“Dough Girls” Bakery Spotlight: Not Your Everyday Donut

Pamela Poncelin is shuffling behind the bakery counter, busily preparing her artisan donuts for online delivery orders and the people periodically entering the shop. Her hair is pulled up in a high ponytail with several loose pieces framing her kind face, and I am struck by how generously she offers her time to answer my questions while also expertly tending to customer service. She is clearly in her element as she simultaneously manages to converse with me, rustle up orders, and interact with people entering the store. For me, the environment is rather chaotic, but the subject of my interview is unfazed. 

Dough Girls mushroom pasty, bagel donut, and Swedish fastelavnsboller

Pamela is the owner of Dough Girls, a women-owned gourmet donut shop a two minute walk from the Nørreport metro station. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given my status as an American studying abroad, I had never heard of it until my flatmate recommended it as a shop that sells the ever-elusive vegan donut. Veganism, for me, is a lifestyle I embrace for ethical, environmental, and health reasons. In high school, I became determined to drastically alter my eating habits once I learned about factory farming and the joys of plant based cooking. I made the transition from pescatarian to vegan overnight. Five years later, the appeal of a vegan donut, a delicacy I rarely have the chance to indulge in, is an enticing prospect.

The interior of the shop

Upon a first survey of the shop, what stands out to me is the hipster interior design, accentuated by pastel rose walls and charming red-tinted heart lamps dangling from the ceiling. The addictive, inviting scent of glazed donuts floats in the air. I relate to Pamela my gratitude for her thoughtful curation of the donuts she sells, noting how the vegan options drew me into her store in the first place. Of her twelve donut varieties, six are vegan. Various flavors sit invitingly in the glass display case, mouthwatering creations labeled with a small green leaf to indicate their plant based ingredients.

“We try to make sure we have something for everybody, so that as many people as possible can eat our donuts.”

Pamela tells me that selling vegan items in her shop was a no-brainer. “We noticed,” she recalls, “that veganism is a huge trend and the way the world is going. And we’re really conscious of being as sustainable as possible, so of course we needed to have plant alternatives.” Inclusivity for people who abstain from consuming animal products or gluten is a priority for her business, and she affirms that “We try to make sure we have something for everybody, so that as many people as possible can eat our donuts.” She lets me in on a secret: though not vegan herself, she actually prefers her plant-based dough, which she appreciates for the natural sweetness it somehow boasts.

