Wednesday 15 August 2012

Revisiting Skagen

by Marie-Louise Jensen
My writing at present is steeped in the Georgian era, as I embark on my third tale set in the early 1700s. But right now, I'm in Denmark, and being here brings back so many memories of writing my first book, Between Two Seas.
I was very touched to receive an email in late July from a reader in Scotland. Finding herself in Denmark on holiday, she made the trek north to Skagen to visit the scenes of the novel. This made me think about what she would have seen and what I found there when I was researching the late 1800s.
Being far more recent, there is so much more still in existence than from the early Georgian era. Houses, hotel and paintings are all still there. True the old wooden houses only survive in an open-air museum (Skagens by og egnsmuseum), but nonetheless, you can visit them and see just what cramped homes the poorer fishing families lived in. A kitchen floor of sand, one room for sleeping, eating and living; narrow beds where many people slept. They seem quaint and charming now, but I bet they weren't when nine or ten people were living there through the dark, cold winter.
Poor fisherman's house
The old lighthouse still stands preserved out on 'grenen' the tip of Jutland, just north of Skagen, though more modern ones have replaced it. The splendid old hotel Brøndums, is still open for business and on quiet days, perhaps out-of-season, you can enjoy a coffee or a hot chocolate and imagine yourself back over a hundred years in time without any difficulty.
Brøndums Hotel
Best of all, the expressionist paintings that helped make Skagen famous are on display in the art museum (Skagensmuseum). A rich cultural heritage that captures the essence of life of the town in the 1800s. Currently there is a special exhibition featuring paintingsthat are normally in other collections:
Summer Evening on the Beach at Skagen. Artist and His Wife (Sommeraften ved Skagens strand. Kunstneren og hans hustru) Painting by Peder Severin Krøyer. 1899. The Hirschsprung Collection, Copenhagen.
Walking out the northernmost tip of the country and standing with one foot in the Baltic Sea and one in the North Sea is as popular now as it ever was. In fact this summer, I took my cousin from Brazil up to play tourist in the same way visitors have been doing for a couple of hundred years. It was a bit approximate this year as the spit of sand where Jutland vanishes into the sea was less clearly defined than it sometimes is, but we could still see the waves crashing into each other from opposite directions further out, and a baby seal swam right in to investigate us, which was completely charming.



Katherine Langrish said...

It looks beautiful!

Ann Turnbull said...

Beautiful! I loved Between Two Seas, and I'm not surprised your reader wanted to visit the place.

michelle lovric said...

Thank you for sharing your Skagen visit. I loved Between Two Seas too, and the way you brought the place to life. It was lovely to see the hotel too.

Sue Purkiss said...

I still remember your descriptions of the shore - and that picture is lovely. Incidentally, we saw the film 'A Royal Affair' the other day, and were quite surprised to see that some of the countryside was hilly, or at least rolling - had always imagined Denmark to be all pretty flat...

Marie-Louise Jensen said...

Central Jutland is quite hilly; there's even a place called 'Himmelbjerget' (heaven mountain!); even here in the North there are hills here and there. Fyn is flat. Thank you all for your lovely comments!