354. EU Parliament

IMG_5868 (640x480)Perhaps it is my inner nerd, but I found the EU Parliament, or the ‘Parliamentarium’ as the museum part is called absolutely fascinating. Not just a fantastic building, the museum had a really great exhibit walking you through all the relevant parts of European history that lead to the creation of the European Union. The timeline along the wall of important events in the recent histories of all of the member countries was great, as was the giant visual displays of the debating chambers displaying, in quite a cool, interactive way, how decisions are made, all of the processes, and how decisions affect people’s day to day lives.IMG_5871 (640x480)

After learning about a lot more European history than the standard WWI and WWII you get in high school (particularly eastern Europe, former Yugoslavia etc which get a bit left out IMHO), I was definitely a lot more appreciative of the whole system. Particularly after having been to many places that are still dealing with the effects of wars and regimes of a less democratic nature, I am now much more inclined to agree that the recent awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU is quite fitting. At first I thought it was a bit ridiculous and that those actual people who were awarded it before would probably be quite offended. I was initially of the opinion it was a tacky, cheap way to rally the troupes and stop people pushing the idea of pulling out of the EU in the wake of the Eurozone crisis. But when you see just how much conflict there has been in the region, all laid out on one timeline and so recent, it does change your perspective.

Seeing parts of Berlin still being rebuilt (complete with scattered bits of the wall), meeting people who remember lining up for days for rations in Krakow and visiting concentration camps, I am continually amazed at how so many countries so close together have given each other so much grief over the years and it made me realise that the EU really is quite radical.

I couldn’t help but wonder as I wandered just how much all of the fancy pants lighting and displays were costing, and I don’t think I’m the only one. Apparently it is fairly controversial (being opened in 2011, right as the Greek crisis turned into the Eurozone crisis). A cheeky google search reveals it cost around €20m. When I arrived I wasn’t sure if the audioguides were free or not, and when I asked, the girl behind the counter answered with a bitter “No, my taxes pay for it for you.”

I only wish I had longer there (I was on the way out to the airport, had my backpack and everything in the coat check) as it was really fascinating and I barely scratched the surface – you can also see the parts of the rest of the buildings. I’ll definitely have to go back.

263. Anne Frank House

Having studied Anne Frank’s diary quite intently at school (read the book, done the play watched the movie) I was really looking forward to the opportunity to see the actual house.

In what was actually quite a moving story, Anne Frank’s father, Otto, was the only one to survive after the family was eventually found and taken to the concentration camp. When he finally tracked down what had happened to each of his family members, rather than sell or destroy the house, he decided to preserve it as a reminder to all of what happened and what should never happen again, as well as publishing Anne’s diaries, one of the few true, detailed and personal accounts of just how much the war affected the individual.

I actually found Anne Frank House to be a great deal more emotional and moving than any other WWII memorial, even visiting a concentration camp, and I think the difference is how incredibly detailed and personal the story is, told as you move through the various levels and rooms in the house, and including both the lead up to the families deciding to hide in the annex, and what became of them afterwards. There were also a number of displays of what life was like in Amsterdam at the time, and just why it was a better option for them to spend so long trapped in a small space, unable to move or even use the toilet during the day.

The book case hiding the entrance

There was one particular moment which really struck a chord for me. When looking at an original yellow star in a display cabinet, next to a sign saying “No Jews Allowed,” I realised that for most people, the intended response is “gosh that kind of treatment was so awful.” Unfortunately, for many, “was” is not the correct word. That very morning I had logged in to my Facebook page and seen an update from a friend of mine who the night before had been told “No Niggers Allowed” at the door of a bar in Aarhus. It made me so angry that some people still don’t seem to have learned any lessons, but the kind of people that would say something like that to him are probably the same people who would nod and agree that the holocaust was terrible and how could they treat people like that. Further to the problem, it seemed to overwhelming response from Danish friends in this scenario was “don’t worry about it, let it go.” I would like to chalk that response up to the fact that Danish culture is a lot less confrontational, rather than that our Danish friends don’t seem to think that it was really wrong for him to be treated that way. Thankfully though, the Mayor of Aarhus invited him round to apologise, and a lawyer in Copenhagen got wind of it and is pursing the matter pro bono. It still makes me sick that people continue to treat eachother that way for no good reason though.

Back to the original post, despite my mind being elsewhere on that particular day, I thought Anne Frank House was one of the greatest museums I have been to, and think that anyone who has the opportunity should definitely go there. As well as the house itself the museum afterwards was really goo. At the end there was a display of original records all of the Frank family’s attempts to immigrate to other countries, including a very harsh rejection letter from the USA, which basically said no you can’t come and don’t try and apply again.

