The Old City, the Moesgård Museum and church service at the Cathedral

After a Skype conversation with my parents made me realize that I’ve been getting into the habit of drinking and clubbing and not so much experiencing the culture and attractions of Aarhus, I set out one weekend with a newfound determination to enjoy the city. The result? I went to an open-air museum, a traditional museum, and a church service.

Den Gamle By (The Old City)

A part of the canal runs through Den Gamle By. Sometimes there are geese.
A part of the canal runs through Den Gamle By. Sometimes there are geese. The picket fence is the edge of the museum – those buildings to the right and in the background aren’t part of it.

The Old City is a collection of well-preserved historical houses from around Denmark that show you what life was like back in the day. When a building is bought by or donated to the museum, it is painstakingly un-assembled, brick by brick, documented, transported, and re-assembled at its new home. Little signs on the buildings tell you what they were used for, and many also had little gardens where people would grow their own food. Though the gardens weren’t much to look at in the middle of January, the houses were pretty cool

Overlooking Den Gamle By. It's sort of built on a hill so you have a nice view from the top. In the background you can see the greenhouse for the botanical gardens, which looks like a large bubble, and a windmill.
Overlooking Den Gamle By. It’s sort of built on a hill so you have a nice view from the top. In the background you can see the greenhouse for the botanical gardens, which looks like a large bubble, and a windmill.
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A construction site – I guess they’re installing a new house in the museum. The ad in the background is for local beer – “Drink Jutland beer in Jutland!”

Although the houses were cute, I don’t feel like I learned that much while I was there. I think it would have been better to get a tour, where a tour guide could provide more trivia and information about what we were seeing. I went there with Manuel, the kindly computer science student who fixed my computer, and since he had had a tour before he was able to tell me quite a lot about it. I think it’s worth going to at least once or twice if you live in Aarhus, but if you’re just visiting for a couple of days, I wouldn’t prioritize it.

There was also an indoor exhibit with historical clothing.

20150117_12045920150117_120330I learned a lot about the attitude of the 70’s in that exhibit – people’s need to be unique, stand out and do their own thing. I also learned that knitting was a big part of Danish culture, and the 70’s was the first time women began knitting crazy designs and brightly colored patterns instead of whatever pattern came with the yarn. It was funny seeing knitted sweaters with dragon motifs next to tye-dye dresses and denim overalls. But all in all not that riveting.

A satellite image of Aarhus on display at Den Gamle By.
A satellite image of Aarhus on display at Den Gamle By.

I guess the thing to do is to visit Den Gamle By around Christmas time because they put Christmas decorations up on all the houses and it’s sort of a Danish tradition. Thomas complained to me about being dragged their with his parents one weekend when they came to visit. I almost went one day in December, but the weather was so awful I decided to see a movie instead. Once I found out what a big deal it was though I was a bit sorry I missed it.

The Moesgård Museum

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The Moesgård Museum is Aarhus’s newest museum – I believe it only opened in September or so. This museum was largely focused on anthropology, cultures and traditions from people far away and long ago.

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I went with a group of students from my dorm. The first thing we did, while it was still light outside, was climb up the grassy roof. In spring and summer I guess it’s a nice place to have a picnic. It’s also a short walk from the Moesgård beach, but it was windy and cold and not a very nice day to go to the beach.

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We were excited to get to the top and see the view.
We were excited to get to the top and see the view.
The view turned out to be a very boring field. This is looking back down the slope, where there were at least a few trees and a building to look at.
The view turned out to be a very boring field. This is looking back down the slope, where there were at least a few trees and a building to look at.

The top floor of the museum had to do with different cultures’ beliefs about death and the afterlife.

Creepy death masks. I believe these ones were from Papua New Guinea. The display cases had low, flickering lights for dramatic effect.
Creepy death masks. I believe these ones were from Papua New Guinea. The display cases had low, flickering lights for dramatic effect.

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Colorful Day of the Dead skeletons
Colorful Day of the Dead skeletons

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Wax figure of Stephen Hawking. They also had a display where an audio recording of Hawking talked about Western ideas regarding life and the universe.
Wax figure of Stephen Hawking. They also had a display where an audio recording of Hawking talked about Western ideas regarding life and the universe.

The lower level had to do with human prehistory, with a large emphasis on the history of Jutland. I had no idea, but I guess Jutland has a lot of peat bogs where all sorts of ancient mummies and artifacts have been found, so they actually know quite a lot about Danish pre-history. The Romans never made it this far north, to my knowledge, but there were other indigenous people who lived here, and of course, can’t forget the Vikings!

