Where: Helsingor (aka Elsinore), DK –A town on the northeastern tip of Zealand
When: August 2015
Weather conditions: 65 F+ throughout the day and breezy with beautiful sunshine beaming down–being on the Baltic Sea made it necessary to use my scarf and light cardigan while walking the sea wall overlooking Helsingborg, Sweden
How did I get there? 45 minute train ride from Copenhagen central train station. Kronberg Slot is within walking distance of the train/ferry terminal–just follow the white stencil castles on the sidewalk!
How long?: Approximately 6 hours in total–I queued up at the castle about 10:30ish after my leisurely walk from the train station. I left Helsingor on the 4:16 train toward Copenhagen but I didn’t plan well–I arrived at the train station at 3:15 and just waited.
Main attractions: Kronberg Slot–history girl geek squeeee moment–Hamlet’s Castle! Helsingor also has several churches and monasteries that are noteworthy among them the Carmelite monastery. The city center is next to the train station (the station itself an architectural wonder). The ferry to Sweden is only a 20 minute ride as it’s the closest point between Sweden & Denmark on the Baltic Sea (Oresund). The dry dock before crossing the bridge to the castle complex has a large, modern mall complex with a bookstore and cafe. The Maritime Museum is a subterranean building in the refurbished dry dock.
Favorite moment of the day: Lunching on packed snacks sitting by the sea then walking along the sea wall back to the bridge heading into town toward the train station.
Here’s the History: A Renaissance castle fortress on the Baltic Sea first built by Eric of Pomerania in 1429. Kronberg Slot was not only used for defense but to bring revenue to the Danish monarchy. How? Well, literally by collecting a toll called the Sound Dues before passing in the narrow straight (a mere 4 km) between Denmark and Sweden. If a captain didn’t stop to pay the Sound Dues–they were fired upon by the cannons along the perimeter of Kronberg Slot’s sea wall. Denmark collected these dues by right for over 400 years. In return, the King of Denmark protected the seas from pirates.
In 1585, Frederik II expanded the castle and his son the great builder and longest reigning monarch Christian IV rebuilt it after a fire in 1629.
How Shakespeare became part of the history: In the early part of the 1600s, Shakespeare was writing the tragedy of Hamlet (there are some Danish myths about a prince displaced by his uncle) and he set the story at the very symbol of Danish might–Kronberg Slot in Helsingor (translated in English to Elsinore). Being a prosperous trading city that controlled the Sound Dues–many English people settled in the town. The Danish kings supported the arts, as much as Elizabeth I and her father Henry VIII of England, and the Danish kings hosted members of Shakespeare’s acting troupe to perform at Kronberg Slot many times. During Shakespeare’s lifetime, King James VI of Scotland (later James I of England) married his Danish princess (daughter of Frederik II) at the Great Hall in Kronberg Slot. The Great Hall was known far and wide as the largest and grandest banqueting hall in Northern Europe.
Interesting Fact: Until the mid 19th century, Denmark was an elective monarchy rather than one based upon primogeniture. This fact along with the Sound Dues collected by the Danish kings help close up some plot holes in Hamlet that my co-teacher and I couldn’t answer for our English 11 students while reading about the original Emo boy Prince Hamlet: Hamlet’s uncle displacing him after his father’s death, England owing tribute to Denmark, Norway being very resentful (they were ruled in union with the Danish King), and the largest “jump the shark” moment when Hamlet’s ship was attacked by pirates.
Other interesting things to see/do at Kronberg: The Shakespeare Festival in early August when a Shakespearean drama, often Hamlet, is performed in the courtyard. The statue of Holger the Dane, a mythic protector of the Danes, sits in the cellar asleep until needed. Hans Christian Anderson wrote of him, “But the most beautiful sight of all is the old castle of Kronenburg, where Holger Danske sits in the deep, dark cellar, into which no one goes. He is clad in iron and steel, and rests his head on his strong arm; his long beard hangs down upon the marble table, into which it has become firmly rooted; he sleeps and dreams, but in his dreams he sees everything that happens in Denmark. On each Christmas-eve an angel comes to him and tells him that all he has dreamed is true, and that he may go to sleep again in peace, as Denmark is not yet in any real danger; but should danger ever come, then Holger Danske will rouse himself, and the table will burst asunder as he draws out his beard. Then he will come forth in his strength, and strike a blow that shall sound in all the countries of the world.” (http://hca.gilead.org.il/holger_d.html)
Tips: I would have planned the day a bit better by going earlier in the morning to be the first on line. Helsingor is a lovely town and I would have liked to go into the cathedral and monastery. I should have used my Copenhagen card for transport–I used it earlier in the week so it was no longer valid or I should have purchased a 24 hour train pass which would be cheaper than buy each train fare separately.
On a return trip, I would see……….Kronberg Slot (loved it that much), spend more time exploring the historic center, green spaces and seaside walks. There were several museums and churches that I would love to have time to explore.
I may even detour to nearby Fredericksborg Slot in Hillerod, go back to Helsingor, and spend the night before returning to Copenhagen stopping along the way at different attractions. The train ride along the coast is pretty and several stops that can be made to see the Louisiana Museum in Humlebaek, the Karen Blixen Museum in Rungsted and in Charlottenlund there is the Ordrupgaard museum known for their impressionist works and Charlottenlund Slotshave, a royal palace.