You may have heard of the town called Middelfart, but how well do you know the town itself? Most Danes know it for the two bridges over the strait Lillebælt, the Little Belt, for Bridgewalking, porpoises or a former cafeteria with the trademark Karolinekoen, the dairy cow Karoline -which probably tells you more about my age than anything about Middelfart. When I was a child back in the sixties, my family went by car to Odense every Christmas and celebrated Christmas with my great-grandparents at their nursing home. To me those visits are good memories of course, but I also remember how we made a stop at the Karoline cafeteria on our way home, and there we children were treated to sausages or fish and chips with remoulade, the Danish version of a tartare sauce. It felt like a treat to us children. Traditions form strong, stable and good memories. Which memories from your childhood do you cherish?
From Ferry service to Modern Bridges
Not even all Danes know that Middelfart was called Melfar back in the old days. Melfar means the middle crossing. Before Melfar became Middelfart, it was the point of departure for the ferry that connected Funen and Jutland and it was the central of 3 crossings right where the strait Lillebælt was at its most narrow. The first bridge was built in the thirties and the second opened exactly 50 years ago. Today it is difficult to imagine Middelfart being a town with only ferries and no bridges to connect the island of Funen two the mainland.
When the first bridge across the Little Belt was completed in 1935 it was a huge improvement. Today the Danes call it the old little belt bridge. At the time it was a very good solution, enabling the passage for all kind of travellers: pedestrians and bicycles, a two way lane for cars and a track for trains. Today we have two bridges across the strait. I believe that the vast majority who cross either of the two bridges don’t even consider the huge improvement to travel the bridges once meant. I guess that nowadays most people just look out the window to enjoy the absolutely spectacular view while crossing either of the bridges. Most people cross by car via the new bridge and some may even get slightly annoyed if they are delayed due to an accident which often means slower speeds on the bridge and on the motorway.
When you cross the strait on the motorway and look southwest towards the old bridge, it is time for you to recall what a tremendous achievement to the Danes and Denmark the engineers of the time had created. The first bridge stands on the seabed, its foundation placed on somewhat elastic clay, only in some places there is soft sandstone in the underground. For that reason, the construction required very thorough calculations by the engineers to ensure that the bridge would hold and stay stable. It took 10 years for it to be completed and ready for the grand opening.
The Tower of Odense – an Extraordinary By-product from the Bridge
Not all the materials purchased for the first bridge were used up building it. Instead the steel was then used to build a tower in Odense, called the Odin Tower, which means the tower of Odin, the danish name for the Norse God Wotan, the God of power. The Odin Tower had a restaurant halfway to the top. From the top of the Odin Tower there was a magnificent 360 degree view of the countryside. At the time it was the second highest tower in Europe, only the Eiffel tower was higher. It was completed in the same year the bridge was opened, but it survived for only 10 years. In 1944, it was blown up by Danish Nazis to retaliate for the sabotage carried out by resistance groups in Odense against the Germans. The Odin Tower stood in Bolbro, the western part of Odense, and unfortunately nothing remains of the tower to be seen today but it is rather impressive how all the spare materials were used for a second attraction for sightseeing. Recycling is certainly not an idea spawned only in contemporary brains.
Even though you will not find the Odin Tower in Odense today, there are a great many sights and exciting guided tours in Odense for you to take if you want to explore the city and in time you can also find inspiration in different post about Odense and the diversity of the city in this blog. However, beginning with Middelfart isn’t a half-bad idea.
Today, the first bridge, the old bridge across the belt has been given a completely new function and a new lease on life. A few years back, a citizen from Middelfart came up with the brilliant idea of transforming the bridge into a tourist attraction by introducing bridgewalking. He had been to Sydney where he had experienced Bridge Climbing on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Little Belt Bridge is far from as impressive when it comes to height and climb, but still, bridge walking in Middelfart has become a tremendous success. Today the bridge walking attracts many visitors of all nationalities and has become a very popular attraction. Since the opening in 2015 and until today 247,633 guests have visited and walked across. I think that qualifies as a success.
When you stand on top of the bridge looking towards Middelfart, you can see some old fisherman’s houses with an interesting story. For a period of almost 500 years, the owners of these very houses in the town were taxed every year with a local penal tax, called Buggespenge. The crime behind the punishment was something that happened in the middle of the 14th century. Three noblemen were assassinated in Middelfart. Of course, that was not to be tolerated, it had to be punished. One of the murdered noblemen was Niels Bugge to Hald not far from Viborg, hence the name Buggespenge. Blood money is a different but fairly precise expression and those who had to pay it were the owners of the land where it happened – so from 1358 to 1874 they were taxed every year. Was that fair? It is rather an Old Testament kind of justice, visiting the sins of the fathers on later generations as well. Certainly, the owners from later centuries had no responsibility for what happened before they were even born. Ah well, death and taxes…
Porpoises, Whaling and Whale Safaris
One of the historical occupations in Middelfart was whaling or rather hunting porpoise. In Danish porpoises are called “marsvin” which roughly translated means sea-pig. Guinea pigs have a name that sounds the same in Danish, so you might find that some Danes accidentally confuse the names and animals. So yes, there are whales native in Danish waters and in the last two decades dolphins have started to appear here as well. In addition, every 5-10 years one of the big whales finds its way into Kattegat, e.g. orcas.