It means a lot to me that an otherwise normal donut shop would sell vegan products, loved and promoted by the owner just as much as the traditional pastries made from eggs, milk, and butter. Flax eggs, oat-based cream, and non-dairy butter dominate the repertoire of ingredients used at Dough Girls, and these components are sourced both locally and globally. From Tanzania, she told me, the bakery obtains its vanilla. Their flour, on the other hand, comes from a local wheat mill not too far away. Clearly, the thought that goes into procuring these baking items reflects the care that is put into making such a variety of donuts. “There are only seven ingredients in our standard recipe, as opposed to the sixteen you might find elsewhere,” Pamela points out. In other words, quality over quantity.

~~~

As I speak with Pamela, the cadence of her affable voice hints that her country of origin is not Denmark. She is Australian, it turns out. Her German parents immigrated to Australia in the 1980s. Soon after they arrived, they opened a German-style bakery that they owned for almost twenty years. “I was two years old when they started it, so I literally grew up in the bakery,” she informs me, and I begin to understand where her love and expertise for baking originated.

So how did a German-style bakery in Australia inspire a donut shop in Copenhagen like Dough Girls? Well, according to Pamela, it is a long story. She and her husband visited Denmark eight years ago on vacation and immediately fell in love with the country. She was living in Paris at the time, but it was not her cup of tea––she did not feel the culture and language suited her. Consequently, she and her husband decided to move to Copenhagen. “My nuclear family has now been here for three years as of yesterday!” she exuberantly reports.

Her sisters and parents have not been in Denmark for quite as long, however. Her parents, skilled bakers already, were not yet ready to retire; they and her two sisters were interested in realizing Pamela’s dream to open a bakery. “I told them [my family], ‘I have this really great idea.’ I’d lived in London before Paris and appreciated its selection of artisanal donuts. But in Copenhagen, I couldn’t find anything except at Dunkin’ Donuts.” Pamela’s solution? Fill this vacancy in the city! “I thought, we know dough, we know bread, we know the bakery industry, so why not take advantage of a situation where we can use our skills and find a niche to produce handmade, artisanal, organic donuts. There aren’t tons of bakeries specializing in donuts here. So, my parents and family agreed to do it together.”

Impressively, Pamela’s parents do the baking every day. Her two sisters work in the shop as well. It is a family-owned business through and through. The work is laborious and time intensive, but her family does not shy away from it. Dough Girls is unique in that every single item––every custard, jam, and coating––is made from scratch. The donuts themselves are handcrafted and gorgeously decorated, positioned temptingly in the storefront’s windows.

“I’ve had a lot of jobs over the years. But it always came back to food. Food is what I dream of––I’m always thinking about my next meal.”

It does not take much guesswork to discern that Pamela is immensely passionate about her craft. I hear it in the enthusiastic way she articulates her responses to me and the manner in which she expresses her love for food. When I ask her if she has always been in the food business, she admits that for the most part she has been. “I’ve had a lot of jobs over the years,” she explains. “But it always came back to food. Food is what I dream of––I’m always thinking about my next meal.” She confides, “I wanted my own business my whole life basically, but most seriously in the last ten years. It was always going to be something in food.”

As a foodie myself, I can relate to Pamela’s passion. What I am especially in awe of, though, is her expertise as a business owner, recipe curator, and customer service maven. She brings energy and optimism to her work, and this is visible in both her outwardly bubbly personality and the remarkable feats that Dough Girls has accomplished. Truthfully, I attribute much of Pamela’s success to her tenacity and determination. Such characteristics were crucial when the shop was faced with an enormous challenge within two weeks of its opening in March of 2020. Resilience is key to surviving any normal drought of customers and income––but imagine the effort it takes to keep a business afloat when a pandemic puts most of the stores in a street, neighborhood, and city out of commission.

So how is Dough Girls a thriving, popular donut shop a full year later? The answer is quite simple: Pamela never gave up. “Challenge accepted!” was her mentality, she told me, when the government would not provide a single cent for lost revenue, and when her landlord urged her to close down. The outcome was better than expected. Soldiering on despite the financial risk benefitted the shop because it was one of the only businesses open. Pamela laughs, and half-jokingly grants, “People had no choice but to come to us, and that helped us build solidarity in the community and amongst other business owners as well. We built up a loyalty among people who acknowledged that we were staying open for them as well as for ourselves.”

The Dough Girls storefront

This commitment to her patrons is something that stands out to me. The interactions I witness between Pamela and her customers only reinforce this fact. “I genuinely like customer service,” she confesses. “The conditions we put up with such as long hours, terrible industry pay, dealing with difficult customers––it’s not as easy as what people think it is. But I genuinely like it.” As if on cue, several patrons waltz through the door. Conversing with the shoppers comes naturally to Pamela. I admire the ease with which she tends to their needs, inquires about their day, and puts together their orders with an unrushed, yet brisk efficiency that is truly a hallmark of quality customer service.

“Seeing someone eat one of our donuts and say that it’s the best donut of their life goes straight to the heart.”

Yet Pamela’s phenomenal job at providing her customers with a pleasing donut shopping experience is not at all insincere or calculated. She contends that if it were not for the joy of witnessing customers fall in love with the delicious taste of her products, she would not be in business. Her motions become more animated; her voice even more jovial as she conveys how elated it makes her to watch people sample the donuts. “Seeing someone eat one of our donuts and say that it’s the best donut of their life goes straight to the heart,” she exclaims. “Then, in the kitchen, I’m like ‘Look guys! This is what we do this for. This is why you get up at 4 a.m., come in every morning, and work your ass off. It’s for the people who say this is the best donut they’ve ever had.” That is testimony to dedication for customer satisfaction if there ever was one.

“Well, I have to say these are the best donuts I have tasted, vegan or not” I praise. She beams at my confession, thanking me for the compliment. I suddenly become aware of the time. The twenty-minute window she was free for has elapsed by several minutes, and the last thing I want to do is hold up her day. Luckily, my most pressing questions have been answered––I know about Pamela’s take on veganism, her move from Australia to Denmark, the inspiration for Dough Girls, her passion for food and customer service, and her extreme resilience throughout the pandemic. I purchase a box of the vegan donut variety to bring home to my flatmates before thanking Pamela for her precious time and bidding farewell.

