Exploring the Cold War Bunkers of Denmark

Think of your most cliche idea of a spy/Cold War fortress. Picture it in your mind. Now let’s take a trip with one of my courses, Enemy Within: Spies and Espionage in the Cold War, to two hidden bunkers from the Cold War era in Denmark. The first of which takes place on the southern coast, in Boesdal.

The open-air museum, Cold War Museum Stevnsfort, contains 1960’s aerial defenses, missiles, and a huge bunker in the middle of a farmers’ landscape, built into a cliff upon the sea.

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We walked through fields of WWII equipment. Tanks and Nazi defense cannons left barely scathed from the war have been transported here to contribute to the museum, and we even walked inside some of the larger defense bunkers. The area is not so secret anymore (National security is more based around servers and computer tech), so anyone can walk in a see the old surveillance site!

As we continued the tour, however, we came to the end at a large mound of grass just off the shoreline. Alright. Well, I thought, that’s an interestingly short tour for an hour drive all the way out there. But the tour guide rounded us toward the other side of the hill, and there appeared a door. The door opened downward, and my eyes widened as the possibilities were revealed to me.

 

Down below, we descended into a corridor that was built to house hundreds of secret officials or civilians in the case of a mass foreign attack. The corridor was cold, wet, moldy, but everything I would have suspected a secret governmental site to look like (from my experiences watching the Hoth bunker in Star Wars, various James Bond-inspired underground establishments, and Independence Day). There were corridors and halls branching off in various directions as if a tree trunk, all underneath the green fields we had just walked minutes before.

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Entering these branching corridors, we saw computers and Cold War technology: radar systems, radios, microphones and coding documents that would have taken a trained mind to interpret, and a less modern perspective than my own.

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The tech was used for tracking, coding, and defensive/offensive tactics, and there were always people living there. As we moved down the long hallway connecting each room, we entered upon the living the corridors, where the food was kept, and the ammunition.

This bunker now tells the lives of a few dozen people during the Cold War, and the severity of it all. It was a serious threat everywhere; in Denmark, the UK, Russia, the US, Baltic States, everywhere over Europe, with consequences in the farthest reaches of the world.

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Continuing toward the end of the long hallway, we came to a door. The door opened out unto Faxe Bay, the body of water lining Southern Denmark. It fully clung to the image of a cliche secret bunker base I’ve always grasped onto; a door in the base of a cliff, lots of coded documents that mean nothing to my eyes, and computers with radar systems neighboring each other everywhere.

All that this base needed was a pathway next to the door for cars to take an action-packed escape into the sea, instantly transforming midair into a boat. A bit extravagant. Fully awesome.

~

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My espionage class visited one more, less intense bunker hidden beneath the Carlsberg brewery, right inside Copenhagen. The brewery began in 1847 by JC Jacobsen, and was named after his son, Carl. As JC did not have much access to education as a child, he pressured Carl constantly through his life to be a great student and always do his work to the best of his ability. This pressure was put on to an extent to which they both got in multiple fights, and Carl began his own brewery, announced “New Carlsberg”, just down the road from JC’s own “New Carlsberg”.

It is unknown when or why exactly JC placed a secret bunker deep inside Old Carlsberg’s cellars, but it was, and the room was used thoroughly until the year of 2004 to strategize between government leaders and advisors, planning defenses/attacks.

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It is so strange to think that there are these bunkers just lying around Denmark. It makes one think just how many there may be in my own country, and across the world, in great breweries, or simply beneath a mound of random grass.

Whatever and wherever they are, it sure is fascinating to see these things in the present day – and place yourself in the shoes of those who lived day-in and day-out surveying the landscape for signs of the enemy or an imminent attack.

 

 

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On St. Petersburg, Russia: Countering Subconscious Perception

It was atop St. Isaac’s Cathedral, as I scanned the gilded cityscape that gleamed in the midday sun rays when I became officially stupefied that I was in Russia. The Admiralty Spire punctured the clouds of the heavens, the Peter and Paul Fortress stretched up over the Neva with ease, and the Summer Gardens glimmered elegantly as the Palace Square and Hermitage glowed greatly in the distance. The city horizon was shining in splendor, and the people were too.

