The Copenhagen National Museum is only the second museum I have been to in Europe, but I’m willing to put it out there – best museum I have ever been to! It will be really hard to beat. I was only planning on having a quick squiz as a brief stop in our City Tour, but I didn’t want to leave! If you are a museum nerd like me, put aside plenty of time for this one.
The building itself could be its own tourist destination – it is actually called ‘The Princes Palace’ and housed the Royal family in the 18th Century. Between rooms and exhibits I unexpectedly found myself walking through beautiful rooms preserved from the palace days, showing how it used to be.
The building was a bit of a rabbit warren, with entrances and starting points all over the show. I started in the Danish Renaissance and worked through things in a bit of a strange order, but it was still brilliant! The religious art was particularly beautiful and fascinating. Sometimes it was really hard to believe how old a painting or sculpture was, given its impressive detail.
I came across some very amazing and technical artwork, despite it being very old. One painting looked like a smudged circle, but when viewed in the cylindrical mirror in the middle you could quite clearly see the picture. Nearby was what I like to call ‘the original 3D’ – a box you looked through to see a very small but very detailed 3D image.
After the Renaissance I went further back in time and explored the stone, bronze, iron and viking ages. A highlight was definitely the viking drinking horns. None of this left-hand-pinky-out-oooh-what-a-challenge business, these guys had to drink out of a horn with no legs/stand (those were added retrospectively by early historians). This wasn’t such an issue for the vikings as they would down their entire vessel in one go. And those things are pretty large. Don’t nobody try to tell me a beer bong is a crazy new thing those outrageous youngsters are doing!
Of course anything to do with art, history, culture and Europe was chock full of religious art and iconography, but it was fascinating seeing so many different depictions of Jesus, Mary and other notable Christian figures in one place.
The next exhibit I saw was ‘Peoples of the World’ which had amazing items from many cultures, both ancient and modern.
By far the highlight of the museum was the ‘Europe Meets the World’ exhibit. Unfortunately this one isn’t permanent, but it really should be! This exhibit is a series of nine different areas you move through that depict Europe’s historical interactions and conflicts with the rest of the world, both good and bad. It was about as interactive as an exhibit can get, with QR codes you can scan on your phone to participate in polls and get more information. There was a dear old man behind me at one stage who was astonished as I scanned one of the codes next to a large old hymn book and my phone played him the music from it. His face was priceless! There were also short video or audio clips in most of the areas providing more information and perspectives.
The use of newfangled technology wasn’t what made it so good, though. The exhibit walked participants through the origins of democracy, the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, religion and religious wars, early globalisation and the slave trade, WWI, WWII and the Cold War and the effects of globalisation today, raising many interesting and perceptive questions. Perhaps it is just me in my bubble of naiivity, positivity and first world problems, but it was amazing just how many things we put down as issues of the past that are in fact very much issues of today. Every single area managed to link historical conflicts to current ones in a very thought provoking way. For example, the ‘democracy’ area explained early greek philosophies that are the basis of our system,
but questioned whether we have ever been a true democracy, not using the obvious middle eastern countries, but instead with all of the protests happening in Greece and other parts of the world at the moment. The early globalisation area showed orginial and nauseating ‘plans’ for how to fit as many slaves as possible in a ship, making me shudder and think how lucky we are today. That was before I came to the part about modern slavery, be it in the sex industry or manufacturing – reminding me it isn’t at all an issue of the past. None of the current issues raised were new realisations, of course, but the whole exhibition was a brilliant tool to bring all the things we like to conveniently forget to the front of my mind. The exhibit ended with costumes worn by two students who crashed a gala dinner at the Copenhagen Climate Summit, simply by dressing the part, and then unfurled a banner reading ‘Politicians Talk, Leaders Act.’ An incredibly thought provoking exhibit, that also asked some very big questions at the about what to do next to resolve the many issues still facing the world (literally, the text was huge).
Unfortunately I only just got to the beginning of Danish history when I noticed I had a few missed calls from my companions. I did however, learn that when the Monarchy was introduced (initially there was a more democratic structure where the King was elected), Parliament found writing a constitution all too difficult and delegated the task to the King. The king then gave himself absolute power.* Some might call that an Epic Fail.
All in all an amazing experience, and all for free! I highly recommend it to anyone who visits Copenhagen, and I will definitely be heading back there to learn some more Danish history, among the other exhibits I missed.
*Haven’t exactly verified that one with in depth reserach (read: a wikipedia search) but I swear that’s what the sign said. The Nationalmuseet wouldn’t lie to me!