 ~~~

My teeth sink into the cherry ripe donut, airy pastry hitting my tastebuds followed by the tart yet sweet fruit filling. As I chew, I glance at my friends, all closing their eyes and blissfully savoring their donuts, an array of cinnamon sugar, raspberry, banana split, and almond flavors being sampled for the first time. Once we finish that initial bite, I am the first to share my opinion. “This is the best vegan pastry I’ve ever had!” I exclaim, reaching across the table and eagerly slicing myself another quarter of the pastry with the kitchen paring knife. Each individual praises their own, too, and for a brief moment, everyone relishes their vegan desserts from Dough Girls in satisfied silence. I can only imagine Pamela’s delight if she could witness this scene.         

I could not be more pleased with my discovery of Dough Girls. I am inspired from talking with Pamela, who I have come to regard as a powerhouse of a business owner guided by tenets of empowerment and inclusivity. To hear how she harnessed a passion of hers and turned it into a successful and lucrative business in the face of mounting challenges from the get-go is heartening, to say the least. At her core, I believe that Pamela is passionate, and on a mission to make an inclusive variety of handcrafted baked goods that make people happy. There is no question that Pamela’s business is one of a kind and presently flourishing, and now that I know the story behind it, I would not expect anything less.

*I wrote this piece for my Travel Writing class. We were asked to find a location in Copenhagen and try to capture “the spirit of the place.” My discovery of Dough Girls was a fortuitous one, based on a recommendation by my flatmate (thank you, Caroline!).

Aarhus Adventures + DIS Study Tour!

I decided to make a trip up to Aarhus, the second largest city in Denmark, during my week-long DIS Study Tour. With only one class to attend (remotely, due to the pandemic), it was wonderful to have the flexibility to travel to another city in Denmark for a couple of days. The perfect opportunity to spend a couple of nights in Aarhus, I could both sightsee and complete class assignments at the same time. Fortuitously, we had planned this trip several weeks in advance, unsuspecting that COVID-19 restrictions would be relaxed on March 1, the day before we arrived. Thus, we reaped the benefits of the shops opening, and were able to browse inside stores in a safe, masked, and socially distanced manner.

On March 2, Tuesday morning, Nikki and I took a train from Copenhagen Central Station to Aarhus Station. A two and a half hour ride, it was a pleasant journey and a lovely survey of the Danish countryside. By the time we arrived, it was a brilliantly sunny day without a cloud in the sky. The Airbnb that we rented was a tiny house on the Docklands, right by the rippling water. The giant glass windows permitted the relentless rays of natural light to stream into all corners of the indoor space. Because of this, upon stepping into the house I was hit by a wall of heat. To air out the space we resorted to keeping the door slightly cracked open and putting the blinds down once we ventured into the city. Also of note: lining the water nearby our tiny house were a wide variety of food stalls, selling pizzas, burgers, ice cream, coffees, and drinks. It felt like we were living on a bustling pier!