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St. Petersburg Cityscape

I realized at that moment how wrong it all had been, the perceptions and stereotypes of this land and society so far from my home – those that I had taken from home. It was all simply perceived and dug deeply into my ideas and beliefs about this country, this 1/6 of the world’s landmass. But this city, country, and land is complex, just as the world is, and the people in it whom I was fortunate to meet were artistic, they were creative, fun, excitable, and had some of the most interesting stories to share.

 

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The Bronze Horseman Statue

Upon arrival in St. Petersburg with my DIS core course, A Sense of Place in European Literature, we went right into studying the great Russian writers: Fyodor Dostoevsky, Anna Akhmatova, Joseph Brodsky, Alexnder Pushkin, and many others. We were only there for a week, so we walked Nevsky Prospekt, explored the homes and texts of poets, literary critics, and scholars during the imperialist, revolutionary, communist and post-communist eras, visited with local Russian students, and explored as much as we could of the city with the small amount of time we had.

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The Russian students, our program introduced us to, were about our age, and they opened their home up to us. We shared pizza, wine, and conversation as we went deeply into ideas on the false logic behind these stereotypes, on the differences between America and Russia, and even our favorite types of music! 

We listened as two students, Maria and Natasya, showed us some of their favorite hip-hop. Maria is a photographer and artist, so Natasya modeled as Maria photographed, and later Maria displayed some of her original artwork for us to see. At a seminar in the later days of the week, we met with another group of Russian scholars as they taught us about using language in a more poetic, artistic way than we (or at least I) had ever imagined. We IMG_7899talked after the seminar with the scholars about American and Russian discrepancies in educational systems, and they, in fact, knew quite a lot about America. We couldn’t say the same about Russia. Our schools never approached the subject.

The mere idea of going to Russia was such an aspiration for me, once I knew it was possible. I wanted to see this land I had heard so much about in cinematic struggles between America and Russia. But in reflecting, I can’t say I took from this experience what I thought I was going to take. Was I expecting the exact Russia I’ve seen in Rocky IV or in 20th-century documentaries – with brute men speaking in thick, intimidating accents while drinking vodka? Well, it’s yet another situation in which I realized – I didn’t check myself. My stereotypes of people, my preconceived notions of who people from other regions are supposed to be, were not checked, and without any word of dialogue beforehand, I already had these preconceived notions. This inward dispute did not bring up a conflict of any sort, gladly. Once I realized this was the case, though, that these ingrained ideas were still ingrained, I had to dig them out.

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That is the biggest takeaway I have on returning from Russia; that even in the most heavily stereotyped places, everyone is human, going through life just like I am, and can offer some incredible connection if both give it the chance. I thought I had conquered the false perceptions in my head, but I continue to realize that it takes a constant effort to correct myself and that I should always be on the watch for them when they do.

 

A Sense of Place in Fanø

In Fanø, time is distorted and place becomes communal.

I took a step forward into the sea, expecting to be immediately consumed by a mud trap, to drop below the cover of the earth into the unknown. But I stuck to the surface – firmly. The carefree water flowed around my ankles with ease. Just inch-high waves brushed into me, and I walked upon them like a giant. Hundreds of meters out and nothing changed, the waves remained their minimal size, and I walked with no obstacles.

Natives of Fanø say that when the clouds descend and the shore is covered, one can become eternally lost on this endless shore, white in all directions, endlessly roaming. It was quite believable. At one point I looked back to the shore only to see slim lines of people, doing exactly as I was, but earlier in their journey, and it was clear as day. 

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This island in Southwest Denmark was the destination of the short study tour for my course, A Sense of Place in European Literature. We went to experience the intricately weaved history and culture of this island as a complex and quite undefinable place, though we tried. It was a special, historical, local, subjective place to each individual who lives and has lived there.

Thatched roofs, luscious greenery, touches of war bunkers, and smiles characterize the town of Sønderho, where we stayed. In addition to glimpsing local artwork based on the main occupation of fishing and boating in the area, we followed poems and texts that spoke of particular streets, buildings in the area and discussed them, we tried our feet at dancing a traditional Fanø folk dance, and we listened to live performances of traditional folk music (the last surviving community in Denmark to do so) in a local pub later one evening.

