When discussing Odense it makes a difference whether you live here and therefore already know the city or if you are a busy tourist, arriving for the first time trying to take all of Denmark and its fairytale attractions in in just a few days. Obviously your expectations and the amount of time you can spend will shape your visit.
Up the Odense River by the Old Canal….
Danes enjoy singing the old music hall classic “Vi sejler op ad åen”, which translates into something like “Go Boating up the River”. Most Danes will know the tune and happily join in singing, sometimes in their thousands when the national football team play a succesful match. The song was composed and the lyrics written for a theatre play back in the 1890s and the river mentioned was the Odense river, Odense Å. Not all Danes know this, so you might now be able to impress your listener. Boating on the river is different these days as many people in Odense now think of the Odense River as a place to go canoeing, kayaking or by pedalo on the river. You can also take the tour boat or walk along the river marveling at the gazebos and boat houses and of course the ducks and swans that you find here. Every day, all year round you will find lots of activities going on along the river.
If you know the fairytales by Hans Christian Andersen you may have noticed his knack for infusing life and personality into plants, animals and ordinary objects which you might notice on a walk along the river, e.g. willow trees, ducks or ugly ducklings. If you walk along the river you might want to imitate the famous writer by infusing personalities into plants or objects you notice on your walk? It is definately something I indulge in myself when I take children for a walk along the river and we imagine what the trees might think, which animals have which personality or feelings. Children love this game and they create the most phantastic characters. They do much better than me. If you bring old newspapers and a towel, you can launch paper boats on the river and even reenact The Steadfast Tin Soldier. Odense river is truly the most memorable place to do this. Should you get wet feet, don’t panic, this is why a towel come in handy.
Odense is Definitely Worth a Visit
What makes Odense so special is the city’s openness. Odense spreads out from its rather small historic centre with lots of parks, squares and green areas. Even in the city centre, most of the buildings are at most 4-5 storeys high and you’ll find lots of recreational space in the parks with large old trees and huge lawns. The harbour area is also worth a visit as well as the river boats that can take you all the way south on the river to Fruens Bøge and back, as a boat trip through a lovely park ends at the Zoo in Odense.
Obviously there has to be a museum for – well I’m sure you know who. A lot of Danes will say no, no, NO! don’t start talking about Hans Christian Andersen, AGAIN! They forget what an important figure he is and how well he actually advertises Denmark simply by being who he was and by telling his rather understated fairytales, stories and fables. We Danes should be proud of our fellow Dane who might very well be the best know Dane in the entire world. That of course is also the reason why the two Odense museums to Hans Christian Andersen have so many visitors all year round.
Hans Christian Andersen’s House
At present a brand new museum for Hans Christian Andersen is well on its way, but not quite finished yet. According to the plans for the museum it is set to open mid 2021 and the building of the new museum has been funded by donations from various associations and funds such as the A.P Møller Foundation and the Augustinus Foundation as well as the Odense Municipality. The Japanese architect Kengo Kuma won the competition and the building of the museum is about to change the face of Odense.
Quite interestingly almost 70% of the visitors in the museum are tourists from abroad which underlines how popular Hans Christian Andersen is around the world and how well known his fairytales are. Our guides in Odense know from their tours in the footsteps of Hans Christian Andersen how many of the fairytales their foreign guests know, compared to similar Danish groups. It is slightly embarrassing, maybe even a disgrace that we Danes know so few.
While we wait for the new museum to open, you still have the option to visit the humble, small and cosy museum Hans Christian Andersen’s Childhood Home. Explore and see for yourself where he grew up and lived until he went to Copenhagen all by himself at the age of 14. You can see where his father worked at his shoemaker’s table and his shoemaker’s tools. This is where the little boy Hans Christian fell in love with books. Some of the students from the local comprehensive school, called the Latin school, left their books on the table while his father mended their shoes – the little boy developed a strong wish to possess books of his own like the more well off boys.
Odense Tops the Hygge Scale
Many factors contribute to Odense’s hygge scale. The open, airy city, charm and historic houses. You find the openness in the vast number of recreational areas around Odense. One of them is the central Munke Mose Park in the city centre just south of the Odense river. In Munke Mose you’ll find huge lawns, green playing areas for grownups and children alike and it is also from here the river boats depart on a daily basis in the summer. If you understand Danish you might already know that Munke Mose means the Monks’ Bog which was what it was back in the middle ages. At that time Odense was a city with several monasteries, a royal tomb, and even a nunnery. Where the park Munke Mose now is used to be a wetland outside the city walls. For most modern citizens it is slightly difficult to imagine this when now seeing all the cafées, galleries and the river that meanders its way from the centre of Odense to Fruens Bøge by the Zoo.