The Aarhus Docklands

Once unpacked and situated in the tiny house, we strolled into the central part of the city, inadvertently stepping into the Latin Quarter, a trendy neighborhood chock full of colorful buildings, lovely cafes, and clothing boutiques. We walked without a destination in mind, briefly entering several expensive clothing stores that were fun to browse in, though less tempting to purchase something. The best part of the evening was stumbling into a one-of-a-kind vegan restaurant called “Plant Food,” that specialized in burgers. I treated myself to the “Avantgarde Burger,” a tasty creation with fermented cabbage, fried onions, and truffle mayo. It was perhaps the best burger I’ve ever tasted.

On Wednesday morning, both Nikki and I had zoom sessions for our Core Courses. My class, titled “Cultural Diversity and Integration,” was visited by the former executive director of Trampoline House, a Danish NGO committed to providing community space for refugees and asylum seekers. We learned about the importance of dissolving the offensive, condescending hierarchy that often forms when volunteers prioritize charity by handing out money and resources to those in need without asking for anything in return. The need for mutual respect between the volunteers and the migrants, without the damaging victimization of the people on the receiving end of help, is vital for the success of an organization like Trampoline House.

In the afternoon we visited Den Gamle By, an open air museum featuring 75+ historical houses that were moved to the site from 20 Danish townships. Although we could not enter the buildings, and the employees acting as townspeople were absent from the scene, it was a unique experience to witness the streets without the company of many visitors.

Later in the afternoon, we decided to go shopping in Ryesgade, an extensive shopping street in central Aarhus. Our first time shopping within Denmark, it was exciting to have the chance to go inside stores. We popped in and out of a variety of clothing shops, taking note of lots of distinctively Danish/Scandinavian clothing styles (sweater vests, collared shirts, and fabric jackets, to name a few).

For dinner, I identified a fancy pizza place called “Piccolina,” a joint that had tons of vegan menu options. I tried a vegan variety that had potatoes, salami, onions, cheese, and truffle oil. Like the burger I had sampled the night before, this was likely the best vegan pizza I had ever tried.

GRØD oatmeal bowl with all the toppings

Thursday morning was sadly time for our departure from Aarhus. We grabbed breakfast in the Latin Quarter at a cafe called GRØD, well known for its gourmet oatmeal selection. I ordered a porridge bowl with all the vegan toppings––decked out with homemade peanut butter, apple compote, almonds, hazelnuts, coconut, granola, cacao nibs, chocolate chips, banana, and raspberries, it was a luxurious treat.

My time in Aarhus, though brief, was very diverting. Having spent a couple of months in Copenhagen, I am glad I had the opportunity to familiarize myself with another Danish city. Right by the sea, the ambiance was clearly different from that of the more urban environment I had grown accustomed to. If you plan on traveling to Denmark, I enthusiastically urge you to scope out Aarhus (and spend a few days there)!

*I did an Instagram takeover for @dis.copenhagen while in Aarhus. To check out my photo/video documentation of the trip, tap through the “Spring 2021” saved story.

Day Trip to Møns Klint

It was a trip several weeks in the making! The plan to make a day trip to Møns Klint was an exciting prospect, from the car ride to the picnic to the hike itself. Signe, Emmelie, and Caroline, our Danish flatmates, had the inspired idea to travel to the scenic overlook, and Nikki and I were enthused to join the journey.

The excursion was about a two-hour drive to Borre, a town south of Copenhagen. Fortunately, we were able to borrow the car from the parents of one of our flatmates. I sat in the shotgun and monitored the directions. Caroline made a collaborative Spotify playlist so that we could listen to a variety of peoples’ selections, which ended up being a catchy assortment of American oldies music that we all gladly sang together. It was a pleasant car trip and lovely to see some of the Danish countryside that I had not yet beheld.

Once we arrived, we hiked to the topmost point where we could enjoy the scenic overlook of the rock faces and the Baltic Sea. The cliff we admired was majestic, with shockingly vibrant aquamarine water hitting the rocky beach in gentle waves. After taking lots of photos of the natural beauty (at a certain point the various angles we captured all began to look the same) we made our way down an extremely long flight of stairs to the bottom of the cliff by the sea.