This lead to Claire and I getting into a pretty in depth debate about immigration policies both at the time and today. Why wouldn’t the US just let people in? They could have saved so many people! I had hoped there was a good reason, for example, Hitler declaring the USA couldn’t take any immigrants or XYZ would happen, but after doing a bit of research there doesn’t seem to be any reason that I would say remotely justifies such harsh immigration policies at the time. One site even says they only let 21,000 refugees in from Europe (as in, the whole continent) in the lead up to WWII. It seems that quotas were actually reduced in the United States, and the best excuse they could come up with was that they were worried about harbouring German spies.

A.D. Morse wrote:

“In 1938 the Nazis burned every synagogue in the nation, shattered the windows of every Jewish establishment, hauled twenty-five thousand innocent people to concentration camps, and forced the Jews to pay 1,000,000,000 marks for the damage.”… “Five days later, at a White House press conference, a reporter asked the President ‘Would you recommend a relaxation of our immigration restrictions so that the Jewish refugees could be received in this country?’ ‘This is not in contemplation,’ replied the President. ‘We have the quota system’.”

Of course there were other countries who could have helped but didn’t, the US is just one example. It really makes you question why countries who had so much power to help, didn’t. And why countries today who have so much power to help others, still don’t. The UNHCR reported that the number of people forcibly displaced worldwide has reached 43.7m (June 2011). Surely there must be a way to relax immigration laws without hiding behind excuses like “we’ll lose our culture” and “they’ll take our jobs,” especially when you consider all of the industries in places throughout the world reporting shortages of workers. I would argue there must be a possibility for countries to cooperate and be able to match people who need a better life to industries that need more people, thereby boosting economies, rather than every country creating a million and one administrative hoops to jump through.

Claire and I striking a pose outside before entering into a giant political debate about immigration laws!

Once again going back to the museum itself, most definitely deserving of mention was an interactive display “Free2Choose” (presumably made for school groups, but we loved it) that played short clips/interviews and presented political-ethical dilemmas, which visitors could submit their views/vote yes or no to questions at the end, the results of which were collated to present which way the majority of visitors voted etc. Topics included banning the Burqa and raids on Hip Hop concerts to find illegal immigrants. I thought it was a really great way to bring the lessons you were learning and the sympathy generated through Anne Frank’s story, and give people real life examples of current human right’s issues – not every visitor was watching an a 2012 version of 1940’s behaviour affecting their friends.

114. The Northern Norwegian Art Gallery

Norway is sitting on top of a whole lot of a whole lot of oil, and as a result, apparently too much cash is a problem for the country. Oh the audacity to call that a problem! A golden quote from 1997 election period: “The only problems we have are luxury problems,” says Oeystein Stephansen, head of economic research for the Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken in Oslo.

One of the solutions to this so called “problem” of what to do with its 11% surplus (other than save most of it, not only sheltering the country from the GFC but allowing it to buy up a whole lot of cheap stocks), is a whole lot of funding for the arts. In Tromsø, a tiny town way up north in the middle of nowhere, I visited 4 different art galleries and there were plenty more! The Northern Norwegian Art Gallery was my favourite, and there were some really amazing and beautiful paintings from famous Norwegian artists throughout history.

91. Natural History Museum of Helsinki

Believe it or not I had been feeling a little museum-ed out by the time I got to this one and I debated whether or not to pay for yet another Natural History Museum (particularly after the let down in Stockholm), but the building was really pretty and I was all swept up in the magical anticipation of learning new things!

There was a great deal of variety moving through the various exhibits, many of which weaved through small rooms, up and down stairs, on a constant adventure from pre-history to where I learned of Finland’s Russian ownership and influence, as discovered by my architectural observations. One of the most striking pieces of artwork (in my opinion) was a painting depicting Finland trying to protect herself against the fierce, predatory eagle that was Russia, attempting to change Finland’s laws.

One of the newer (and I believe temporary) exhibits featured a collection of dollhouses throughout time. These dollhouses were original models of houses (and their furnishings) of various times, but the more recent ones were specially made dollhouses, where a range of different people from the homeless, 18 year olds who recently left home to children, had been asked to depict their dream homes. When I read this, I was expecting some kind of political statement or interesting conclusion whereby the homeless people were saying their dream home was just a roof over their heads. However, they all seemed to conform to dollhouse-y stereotypes and look pretty similar. It was quite difficult to pick differences between most of them. With the assumptions I had initially made it became obvious to me that a good dose of adventure away from NZ’s PC culture is probably just what the doctor ordered.