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There are very few places where I’ve experienced an essence of locality such as in Fanø. Its very alive folk tradition, literary scholarship, and simply bright outlook on life has functioned as a calm reminder of the most valuable and fundamental aspects of life to me.

Sharing traditions with others is a privilege; tradition can mold strangers into family. By putting effort into learning one’s culture, with an open mind, you present a means to connect with them on a familial level that is unrivaled in other contexts. If you can understand their place, it’s easier to understand them, too.

Not just as an individual, but as a person.

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Travel Writing: Connecting Strangers, The Streets of Copenhagen

For my travel writing class, we were tasked with connecting with someone whom we’ve never met, preferably native to Copenhagen. I scoured the streets, observed, and conversed with many people from various backgrounds. But one man, Kaj, I had a particularly humbling conversation with. See my writing on it below.

 

That Longed-for Beauty

“On the start of my work at the psychiatric hospital, I always knew to be cautious, but never did I expect to become partially paralyzed.”

Leaves spiraled among gusts of wind at the man’s feet. A narrow pathway of the park opened into dogwood and maple, with a bridge extending across a creek bed, and a bench on which Kaj sat, looking out at the families and lunch-breakers on the bright September day. With bluish eyes and a silver bun, he sat pensively as his crutches leaning stiffly against the wooden armrest. On approaching, I observed him cautiously tugging at the brace poised around his neck.

After an introduction, explaining my purpose of connecting with people throughout the city, he conversed about his life asea and in Copenhagen. The breeze blew indefinitely as it funneled through our narrow crevice in the greenery, and he gave me, a fellow stranger of the park, a sliver of his life.

“I went to America in my early twenties, working as a steward upon a freight vessel in the Merchant Navy”, he explained, “I used it as a way to travel around, to see the world. It’s important to do as a young man.” He spoke of times in New York, Boston, Florida, and much of North America’s east coast. As he approached his late twenties, however, he decided that his real life was in Copenhagen, deciding to come home in the early 1970’s.

His eyes held a steady glow as he described the city, asking me to take out a map. Pointing to it, he traced with a pen around the city, “If you look here, you can see where the old town used to be shut away from the rest of the area.” Holding the map away from the wind, I observed the city center, where copious streets all interweaved to form no cohesive pattern, like a strange bundle of machinery. Then tracing outward, the streets became more parallel, organized.

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“If you look closely, you can trace a ring around the old town by following all of the parks.” I followed the pen marks in a ring around the city, where the serene parks have replaced the areas where the wall once stood.  “It is a great difference from what it was before. The wall’s tearing down and reformation into green spaces remind me of the brightness I can find anywhere, even where divides may be, and in a city that I’ve spent my life getting to know. Even if I think I’ve seen all of its beauty, the parks continue to brighten my days. No matter the injury I’ve withheld.”

The idea held my focus for a good while. I looked around at the waving trees, the blue sky, and the canals flowing with elegance. It all seemed to be giving me a kind reassurance and reminder of the beauty in life.

Sitting beside him, I asked him if he would be willing to talk about how he came across his injury. He extended a breath in, looking up toward the blue sky, then down, ruffling his navy vest jacket and placing his elbows on his knees in front, a few fingers hanging limply.

“I had been working at a psychiatric hospital for the past fifteen years, working as a maintenance director. And you know patients at places like these, they’re often unpredictable.” Pausing, he lifted a limp hand up to rub his pocked nose and grazed his scraggly beard.

“Well, one day, I was just moving a few things from one room to the next as part of my job. Then, a patient went berserk and threw a table at me from behind. The table struck me right on the back of my neck, and before I even knew what was happening, I was slightly paralyzed.”  

He looked down at his fingers, where a few dangled senseless in the air, and his feet, where one was a little bit off on the side of his foot, the right unequal with his left. “There’s not much one can do about something like this. So I come here every day to remember the times when I could do what everyone else can.”