A portion of the long staircase down to the water

We soon found the perfect large boulder to lay out our picnic spread. Signe had generously baked fresh buns, so we used them to prepare delicious veggie sandwiches with hummus, avocados, spinach, and red peppers. To drink, we each downed a cup of elderflower juice. We all agreed it was super cozy and delightful to eat by the water.

Afterward, we walked further down the beach for a while, pausing occasionally to climb on the rocks, take photos, and admire the scenery. When we decided to begin our return trip, the climb up the long staircase to reach the top was quite the workout! It took some effort while climbing, especially because they were very steep. Once at the top, we took a small break and then proceeded through the wooded area. We scrambled up various hilly patches of the forest until we finally found our way to the parking lot where we had started. Despite the overcast weather, the sun, at last, began to peek through the clouds and illuminate the surrounding trees, water, and sky.

Walking along the rocky beach of the Baltic Sea

We indulged in some vegan banana bread as a snack before our journey home. Made from oats, it was a dense, sweet treat that was perfect to power us for the car ride home. Upon our return to the Kollegium, we were all pretty exhausted but satisfied by a delightful day trip adventure with fantastic company. The perfect escapade with friends to get a breath of fresh air outside of Copenhagen, I couldn’t recommend an afternoon in Møns Klint enough!

*Signe made us warm knit headbands! Emmelie, Nikki, and I wore them.

Field Study in Farum

I am usually comfortable snapping photos of the things I find intriguing while exploring the city, but in Farum everything feels more intimate. I witness a fluffy black cat peering at me through the window of a house, a man preparing food in a kitchen visible to me from the street. These tidbits of life strike me as particularly homey and private, and I refrain from documenting them with my camera. At least at first, I feel irrationally self-conscious, an intruder in a location I have no familiarity with as I wander alone through the streets neighboring the Farum train station. 

It is funny, though. Although I am far from home and know little about the suburb through which I am meandering, the setting feels strangely reminiscent of the snowy arboretum on Carleton’s campus, or the woods behind my house in Indiana. Here, like at home, the birds whistle, the air is remarkably fresh, and trees tower with tangled branches. These are visions I am not accustomed to seeing in central Copenhagen. 

Farum’s proximity to Copenhagen

I decide to visit Farum Sø, a scenic lake in the neighborhood. I pass by picturesque lines of houses, one sage green, then brick red, then white. The sidewalk paths have not been cleared yet, still slushy from the melting ice. As I walk, water begins to seep through the bottoms of my sneakers, rendering my socks wet and feet cold. But I am not bothered. Suddenly, the lack of noise becomes apparent to me. It is relatively quiet outside, except for the occasional shout from a playing child or the gentle roar of a car driving by. The recurrent odor of exhaust, a feature of the city I am used to, is pleasantly absent.

The frozen lake, visible from behind someone’s house

When I see the vast expanse of ice in the distance, I realize I have made it to the lake. I spot a half-constructed snowman (or maybe it is half melted) perched on the ice. Snowy footsteps show that humans have traversed the frozen water recently, but I do not dare try to venture out solo. Instead, I take in my other surroundings. Black, white, gray, and brown dominate the nature around me, neutral tones defining the sky, lake, and trees. The occasional burnt reddish-brown shows itself in the leaves, and the surviving grass peeks through the snow revealing green.

I walk back toward the station, strolling past several shops and cafes. No longer near the trees and frozen water, I once again feel quite foreign to my environment. Guided only by the GPS on my phone, I am rather disoriented and uncomfortably reliant on directions. When I walk past a Netto, however, I chuckle to myself. The store, a Scandinavian market scattered all over the country, is certainly a centering presence.

When I board the train to return home, I am uncertain that I captured a sophisticated impression of “the spirit of Farum.” However, the jarring contrast between the familiar and unfamiliar in Danish suburbia stands out to me, and I am grateful for the escape from city life Farum provided me if only for a couple of hours.

