Now, just like me, Mematt chose to stay in Nørrebro, which is considered one of the cooler parts of the city (also the most Muslim and one of the edgiest, might it be added.) Just like me, Mematt chose to stay specifically at the Sleep In Heaven warehouse/hotel... and he enjoyed it! Just like me, Mematt realized that the true joys of Copenhagen lay not in the museums but on the streets, in the sunny parks, amidst the friendly (and not so friendly) people. Copenhagen might lack the iconic sites of Paris or the history of Berlin, but it makes it all up with its beautiful parks and canals, and the beautiful sublimity of its populace. And if you want to experience the real Copenhagen -- young, working class, multicultural -- then Nørrebro is the place to be. It is interesting in its own right, and is also so close to the city area, with all of its attractions.
As Mematt said: "To get in with the Danish college-age crowd, a trip to Nørrebro is required. Hit up the bars and clubs around this area and have a good time with the friendly and usually very good-looking crowd." As it was, when I made my first visit to Denmark in 2003, I already had a friend living in Nørrebro -- and by chance her boyfriend's house was in the same street as Sleep In Heaven, where I had booked to stay. Like Copenhagen itself, Sleep In Heaven gets mixed reviews from travellers -- people either love it or hate it. From my experience there -- let's just say you have to enjoy the company of other humanoids, in order to survive staying there! When I arrived on an incredibly sunny Saturday morning in August 2003, I was already suffering mild symptoms of home sickness and culture shock. My heart further sank when, upon being given my blanket and locker key by the friendly blonde girl at the reception desk, I beheld my room... or perhaps warehouse space would be a better way of putting it!
Have you ever stayed in a room which has up to 90 beds, stacked as far as the eye can see in formations of three-storey bunks, in a space which was formerly used as a factory? That is the Sleep In Heaven experience, and it seems to be a uniquely European style of accommodation (I once stayed at a similar battery hen farm hostel in Amsterdam in the mid 1990s, and that particular establishment was full of German punks.) Anyway, there weren't any punks on the bunks at Sleep In Heaven as far as I could see, but the layout and decor were punkily nasty nonetheless: there was a pokey bathroom at the end with about five showers and toilets and a serious queue, and a seemingly neverending cachophany of slamming lockers, concrete echoes, conversations in at least a dozen European languages. As I walked dazed to my bunk, I passed a completely naked Italian guy toweling off after his shower. I thought to myself: How am I going to survive this? This is squalid! This is going to be a nightmare. Why did I bother coming here!
As it turned out though, Sleep In Heaven was one of the funnest (and funniest) places I have ever stayed. Later that afternoon I met up with my Danish friend Louise, who used to live at my pad in Tokyo, and I began to become enchanted by Copengagen. It didn't take much. I met Louise over at Nyhaven and we walked around the central part of the city with a Japanese couple Louise had worked with, me constantly being surprised and entranced by the Andersenesque streetscenes which presented themselves to me, almost at every turn. It was like walking through a fairytale, albeit with a techno backbeat. We later went out to this eccentric bar with wierd animal head trophies stuck to the walls, and then attended a lively street party where a cute Danish girl (accidentally) spilt beer on my shirt. I didn't mind at all -- by this time I was seriously getting into the Copenhagen experience. Getting beer spilt on me by that girl was a kind of christening -- an indoctrination into the Danish Nation! Walking back to Sleep In Heaven, my homesickness and culture shock banished to where it belonged, we passed an impressive looking and impressively rustic church, where Louise said they did a good sermon. And while I was dreading my first night in the barracks like environment of Sleep In Heaven, it actually went pretty well. Thanks to a pair of handy Japanese earplugs, I slept smoothly all through the night -- a real Sleep In Heaven! When I awoke, the barracks was abuzz with peoples clearing their throats, slamming locker doors shut, talking in a dozen languages, lining up for the showers. I struck up a conversation with a Hungarian guy in the battery hen bunk opposite me. Now, there is nothing so cool as lying in bed still half asleep in the early morning, having a conversation with a complete stranger, when you are on the other side of the world on vacation. The Hungarian guy seemed nice enough but before the conversation had advanced, some creep (nationality UNKNOWN) came over and told us to "shut the fuck up". There must have been about 50 people talking and slamming doors and ruffling plastic bags and zipping/unzipping zippers at that time, but the creep claimed that we were the ones keeping him awake. Whatever. There are creeps all over the world, and when you stay in a room with up to 90 beds, you are bound to bump into one. Let it pass...
