The first snow of winter arrived in east Denmark the other day. There’s now a mad rush for winter tyres. Most Danes have these extra wheels stored somewhere. Mine are with Jonas, my local dealer, who took about 15 minutes to make the switch early this morning.
So, I’m on an errand in Helsingør, on my grippy winter rubber, and I’ve dropped in to Cafe Karisma. The cafe is at Stengade 56A (pronounced ‘stain-ga-the) on the eastern end of the long, historic main street in Helsingør.
From its big windows there’s a good view of the pedestrian world going by. Had Karisma been here 500 years ago, chances are a Scotsman like me would have been in this exact same spot, minus the cappuccino, of course.
You see, more than half a millennium ago this city was home to a large Scottish immigrant community. More than 200 years before the United States declared themselves a nation, citizens of independent Scotland were travelling to, settling in, and trading with our European neighbours.
That our majority of pro-indy MPs and MSPs did nothing substantial to maintain our historic ties to Europe, on the back of electoral mandates and their own solemn promises, was criminal. Why should we Scots have lost our European status on the back of Anglo-Saxon antipathy towards ‘bloody foreigners’? Where was the fight? Where was the Scottish resistance? I suppose all that’s left to say is goodbye and good-riddance, Ian Blackford.
Cafe Karisma is its own brand. With a rustic interior and a mix of comfy chairs and formal tables, it’s more appealing than the ubiquitous Espresso House chain which you’ll see everywhere on both sides of the Sound. Stengade 56A dates back to the early 16th century. In fact, in the adjoining property they recently uncovered a medieval wooden ceiling. It revealed beautiful, and hitherto unknown, painted decorations. The ceiling has since been removed and is now at the local history museum.
I’ve actually always liked Helsingør, and thought I was pretty well acquainted with the ferry-terminal town. Little did I know. Several years ago, I discovered a whole section about the place in Billy Kay’s book, The Scottish World. He writes in chapter 1:
“If Grieg’s Bergen was the Scottish metropolis in Norway, in Denmark it was the port of Elsinore. In the sixteenth century, the Scots community in Elsinore comprised around 15 per cent of the population.”
My jaw dropped when I first read those words. Here’s a place I often visit, cycle to, and where I have a favourite Italian restaurant – and five centuries before I turned up, there were exile Scots walking the length of Stengade.
When it comes to listed buildings, Helsingør must be unique owing to the sheer number of them. And a couple of the most impressive once belonged to well-to-do Scots who prospered in this coastal town. These buildings are just a few doors down from this cosy cafe.
This corner of north east Sjaelland wasn’t exactly the worst place Scots could choose. Five centuries ago, Helsingør was one of the most affluent, thriving, and cosmopolitan towns in the Nordic region.
Turn right when leaving Cafe Karisma and the two very large houses with Scottish heritage come into view. They are at 72-74 on Stengade, and in the early 1500s were associated with the influential Lyle family (Lyle became ‘Leyel’ in Danish).
Alexander Lyle and his son Frederik became not only prominent in the local community, they were highly regarded by the Danish monarch. They were rewarded with a number of small rural estates.
A stone’s throw from Stengade 72-74 is St Olai Kirke. It’s green-coloured copper tower is a local landmark. There are two narrow connecting passages from Stengade to the auld kirk. One of the signs (in Danish only) tells us that these were entrances to a larger graveyard that once surrounded the church.
As I enter St Olai, evidence of the Scottish diaspora is literally under my feet. Some old grave stones are now horizontal on the floor. And one of the first you step on belonged to a ‘Sara Clark’, born in Edinburgh in 1568. She lived to the ripe old age of 84 in the good sea air of Helsingør. One of the large paintings on the walls depicts Frederik Lyle and his family. He was, among other Scots, the church’s generous benefactor.
The relationship of Scots with the Danish king appears to have been one of mutual trust and respect. This is illustrated by their role in collecting the Sound tolls, first introduced in the late 1420s. Being the narrowest point in the Sound it was the ideal location to persuade foreign ships to pay up.
Two minutes from St Olai is the harbour. The old shipyard is now home to a culture centre and underground maritime museum, ingeniously built into the old dry docks.
I don’t know about you but I love to watch ships coming and going. With a genetic background in Montrose and Glasgow, perhaps gulls and the bustling activity of sea ports is in my blood? With many Glaswegians of my vintage I share that early memory of sailing on a paddle steamer doon the watter.
Just across from the ferry terminal is a monument to the years of occupation in the 1940s. The northen coast of this island played an important role during the rescue of Jews during the Second World War.
A number of comments on Yours For Scotland have suggested we don’t fall hook, line and sinker for the Scandinavian model. To be honest, I agree with them entirely.
