vienna bread) in Denmark, and nearly every second street corner has a bakery offering a mouthwatering selection. Denmark's Carlsberg breweries produce excellent beers. The most popular spirit in Denmark is the Aalborg-produced aquavit. Beer, wine and spirits are readily available in most restaurants, cafés and grocery stores.

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