Kapsejlads: The craziest Danish tradition I’ve seen yet

Move over, Friday bars and freshman initiation rituals. You can have your Christmas dinners (julefrokost) and licorice-flavored ice cream. Without a doubt, the most insane Danish tradition I’ve come across yet is Kapsejlads, the annual Aarhus university boat race at the university park.

I’ve never seen the university park this crowded in my entire life. (Sorry for the poor quality – until I buy a new camera, you’ll have to deal with my crappy phone pics.)

In its most basic definition, Kapsejlads is a regatta, a boat race in which the different academic faculties compete against each other. In reality, it’s an excuse to drink. All. Day. Long.

The competitors have been practicing for this boat race for months, sometimes chipping away at the ice on the University Park lake to make room for their inflatable kayaks. People show up as early as 5 in the morning to stake out a good spot to see the festivities. And then they start drinking.


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The build up leading to the actual races lasts all day. I showed up around 11am, after handing in a final paper for class. I had never seen the university park so crowded. I heard there were 20,000 people there.

I eventually found some of my classmates at the far end of the lake, staked out on blankets and armed with beer and snacks. I settled in just in time to see the naked race, a tradition my classmate Ole claims was his idea 5 years ago. Sadly, one of the participants tripped early on in the race and caused three more people to trip over him – causing a 4-person naked pileup. How mortifying – but also hilarious.

The announcer was speaking entirely in Danish and for most of the afternoon I was sitting in a place where I couldn’t really see anything, but I did glean that there were fun audience participation activities, such as a twerking contest that apparently a girl named Victoria won. Each of the teams, in addition to their racing boats, also had a huge barrel boat that they decorated and used as part of a skit they performed. The skits this year seemed to have a Disney theme – there was Peter Pan (complete with the crocodile lurking in the water), Toy Story, and Aladdin (in which Aladdin pushed Jasmine into the lake at one point). To my great shock, the Toy Story skit ended, inexplicably, in a stripper giving a guy a lap dance (yes, to an audience of 20,000).

I later found out this is a tradition, that the economics students hire a stripper every year, and that it is the same stripper every year. Can you imagine something like that being allowed in the U.S.??? Although the event isn’t officially endorsed by the university, it’s still surprisingly official. Besides taking place at the main university campus, the teams are the academic departments, it’s kind of hard to ignore thousands of screaming, drunk students outside your classroom/office, and even the mayor of Aarhus attends.

While having the mayor there may make it seem like a nice, “good clean fun” type of university event, it is nothing but. For instance, despite the thousands of liters of beer that were presumably consumed over the course of 12 hours, there was only one little row of portable toilets located at the periphery of the festivities. So there were men peeing EVERYWHERE – in the creek, in the bushes, on buildings, on trees. I even saw one guy go behind the portable toilets and pee on them – because, you know, who wants to wait in line? It was disgusting. Probably the worst thing I saw was when I went to an after party at the Student House and saw a guy standing on a ledge, peeing on a group of bicycles parked below him. Keep it classy indeed, Denmark.


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And even though the main event was the boat race, it wasn’t so much a regular race as it was a relay race/drinking game, because one of the parts of the race was to slam a beer and spin around in circles. And of course, drinking for 12 hours straight starting before noon is an art form in itself, because you have to pace yourself. Although I saw way more people peeing in places they shouldn’t be peeing than I ever wanted to see in my entire life, for what it’s worth, I didn’t see a single person passed out or throwing up. So I guess that’s a plus.

Denmark, I love you, but I will never understand you.

Intercultural musings

This whole assumption that “student life = party life” has got me thinking, once again, at the differences between the U.S. and Denmark. Granted, I went to a small Christian university with no fraternities or sororities, so I’m sure it would have been different at a big party school, but I cannot for the life of me imagine the whole school plus the town mayor gathering to watch this sporting-event-turned-drinking-game on the university’s own campus featuring copious amounts of beer and a stripper. (Then again, I’ve never been to an American college football game….) But the point is, I’ve been trying to get away from this whole “oh Americans are so much better, Americans are so hardworking” mindset and appreciate the Danish laid-back culture for what it is. I found this nice Washington Post article on Americans’ obsession with ‘busyness’ that put it nicely.

Life updates

I’m about to begin my last module of classes for this year, which is insane because I can’t believe I’m almost halfway through my master’s degree. My housing contract ends on May 31 and my courses end June 12, which is a little awkward but since I want to live in Hamburg this summer anyway, I’m just going to try to move there early and come back to Aarhus for lectures. I’m on the oh-so-fun apartment search, sending out 10 emails a night on WG-Gesucht, so if anyone knows of anything re: a room for rent in Hamburg for €400 or less, let me know! (Oh, and a communication-related job or paid internship, that would be nice too…)

Fundraising updates

As I wrote about last week, on my way back from my latest trip, a backpack containing my laptop computer, camera, and an external hard drive was stolen from a train. The train company found the backpack in a small town in northeast Jutland later that week and mailed it back to me, but of course the valuables were gone. (But hey, at least I got my backpack back, and the clothes that were in it… but they took some other items of sentimental value, such as my toothbrush and a book a friend lent me. Come on, who the hell steals a toothbrush???)

Anyway, I set up a crowdfunding page to help me raise the money to replace my items, since none of them were insured. (The computer, to my particular annoyance, I had bought second-hand just two months prior. I was NOT budgeting to buy two computers this school year.) So far I’ve raised about $550, which is nearly halfway to my goal of $1200. For all of you who have donated, even just $5 or $10, I thank you sincerely – every bit helps.