Denmark is culturally and historically linked to its Scandinavian neighbors, Sweden and Norway. It has traditionally been one of the world’s most socially progressive civilizations. Denmark was the first nation to legalize pornography in 1969, and in 2012, Denmark replaced its “registered partnership” legislation, which it had introduced initially in 1989, with gender-neutral marriage. Modesty and social equality are so essential in Danish society that’success’ or what seems to be a conscious effort to separate oneself from others is regarded with disdain. Danes refer to this trait as Janteloven, or the Law of Jante.
Tycho Brahe’s (1546–1601) astronomical discoveries, Ludwig A. Colding’s (1815–88) overlooked formulation of the principle of conservation of energy, and Niels Bohr’s (1885–1962) contributions to atomic physics demonstrate the breadth of Danish scientific accomplishment. Hans Christian Andersen’s (1805–1875) fairy tales, Sren Kierkegaard’s (1813–55) philosophical essays, Karen Blixen’s (1885–1962) short stories, Ludvig Holberg’s (1684–1754) plays, and Piet Hein’s (1905–96) dense, aphoristic poetry have all won international acclaim, as have Carl Nielsen’s (1865–1931) symphonies. Danish films, particularly those connected with Dogme 95, such as those of Lars von Trier, have gained worldwide notice since the mid-1990s.
Jul is a prominent element in Danish culture (Danish Christmas). The festival is observed throughout December, beginning either at the start of Advent or on December 1st, with a variety of customs ending with the Christmas Eve feast.
Christiansfeld, a Moravian Church Settlement, the Jelling Mounds (Runic Stones and Church), Kronborg Castle, Roskilde Cathedral, and the par force hunting environment in North Zealand are all UNESCO World Heritage sites in Northern Europe.
Danish mass media dates back to the 1540s, when news was conveyed on handwritten fly sheets. Anders Bording, the founder of Danish journalism, established a state periodical in 1666. The first liberal, factual newspaper emerged in 1834, and the 1849 Constitution guaranteed long-term press freedom in Denmark. Newspapers thrived throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, typically associated with one or more political parties or labor unions. After 1900, modernisation emerged, bringing with it new features and mechanical methods. In 1901, the overall daily circulation was 500,000, which more than doubled to 1.2 million in 1925. During World War II, the German occupation imposed informal censorship; some offending newspaper buildings were just blown up by the Nazis. 550 newspapers were created by the underground throughout the war—small, secretly printed pages that promoted sabotage and resistance.
Danish film dates back to 1897 and has maintained a constant stream of output since the 1980s, owing mainly to financing from the state-supported Danish Film Institute. The sexual melodrama of the silent period; the more graphic sex pictures of the 1960s and 1970s; and, finally, the Dogme 95movement of the late 1990s, when filmmakers often utilized hand-held cameras to dramatic effect in a deliberate response against big-budget studios. Danish cinema has been praised for its realism, religious and moral issues, sexual frankness, and technological innovation. Carl Th. Dreyer (1889–1968), a Danish filmmaker, is regarded as one of the finest early movie filmmakers.
Other notable Danish directors include Erik Balling, the author of the famous Olsen-banden films; Gabriel Axel, who won an Oscar for Babette’s Feast in 1987; and Bille August, who won an Oscar, the Palme d’Or, and a Golden Globe for Pelle the Conqueror in 1988. In the contemporary period, prominent Danish directors include Lars von Trier, co-creator of the Dogme movement, as well as multiple award-winners Susanne Bier and Nicolas Winding Refn. Mads Mikkelsen is a well-known Danish actor who has appeared in films such as King Arthur, Casino Royale, The Hunt, and the American TV series Hannibal. Another well-known Danish actor, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, is best known for his portrayal as Jaime Lannister in the highly acclaimed HBO series Game of Thrones.
A few big companies dominate Danish mass media and news programs. JP/Politikens Hus and Berlingske Media own the biggest newspapers in Denmark, Politiken, Berlingske Tidende, and Jyllands-Posten, as well as the prominent tabloids B.T. and Ekstra Bladet. In television, the state owned channels DR and TV 2 enjoy a significant audience share. DR is particularly well-known for its high-quality TV shows, which are often sold to foreign broadcasters and feature strong main female roles like as globally renowned actors Sidse Babett Knudsen and Sofie Grbl. DR has a near-monopoly in radio, presently transmitting on all four nationally accessible FM channels and competing exclusively with local stations.