Personally, I try to focus on the positives in the Nordic region, particularly here in Denmark. There’s a lot for us to admire and perhaps emulate. However, there are most definitely darker undercurrents coming to the surface. The latest example is a law passed in Sweden which effectively curtails freedom of speech. This follows in the wake of its rush to abandon neutrality. Further east. across the Gulf of Bothnia, the non-aligned foreign policy once championed by President Kekkonen of Finland – during key decades of the Cold War – has been binned.
Finland’s current love affair with NATO effectively gambles with the nation’s national independence, as it does with Sweden’s. But love is blind, apparently.
The country, from whom the SNP borrowed the baby box idea, is even building a fence on its eastern border. This structure may be merely to keep out bears or whatever, but added to Poland’s version it looks like a return to the era of dividing lines in Europe.
And in case anyone was in doubt, the head of the Finnish Defense Ministry said as much this week –
“I am afraid that we are, let’s say, at the beginning of the second Cold War. It will last for a long time.”
And to think these same European nations were united in their condemnation of President Trump’s border wall.
Meanwhile, here in Denmark, the media is surfing a wave of virtue signalling surrounding Qatar – while rejecting any suggestion of a boycott. But the issue was settled for them a few days ago when Australia dumped them out. “Fiasco,” was the cry post-match. Definitely, echoes of Scotland at Argentina ‘78, and our own fiasco, which also occurred in a host nation criticised for its human rights record following the generals’ coup.
Heading back along Stengade there are a few more information boards detailing local history. I’m easily distracted by this kind of thing.
One incredibly poignant display, above an old cellar of the current Raadhus, the city chambers, describes the final days of a young woman condemned to die – accused of being a witch. The tragic fate of Birgitte Skaaning in 1626 has eerie parallels 400 years later in the cancelling and demonisation of women – merely for being a ‘non man’, to quote video satirist, Shauny Boy.
It sounds clichéd to say that history won’t be kind to our current First Minister. So instead, I’ll suggest history will damn her. Whether it’s women’s rights being burned at the stake, child protection, poverty, drugs deaths, or an unused set of indy mandates – she has failed to resist Westminster, and neglected to fully use what powers she has, in order to help those most in need. Whether it be from a tax on second home owners, or as has been suggested, introducing a land tax on those who ‘own’ the estates stolen from our people centuries ago. We can only hope she’ll be the last colonial administrator of Scotland.
Heading back to the car, there’s another plaque visible on the corner of number 44. This is the spot where John Nielsen and Otto Juul were shot in August 1943 – patriots willing to die in the fight to liberate their country from occupation.
Real nations stand up to their oppressors. Unfortunately for we Scots, many in our ruling elite are tucked up in bed with their colonial masters – and this includes the so-called party of independence. Poseur in chief, John Nicolson, has got himself so tangled up in the British establishment he’s now been disciplined on live TV. His ‘poor wee me’ voice, breaking theatrically, evoked little sympathy in the Union parliament, which he has such affection for. Even the pompous Pete Wishart, announcing his 21-year veteran status, failed to have the desired effect. These two British establishment fanboys are clearly viewed as just another pair of tedious ‘jocks’ – despised by their English peers.
Unlike the terminally conceited Wishart and Nicolson, Kenny MacAskill and Neale Hanvey sent Speaker Hoyle into a raging fit because they actually stood up for Scotland’s cause. If Carlsberg did polar opposites
By the way, I received my printed copy of the Danish constitution the other day. These are now my rights as an adopted Danish citizen. Here’s a thought, while we’re excavating Scotland’s historic constitution, perhaps we should dust off our treason law? After all, if we’re now punishing people who merely state biological facts, or who publish accurate court reports, it may be worth considering inserting a statue that removes any gold-plated pensions, or state-sponsored perks from those who have collaborated to oppress Scotland’s democracy. Why should those who have facilitated the theft of our nation’s wealth, or who have engaged in other crimes against our people be rewarded from the public purse?
Let’s face it, most of them have done so on behalf of a foreign state. If facilitating the theft of £80 billion of Scottish natural resources, from our sovereign territory over the next five years, isn’t 21st-century treason, then I don’t know what is.
Too harsh? You may think so, but why not let those bought and sold for England’s gold make do with the already ample rewards of their betrayal?
I can’t help thinking of Birgitte Skanning as I wander back. Her only crime was to supply herbs and lotions. For six months she sat in that underground cellar dungeon awaiting her fate. On 23 of February 1626 she perished in the flames. No matter when or where women are persecuted, we must never fail to stand up for them. If that means heckling the First Minister, as was done this week, so be it. To her eternal shame, she can neither stand up for women nor for her country – she is an imposter on every level.