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Country of the Week: Denmark

In Countries by Continental StaffLeave a Comment

This week we’re wrapping up our Scandinavian adventures with a trip through Denmark!

  • Capital of Denmark (and Largest City): Copenhagen
  • Population of Denmark (2015): 5,699,220 (111th)
  • Total Area: 42,923.53 km² (133rd) – Denmark proper
  • Official Language: Danish
  • Currency: Danish krone (kr.) (DKK)
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Copenhagen – Denmark’s capital and largest city

History of Denmark

The narrative of Danish civilization begins with the stories of many different tribes. These groups interacted amongst each other while also trading with the mighty Roman Empire to the south. Things were relatively simple, but they were about to get a lot more complicated as we move into the 8th century.

The Viking Age in Denmark

Along with the other Scandinavian peoples (Swedes and Norwegians), the Danes soon became known and feared across Europe. These ‘Vikings’ raided and colonized Eastern and Western Europe, and even went as far as Newfoundland. The Danes specifically made great inroads into Britain and other nearby lands. They were even involved in founding the Duchy of Normandy (the people of which would become one of the most important groups in European history).

Late Medieval Denmark

By the late 10th century, Denmark had become a single entity and converted to Christianity. As a united nation, the country soon colonized and established footholds in other parts of Scandinavia and beyond. With regional politics a constant ebb and flow, the three Scandinavian countries entered into a union under Queen Margaret I – though Denmark was the most powerful and favoured member.

War and Politics in Early Modern Denmark

As we move into the 17th century, it should come as little surprise that Denmark (as with most of Europe) entered into a time of alliances, warfare, and expansion. After Sweden broke away from the union, the two countries often found themselves at odds (Norway remained in a union with Denmark). The Kalmar War, the Thirty Years’ War, the Scanian War, and the Great Northern War are just a few of the conflicts Denmark was involved in during this time. These took a toll on Denmark and Norway, with the union weakening over decades of strife.

In 1814, the Treaty of Kiel further gutted the kingdom when Denmark was forced to cede control of Norway to the Swedes – though they did keep Iceland, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands (the latter two of which still belong to the Danish crown). Soon following this upheaval, a constitutional monarchy was established and the country began to industrialize; all while the government aimed to remain neutral in regional conflicts.

Denmark During the World Wars

True to their word, Denmark was neutral in the First World War. However, despite signing a nonaggression pact with Germany in 1939, the German army invaded Denmark the following year. While initially cooperative with the occupiers, the government had had enough by 1943. The navy sent its ships away to neutral Sweden while the resistance rescued thousands of Jews from the Nazis.

Denmark in the Modern Era

Following the surrender of Nazi Germany, Denmark sought to become closer to other Western countries by becoming a founding member of NATO in 1949. The country also became a member of the EU, though it was not without some caveats. Like the UK, Denmark has four opt-outs (meaning they are not legally obligated to join some initiatives or follow select policies). This includes adopting the euro, among others. Both the Faroe Islands and Greenland have been granted home rule – though they remain within the larger Kingdom of Denmark.

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Burial mounds in the country

Danish Culture

Denmark has much in common culturally with the other Scandinavian countries – Sweden and Norway – both in a societal and historical sense. One of the major traditions in Danish culture is that of ‘hygge’, which refers to relaxing with friends and family and enjoying food – often equated with ‘coziness’. This is especially true at Christmas time, and is considered a major reason why people from Denmark are generally considered so happy and relaxed.

Danish Cuisine

One of the most common food traditions in Denmark is a lunch known as smørrebrød. This main dish is an open sandwich on rye, but can also include pickled herring, eel, crab, liver, meatballs, and more. It is usually enjoyed with a beer, snaps, or akvavit (a spirit). The country has developed a reputation for a carefree and easygoing drinking culture, with no minimum drinking age (though there are purchase limits).

Sport in Denmark

The most popular sport in Denmark is soccer. The biggest moment in Danish soccer history is the national team’s surprise victory in the 1992 European Championship. Only qualifying due to Yugoslavia’s expulsion, the Danes went on to defeat the Dutch on penalties in the semifinals and the Germans in the final. Cycling is also a major sport in the country, especially as of late.

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A traditional smørrebrød served with beer

Famous Danes

One of the most famous Danes is the fairy tale author Hans Christian Andersen (“The Snow Queen” served as the basis for Frozen). In the film and television business, you’ll find director Lars von Trier, actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister from Game of Thrones), actor Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings, a Danish-American), and actor Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale and Hannibal). Soccer players Peter Schmeichel (most famously of Manchester United, now retired) and Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) are also well known across the world.

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The Danish seacoast in Bornholm

Geography of Denmark

Denmark is found on both the Jutland peninsula (which ‘juts’ out into the Baltic Sea) as well as several islands known collectively as the Danish Archipelago. Unlike the sometimes-rugged landscape of Norway and parts of Sweden, Denmark is largely flat with rolling hills and plains the dominant features. Many rivers run through the mostly arable land of the country.

The largest city in Denmark (by far) is the capital – Copenhagen. It is a highly developed metropolis and a centre for government, arts, education, culture, entertainment, and cuisine.

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The Great Belt Bridge connecting the islands of Zealand and Funen

Facts about Denmark

  • The average age of marriage for men is 32 – the oldest in Europe
  • The TV show Vikings is based around the renowned Ragnar Lodbrok – who rose to become King of Denmark (according to legend)
  • There is no word for ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ in Danish
  • There is an entire festival for licorice
  • The Danish flag is the oldest still in use by a sovereign country today
  • LEGO comes from Denmark
  • The monarchy is the world’s oldest continuous line
  • Denmark only shares a land border with Germany
  • Greenland is the world’s largest island (not counting Australia)
  • The amount of sheep on the Faroe Islands is twofold the amount of people
  • Hamlet (of Shakespeare fame) was Danish
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The Legoland 4-star hotel in Billund

Last Word

So now that you’ve learned a bit more about the history and culture of Denmark; stay tuned this week to discover where to visit and what you’ll be spending!

Stay tuned to the Current for our Country of the Week. We’ll explore the familiar and the foreign, plus uncover some hidden gems (see them all HERE).

Stay informed. Stay Current.