*This was an excerpt from my Travel Writing class, in which we were assigned a neighborhood to explore on the B line of the S-Train. Farum, a 35 minute train ride from Nørreport Station, was a lovely region to survey.

An Outing to Dyrehaven

“The air is so fresh here!” exclaim our flatmates. We’ve just exited the train station, accompanied by three of our flatmates who generously offered to show us Dyrehaven, a famous deer park.

A short train ride from Frederiksberg gets us here, to the beautiful forested park just north of Copenhagen. I imagine in the spring and summer months, lush greenery occupies every inch of the environment, but on our visit, the landscape is filled with hues of cool blues from the sky, and gleaming white from the thin blankets of snow covering the ground. The snow is striking to the eye and reminds me of Carleton’s vast arboretum in the winter, perpetually characterized by thick white carpets of precipitation.

The weather is refreshing, though chilly. Upon arriving at the park, we stop at a small coffee stand where we indulge in hot cocoa, chai tea, and coffee. While strolling through the park, we encounter many horse-drawn carriages. Horses prance by, pulling bundled up adults and children in their tow. Blissful dogs trot alongside their owners, happy to be outdoors and among the fresh air, just as their human companions are.

An empty ride

We pass through “Bakken,” an amusement park located within the Dyrehaven woods. Notably, it’s known as “The World’s Oldest Amusement Park,” a venue visited by people seeking out the area’s natural springs in 1583 because they were believed to have curative properties. Now, it’s empty, made barren by the pandemic. Colorful roller coasters sit in disuse, only taken in by the eyes of passersby like ourselves wandering through.

A recreation of the set of “Matador”

Coincidentally, Nikki and I notice a recreation of the set of the iconic Danish television show “Matador” (Monopoly, in English) within the amusement park. We watched an episode or two of the show for our class titled “Glued to the Screen: TV Shows, Norms, and Culture,” and it’s intriguing to see a model of the fictional town in real life.

As we cautiously make our way across the icy paths, I observe lots of young kids tugging on clunky sleds, accompanied by their parents. Denmark isn’t a particularly hilly country, but within this park, the topography is great for sledding. It’s a fantastic recreational activity, and to get a taste of the fun the children are having, my flatmates and I take turns trying to slide across the icy paths by getting a running start and coasting down small hills on the bottoms of our sneakers.

Finally, we see the Hermitage Hunting Lodge far in the distance. The sun is perfectly angled and shines directly on the majestic building as if showing us the way to our destination. Originally built in 1734 for the royal family to host banquets and hunting trips, it looks remarkably well preserved. Imposing and grand, its teal rooftop complements the color of the vivid blue sky.

We pause for a brief snack break and enjoy the homemade pizza we prepared the night before. The pizza is piled with thinly sliced potatoes (a new concept for me!), zucchini, onion, mushroom, pepper, and vegan cheese––the perfect portable treat. After we finish, we head back in the direction of the train station. It’s a pleasant, leisurely stroll, and the bright sun filters through the branches of the trees that line the paths we walk on.

We only see one deer on the jaunt. It’s far off in the distance, slightly obscured by the foliage, delicately grazing. Too far away to capture in a photo, I simply take in its presence. It is a deer park, after all, and I’m glad we saw at least one of the creatures responsible for the setting’s namesake.

On our way home, we pick up some fancy vegan pastries at the bakery I’ve come to frequent, called “Naturbageriet.” Nikki and I select a variety of baked goods for the flat to try later, and once home, all of us dig into our tasty haul. It’s a delightful way to end the trip, and I’m appreciative for the outing, company, and special treats.

Our delicious Naturbageriet assortment

Freetown Christiania

“Don’t buy anything there,” quips our flatmate, when we inform her we’re headed out to explore Christiania.

Confused, I probe for clarification. “What do you mean we shouldn’t buy anything?” I query, prompting a chuckle from someone else.

“Well, there’s a lot of weed there,” she informs us. “Buy a souvenir, but don’t bring anything else back!”

