Modern Denmark

Like Egholm, Krull is a native Dane (his full first name is Hansel; his twin sister is, of course, Gretel), but he is also widely travelled. As a self-described sixty-eighter, he had hung out with Allen Ginsberg in New York, got spiritual in India, and researched indigenous art in western Canada. I wondered how he had ended up on the eastern coast of Denmark’s peninsula. Wasn’t the capital more appealing? He said it was simple. Aarhus was Scandinavia’s great art-and-music town. Also, he told me, with a coy look, it was famous for being home to the most beautiful women in northern Europe. “That’s always been the case. I don’t know whether it’s due to the water, but there’s definitely something…” He trailed off pensively, sucked up nearly half his cigarette in one drag, then smiled at me and raised his shoulders chivalrously. “Probably the water!”

Thus briefed, I set about trying to immerse myself in Aarhus’s natural resources as best I could. Denmark resembles the right side of a Rorschach blot, jagged and diffuse. Jutland, its largest landmass, curls inward near Aarhus, setting the city at the mouth of Kale Bay. The views there are among the loveliest in the region, and, if I hoped to figure out what Aarhus’s environment had to do with its culture, I knew I’d have to begin with a spot that’s both the seat of local history and one of the most glorious of its present landscapes: The Moesgaard Museum.

The Moesgaard Museum

The Moesgaard has been a prominent archaeology and ethnography museum since the early 1970s. For years, it occupied a former country estate, but a striking new building designed by Henning Larsen Architects opened in 2014, and since then the Moesgaard has emerged as one of the leading museums in the world—a cutting-edge institution worth crossing an ocean to see. The new façade, a giant grass-covered wedge protruding upward from the field, can be climbed like a hill. At the peak, I found myself looking out over the surrounding woods and sea. Here was a place perfect without being fussy, creatively designed but not flamboyant. Inside, a selection of dazzling multimedia exhibitions centered on the region’s history. I paid homage to the carcass of the Grauballe Man, billed as ‘the world’s best preserved bog body’ and entombed in a darkened viewing chamber.

The face of the Grauballe Man

I saw the museum’s irresistible stages-of-humanity mannequins (think Madame Tussauds, except with Lucy and Selam), positioned on the climb up its central staircase, and the faces of three people buried thousands of years ago, reconstructed from their skulls with CT technology. The Moesgaard is what you’d get if PBS’s Nova documentaries stepped off the screen to mix with science experiments and the fashion runway—and then marched outside to an exquisitely landscaped lawn.

I got lunch at Skovmollen, a converted mill farm not far away set by a babbling brook in the woods. The house specialty is smorrebrod, the Danish open-faced sandwich. Trying to get into the local spirit, I ordered the so-called Dane’s Favourite, which became mine, too: a piece of aromatic poached plaice layered over another batter-fried piece on a thick slice of fresh-baked bread sauteed in butter—all drizzled with a crisp lemon sauce and dressed with delicate forest greens and Swedish caviar. A wooded trail leads from Skovmollen to the beach, for those who wish to walk off the meal.

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