Copenhagen and Hamburg

I don’t sleep much after 2AM so read until 6 when I finally slip under. I charge off the bus around 1:30PM, walking a mile or so along a nondescript high street to town. There’s bugger all to see — just bike shops and burger joints. I pause by the canal at Christiansborg Palace, watching tourists disembark from open-topped barges. Sitting astride a snorting horse is Frederik VII, proudly guarding his palace with a silly helmet with a bird perched on top. A bird on a hat on a man on a horse on a plinth. The sun is out but there’s a strong sea breeze whipping about. I weave into the snarl of narrow streets marking the town centre and cut through some pretty arcades. It’s very busy and where not pedestrianised, the pavements narrow. Copenhagen (the whole country) is flat and the bicycle is king. The cyclists are very well behaved, always dismounting when off the roads or cycle paths. They glide by in shoals. It clouds over and I start my return with the wind at my back.

Copenhagen is a very pleasant city but not hugely charismatic. It’s plain brick five and six storey buildings are a little Scandinavian, a little Germanic. It has no edge or grime. It sort of puts you to sleep. No one stares at you like they do in New York or fronts you out like they do in Liverpool. No one harasses you, there’s no aggro. Everyone just goes about their business peaceably and stoically. Even the odd old pair of piss artists look kind of untroubled. It strikes me that people here are happy. What kind of horrible sickness is that?

Here’s what goes wrong during the show: PA muted for first 12 bars. Kris’s guitar goes down for most of second song. Iain’s guitar amp goes nuts. Jim’s bass drum pedal falls off. Iain gets wrong guitar. My in-ears suddenly start sounding like a buffalo coughing through a cushion. Andy’s volume pedal decides to work in reverse. Accordion feeds back madly in a wedge ten feet from the instrument. The audience smiles throughout and it all weirdly clicks for the last fifteen minutes.

I drop off early around midnight to wake up outside our hotel in Hamburg. I feel refreshed and full of beans. I stride towards town through shafts of sunshine and sudden squalls. I have a coffee sitting outside a neighbourhood café on a quiet corner. A wasp with yellow legs investigates my orange juice and I watch it with interest. It’s a day off so my fight/flight responses are dampened down. I trundle off dreamily. These residential streets are narrow and charming, bright tenements built on a human scale. I head south for the river Elbe, coming to a viewpoint opening onto a dockyard panorama, a forest of blue painted steel container cranes. There are white wind turbines dotted around adding to the tableau of industrial frenzy. It’s a little like Cleveland with so much heavy industrial infrastructure so close to town.

What I’ve noticed here is, just like Glasgow, everybody checks everybody else out, just for a second. They’re looking to see if they know you or if you’re a threat. And like Glasgow the women all look like they take no shit from anyone. It’s familiar and comforting. In London everyone ignores one another in spite of proximity. People function entirely in their own bubble. In Hamburg you might feel judged but never invisible. You’re being looked out for.

I take a long afternoon nap and watch a few laptop movies before taking a late night stroll to a little pizza bar. Locals drink beer and chat. I walk back through dark tree-lined streets feeling safe and relaxed. I slumber through the night with Radio 4 Extra squawking tinnily on my phone, wringing out the last drops of hotel room privacy before the last three shows. The sun breaks through the window in the morning and I take off for further wandering, Hamburg stretched out around me like a map of sin and solicitude.