As I reached the exhibit on objects more specific to Finnish culture, I was fascinated by the many beautiful spinning needle creations on display. As it turned out they were decorative only, and men commonly crafted them to give as gifts to their fiancee. When I read that I thought to myself how I would react if given a decorated household appliance that reaffirmed my place in the home as a pre-wedding gift. I mean, if my fiancee gave me a hand painted Miele vacuum cleaner I honestly wouldn’t know what to say. The effort is sweet and they are really good vacuum cleaners, but any man with half a brain knows giving a woman an appliance as a significant gift is a sure-fire way to get a kick in the balls so hard they’ll never have to worry about discussing family planning.

On that reversion back to aforementioned PC thoughts and feminist debates, I will end with a picture of the most fabulous ‘grandfather’ clock I have ever seen.

And as an added bonus, a few more photos.

77. Skansen

Skansen was a definite highlight of the Stockholm trip. Skansen is a large open air museum/zoo on the island of Djurgården. I’m growing quite fond of outdoor museums, and this one really had it all! From stone age farmsteads, the King’s holiday home to a zoo of Scandinavian animals. It was all very exciting.

A Norwegian hut, from back when Sweden owned Norway

The Scandinavian animals were great – first time I’d ever seen a moose or a reindeer. There was an owl that looked both hungover and disappointed, elks, otters, seals and grizzly beers. Lucky for me they had just recently come out of hibernation.

Not to worry Margaret, I found that disappointed owl.

As I looked in to the beer enclosure I couldn’t help but think of just how often the phrase “don’t poke the bear” has come in to my mind whilst travelling Scandinavia. In both Denmark and Sweden, I get the feeling they are very proud of their welfare system here. In Denmark income tax is 68%, 60% in Sweden, and in return (in Denmark at least) they get free healthcare and there are a lot of benefits available to almost anyone that needs them. The result of that, is that in my experience, Danes and Swedes are incredibly judgemental of homeless people. The viewpoint is that there is no reason for anyone to be homeless – the welfare system that people pay through their teeth for is so good that anyone that is still on the streets is generally a drunk/drug addict or mentally ill and refusing help. The argument is that they are there by choice. Certainly every homeless person I have ever come across has been either ludicrously drunk or crazy – many of them yelling at passengers on the bus, or continuing to ramble at me no matter how many times I tell them I don’t speak Danish/Swedish and don’t understand them. Often other people will argue back to them, and I’ve even witnessed a few hobo fights. My philosophy in these situations is always “don’t poke the beer” – if someone is clearly of questionable state of mind, making them angry is never going to work out well!

And so I found myself at a zoo, thinking about politics and economics. SUCH a nerd.

The rest of Skansen was really interesting too – like Den Gamble By in Aarhus there were a number of shops and homes with actors, from bakeries where you could by old style baked goods to a glass blowing factory. There were also stunning views of the rest of Stockholm in a few of the spots. Skansen was huge and there was a lot to see. Sadly, once again I was a victim of the pitfalls of winter travel – there is usually a huge market area with stalls that are open, but there was still plenty to see. Definitely allow plenty of time if you visit Skansen. It is also a really nice walk on the way there.

40. Visit a Hippy Commune

This one’s gonna raise your eyebrows, mum!

In the area of Christianshavn very near central Copenhagen, lies a self-proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood called Christiania. The residents call it a micronation, the lawmakers call it a commune. The area itself was originally a military barracks from the early 1600s until it was abandoned in 1967. In 1971, part of the abandoned area was originally trespassed by the homeless, followed by families of neighbouring houses that wanted a play area for the children. Things started to get more political when a bunch of students occupied the area as a protest against affordable housing shortages.

Christiania became official at the declaration of a well-known Provo and journalist Jacob Ludvigsen, (possible translation inaccuracy here):

Christiania is the land of the settlers. It is the so far biggest opportunity to build up a society from scratch – while nevertheless still incorporating the remaining constructions. Own electricity plant, a bath-house, a giant athletics building, where all the seekers of peace could have their grand meditation – and yoga center. Halls where theater groups can feel at home. Buildings for the stoners who are too paranoid and weak to participate in the race…Yes for those who feel the beating of the pioneer heart there can be no doubt as to the purpose of Christiania. It is the part of the city which has been kept secret to us – but no more.

Much of the ideals and political motives of Christiania have been completely blinded by a great deal of controversy over the ‘legalisation’ of marijuana within Christiania. Government spin seems partly responsible, as politicians have used ending Christiania as an election platform and have largely glossed over the freedom/rebuilding a more constructive society ideals by focussing on the drugs and controversy. However, the residents themselves aren’t innocent – much attention has been gathered by internal politics banning hard drugs and eradicating junkies (particularly after 10 people died of heroin overdoses in one year), conflict with gangs from wider Copenhagen that wanted in on the drug trade and  violent outbursts as a result.

