Saturday, June 02, 2012

Euro Diaries - Copenhagen

I was enjoying the travel by rail instead of by plane, so I chose a train to get to my next destination, Copenhagen. I made a short stop to visit an old room mate and good friend in Bremen, which turned out to have a lovely old city including  both beautiful historic buildings as well as very narrow streets sprinkled with tiny shops and restaurants. The whole place is really worth exploring.

Continuing my trip I had to catch the ICE to Copenhagen in Hamburg. As the train was just rolling into the station it was announced that the train was cancelled due to a technical problem. You can imagine the excitement this caused to the people waiting on the platform to board the train (including a brief panic by yours truly). The following ten minutes were characterized by chaos and conflicting information given by the platform officials (who all wear red hats to be better identified) about what to do now. But within further 10 minutes, a new train of equal quality and even with the same wagon and seat numbering was brought to the same platform.

I had to admire the German efficiency at logistics, their handling of such a complex situation and the convenience of continuing my trip with no change to my seat reservation despite the swap of an entire train. The electronic  technology used to display wagon and seat numbers probably helped a lot, but nevertheless impressive.

The trip continued smoothly. Ever increasing numbers of wind-mill generators appeared in the green landscape of  Germany's North. At the coast the train drove onto a ferry boat and once on board passengers were asked to leave the train and head to the upper deck of the ferry. On my way there I noticed trucks and cars loaded onto the same boat, so it must have been a sizable ferry to accommodate all this load. The time to grab food and drink from one of the cafeterias and consume them while soaking the sun on the upper deck like any self-respecting Nordic must do, we had to return to our train to disembark from the ferry and continue towards our destination.

Upon arriving to Copenhagen my first impression of the city was the astronomic number of bicycles everywhere. Many of them drove with frightening speed. You actually were at a higher risk to be run over by a bicycle than by a car! Check out this view of the parking lot in front of the central train station on Sunday.

How would one even find their bicycle upon return? Every conceivable model, size and configuration of bicycle (and tricycles and quadcycles) can be found in Copenhagen, with open or closed basket, aft or forward child seat, pushed or towed cart (for passengers or cargo), open or with rain/wind or sun covers. Apparently over 60% of cyclists continue to use their bicycles in the winter. On the streets of Copenhagen you could see clear signs of the bicycle parking crisis: two-level parking stands:

Emil Tin, who works for the Municipality of Copenhagen's traffic division in the bicycle department told me that 35% of all trips to work/school in 2010 were on bicycle. The city has the ambitious goal of raising this to 50% by 2015. Emil in fact pointed me to the Social Lab web site where ideas were been sought and collected for achieving this and other goals related to bicycling in Copenhagen. You can find the details by clicking here.

In his spare time Emil (who is also a graduate of Kaospilot) among many other things is part of a group that drums, plays music and sings together that participated in the Copenhagen Carnival. Although I had scouted part of the carnival, I did not know at the time about Emil's group and so missed their performance. I just caught a glimpse of various carnival activities like this one:

 When we met with Emil on a holiday Monday, the group members (who were very multicultural) had just spent two days playing at the Copenhagen Carnival, were exhausted and just relaxing around a barbecue in the back yard of the Samba School.

In typical danish way we were simply invited to join in and engaged in an interesting conversation with Emil and his friends. A young man to my left was on an MBA program. When I asked him what his research interest was, he said he wanted to understand how Islamic financial principals worked. Seeing the surprised expression on my face, he smiled pointing out to his lovely girlfriend next to him, who turned out to have an Iranian background.

Professionally, Copenhagen was also a rich experience. I visited Mindlab, which with 10 years under its belt is probably the longest standing centre dedicated to public sector innovation. There, I was able to ask many of the questions I was seeking answers to courtesy of Christian Mason, Director of Mindlab, who granted me generous time despite his busy schedule. I also attended a session with Tom Bentley, Deputy Chief of Staff to the Australian Prime Minister, in which a range of topics related to public sector innovation were discussed and the dynamics of relations in the triangle of politicians, civil servants, and citizens were deeply investigated. I left with new connections, much learning and stronger ideas on how sLab could contribute to this movement.

In Copenhagen I also had opportunity to meet the Managing Director of the Niels Brock Copenhagen Business  College, who had just returned from China, and the college's Executive VP International. I was pleasantly surprised by the strength of the College in China and breadth of its educational spectrum that could open interesting collaboration possibilities between the College and the SFI program at OCAD University.

Our last meeting in Copenhagen got cancelled despite the valiant efforts of Ian Choo, a true citizen of the world,  to link me with another innovation group in the city. Ian is helping organize a large music festival in Nepal in an attempt to support peace efforts in that country.  I am very grateful for his support and generous time and wish him the best for his Nepal project. My colleague Jeremy and I used the couple of hours idled by the cancellation to take a  bus tour on one of those double-deck  tourist buses. We discovered that despite our (very) extensive walking through the city over the long weekend there were still many many beautiful places to see and discover in Copenhagen.

All in all I can say that I fell in love with Copenhagen and its people. I definitely want to plan another more leisurely trip with my better half to explore it further.

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