Exploring Southern Jutland

Having spent a few days in Tønder I can easily imagine that bureaucracy is not the only reason that the community has made it in the wedding business. The town is extremely picturesque, something I must admit that my prejudice and arrogance had prevented me from ever expecting.

Dorte a friend of ours moved to Southern Jutland a few years back and she has been consistent in inviting us to visit her ever since. Born and raised in Copenhagen and with no close family relations beyond Zealand, I’ve pretty much only ever been to Jutland in connection with school camps.

Dorte resides in Tønder, which for the past several years has been known by Danish media, the establishment and the rest of us arrogant capital dwellers as a place where a large child molesting case went on.

On a much happier note it is the European Las Vegas – though without the Rat Pack and neon lights. The reason is simply that while you can get married in Denmark immediately, the process is a whole lot more complicated in Germany and many European couples venture across the border to tie the knot. A modern version of Gretna Green – except here you do not elope from family ties, but escape red tape.

However, having spent a few days in Tønder I can easily imagine that bureaucracy is not the only reason that the community has made it in the wedding business. The town is extremely picturesque, something I must admit that my prejudice and arrogance had prevented me from ever expecting.

In all, Southern Jutland is one of the most beautiful regions of Denmark both in regards to the towns such as Tønder and Sønderborg, which I’ve had the pleasure of visiting during my studies, but also on the countryside.

Our friend lived in the very heart of Tønder and had planned an exciting visit for us. We arrived on Saturday around 11am after having taken a way to early train from Copenhagen and crossed both bridges. First stop for the day was a tour around Tønder.

It was an extremely charming town and full of people out shopping and socialising in the marvellous weather. The sun has barely reached Denmark this July so any chance to get a shy sunburn and the Danes come out in flock. The main square was full of both locals and tourists, mainly Germans who’d crossed the border only a short drive south. Perhaps to shop in the massive Christmas shop in the centre of the town, which seemed to draw a large number of people. Otherwise people were drinking, eating, talking and enjoying the live band which played it up with old 50’s classics as well as the cream de la cream of Danish folk pop.

De første kærester på månen…

Even I, the city girl, had to move my feet under the table sometimes as we enjoyed a roast pork burger (flæskestegsburger), listening to cover versions of TV2’s De første kærester på månen (The First Couple on the Moon)

English translation
And me who was so young
I thought we were meant to be
the first couple on the moon
But our skies
were right here and right now
so we just kept the world going
I thought we were meant to be
the first couple on the moon
I thought we were meant to be ohh uhh ohh
the first couple on the moon
And me who was so wise
I completely thought
that we could walk on the water
But our script
was written in a hurry
the first word lead to the next one
I thought we were meant to be
the first couple on the moon
I thought we were meant to be ohh uhh ohh
the first couple on the moon
The sun is spinning us back
to where everything starts anew
And now we’ve landed here
we’ve got what we need
and we’re still standing
And no matter what
on the last day of school
we’ll be the first couple on the moon
on the last day of school ohh uhh ohh
we’ll be the first couple on the moon
we’ll be the first couple on the moon
we’ll be the first couple on the moon

Sønderjysk kaffebord

Southern Jutland is known for their cakes. At least 14 of them to be exact and at the same time. 7 hard ones and seven soft ones. Adding to this are 7 dry ones, making it a complete 21 cakes to go with that cup of coffee. Because yes there is a lot of cake, but it is still known as a coffee set-up.

The tradition derives from the 1850’s a time when coffee became an everyday commodity in Denmark. But the reason that it is in Southern Jutland that the coffee set-up has developed and integrated so strongly with the local identity, comes from one of the most paradigm shifting events in recent Danish history – the civil war and consequent loss of Southern Jutland to Bismarck and the German League in 1864.

With the secession into Germany, the Danes in Southern Jutland kept their national identity through national meetings. While the Germans did not allow large gatherings and the drinking of alcohol at such meetings they transferred into meetings where coffee was served and the attendants brought their home made baking goods adding to the table.