Wax figures of ancient human ancestors based on fossil records
Wax figures of ancient human ancestors based on fossil records
Arm bands and finger rings found in the bogs of central Jutland, presumably dumped there as some sort of offering or ritual
Arm bands and finger rings found in the bogs of central Jutland, presumably dumped there as some sort of offering or ritual
Ancient war horn
Ancient war horn
"The forgotten weapon"
“The forgotten weapon”

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Model of ancient Aarhus with the cathedral projected onto it for perspective. It looks so much different now!
Model of ancient Aarhus with the cathedral and a large shopping center projected onto it for perspective. It looks so much different now! About the only thing that’s the same is the canal. And of course, those fields to the edges are now part of the city – not even suburbs, they’re still downtown.

And the big finale… Grauballe Man!

I'd seen pictures of this mummy in books before, but had no idea he was found in Jutland. He is so well preserved, they even know what his last meal was (seeds and grains) and you can see the wrinkles in the skin on his hands and feet. The sulfuric acid in peat bogs made it so bacteria can't survive and prevents the decomposition process, which is why he looks so good for 2,000. The acid has essentially turned him to leather, a process I don't understand very well but the word "tannins" is involved. Before he was chucked into the bog he had his throat brutally slit, which is why they think he's an offering to the gods.
I’d seen pictures of this mummy in books before, but had no idea he was found in Jutland. He is so well preserved, they even know what his last meal was (seeds and grains) and you can see the wrinkles in the skin on his hands and feet.
Not bad for nearly 2,000!
The sulfuric acid in peat bogs made it so bacteria can’t survive and prevents the decomposition process, which is why he looks so good for 2,000. The acid has essentially turned him to leather, a process I don’t understand very well but the word “tannins” is involved. Before he was chucked into the bog he had his throat brutally slit, which is why they think he’s an offering to the gods.
He caused quite a sensation when he was found in the 1950s! One of the museum curators at the time was great at PR and made Grauballe Man an international sensation.
He caused quite a sensation when he was found in the 1950s! One of the museum curators at the time was great at PR and made Grauballe Man an international sensation.

The Domkirke (The Cathedral)

I am Lutheran and my home church was founded by Danish immigrants, so I figured I’d better go to at least one church service while I was here. I’d seen plenty of cathedrals when traveling through Germany and Holland before, but never been to a service in one. It was quite a treat!

Unfortunately I only have this one crappy photo from the outside, as you are (obviously) not allowed to take photos during the service and I thought it'd be tacky to stick around after for that purpose. I will take some eventually though!
Unfortunately I only have this one crappy photo from the outside, as you are (obviously) not allowed to take photos during the service and I thought it’d be tacky to stick around after for that purpose. I will take some eventually though!

The cathedral is definitely beautiful on the inside, but after touring north Germany and Holland visiting beautiful churches for the purpose of playing historic pipe organs, I was a little jaded. It was big, but not the biggest I’d seen. It was beautiful, but far from the most ornate. Still, I enjoyed the service immensely, even though I didn’t understand much of the Danish and I only caught random words like “father” and “Lord” and “forever” and “amen.” It was pretty similar to a Lutheran church service back home, but a bit… colder. Lutherans aren’t known for being the most excitable or charismatic congregations, but in Denmark people barely spoke a word. Less than half of the people sang along with the hymns, and there was no “greeting” part of the service where people shook hands and said good morning. Although some people stuck around afterwards for coffee and tea, I was feeling pretty not-confident in my Danish skills and left right away.

Despite the lack of charisma among participants and not understanding much, I still really enjoyed the service. As Christianity has declined in much of Europe, relatively few churches are still in use, and many have been converted to museums. Though the congregation’s singing wasn’t very loud and the organist never pulled out all the stops, it was still an incredible feeling to be in such an acoustically amazing, beautiful space and be surrounded by beautiful music. The church was huge, and the music filled the air around you. The altar was also beautiful and ornate, and I felt a little intimidated going up to it to receive communion. I plan on trying to attend more regularly in the future, and maybe sweet-talking the management to let me try out the organ.

In other news

  • I’ve started a methods course in my program, Social Science Research Methods for Journalists. It doesn’t have a lot to do with journalism and is mostly to prepare us for our masters’ theses.
  • My computer broke again and now won’t function properly. An IT person wiped it (again) and reinstalled all of my software (again), but as it keeps malfunctioning, freezing and spontaneously going nonresponsive, I’ve been forced to accept that it’s a hardware problem and I am looking into getting a new one.
  • I’m one of few people I know who is still taking Danish classes. I can now talk about my family, my hometown, and what I did today.
  • The dollar is getting stronger, which means my rent of 2,650kr/mo was nearly $600 when I made my deposit 8 months ago is now down to $404. Yay free money!
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder sucks! Being in England for three weeks made me realize how unusually unhappy I am in Denmark. I’m taking vitamin D supplements and turning on the lights at night, but I’m seriously considering buying a daylight lamp or taking a snowbird trip somewhere sunny during our February break.
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