So anyway, it was a great start to the day, and it only got better and better. That morning after breakfast, I went for a walk nowhere in particular through the surrounding streets of Nørrebro. Just across the road from Sleep In Heaven there is a graveyard called something like Assistens Kirkegård, which looked like it would be fit for a ramble in. I entered, took a photo of a butterfly posing on an exquisite leaf. Turning a green corner, I caught sight of a headstone which proclaimed: Hans Christian Andersen. Yes, the guru was buried here. Which might explain all the good vibes I felt at Sleep In Heaven. And it might explain all the good vibes I felt staying in Nørrebro. I encountered nothing but kindness at that place. Even if there could be an Al Qaeda cell living there (I wouldn't be surprised.) Nørrebro is edgy and Nørrebro is Muslim, but Nørrebro is cool. This is the new Europe.
THINGS TO SEE:
The shooting park (Skydebanehaven): Vesterbro.
PLACES TO EAT: As I said before, Nørrebro is the Islamic and Middle Eastern heart of Copenhagen. The done thing to do there if you are a young backpacker is to head to one of the many Turkish pizza kebab restaurants. The lovely Elín from Iceland had this to say about her recent trip to Nørrebro: "*Köben var æði. Drukkum öl og borðuðum kebab-pizzu með salati og dressingu í gettóinu Nörrebro hjá Guðnýju og Bigga, snæddum m.a. foie gras og kálfakjöt á úberfína veitingastaðinum Skt. Gertrude Kloster (gamall nunnuklausturskjallari þar sem eina lýsingin er kertaljós), versluðum lítið, drukkum á Hviids Vinstue og sváfum á hommalegum satínsængurfötum."
Some of the other places you can dine at include:
Den Iranske Forening: Blågårdsgade 4.
Keke's Kokken Takeaway: Rantzausgade 10.
Sheik Shawarma: Nørrebrogade.
ISLAMIC NORREBRO: I used to work in Bankstown in Sydney, one of the Islamic hearts of Australia where only recently a group of Al Qaeda suicide bombers were unearthed; I have also visited some of the Palestinian refugee camps of the Occupied Territories. Therefore, I feel I know an Islamic hotspot when I see it... and I knew I saw one the first heartbeat that I had entered Nørrebro, that lovable rough diamond of Copenhagen. As the Arab guy at one of the kebab restaurants said to me when I entered his establishment: "Welcome to Nørrebro... welcome to the Freak Show." A block down the road, the intersection was decorated with flowers and condolence cards -- all dedicated to an Italian backpacker who had been murdered there.
According to the LA Times: "From the Danish Parliament to the immigrant neighborhoods in Norrebro, this city of nut bread and sea winds echoes with suspicion. Liberal freedom-of-speech laws are being challenged by Hizb ut-Tahrir, an extremist Islamic organization recruiting Muslims to battle coalition forces in Iraq that include 530 Danish troops. In a society that prides itself on racial parity, voters have elevated the xenophobic Danish People's Party from the fringes to the country's third most powerful political bloc.
"I believe integrating a large number of Muslims can't be done. It's an illusion," said Martin Henriksen, a 25-year-old legislator for the People's Party. "They don't have the desire to blend in with other people. We've been a Christian country for 1,000 years and we are the oldest monarchy in the world. I want to get married and have a lot of kids who can walk around in a society not influenced by Muslims."
Across town in a neighborhood of fast-food shawarma stands and veiled women, Fadi Abdul Latif, the spokesman for Hizb ut-Tahrir in Denmark, accused conservatives of changing the meaning of integration. Whereas it once meant attending Danish schools and speaking the national language, he charged, now it forces Muslims into accepting European values on issues including sexuality and religion.
"This is the Europe of the Middle Ages," said Abdul Latif, a Palestinian born in a Lebanese refugee camp who moved here years ago. "When others want to force their values on Muslims, we must reject this. We neither want to assimilate nor isolate. We want to keep our identity and carry our message of Islam to others. But Europe is using the climate of war and terrorism to force assimilation."
Hizb ut-Tahrir seeks to establish an Islamic caliphate and expel Western influences from Muslim nations. Outlawed in Sweden and Germany, the group faces a possible ban in Britain after the London transit bombings in July. In 2002, Abdul Latif was charged with distributing hate literature that revered suicide bombers as martyrs and quoted a verse from the Koran: "And kill them from wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out." He received a 60-day suspended sentence.