The heavy velvet curtains billowed into the windows of the café as another purple-tinged flash of lightning serrated the sky. Below us the street flowed like a dirty river. Candy-striped tape from the roadworks in the neighbouring alley, random litter and odd pieces of wood were borne along in its current as plaintive flotsam and jetsam. We watched as one of the cycle rickshaws parked on the square was swept away from the huddle of its companion vehicles, striking out across the paving stones on its own. Some pedestrians ran, cowering under umbrellas as though under fire, water slopping around their calves. Others almost sauntered, accepting their drenched fate, their hair plastered to their heads, their clothes clinging to their bodies in surprise. Quite a few people were barefoot and there were several men without shirts, rain cascading down their bare skin.
The café staff scurried back and forth in the hot, saturated air, bringing cool beers and steaming coffees to the customers trapped by the rain, including us. Soon the toilets were closed due to fears of the sewage pipes overflowing in the deluge; next the electricity flickered off as the lines went down. We felt under siege, imprisoned by the unexpected ferocity of the storm. At least we had a prime spot: a window table on the upper level of Café Norden, overlooking Stroget, central Copenhagen’s main pedestrian shopping street. Just hours earlier we’d been roaming the dusty streets of Christiana, the sunshine filtered only by the occasional plume of smoke from a local’s hand-rolled joint. Minutes before we’d been watching a pair of buskers charm the crowd next to the stork fountain. Now our plans for sushi with a view in a top-floor restaurant were washed away as we contemplated instead how to get home. During a brief respite in the downpour, we grabbed our bikes and cycled back to Frederiksburg, where Susanna’s comfortable apartment was our base for the weekend. Quite a few cars had broken down and several roads were closed due to flooding but the local children were having a ball, sloshing happily in streets that had become streams. Sluicing along on our bikes, we got back with no more than a light soaking.
Copenhagen is famous for its vibrant Tivoli gardens, the Carlsberg brewery, the picturesque coloured buildings squeezed along the banks of the Nyhavn canal, the unapologetically non-conformist district of Christiana. And of course, the iconic ‘Little Mermaid’ statue, which I still haven’t seen, despite two visits to the city. Over the weekend we’d had a leisurely lunch on the bleached wooden deck outside the glass-sided Royal Danish Playhouse, bantering with the waiters and glancing across the river at the modernist grandeur of the Opera House, designed by Danish architect Henning Larsen. We’d meandered our way to the top of the Round Tower, or Rundetaarn, in the city centre, up the winding, whitewashed Spiral Walk, a ramp built in preference to stairs so that King Christian IV could be driven to the astronomical observatory at the top in a horse and carriage. We’d relaxed into the pleasures of café society in the city’s pretty courtyards and gardens. And we’d braved the transport chaos and the mud that followed the storm to revel in the rowdy atmosphere and ear-thumpingly loud music at Roskilde, Northern Europe’s largest music festival. All great fun, all memorable. But when I think back on this weekend, my abiding image will be of a tranquil, stylish city beset by freak downpours, its streets churning with fast-flowing brown rain.
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