It has been one heck of a week in over here in Denmark, in both good and not-so-good ways.
On February 14th, Copenhagen experienced its first terrorist attack in over 20 years at a cafe where the Swedish artist Lars Vilks was holding a free-speech event. The event, called Art, Blasphemy and the Freedom of Expression, was heavily guarded by security, some fearing a Charlie Hebdo copy-cat attack.
Sure enough, shots were fired, this time by a 22-year-old Danish native who allegedly has been linked to extremist Islamic militancy. Filmmaker Finn Nørgaard, attending the event, was killed. Lars Vilks, who in 2007 drew a caricature of Mohammed as a dog, has publicly stated his belief that the attack was directed towards him specifically.
Soon afterwards, the same suspect is said to have opened fire on a Copenhagen synagogue, killing one security guard, Dan Uzan. The suspect was soon killed by police officers in a shootout.
I am heartbroken over this event. I discussed it with some locals and they solemnly commented that it was “only a matter of time” before something like this would happen in the country’s largest city. I hope beautiful Copenhagen and all of its inhabitants can grieve and recover peacefully.
I also hope that Danish Muslims don’t feel the islamaphobic backlash for the acts of extremists, as many Muslims in France and the United States have. I understand that it is a confusing time for many, but Islam itself is not the culprit.
I was lucky enough to visit the ancient burial site Lindholm Høje this week. It was a freezing cold day (there were even some snow flurries) but it didn’t detract from the complete awe I experienced. Around 700 graves have been excavated at this particular site, as well as the remnants of villages and stables. The burials began at the top of a tall hill; I could see Aalborg, the fjord and surrounding areas for miles. It was an advantageous spot– the Vikings who lived there could spot any oncoming attackers.
Although Vikings are often believed to be ruthless, brutal killers, the ones in Aalborg led a much more peaceful existence. There wasn’t a lot of plundering for Aalborg Vikings, instead, many spent their time farming. Some graves were even found with food preserves, leading archaeologists to believe that Vikings were extremely well fed with a plethora of grains (muesli has become a huge part of my diet– I would totally get along with these guys). People all over Aalborg have found delicate Viking-made jewelry and trinkets that were forged with impressive craftsmanship.
Basically, these weren’t the Vikings you thought you knew.
Unfortunately, the area has faced a lot of upheaval since the end of the Viking era. The stones that were used to mark graves have been used for construction and roads in the past. German soldiers even dug trenches through the burial sites during WWII. Finally, however, in 1952, Lindholm Høje became a protected area and the museum that I got to visit (for free, thanks Aalborg University) was built. It was a great experience and learning about Aalborg’s history added a whole new dimension to my time here.
I also had the privilege of attending the Fastelavn event that was put on by one of the student organizations at the school. The main purpose of Fastelavn, historically, was to beat a barrel with a cat inside of it. Basically, old-school Danes thought they were defeating “evil” by doing so. I DO NOT support the beating of cats, inside or outside of a barrel and neither do present-day Danish people. Now, we beat a barrel full of candy. The only thing that is harmed during the present Fastelavn festivities is our health. Rather than a real cat being present, there was a cute paper one taped to the barrel. I stole the paper cat, and it is now taped on my wall. I named it John Stewart, in honor of my favorite talk show host announcing his resignation.