On Sankt Hans, Danes light bonfires on the beach — or in our case, in the middle of a drained pond in Enghave Park. When we lived in the suburbs, we could walk to the Bellevue beach for stories-high flames and watch an effigy of a witch burn atop the bonfire in Bakken, the free admission townie version of Tivoli Gardens. This year, we stayed in our downtown neighborhood of Vesterbro and went to watch the local fire. We don’t really know why big fires = midsummer celebration, two days after the actual longest day of the year. For what it’s worth, on the proper midsummer night, asetro (Danish pagans) do shit like sacrifice apples in the woods. Andreas’ high school friend Bjarke is one such individual.
Anyway, in Copenhagen, the big bonfires are organized by various political parties. Essentially, each political group gets their own major park bonfire. For instance, the social democrats hosted one of the bonfires in Østerbro. This sort of arrangement would be difficult in a two-party nation like the U.S. but is quite easy in Denmark, where there are nine parties currently represented in parliament. Our bonfire was hosted by Enhedslisten (translated as “The Unity List”), otherwise known as “communists.” Several of the attendees wore “Free Gaza” t-shirts, and several anarchist-looking guys in leather jackets with cloth patches walked on stilts and took photos with frightened children.
Andreas was rather disappointed by the whole affair. “In Sæby,” he explained, referring to his tiny northern Jutland hometown, “We’d go to Kis and Eigil’s. They have a farm halfway to Frederikshavn, and they’d save up the brush from a whole year’s worth of clearing the forest area of their land.”
While he was telling me about the bonfires of his youth, someone called from the bandshell at one end of the park. “Frederikke! A 5-year-old girl named Frederikke is missing. If you are standing next to a nice little girl, bring her to the stage.” I imagine the announcer would have said “please bring her up here,” but there is no word for “please” in Danish.
Standing in front of us as we watched the fire light up was Johan Olsen, best known as one of the members of Danish rock band Magtens Korridorer. According to the internet, he also has a Ph.D. in molecular biology and teaches at the University of Copenhagen. Sometimes Andreas helps me spot famous locals, which I could really turn into a whole series here: Famous Danes I Have Seen in Public. They tend to be people only famous in Denmark and any time I’ve seen a “famous Dane,” they are just doing something normal like going to Netto. I don’t guess Danes think it’s weird that celebrity types are just left alone in public — expats like to joke that Danes believe in their right to be left alone, hence the rarity of talking or helping others in public — but it’s especially weird because on our street alone, there are several famous comedians living in top-floor flats. “We could also just go over to the Märkbar to run into him,” Andreas joked as he pointed out Olsen. We live a five minute walk from the dingy basement bar where rockers go. If anything, it’s funny that we haven’t seen the guy sooner.