Our friend had arranged for us to experience an authentic Southern Jutish coffee set-up at a farm out where the crows no longer fly. Fruens Vilje (The will of the Mrs) is a charming café in an old stable barn next to the owners farm house. The stable is full of a mitch-match of cosy old furniture and second hand items for sale. All the cups are thin Chinese cups and the furniture is a display of antiques. The Mrs of the farm is a friendly woman with time for her customers even when it is busy. Her husband is a tall and well build man who looks like a blacksmith or a butcher, which is funny considering that the name of the place strongly indicates that she is the one who gets her will.

Having eaten our fair share of the cake buffet we left to drive south. As all Danes this close to the German border we were planning to shop in the large supermarkets catering to the trailer loving Northern neighbours. We crossed the border at Rudbøl far away from any border patrol. The small village is known for being cut through the middle by the Danish-German border which runs along the middle of the main street. Apparently and according to the brochures I’d picked up there should be indications of the border, but we walked around for ages attempting to figure out when we were home and when we were abroad. It wasn’t until twenty minutes of hiking around that we discovered a small stone in the middle of the road. Quite anti-climatic for the tourist, but perhaps a great proof of how integrated the region of Northern Schleswig (Southern Jutland) and Southern Schleswig is. There is no need to advertise an us and them. Except off course on the beer advertisement which drastically changed from Tuborg to Flensburger Pilsner.

Further into Germany we stopped at a local Calle, Preiss and German Fakta, grabbing candy until we couldn’t carry anymore. Fortunately we were bound by the need to carry our shopping home by train. No trailers full of beer and soda for us.

Returning to Tønder I was so completely full from experiences and having been blown away by the beauty of the Southern Jutish countryside and both Tønder and Rudbøl. The very idea that we had two more days ahead of us seemed unfathomable.

Tønder and Rømø

But the next day I was ready for new adventures. Taking it easy we spent the first couple of hours sightseeing around Tønder while Dorte got a chance to catch Pokémons. Yes we are smack in the middle of the massive trend wave of Pokémon Go. If you read this three years from now, you will be laughing at how completely lost to this everyone was back in 2016 – or you will have reached level 348. Congratulations!

But after enjoying the beauty of Tønder and catching a bat-like creature on Dorte’s smartphone, we headed towards one of the true Danish wonders.

Denmark is made up of a mainland, Jutland, and several inhabited as well as uninhabited islands. A number which is largely unknown and forever changing, but which most sources put at around 400. This archipelago is what makes the flat Danish landmass so fascinating and one of the most extraordinary Danish islands is found not very far from Tønder in the middle of the Wadden Sea which stretches along the Western Jutish coast.

The Wadden Sea is stunning and the islands which it surrounds are magical. Rømø is one of the larger islands and you reach it by driving on a 9.2 km long causeway stretching through the Wadden Sea. Depending on the time of day you will either drive through a marshland or a sea.

Rømø as well as the neighbouring islands were created in storm floods, but when is unknown. The first time it is mentioned is in 1190.

Today Rømø is a magnet for tourists who drive from large parts of Jutland and Germany and all the way out to the wide Sønderstrand. When the tide comes in their cars get stuck in the sand and they have to be pulled free. The Northern beaches are prohibited area for tourists as they are the base of many of the birds in the Wadden Sea.

We went to Sønderstrand, where we swam and enjoyed the sizzling hot July sun. The afternoon ended with a massive ice cream at Lakolk before heading back to Tønder.

Mandø and Ribe

I had been looking forward to this day for a very long time. Dorte had planned for us to go on a seal safari on Mandø, another of the Wadden Sea islands.

