February in Copenhagen: Fastelavn, Frost and Fun
January 1, 1970
by Hjørdis Kiara Zachariassen
A time with lights, sweets and black cats
It’s a frosty night in February, and Copenhagen’s avenues are resting in silence. The snowflakes shimmered by the glow of the antique street lamps, silently fall down on the pointing rooftops of the 18’th century, narrowed buildings. The sky is black, but the faint moons glow lights up the winding old, brick streets, layered lightly with sparkly frost.
From my kitchen window of a typical two-bedroom Scandinavian apartment, I find myself looking at a black cat next to a large, naked tree on the sidewalk, cautiously observing the movements of the night. All though I am not a superstitious person, but rather a cat lover, it is hard to avoid the fearful thought about black cats being connected to dark powers.
During the Middle Ages, when the upheaval about “witches” began widespread in Europe, many cultures viewed black cats as evil omens. It was believed that witches would turn themselves into black cats at night so they could move around in the dark shadows and cast spells on guiltless people. Because of fear, mass killings of cats took place in different cultures.
Fastelavn is coming to town
“Fastelavn,” is a northern European holiday, celebrated on the last Sunday in February before Lent as a ‘feast before the fast.’ As a tradition, people would dress up in spooky costumes to scare away evil spirits and put a cat (ideally a black cat) in a barrel, which then was beaten with a wooden stick until the poor cat died. Supposedly, this was believed to clear away all evil.
Fortunately, the cat killing has now been dismissed from the tradition, all though Fastelavn is still celebrated. The barrel is now filled with candy and the first one to smash the barrel is pronounced “The Cat King/Queen.” Fastelavn is now especially a holiday for children, where they would dress up, go from house to house and beg for candy.
In Copenhagen, you can find children’s Fastelavn events in most local churches throughout the whole month of February.
However, the eventful month is not only enjoyed by children but also a time where adults enjoy long hours in the holidays decored cafés, eating “Fastelavns Boller”, attending theme parties and enjoying the cities indoor “hygge,” optimistic about the long, dark winter days now coming to an end.
Walking through a nature-balanced city
My grandmother used to say “There is no such thing as bad weather, there is only bad clothing,” which is an excellent attitude to keep when coming from the north. No matter the season, Copenhagen is always best discovered by foot as charms of the city appear in all quarters. Brimming with green, lush areas, medieval colorful buildings and channels with charismatic boats ducked side by side.
I was meeting with a local friend, Rasmus, who had just returned home from Peru after three months of traveling. Growing up in the city, Rasmus knew every corner in town and was about to introduce me to a day full of Copenhagen winter adventures.
After meeting in the main center, Nørreport, we followed Frederiksborggade, a street leading to Dronning Louise’s bridge, constructed in the 18’th century which crosses the Pebline and Sortedams lake. We stopped at Torvehallerne to pick up some organic coffee and Fastelavns Boller on the go. Torvehallerne is a luxury food market located in the gap that stretches between Nørreport and Dronning Louises bridge and offers everything from good wine, fresh sushi, 160 varieties of tea and several different plates of oatmeal from the local food cabin, “Grød” amongst many other goods.
I was dazzled by the creamy, chocolate Fastelavns Boller accompanied with a warm Cortado as we were seated on a bench from the opposite side of the lake, looking over two swans paddling their way through.
“A city balanced with nature” Rasmus applied as he glanced up towards the sun. He was raised in a colony garden house outside the city center, near Kastrup airport and has always had a real essence of the Danish, organic lifestyle is in his blood.
Despite the eco-friendly, outdoor, bicycle lifestyle the Danes seem to contain, the indoors is as big of a part of Copenhagen as the outdoors, especially during winter season. The city offers multiple restaurants and café options, all with its own unique and exclusive qualities.
An exclusive meal in the oldest quarters of Copenhagen
We went to a restaurant named “Peder Oxe” for a lavish food experience which offered delicious three-course menus, in a delightful ambiance with an open fireplace and a selection of classic art pieces on the walls.
The service was excellent. We were guided to our table by a welcoming waitress, wearing a Victorian maid costume complimented with a white headpiece. “If you need anything, just switch on the light on the lamp above your table, and I will assist you immediately” she kindly added as she bent over to show us the switch. For starters, we went for the “Voul-au-vent,” a crispy puff pastry, filled with wild mushrooms and sweetbread. For the main course, “Dover Sole,” prepared with à la meunière and served with dill, pumpkin purée, pan-fried pointed cabbage and butter fried potatoes and finally, for dessert, the chocolate mousse cake, made by the most delicate Belgium chocolate mousse, served with toffee on a crispy layer of nuts. As we were dining, the chef personally came to our table to ask if everything was ok. Of course, it was. It was absolutely lip-smacking.
To round of, we went to the wine basement of the restaurant to enjoy a homemade punch in a cozy basement atmosphere. The music was chill, and the drinks were cool. Stepping outside, we found ourselves in one of the most charming areas in Copenhagen, Gråbrødretorv, a small square constructed in the 14’th century. The wine basement, Peder Oxes Vinkælder, has been my to-go bar in Copenhagen since 2012 and never have the drinks nor the vibes left me with disappointment.
Exploring “Frost Festival”
Besides Fastelavn and all the goodies that come along, “Frost Festival,” is also a part of what makes February in Copenhagen remarkable. Every year, during the dark month of February, the festival lights up the city with music events and light installations in contrasting areas such as empty swimming pools, abandoned aquariums, the botanical gardens and in numerous of historical buildings, museums, and churches.
Allan Olsen was playing at the Zoological Collection at Copenhagen University, an event hosted by ‘Frost Festival’ and we were the first of a small, intimate audience to show up. After tuning in an excellent concert from the Danish legend and captivating crafty light installations in a beautiful room filled with animal skeletons, professor Christian Kapel presented some biography about the animals in the montres. The experience was exceptional. High on endorphins, we decided to go for drinks at “Kødbyen,” an old meatpacking district, but now home to the most trendy bars, nightclubs, markets and cafés in the city.
Stepping into the night
It was the Saturday before Fastelavn, and the city was dressed up for the yearly theme party. After passing some painted faces and costumed people, we had made our way to “Joelene bar,” a hipsters paradise, and a lounge, that doesn’t give a damn about the usual way to do things.
“This is not a f****** cocktail bar” was clearly notified on the wall behind the counter, so I went for a cold draft and Rasmus a straight up whiskey. Seated in the sofa area with barren, purple-painted walls, lightened up by red district lights and antique candlesticks, left me with a feeling of being back in time, in a secret underground bar in New York City, only reachable for urban art legends.
People danced to the rhythms. The deep house music got inside my body, and the dancefloor attracted me like a cool swimming pool on a warm summer day.
On this cold Saturday night in February, I was the black cat, observing the movements of the night, about to cast my spells.