Part three of the tour of Scandinavia's historic sites; back in Sweden, discovering royal theater history: Castle Hopping in Stockholm

Denmark is now easily reached from Skåne, Sweden, thanks to the new Öresund Bridge. And traveling within the small country is easy, too.


From a castle-hopping perspective, it would be difficult to find a place more ideally situated than Hotel Store Kro in northern Sealand. Checking into this classic Danish hotel, we found ourselves next door to Fredensborg and in close proximity to two other major borgs (castles), Fredriksborg and Kronborg.

"When President Clinton was here," the receptionist told us, referring to Fredensborg where the royal couple often receives important guests, "It was like having a rock star visiting. Very different from Bush,” she smiled, “Who just flew in and out with lots of security men who all stayed at Store Kro."

The palace was closed to the public, so our Fredensborg exploits were confined to the surrounding gardens, a king’s hunting ground-turned-mini-Versailles-turned-English-Romantic. Its most remarkable feature, we found, was Nordmansdalen, an 18th century sculpture site, shaped like an amphitheater, comprising some 70 sculptures of Norwegian peasants and fishermen. This was remarkable since, in those days, ordinary people were rarely depicted in such a regal setting.

If Fredensborg, white and pristine and with no onslaught of tourists, exuded an air of aloofness, nearby Fredriksborg presented a visage of utter accessibility. Complete with sweeping gables, sandstone decorations, and copper covered roofs and spires, Fredriksborg was built in the Dutch Renaissance style at the beginning of the 17th century, and was Christian IV’s preferred residence.

Prominent among its treasures is the Castle Chapel where Danish kings were once crowned. It houses a Compenius organ from 1610 and, for some 400 years, has been the knight’s chapel for the Order of the Elephant and the Knights of the Dannebrog. Called the Windsor of Denmark, Fredriksborg is a popular destination and, not unexpectedly, a venue for cultural events, notably a number of concerts at which you can hear baroque music played on the old Compenius organ.

The word Dannebrog rang a bell. I knew it meant "cloth of the Danes," and referred to the Danish flag, the origin of which is steeped in legend. Supposedly, in 1219, the flag fell from the sky when the Danish army was in a particularly tight spot fighting the Estonians outside what today is the capital Tallin. It is by far Scandinavia’s oldest national symbol, and with its cross-adorned design it’s the precursor of all other Nordic flags.

Studying the coats of arms that line the walls by the hundreds I learned that the Order of the Elephant, with its connection to St. Mary’s Order, is the most distinguished. The elephant was picked as a symbol because it is a creature of patience, strength and virginity — virtues identical to those of the Virgin Mary.

Looking for familiar names, I found a sprinkling of foreign recipients of the award — among them Churchill, Montgomery, de Gaulle, and, lo and behold, the President of the United States General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In the next castle we visited, we ran into the slumbering stone figure of Holger Danske. Once a mercenary at the court of Charlemagne, this legendary Dane never lost a battle, but got so homesick that he decided to walk all the way from the south of France to Denmark. Arriving exhausted at Kronborg (or what was there at the time), he fell asleep, and still sleeps today. Legend has it that he will awake and do battle if his beloved country is ever threatened. He sits in the deep underground of the castle, just a few feet from what was once a brewery, said to have supplied each soldier with about two gallons of beer every day.

We had arrived at Kronborg, known throughout the theater-going world as Elsinore, the home of Hamlet. It is the most famous castle in Denmark, visited by about 200,000 people each year. Only two and a half miles from the Swedish coast, it was originally a fortress, from which the Danes controlled shipping in the Sound and exacted Sound Dues. In the late 1500s it evolved into one of northern Europe’s most consequential Renaissance castles.

As we trotted through its magnificent halls, we saw some tapestries which rather exemplified the kind of royal rivalry that ran rampant in Scandinavia some 400 years ago. At Kronborg, Fredrik II had commissioned about 40 tapestries featuring no fewer than 113 Danish kings. Meanwhile, in Sweden, Erik XIV presented a proposal for a similar series, featuring 143 kings — beginning with Noah as the progenitor of the Swedish royal line.

