I thought I was going to hate it.
Well, not hate it exactly, but have mixed emotions, tending toward the dark and apocalyptic.
I had been to Europe many times in my life — even lived and worked there for a while in Spain, the Czech Republic, and London. But the more I learned about what was happening now — saw it on TV, of course — the less I wanted to go again.
To be blunt, much as I loved Europe, much as I thought as a young man that I would spend much of my life there, drinking absinthe at Les Deux Magots or some such Hemingwayan fantasy, the way things were going, I thought I’d take a pass. I didn’t want to watch the self-immolation of the culture I once revered. The recent spate of attacks in London, Paris, Brussels, and Stockholm (oh, I almost forgot Nice and Berlin, not to mention 24,400 Islamists now said to be in Germany by that country’s intelligence people) had about done it. What was going on with these people? How could they permit this? I wondered if Europe was over for me, if I would ever go again
But then I was invited to be a speaker on the Hillsdale College Cruise of the Baltics, the very textbook version of an offer you can’t refuse. So I said yes in the time it took to type an email and there I was today walking along the streets of Copenhagen, the same streets I had first trod in the fateful year of 1968, and then again reporting from the “climate” conference in 2010 (that took place in a blizzard, forcing the participants to thaw out before their panels on global warming).
I’m happy to report the place looks pretty great, maybe better than ever. Yes, it’s deluged with tourists — it’s hard to blame them — but Copenhagen seems to share with Amsterdam an extraordinary ability to be a “museum of itself” and still survive as a real city. (Venice, though even more superficially amazing, does not achieve this.) I ascribed the prevalence of tourists — most of whom seemed to be Chinese and Japanese — to the relative boom of the last few years. (It was funny to watch the tourists jockeying to take selfies in front of the Little Mermaid, which must be one of the world’s most over-rated tourist attractions.)
A key reason for the success of Copenhagen and Amsterdam (Islamophobia alert) is that they both have shut the door, in different ways, on Islamic immigration. The door is indeed more firmly shut by the Danes who, though they are superficially the cliché UN pacifists since the days of Dag Hammarskjold, quietly say no to things that endanger their quality of life. That may mean absurdly high taxes, but also means no Islamists, at least none I could discern. The Danes may have had the guts to publish the famous cartoons, but most of the reaction, as you will recall, occurred far from Copenhagen.
You see the marked difference between Denmark and Sweden when, as I did Tuesday, you cross from Copenhagen into Lund, Sweden, via the bridge that now connects the two countries, making them minutes apart. On the horizon as we sped past was Malmo, home to so much violence, rape and anti-Semitism in recent years. I didn’t want to stop and fortunately we didn’t. Just being near the place turned my stomach.
I was much more relaxed the next day walking around Copenhagen. For a while you think that “Old Europe” is not so bad after all. Beautiful buildings, seemingly well-tended people. No debates about healthcare or ridiculous college tuition fees (it’s free, Bernie!). The street sausages (polser) are pretty good too. Maybe their version of socialism works, even if Danes have to give more than fifty percent of their incomes to the government. They get something for it.
Well, they do, particularly since they pay hardly anything for defense. I saw their one submarine in dry dock and the once powerful Danish navy has been reduced to a handful of unimpressive boats that didn’t look like much of a threat to Luxembourg. Trump was clearly right about the Euros not pulling their weight. They’ve been silently or loudly exploiting us since WWII. Meanwhile, it was hard not to notice the healthy number of yachts moored in the canals in the wealthier neighborhoods. Someone was getting around the taxman. The largest one I spied, however, was Mark Cuban’s with the distinctly non-socialist name “Fountainhead.”
Still Denmark, unlike Sweden and France, and anyplace else in Europe I can think of, for that matter, seems to be something of a socialist success. Of course that’s a lot easier to do with a relatively peanut-sized country — its population is not even two-thirds of Los Angeles County’s — with a remarkably heterogeneous makeup in this age of militant multi-culturalism.
By the time you read this, I will be in resolutely capitalist Poland. Gdansk, not Warsaw. No, I’m not following in POTUS’ footsteps.