The infamous ‘Pusher St’ in Christiania is were all the drug selling very openly went down until large-scale police raids in 2004. Supposedly you can still find weed in Christiania relatively easily, but we weren’t looking on our visit. It certainly was easy to find people who stared at you suspiciously though!

Christiania is an incredibly popular tourist spot, and the thing I liked the most was all of the amazing artwork. While much media coverage about it focuses on the politics and drugs, it is also known as a haven for creatives of all disciplines – from graffiti artists to jazz musicians, some living in Christiania, others merely guests. Danish expat and entrepreneur Tonny Sorenson established the Creative Networking site Planet Illogica citing Christiania as his inspiration. His company owns the brands Von Dutch, Kustom Kulture and California Christiania Republic –  a fashion label that capitalises on the Christiania logo and sells a ‘freedom’ image and brightly coloured onesies to hollywood celebrities including Rihanna, Katy Perry, James Blunt, Owen Wilson, Willow Smith and Perez Hilton.

As I meandered through the streets of Christiania I was amazed at all of the amazing works. There were sculptures hidden away behind bushes or and murals tucked around corners. Most of it was much more obvious, with large sculptures made of what some may deem ‘junk.’ There was an amazing and unique vibe throughout the place – with remnants of the old barracks mixed with psychedelic murals from the sixties and eclectic piles of ‘stuff’ everywhere. To your left you may find brilliant paintings on brick walls, to your right an incredibly cute organic vegetable stall surrounded by magical fairy lights. Round a corner and you will see a group of people sitting on a pile of rubble warming their hands in front of a fire in a metal bin. Further down the road you will see a makeshift bar with unmatching rustic chairs. A hipster’s home décor dream.

One of the big signs we saw at the entrance described the three rules of Christiania: “1. Have fun 2. No running – it scares people 3. No taking photo’s – drugs are still illegal.” With all of the amazing art and buildings I had serious issues with rule number three. It really killed me not to be able to take photos, as there were so many things I would have loved to have snapped.

We stopped in for a drink at one of the bars which had a definite Cuba St (in Wellington, NZ) feel. Reminiscent of Fidel’s, the bar was in one of the old military buildings and had patches of army netting on some of the walls. As we entered from the cold outside, we found ourselves in a large old hall filled with run down furniture and rowdy old men smoking and drinking. I felt like I was in communist era Soviet Union, but the jazz, eclectic art and friendly people made for a much warm, positive and energetic atmosphere. Initially I asked the bartender if they had cider and he replied with a very serious no, informing me they didn’t sell alcohol there. I must have been in a wary frame of mind with all of the rules and whatnot, because after I settled for a coffee I noticed bottles of Tuborg all around me and realised he was taking the piss. That damn Danish sense of humour.

The only real rebellion I engaged in whilst inside Christiania was to snap a photo of a sculpture. I didn’t know how seriously the no photo rule was taken, but I’ve seen enough Breaking Bad to know drug dealers can’t be expected to act predictably, so I quickly put my camera away and scurried off hoping no-one was about to come running at me after seeing the flash.

An example of the recycled material sculptures all around Christiania

The place is alive with creativity and collaboration. In both wandering around Christiania and reading up about its history there is clear evidence of when that has worked well and when it has failed abysmally. Everything from building safety issues as a result of the modern yet logic defying ideas of  ‘architecture without architects’ to the endless cycle of debate and disagreement over whether or not marijuana should remain legal – all rules in Christiania must be supported unanimously.

After visiting and reading up on Christiania and its history, it does leave me just a little confused as to what the real aim of the society is today, and begs the questions: Are the residents on the same page? Freedom might be their motto, but what exactly are they trying to be free from? The residents want to legally own the land they are ‘occupying’ which puts them on par with most other land owners in Denmark. Many of them aren’t supportive of legalising cannabis, Denmark has one of the best welfare systems in the world, so it is no longer necessary for housing the homeless or rehabilitating the junkies – hard drugs were banned long ago anyway. The art and culture were certainly the high point of the attraction for me, but it’s not like art is banned in the rest of Copenhagen. Even one of its staunch supporters is simply capitalising on the logo, selling weird jumpsuits to Hollywood Celebrities.

It seems to me that although they are shunning the enforced laws in Copenhagen/Denmark, they are steadily creating their ‘own’ laws that take them closer and closer to square one. Perhaps it just shows that it is a lot easy to collaboratively police a small neighbourhood than a whole country.

So, mother, you can breathe a sigh of relief that I’m not quitting Business School to join a hippy commune, the only rule breaking I did was taking a photo, and no angry drug dealers stabbed me for my lunch money.