Travelers find reminders of home in Denmark

By: 

Lorna Marquardt, Leader Columnist

While just teenagers, two young brothers came to the United States with a suitcase and a prayer. Walter Robenhagen (my grandfather) and Fred Robenhagen (Elaine Buettner Knope’s grandfather) set out on their own from their homeland Denmark to make a life here in America.

Elaine Knope, her daughter, Lori Acken (a well-known writer for TV Weekly Magazine/Channel Guide), nieces Elisabeth Roen Kelly and Ellyn Rowan Ruhlmann, and cousin Terry Malcheski recently returned from a trip to Denmark, a trip they will long remember.

Elaine commented: “It is such a small country, probably one-fourth the size of Wisconsin. I can understand why my grandpa immigrated to the U.S.A. in 1895 when he was only 18. He saw no future in Denmark because most of the land was already owned and he wanted to farm.”

“Most of the houses are quite small, and the lots are too,” Elaine observed. “There are no expansive lawns; many of the tiny yards are filled with flowers and shrubs. The Danish people live simply, with very few furnishings. Although their homes are sparsely decorated, they do so with an artistic flare.”

Terry added: “There are quite a few small apartment buildings in Copenhagen and the countryside has unique little houses made of stucco or brick. There are still some with thatched roofs.”

Terry continued: “The landscape is similar to Wisconsin and if you forgot for a moment you were across the Atlantic Ocean in tiny Denmark, you could imagine you were home. Perhaps that is why the Robenhagen siblings were drawn to Wisconsin.”

Lori Acken remarked, “My best memories of Denmark are meeting our relatives Hanne, Jesper, Anna and Aske at their lovely home, eating and drinking like real Danes, and promising to come back to their home if they would come visit ours.”

She continued: “All the experiences were so great. Eating Danish open-faced sandwiches and drinking Danish beer and Schnapps at Copenhagen’s most venerable lunch spot Restaurant Schonnemann. Eating ridiculously luscious pastry at La Glace. Twice.”

“I liked their practice of Schnapps or beer at lunch. It made a Wisconsin beer loving girl happy,” Terry joked. “I perceived that they have a bit different attitude about alcohol, perhaps they see it as more medicinal.”

Terry added: “Danes know how to relax. This is evident by their practice to linger over a meal. They clearly enjoy the experience of dining and savoring their food. They treasure and enjoy the company and conversations of dinner companions. Servings are smaller portions than what we are used to in America, and it makes one realize how we tend to overeat in the states. I learned to enjoy a sandwich on one piece of bread (served open faced) and thinly sliced radishes and greens enhance it.”

Elaine added: “Their multi-grained breads are delicious. They serve a lot of pumpernickel bread. The majority of the Danish people know English. The waiters were helpful and exceedingly polite. They do not eat much fried food and even their ‘street food’ emporium was primarily seafood, unlike our burgers and fries.”

The travelers learned the Danes treasure their old buildings; many are hundreds of years old. They are colorful and have such character. Elaine commented: “They do not have the mentality that it would cost more to renovate these wonderful old buildings than it would cost to tear them down. They keep their old buildings functional and useful.”

I learned most Danes are tall and slender (how did those genes pass me by?). Maybe their lifestyles account for their slenderness as their main mode of transportation is bikes. They do a great deal of walking, too. They use their cars sparingly. Parents bike their children to school until they are old enough to bike themselves. A large box is fastened to the front of the bikes which is where the children ride.

This cart like box is also used for hauling groceries or other large items. Some of the streets in downtown Copenhagen have been closed to vehicles; only pedestrians and bicyclists are allowed.

Terry commented: “Walkers better be mindful to stay out of the pathways dedicated to the bicyclists, of which there are a gazillion in Copenhagen alone. If you do deviate into their space, they will let you know with persistent and deliberate ringing of their bike bells. They will not slow down, so the walkers need to be cognizant of where they are walking and listen for bells.”

She added: “They all seem to be in a great hurry to get where they are going. Walkers also need to stringently heed the traffic signals to avoid collisions with bikes.”

(Continued next week)

Answer to last week’s question: The church bells rang and factory whistles blew on Jan. 27, 1973, to celebrate the end of the Vietnam War.

This week’s question: Who owned the Coast to Coast store in 1973?