We laugh and bid our farewell, stepping outside our apartment and into the streets of Frederiksberg, at once on our way to take the metro to the neighborhood of Christianshavn.

The walk to Christiania from the station is brief. It’s clear that we’ve reached our destination when the vivid blues and greens of a mural covering the side of a wall capture my attention. Fantastical and mesmerizing, the scene features a broad tree populated by delicate fairies, a flaming dragon in the background accompanied by mushroom cap houses dotting the hills. I pull out my phone to snap a picture when two locals call out to me.

“Do you need help?” one shouts from the sidewalk. “The entrance to Christiania is further down the street.” Another man, separate from the other, speaks to me in Danish before switching to English, conveying his willingness to offer directions.

I assure them that I’m in no need of navigational help at the moment, thanking them for their concern. Made sharply aware of my Americanness, I suddenly feel self-conscious of my identity and whereabouts. “It must be obvious that we’re tourists,” I joke to Nikki, as I slip my phone camera back into my pocket.

As we meander toward the entrance of “Freetown Christiania,” we’re confronted by multiple pieces of graffiti art, proudly signaling the presence of marijuana in the neighborhood. Such images are suitably paired with a strong, smoky, herbal aroma that hits my nose with frequency. It doesn’t bother me, but it certainly doesn’t permit me to forget where I am, my surroundings far from the likes of central Copenhagen.

Upon entering Christiania, I immediately feel as if I’m intruding on someone’s private property. Small houses are scattered within the commune, an area that’s open to anyone who wants to stroll through. It feels intensely intimate despite its public locale. A community of about one thousand people who live partially autonomous from the Danish government, they’ve intentionally distanced themselves from the conventional way of life. I can’t help but be intrigued by the mystique of the setting. The fragrance of the fresh, lush greenery contrasts with the neon walls of graffiti art that emit a potent smell reminding me of nail polish. The walls, either glistening from rainwater or the newly applied spray paint showcase artists’ masterpieces competing for space, cartoonish figures fighting for prominence, large bubble letters overlapping.

All of a sudden we see some familiar company. One of the same men who’d offered us directions passes us again within the commune and gives us a nod, acknowledging that we’d followed his guidance and successfully reached our destination. It’s a nice gesture, and comforting to know that someone was kind enough to look out for us.

And I suspect that’s what the residents in Christiania do for each other. Christianites look out for themselves and their neighbors. Signs on concrete walls alert me to the fact that on Pusher Street, taking photographs is not tolerated. Though the area is barren today, usually it’s occupied by stalls engaging in the clandestine business of weed distribution, affairs that locals do not wish to be captured on camera.

I get the sense that privacy is valued by Christiania’s inhabitants. Their home is a popular tourist destination, and I imagine that the notion of respect for the privacy of the residents is one that goes over the heads of many visitors. I doubt it’s pleasant to be a spectacle to the inquisitive eyes of a constant stream of sightseers, and I wonder how the Christianites generally regard the tourists passing through.

Christiania Art Gallery

When I return home, I read that Christiania was established in 1971, when, according to CNN Travel, “a group of hippies, junkies, oddballs and outcasts” created a permanent anarchist commune that refuted state control. Since then, the commune has lived in relative harmony with the surrounding areas of Copenhagen. Yet, in recent years, police raids, tourism, and gentrification threaten the ethos of the commune that originated as a determined statement of rebellion against authoritarian governance. I’m partly to blame, I realize, for this outcome. It’s because of people like me, tourists eager to witness the stunning artwork and mysterious atmosphere of Christiania, that this “hippie paradise” is being tarnished. I don’t regret my visit, but I’m driven to do some self-reflection, coming to terms with my identity as an English-speaking American tourist in Copenhagen.