Local whalers caught and killed the porpoises for their fat. Lard melted from the porpoises in the form of whale oil was excellent oil for lamps and it was a product in demand both for lamps in the houses and for street lamps in the days before gaslight or our modern electric street lamps. If you want to know more about the Danish whalers I suggest you visit Middelfart Museum. The whalers, their trade and the porpoise industry is a central part of the history of Middelfart and the museum has a fine exhibition of the local whaling industry. Before or after a visit to the museum, you can also treat yourself to a guided walk in Middelfart with one of our local guides who love bringing the stories of local whaling to life as well as all the other stories there are at hand in this picturesque old town by the Little Belt.
If you want to know more about the porpoises and their life in the Little Belt and maybe even get close to the small whale it is worthwhile going on a whale safari. One of the boats doing whale safaris from Middelfart is the galley Aventura. The skipper Henrik is a very good host and narrator, who will talk you through the life of the porpoises in the Little Belt in his calm and knowledgeable way and you will learn about the porpoises in the past and present. The hunting of porpoises has now stopped – it is only legal if you use your camera to shoot them. With just a little luck, you can see the porpoises break the surface on a boat trip with Aventura which is the whole point of a tour.
KulturØen, Innovative Architecture in Middelfart
A relatively new part of Middelfart is called KulturØen, the Culture Island and it is located on the waterfront. There is a marina, cafés, restaurants, library and a cinema. You find it all there. KulturØen is in a beautiful location and is an example of innovative architecture and the view from there towards the town and the many different new and exciting buildings is worth seeing.
The architects Schmidt Hammer Lassen designed the building which stands on an artificial island. The intention is for the building to be a sculpture itself, and it is inspired by the two bridges and the water surrounding Middelfart. Take a look at it and see if you can recognize a bridge or the water in the design of the building?
The headquarters of Middelfart Sparekasse is another interesting building by the harbor. The bank wants the building to be a landmark for both the town and for the bank itself and the building certainly has its very own kind of design which is different from most others and is very modern. It thus fulfils its intent. The building is quite characteristic with many twigs on several levels and calls for some admiring glances when you pass it. The design and the construction of the building makes it extremely economical when it comes to energy and CO2 which fits in nicely with Middelfart’s ambition to be a climate-friendly town.
Besides, Middelfart Sparekasse is certainly a prominent company. For a number of years it has been rewarded and acknowledged as one of the very best companies to work for in Denmark. Middelfart Sparekasse has emphasized values such as trustworthiness, excellent and highly qualified service. Year after year, the employees are proud to find their company at the very top of the surveys when it comes to employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction. I believe most people would love to be part of a company like that.
Hindsgavl. Hotel, Castle, Nature, historical Location
In a previous post, I have explained about Real Dania, a company that focuses on historical building worthy of protection. In Middelfart, Realdania owns the building Hindsgavl Castle. Once it was a royal residence, today it is a hotel and definitely one with a good name and standing.
Hindsgavl Castle is located on the Hindsgavl peninsula just to the west of Middelfart and started out as a royal castle more than 800 years ago. At that time, Denmark was an itinerant kingdom without a proper permanent capital. The king needed to move around in the realm and needed safe, fortified places to stay. Due to its strategic position, Hindsgavl was an important stop on these journeys.
In a part of the park, you can still find the original ramparts from the 13th century. It is not known with certainty, but the historians believe that king Erik Klipping ordered the castle built. The rampart is located on an impressive hillside by Danish standards, a so-called hat hill, right on the edge of the slope. From here, you have a great view across the water to Kolding Fjord on the other side of the Lillebælt. We assume the castle stood for about 400 years. After the advent of stronger artillery and advanced siege warfare, the castle was obsolete and was abandoned. The building materials were largely used to build the new Hindsgavl – the one that is a hotel today. Today it may be difficult to imagine a castle standing on the hill – fortunately there is a nice poster showing where the buildings were. The regent, the king or the ruler who held the rampart could monitor any ships passing through Lillebælt because of the clear views in all directions from the rampart’s tower. Strategically this was a very good location at one of only three passages from the North Sea to the Baltic.
Until 1664 Hindsgavl belonged to the crown, the buildings that exist today stem from the later part of the 18th century, since that time and until 1924 Hindsgavl was the residence of the noble Basse family.
In the early 2000s, Hindsgavl Castle was renovated by Realdania By & Byg, the preservation association. It took a lot of effort to bring the listed buildings up to the beautiful standards they hold today. Now the hotel uses the buildings and offers a very good location for conferences. It took 8 years to renovate all of the buildings. Look and see if you agree with me, that the renovation has been a success. Enjoy a coffee or a drink on the patio or treat yourself to stay the night in these beautiful surroundings. The old cowshed now has a large number of comfortable rooms and if there is any smell at all, it is the smell of history and culture. Hindsgavl Castle also grows its own herbs and vegetables in a garden that also allows for lovely walks for visitors and the chefs have the advantage of getting fresh supplies for the kitchen by the minute. It is as authentic as it can possibly be.
Part of the park around Hindsgavl Castle is a deer park today with a mixed population of red and fallow deer. Originally, 60 animals were introduced in 2010 and today the population has grown to the considerable population of close to 250 animals. It is definitely worth at visit to observe the deer at a safe distance. In other words, there are many possibilities for a good day out in and around Middelfart and you can easily spend a few days in the town and its beautiful surroundings. If you want to explore the Hindsgavl Peninsula with a guide and get to know all the stories, please take advantage of the opportunity. You can also let one of the guides show you around in the town of Middelfart and tell you everything about the town they love.