Unlike Rømø, Mandø is a bit difficult to reach as it depends on the tide. Fortunately we didn’t have to drive Dorte’s small red car through the dirt roads fearing the tide coming in. We had booked a spot on the Mandø Traktorbus organised by the local Mandø Kro (Mandø Tavern). In addition we’d booked a tour further out to Koresand a desert like area Southwest of Mandø to gaze at seals.

I absolutely adore seals. Ever since I was a little girl and Nissebanden i Grønland was aired for the first time, I have been fascinated by seals (even though it was a sea lion in the show). And while I’ve always related them to Greenland, there are quite a lot of seals in the Danish seas. Some of them at Koresand.

We set out at ten from the mainland driving for an hour or so to reach Mandø. I was hanging over the bus most of the way snapping pictures at the magnificent Wadden Sea as it lay waiting for the tide. Oisters were spread around the ground and birds were enjoying the full chamber of food. Reaching Mandø sheep began to dot the now higher up landscape protected from the tide.

The bus finally reached the surrounding dike making its way across it and finally showing us the idyllic beauty of Mandø. 37 people live on the island though many more come to visit the nature reserve. There is an absolutely beautiful windmill in Mandø town which is some of the first you see when arriving with the bus.

The name

Mandø would in modern Danish translate to Isle of Man, and it is argued that the name derives from a certain episode in 1558 when a storm flood left most of the island desolate. According to legend only seven men survived because they were working at the mainland that day. These seven men found wives in nearby Ho and Fanø before resettling Mandø, which again gave the island its name.

Sand and seals

After a short stop in Mandø town we got on another tractor bus which took us across the sand masses of Koresand. For 45 minutes we travelled in a fairy tale landscape with sand as far as you could see, only ever broken by views of the sea. While similar to a desert the sand here lays flat. It is muddied from the sea and you can find razor shells and seashells everywhere.

 Koresand is not broken by the tide, but remains dry. It is a strangely surreal place where the only evidence of civilization are the paths of the tractor bus from former trips.

At the very edge of Koresand we stopped. 200 meters away to the right lay a colony of seals enjoying the warm summer day. We reached within 50 to 70 meters of them gazing their way as they gazed towards us. they are curious creatures and some of them took the dive to swim closer and pop their heads atop the water 20 meters from where we stood. I was mesmerized. So beautiful they were and so peaceful. the idea that even in our modern times there are still places where nature remains undisturbed from the hustle and bustle of man.

After returning to Mandø town we enjoyed a buffet at Mandø Tavern complete with seven kinds of herring and a bottle of the local brew.

But the day was still young and as we drove with the tractor bus across the causeway back to the mainland, we could glimpse Ribe Cathedral in the horizon.

Ribe

Ribe is the eldest extant town in Scandinavia and can be traced back to some time between 704 and 710 AD when a parcelled out market square was built.

In 860 AD Saint Ansgar build a church in Ribe. It was the second church in the Danish Kingdom and the first in present day Denmark (as the first lay in Hedeby, present day Germany).

It is as such a historically significant town, but thankfully it has also remained a beautiful medieval town dominated by Ribe Cathedral which was built from 1110-1134 and which some argue lies where the original church of Saint Ansgar was build.

I liked the church, but somehow it lost some of its atmosphere due to the modern altarpiece, decorations and mosaics which were created by Carl Henning Pedersen in 1987. I prefer my church interior to be less modern.

The rest of Ribe, however, is charming and with Dorte as our guide we got to see both the tourist main routes as well as the hidden little gems.

After a few hours wondering around Ribe, we drove to the train station in Tinglev where we got on the train to cross the two bridges and return to Copenhagen.

I usually travel to exotic and significant destinations abroad, writing about far away places or foreign capitals full of culture and history. In my quest to discover the world, I have forgotten to enjoy and appreciate the country that is my own. These past few days have opened my eyes to the beauty of the Danish country side and the Southern Jutish towns and the natural wonders of the Wadden Sea. I am mighty happy to have stayed home this summer, and to have explored such a historically and culturally rich region.

Zofka