Intro to Danish Geography

Sept. 7 - A lot of Danes visit my site on a regular basis, and I suppose even more visit it sporadically—or just once. I'm going to apologize to all of them in advance, right now, for any errors or misrepresentations in today's bloggish. The first thing I've probably got wrong is my contour map of the nation, which I traced on my own off an actual map. The red lines represent the route we took this weekend.

Denmark, more or less.

The map does not include the island of Bornholm, a troll-infested island to the east, or the territories of Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Denmark no longer owns any Virgin Islands—they sold theirs to avoid being put in the awkward position of having territories where slavery was legal. The map also ignores the thousands of little islands scattered about the major landmasses because they would have taken me much too long to draw. Besides, they would have looked more like spilled ink than any kind of geographic feature.

Copenhagen is on the east coast of Sjælland (usually called Zealand by Anglophones). On the map above, it's the point on the right where our journey began and ended. Sjælland is an island.

To the west of Sjælland lies Fyn, another island. The major city of Fyn is Odense, situated a little above the center of the island. That's the city where Hans Christian Andersen was born and raised. (More on him later, and much, much more of him next year.)

To the west of Fyn lies Jylland, more commonly known to Anglophones as Jutland. Jylland is not an island. The bottom of Jylland on the map above is not seashore, but the German border. (Many Danes, and some Germans, believe the true Danish border belongs a good deal further south, below the erstwhile duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. More on that here.) The major cities of Jylland are Århus and Aalborg, port cities on the east coast.

Denmark's geopolitical significance becomes clear when you realize that it's not possible to get out of the North or Baltic Seas without passing through Denmark's three major straits: Øresund ("Ear Sound") between Sjælland and Sweden, Storebælt ("Great Strait") between Sjælland and Fyn, and Lillebælt ("Little Strait") between Fyn and Jylland. It has therefore never been possible to pass from the Baltic or North Seas to the Atlantic Ocean (and thence the world) without coming under Danish scrutiny. This fact of geography has had enormous political and military consequences—most of which involved Germany or Russia.

It's had serious social and economic consequences for Denmark itself. Passage between the major land masses was possible only by ferry until very recently. Though Lillebælt has been bridged for many years, Storebæltsbroen ("The Great Strait Bridge") was only recently constructed. It opened for traffic in 1998. It's one of the civil engineering marvels of the world, over 20km in length and as high as the Eiffel tower. Øresundsbroen ("The Øresund Bridge") is also a marvel and has only been open since July of 2000. It's actually a series of tunnels and bridges, and includes an artificial island (Peberholm) in the middle of the strait. It's a hell of a thing to behold as you fly into Copenhagen Airport.

As you can see on my map, Trine and I chose to take the ferry one way (the way out) and the bridges on the other. The economics of the thing are impossible to work out: it cost 295 kroner (about fifty bucks) to take the ferry, but it saved us a lot of money and gas and cut down on the time we had to spend in the car with the nine-week-old Molli. Lillebæltbroen is free, but Storebæltbroen has a 250 kroner ($42) toll on passenger cars. There's much more driving when you go by land, but you have the option of stopping and tending to your child whenever you like. (This is probably offset by the fact that the ferry cafe is large and comfortable enough to persuade your nine-week-old child that she's on dry land, and the restrooms have changing tables.)

The driving distance between Skagen—the top of the nipple on the north point of Jylland—and Copenhagen is about 490km, or 305 miles. (It's considerably longer if you stop at regular intervals to get lost looking for comfortable spots to change or feed your baby.) But it's only about 90 minutes from Copenhagen to Kalundborg, the corner of Sjælland from which one catches the ferry to Århus on Jylland, and about two-and-a-half hours from Århus to Skagen.

I said on Friday that The Literature boasts that Skagen is the northernmost point of continental Europe. This is true if you're willing to concede that nothing north of Denmark or east of Poland is part of continental Europe—a concession most Danes are willing to make before breakfast. Technically, alas, it's a pretty hard sell.

But I've never been one for technicalities, so I'm happy to report that, on Saturday morning, Trine and I drove Molli from our hotel in Aalbæk to the northernmost parking lot on continental Europe. We then paid 15 crowns each to be driven by sandcrawler across the northernmost beach on continental Europe to the northernmost point of continental Europe. There we bounded out onto the sand and scampered into the water to be, however briefly, the northernmost tourist buffoons on continental Europe.

Surprisingly enough, there's more to Skagen than its northernmostness. It also happens to be point where two seas, Skaggerak and Kattegat, collide. They do this, as most seas do, with considerable force. When Trine and I photographed each other as the northernmost persons on continental Europe, we were also photographing ourselves as the only persons in Europe with one foot in each of those two seas.

Moron and daughter, northernmost persons in Europe

Which is a depressingly uninteresting way to end a bloggish, but end it I must. Now that you get the hang of Danish geography (or at least the hang of my own peculiar understanding thereof), tomorrow I can focus on the much more interesting topic of what we did on it.


Elizabeth I was born on September 7, 1533. She was coronated at twenty-five and remained on the throne for 44 years, which helps explain why she remained a virgin all her life. She is best known for having ordered the destruction of the Spanish Armadillo and the invention of Shakespeare.

On September 5, 1638, King Louis XIV of France was born. Like Elizabeth in England, Louis inherited a struggling kingdom and built it into a major power. Unlike Elizabeth, Louis did not remain a virgin. On the contrary, he produced so many little bastards that he came to be known as the "Son King," which led him to conclude famously "L'etat, c'est moi." ("Kid, I'm your father.")

Although there can be no royalty in the United States, one young woman is crowned each year as Miss America. The first such coronation was held on September 6, 1921. Miss America reigns for one year, at which point she must retire—unless she removes her clothing, in which case she's deposed. (Or is that denuded?)

Lastly, of course, one of the most popular Queens of the modern age was born on September 5, 1946: his name was Freddie Mercury.

Birthdays and Holidays

September 7 is the birthday of Julie Kavner (1951), Buddy Holly (1936), Elia Kazan (1909), Grandma Moses (1860), and Elizabeth I (1533).

September 7 is Independence Day in Brazil and Flag Day in Kuwait.

Happy Tuesday!

© 2004, The Moron's Almanac™

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