Folk customs abound in Copenhagen and its many surrounding islands. The Royal Danish Orchestra is one of the oldest orchestras in the world. Carl Nielsen is Denmark’s most renowned classical composer, well known for his six symphonies and Wind Quintet, while the Royal Danish Ballet specializes on the work of Danish choreographer August Bournonville. Danes have made a name for themselves as jazz performers, and the Copenhagen Jazz Festival has gained worldwide acclaim. Internationally notable names from the contemporary pop and rock scene include M, Aqua, Lukas Graham, D-A-D, Oh Land, The Raveonettes, Michael Learns to Rock, Alphabeat, Kashmir, Mew, and Volbeat, among others. Lars Ulrich, the drummer for Metallica, has become the first Danish artist to be elected into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Since 1971, the Roskilde Festival near Copenhagen has been the largest music festival in Northern Europe, and Denmark has many recurring music festivals of all genres throughout the year, including the Aarhus International Jazz Festival, Skanderborg Festival, Aalborg Blue Festival, Esbjerg International Chamber Music Festival, and Skagen Festival, among many others.
Architecture and design
Denmark’s architecture became firmly established in the Middle Ages, when Romanesque and later Gothic churches and cathedrals sprang up throughout the nation. Dutch and Flemish designers were recruited to Denmark in the 16th century, first to strengthen the country’s defenses, but increasingly to construct beautiful royal castles and palaces in the Renaissance style. Many magnificent structures in the Baroque style were constructed in the 17th century, both in the capital and in the regions. French Neoclassicism was gradually embraced by local Danish architects, who became more involved in defining architectural style. Historicism’s fruitful era eventually blended with the 19th-century National Romantic style.
The twentieth century introduced new architectural forms, such as expressionism, best represented by architect Peder Vilhelm Jensen-works, Klint’s which drew significantly on Scandinavian brick Gothic traditions, and Nordic Classicism, which had short prominence in the early decades of the century. Danish architects such as Arne Jacobsen made a name for themselves on the international stage with their extremely successful Functionalist architecture in the 1960s. This, in turn, has given rise to more recent world-class masterpieces such as Jrn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House and Johan Otto von Spreckelsen’s Grande Arche de la Défense in Paris, paving the way for a number of contemporary Danish designers such as Bjarke Ingels to be recognized for their work both at home and abroad.
Danish design is a phrase used to define a functionalistic design and architectural style that originated in Denmark in the mid-twentieth century. Danish design is most often associated with industrial design, furniture, and home items, all of which have received many international prizes. The Royal Porcelain Factory is well-known for the high quality of its ceramics, which it exports all over the globe. Danish design is also a well-known brand, often linked with world-famous twentieth-century designers and architects such as Brge Mogensen, Finn Juhl, Hans Wegner, Arne Jacobsen, Poul Henningsen, and Verner Panton. Other notable designers include Kristian Solmer Vedel (1923–2003) in the field of industrial design, Jens Quistgaard (1919–2008) in the field of kitchen furniture and utensils, and Ole Wanscher (1903–1985) in the field of furniture design.
Literature and philosophy
Myths and folklore from the 10th and 11th centuries are the earliest known Danish literature. Saxo Grammaticus, often regarded as the first Danish writer, collaborated with bishop Absalon on a history of Denmark (Gesta Danorum). There is very little known about other Danish writing from the Middle Ages. Ludvig Holberg, whose comic plays are still produced today, arrived with the Age of Enlightenment.
Literature was seen as a means of influencing society in the late nineteenth century. This movement, known as the Modern Breakthrough, was championed by Georg Brandes, Henrik Pontoppidan (winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature), and J. P. Jacobsen. The famous writer and poet Hans Christian Andersen, known for his novels and fairy tales such as The Ugly Duckling, The Little Mermaid, and The Snow Queen, was inspired by Romanticism. Johannes Vilhelm Jensen was also won the Nobel Prize in Literature in previous years. Karen Blixen is well-known for her short tales and books. Other notable Danish authors include Herman Bang, Gustav Wied, William Heinesen, Martin Andersen Nex, Piet Hein, Hans Scherfig, Klaus Rifbjerg, Dan Turèll, Tove Ditlevsen, Inger Christensen, and Peter Hég.