A Snapshot of Nørrebro

It’s a rainy day. Overcast and cold, too. As a result, there are few people out and about, but somehow that doesn’t damper the lively energy of Nørrebro. As I daintily navigate the pools of water that have accumulated on the sidewalk, I catch a whiff of sautéed garlic that is rapidly overpowered by vehicle exhaust. I pass a shawarma restaurant, then a pizza joint, then a sushi place. Bright graffiti catches my eye, made more vivid by the drizzling rain that soaks it. I gaze into storefronts showcasing eclectic clothing styles that I wish I could browse if only I could enter. Perhaps the most interactive part of my exploration is the playground I encounter. Unlike any I’ve seen at home, its aesthetic is accentuated by graffiti-style spray paint. Easily diverted by the colorful playscape, I inspect the artwork and climb the wooden planks. The installation is playful and eccentric––perhaps best encapsulating these known qualities of Nørrebro.

The area adjoining the playscape– featuring a stone frog, climbing wall, and various other wacky pieces of art

Another feature of the trendy spirit of Nørrebro is conveyed by the storefront of a stylish t-shirt shop, the walls covered in cartoonish figures in an appealing color scheme. Passing by, I pause to stop and examine the outside of the store. I peer in at the t-shirts displayed in the window and realize the colorful graphics on the wall served their purpose well: they caught my attention and drew me in. Except now, ironically, the pandemic prohibits me from going inside.

The t-shirt shop storefront

I loved strolling through the Assistens Cemetery a week ago. I imagine that many of the walkers and runners I saw there are among the same demographic inhabiting the Nørrebro district that I’m touring. I’m fond of how the people here use the cemetery as a gathering place where life is celebrated in the same place that death is mourned, and I equally appreciate their presence and influence in this vibrant neighborhood. I glance at the people who pass me, and while many are indistinguishable from the civilians I’ve seen in central Copenhagen, I notice several individuals who look like myself. Known for its multiculturalism, diversity, left-leaning politics, and acceptance of immigrants, I immediately take a liking to the area and those living in it.

I’m listening to a podcast about Nørrebro as I walk, hearing stories about the neighborhood while I take it in myself. The podcast tells me about the many bikes and cars that traverse The Queen Louise Bridge, a landmark I coincidentally find myself at as the narrator mentions it. As if on cue a group of bikers whizzes by, wheels a blur. I strain to hear the podcast over the humming motors of cars and the gentle chatter that comes in waves as couples brush up against me on the street. A speaker in the podcast criticizes Nørrebro for becoming more tame, more gentrified, more mainstream. And while I take to heart their conviction, it doesn’t curb my enthusiasm as I scope out the area, promising myself that I will soon return.

The Assistens Cemetery

*The following is an excerpt from my Travel Writing class. I loved visiting this cemetery and was struck by its communal, pleasant ambience.

I walk on the muddy paths that weave throughout the Assistens Cemetery. Home to the graves of Hans Christian Andersen and Søren Kierkegaard, I’m well aware of the setting’s renown. Yet, as I feel my sneakers squelch on the wet ground, I feel an overwhelming sense of peace, a reaction I cannot say I’m accustomed to while wandering through a cemetery. A beautiful morning, the bright sun begins to rise and reflect off the dense foliage that fills the landscape. The graves, ranging dramatically in size from small stone slabs to imposing headstones are weathered by moss and moisture, surrounded by a variety of botanical plantings.

It’s a graveyard, but it’s not depressing. I hear the chatter of couples contentedly walking by on their daily morning walks, pushing strollers and holding dogs on leashes. I see an excited group of children lined up on a path dressed in bright, puffy jackets, their garb in contrast with the neutrally toned garments of their adult minders. I wonder if it’s a daycare on a field trip, or if strolling through the area is part of their weekly routine. I appreciatively take in their laughter and smiles, incongruous with my perception of a cemetery’s bleak atmosphere, and wonder whether the giggling children know where they are and what lies beneath them.

As the sun gradually rises higher and higher in the sky, more people stream into the graveyard. While I spot several individuals inspecting headstones, most look like locals simply enjoying the fresh air and gorgeous weather. The Assistens Cemetery is certainly not how I imagined it, but I like its reality better.