Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Den Gamle By - Aarhus, Denmark

If you are ever in Aarhus and have time to do only one thing it has to be to go to Den Gamle By.  Den Gamle By (The Old Town) is a living museum of over 80 historic houses, dating from 1550 to the 1970's, which have been moved from 20 towns in Denmark to make up a large village.

A visit is like taking a step back in time, well, a number of times really, because the village is laid out in different time zones. There are many styles of architecture and different types of buildings from alms houses to humble thatched cottages to the very grand 17th century Mint Masters Mansion, all perfectly set out as if this were a real town. 

There are cottage gardens growing herbs and vegetables, a pharmacy garden, a
windmill, a water mill and a very picturesque canal running through the centre where my grandson had a wonderful time in a rope pulled dinghy. It is truly a wonderful place.  You can while away a whole day strolling the cobbled streets, going in and out of the houses and  chatting to the 'villagers', or role players who keep firmly in character as they go about their daily tasks.

  There were many highlights for us. One was sampling the village beer in the brewery where beer is brewed traditionally.  The master brewer wasn't too proud to tell us that he often lost his brew due to faulty brewing, a not uncommon problem in the old days when maintaining a good temperature was difficult.

Another was the 18th century children's playground where my grandson enjoyed the merry go round and playing rope skittles.  I had never come across this game before - a long knotted rope hangs from a pole and is pulled back and let go so that it swings towards the skittles to knock them down.  It is harder than it sounds.

We visited the toy museum, the Danish Poster Museum and the Gallery of Decorative art. We munched on sugar pretzels bought in a 19th century shop, one of six working shops dotted around the village, including a bookshop and a post office and we watched tradesmen working using traditional methods.

Yes, in Den Gamle By you really feel you have stepped back in time. It is a fascinating snapshot of three centuries of Danish architecture and design.  We spent a few hours there and could easily have spent longer. I have been to other 'historical' villages over the years but this is the best one I have seen by a far.

So thanks, Mum, I read about Den Gamle By in your book, 'It Was Better in Winter',  you loved it and we did too. 

 I had set myself the goal of visiting the places in Denmark my mother wrote about and have achieved what I wanted to.  It has been immensely satisfying.    It is a country I felt very at home in, coincidentally, because that is how my mother felt when writing about it 40 odd years ago.  I would happily return.