Danish philosophy has a lengthy history as a branch of Western philosophy. Sren Kierkegaard, the founder of Christian existentialism, was perhaps the most important Danish philosopher. Kierkegaard had a few Danish admirers, notably Harald Hffding, who subsequently joined the positivist movement. Among Kierkegaard’s other admirers are Jean-Paul Sartre, who was influenced by Kierkegaard’s ideas on the individual, and Rollo May, who contributed to the development of humanistic psychology. Grundtvig is another notable Danish philosopher whose theory gave birth to a new kind of non-aggressive nationalism in Denmark, and who is also famous for his theological and historical writings.
Painting and photography
While trends in Germany and the Netherlands affected Danish art throughout the years, the 15th and 16th-century church frescoes seen in many of the country’s oldest churches are of special importance since they were painted in a manner characteristic of local Danish artists.
The Danish Golden Age, which started in the first part of the nineteenth century, was motivated by a new sense of nationalism and romanticism, as exemplified by historical painter Nicolai Abildgaard in the previous century. Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg was not only a successful artist in his own right, but he also taught at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, where he trained artists such as Wilhelm Bendz, Christen Kbke, Martinus Rrbye, Constantin Hansen, and Wilhelm Marstrand.
Holger Drachmann and Karl Madsen arrived at Skagen, in the extreme north of Jutland, in 1871, and soon established one of Scandinavia’s most successful artists’ colonies, specializing in Naturalism and Realism rather than the Academy’s conventional approach. Michael and his wife Anna hosted the event, which was soon joined by P.S. Kryer, Carl Locher, and Laurits Tuxen. Everyone took part in painting the natural surroundings and locals. Similar tendencies emerged in Funen with the Fynboerne, which included Johannes Larsen, Fritz Syberg, and Peter Hansen, and on Bornholm with the Bornholm school of painters, which included Niels Lergaard, Krsten Iversen, and Oluf Hst.
Painting has remained a significant form of creative expression in Danish culture, influenced by and inspired by key worldwide movements in this field. Impressionism and the modernist forms of expressionism, abstract painting, and surrealism are examples of this. While international collaboration and activity have almost always been important to the Danish artistic community, influential art collectives with a strong Danish base include De Tretten (1909–1912), Linien (1930s and 1940s), COBRA (1948–51), Fluxus (1960s and 1970s), De Unge Vilde (1980s), and, more recently, Superflex (founded in 1993). Most contemporary Danish painters have also been involved in other kinds of creative expression, such as sculpture, ceramics, art installations, activism, cinema, and experimental architecture. Theodor Philipsen (1840–1920, impressionism and naturalism), Anna Klindt Srensen (1899–1985, expressionism), Franciska Clausen (1899–1986, Neue Sachlichkeit, cubism, surrealism, and others), Henry Heerup (1907–1993, naivism), Robert Jacobsen (1912–1993, abstract painting), Carl Henning Pedersen (1913–2007, abstract painting) (b. 1969, superrealism).
Danish photography has progressed from active involvement and interest in the early days of photography in 1839 to the success of a sizable number of Danes in the field of photography today. During the latter part of the nineteenth century, pioneers such as Mads Alstrup and Georg Emil Hansen set the path for a rapidly expanding profession. Danish photographers such as Astrid Kruse Jensen and Jacob Aue Sobol are now active both at home and abroad, participating in major exhibits worldwide.
Denmark’s traditional cuisine, like that of the other Nordic nations and Northern Germany, consists mostly of meat, fish, and potatoes. Danish cuisine is extremely seasonal, owing to the country’s agricultural history, location, and long, harsh winters.
When cooked and adorned with a variety of excellent toppings, the open sandwiches known as smrrebrd, which in their basic form are the typical lunch fare, may be called a national specialty. Ground meats, such as frikadeller (veal and pig meat balls) and hakkebf (minced beef patties), or more substantial meat and fish dishes, such as flskesteg (roast pork with crackling) and kogt torsk (poached cod) with mustard sauce and garnishes, are typical hot dinners. Denmark is well-known for its Carlsberg and Tuborg beers, as well as its akvavit and bitters.
Gourmet food, heavily inspired by French cuisine, has been promoted by chefs and restaurants across Denmark from about 1970. Danish chefs have lately created a new creative cuisine and a series of gourmet meals based on high-quality local food known as New Danish cuisine, which is also influenced by continental traditions. As a consequence of these changes, Denmark today has a significant number of globally renowned restaurants, including some with Michelin stars. In Copenhagen, this includes Geranium and Noma.