If you go for a walk along the river in the opposite direction from Munke Mose towards the centre of Odense you will pass through more beautiful recreational areas in Odense, the Hans Christian Andersen Park, the H.C. Andersen Haven which the locals simply call Eventyrhaven, which means the Fairytale Park. The park has wonderful flowerbeds with nice benches in all the strategicly good spots for you to simply sit down, relax and enjoy the ambience, colours, scents, people and all.
Take a close look on the lawn in Eventyrhaven. Do you see the flat slaps with inscriptions? Unfortunately they are a reminder of a sad story as they are put down on spots where Danes were accidentally killed by the resistance movement on the day the Wehrmacht’s capitulated on May 5th 1945. These were lives that should not have been lost.
Right here you also find Odense Domkirke, the cathedral named after Saint Knud, Saint Canute. In here you’ll find one of Denmark’s most beautiful alter pieces, originally carved for the Franciscan Greyfriars Church, Gråbrødre Klosterkirke, which no longer exists. When the Greyfriars Church was demolished, the alter piece was moved to Vor Frue Kirke, the Church of Our Lady also in Odense and some years later it was once again moved, this time to the cathedral. You might wonder who carved the alter piece. It was the renowned German woodcarver Claus Berg from Lübeck, who was a leading artist of the time.
The medieval Danish Queen Christine requested that the German woodcarver from Lübeck come to Odense as she ordered an altarpiece. Consequently he arrived, accompanied by 12 of his craftsmen to make the altarpiece. It shows the Passion with added portraits of the royal family such as queen Christine’s husband King Hans and their son who was later on to be crowned King Christian II. If you want to show your children the church, make them study all the different figures on the altarpiece. They are all individualized and not two figures or faces are alike.
And briefly back to… drumroll…. tada! Hans Christian Andersen. He took his Lutheran confirmation in the cathedral in Odense, from which also his father was buried only a few years prior to his confirmation.
Odense Has Some Silly Placenames
Just across from the cathedral you’ll find the town hall, Odense Rådhus. On the square in front of it, there are two huge and very different sculptures. The sculpture Oceania by Svend Wiig Hansen is a tribute to women – I’m pretty sure no children pay much attention to this when they have fun sliding down the sculpture. The second sculpture is by Robert Jakobsen and has been named “Flakhaven” which is also the name of the town hall square where it now stands. If you are curious as to what “Flakhaven” means you really need a local guide to tell you all the different stories of the city and its strange street names. Flakhaven is just one of them. You also have Mageløs, Pogestræde, Overgade, Holsedore and Paaskestræde which is spelled like the Danish word for Easter but has nothing to do with Easter whatsoever.
Now go to the other side of the town hall and take a close look at a completely new neighborhood in Odense. Only a few years ago this was a very busy road leading towards the Odense Harbour. The politicians and citizens of Odense have spent years discussing whether to replace traffic with a tram. Finally a decision was made and the building and construction processes are now well on their way. The tram is set to start operation 2021. The construction process has resulted in many new solutions to local congestion. A city will never stay the same but it is a common thing that major new developments will meet opposition by various groups and Odense is no exception.
A lot of citizens of Odense have voiced their opposition when it comes to the changes planned for the new neighborhood around the upcoming new Hans Christian Andersen Museum. One of the buildings that you will also find here is the brand new concert hall Odeon, built for all kinds of concerts, for popular as well as classic orchestras and for the music conservatory. Just across the street you also have the concert hall that is home to the Odense Symphony Orchestra. If you love classical music, you might know the close connection the Odense Symphony Orchestra has to music by probably the most famous of Danish composers, Carl Nielsen and with the Carl Nielsen competitions for young musicians who compete in instruments such as flute, violin and clarinet. It used to be an annual competition, but not anymore. As part of the prize, the winner gets to perform a solo concert with the orchestra during the following season. All competitions focus on one of the three main instruments for which Carl Nielsen has composed so much wonderful music and they all play his music of course. Carl Nielsen was born just outside Odense and as a young man he spent some years in Odense. There is a small museum for Carl Nielsen and his wife Anne Marie Carl Nielsen right next to the foyer for the symphony orchestra. In a few years a new museum will replace it though. Maybe the Carl Nielsen Museum is more attractive to adults than children but you could make up for this by showing your children the fairytale sculptures and afterwards go and have an icecream.
Now it is time for you to visit Odense, right in the heart of Denmark – a city that has a lot of treasures, not least an athmosphere that allows you to lower your shoulders and simply just be.