Two hundred years after Shakespeare's death, Hamlet was first performed at Kronborg. Now, every summer is a "Hamlet Summer." At the outdoor theater in the castle courtyard, we witnessed a rehearsal of "Al Hamlet," a contemporary play performed in Arabic. The director, Sulayman Al Bassam, black-bearded and intense, seemed to be everywhere. To check every conceivable angle, he ran back and forth, intermittently monitoring the proceedings from a seat in the audience. During intermission, he told me that Al Hamlet was an explosive piece of political theater. I later found that it had toured the world and won several international awards.

Before leaving for Stockholm, we made a short stop in Copenhagen. There, in the Long Hall of Rosenborg castle, we encountered more tapestries. Instead of putting an exaggerated number of his predecessors on display, this king, Christian V, had chosen motifs from the Scanian War of 1675-79, in which he had been fairly successful. The tapestries, magnificent though they were, rather paled in comparison with some of the hall’s other treasures. Exceptional are the silver lions and the throne made for Fredrik III in the 1660s. "The ensemble," the guidebook stated, "was modeled upon the Old Testament’s description of Solomon’s throne and first used for the anointing of Christian V in 1671." Also, here stands the queen’s silver throne, behind which is the silver baptismal font, employed in the christening of the royal children for over three centuries.

The visit to Rosenborg ended with with a peek at the well-guarded Crown Jewels. Knowing what a prosperous small country Denmark is, we were astonished to hear that a portion of them had been pawned to a German businessman when the country’s finances had reached an embarrassing low in the late 18th century.

Anyway, the jewels are back, more glittering than ever.

Text and photography: Bo Zaunders
Illustrations: Roxie Munro

The Theater Museum at the Court Theater
Back in the 18th century, Denmark also boasted a court theater: In Christiansborg Castle in Copenhagen, there was Hofteatret, which opened in January 1767, to the delight of the young newlywed, King Christian VII.
Hofteatret is now a museum, showcasing 300 years of Danish theater history, with a large collection of costumes, set models, paintings, engravings, photographs and other items. At the time of my visit, Hans Christian Andersen's 200th birthday was celebrated with a special exhibition. The setting was appropriate — there, at age 15, the great author of fairy tales began his career by attending ballet classes. In a separate exhibit were oils and pastels of opera singers, actors and actresses who had once thrilled Danish audiences. Created by Skagen painter P.S. Krøyer, they all dated back to what must have been a rather spectacular artist's ball in 1885.
I walked through Hofteatret with Ulla Strømberg, a former theater and art critic for Danish Broadcasting, who for three years has been the museum's director. There was no mistaking her enthusiasm and drive, a passion that had recently produced a flurry of publicity and promotional activities. "We have four new catalogs," she told me. "And three times as many visitors." Gazing into the old theater, which 150 years ago was refurbished in the romantic Biederman style in deep reds and gold, I wondered if it was ever used for live performances. Yes, indeed — with concerts, readings, ballet demonstrations and other events.

DENMARK: Resources

Fredensborg Slot og Slotshave
DK-3480 Fredensborg
+45 33403187

Frederiksborg Slotshave
Møntportvejen 10_
DK-3400 Hillerød_
Tel.: +45 48 26 04 39

Kronborg Slot
Kronborg 1 B _
DK-3000 Helsingør
Tel. +45 49213078,

Rosenborg Slot
Øster Voldgade 4A
DK-1350 Copenhagen K
Tel. +45 33 15 32 86,

Christiansborg Slot
Prins Jørgens Gård
DK-1218 Copenhagen
Tel. +45 33 92 64 92,

Hotel Fredensborg Store Kro
Slotsgade 6
DK-3480 Fredensborg
Tel. +45 48 40 01 11,