Living in DenmarkThings to do

Potato holiday coming up – are you going somewhere? What a lucky potato you are!

Did any Dane ever say this to you and you thought they had gone mad? Well, it’s one of those expressions you can’t translate. In Danish “din heldige kartoffel” means good for you or how lucky you are.

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By Bente D. Knudsen  Picture: Mayra Navarrete

Apparently this expression dates back to a game, which amused seaman in the mid-18th century.  Actually, the potato came to Europe in 1537 from South America, brought home by Spanish soldiers.

No one seems to know for sure when it landed in Denmark, but in the 18th century, Danish King Frederik V undertook to have it cultivated on the Danish heath in Jutland.

Even then there was a lack of skilled labour, so he imported German workers, kartoffeltyskerne, potato Germans as they were called, which was not meant as a complimentary nickname at the time.

Interestingly only the nobility and the Royal family enjoyed what was considered an exotic delicacy, while peasants found them suitable only for pigs and Germans.

“The dog won’t eat it, so why should we?”.

We must excuse their ignorance, for no one told them to boil them first. However, gradually, even the peasants learned how to prepare them, and with time, potatoes became part of the daily meal – even replacing bread.

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Harvesting took place during the autumn and children living in the countryside were allowed time off from school to help out with the harvest.

However, for the schools, it was quite impractical to always have children away from school at different times.  So in 1899, the official potato school holiday was placed in mid-October, in week 42, so children all over Denmark could help out during the same week.

The modern potato varieties we eat are harvested during the summer, and instead the potato holiday has become efterårsferien, the autumn holiday, and it’s a week full of activities in the whole country.

Most Danish museums and event centres organise efterårsferie activities for children (and adults) of all ages.

If you want to find out what is going on at any given museum, just put the name of the museum and the word efterårsferie in your browser, and you will certainly find a website full of information.

A lot of information is still only in Danish, no one seems to believe that tourists will be attracted to the October week, so you may need to translate the Danish text.

Clicking the English language option often makes the Danish efterårsferie part disappear, so that may be no help.

If you enjoy special events – and are in Denmark during this week – it’s really a lot of fun for both adults and children.

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In Copenhagen, the holiday week starts with Kulturnatten, the Culture Night. Since the very first event in 1993 it has grown each year and up to 80,000 Danes bought a Kulturnat Pas last year – the entry ticket to all events.

For the organisation behind the Culture Night, this is their only income to fund the event, however there are also many volunteers.

It’s always on the Friday of week 41 – in 2018 this means upcoming 12 October.

It starts off already during the afternoon, and countless private and public institutions, museums, ministries and offices are open and host special events.

Moving around on your bicycle is strongly advised, although with your Kulturnat Pas, all public transport is included.

It usually attracts huge crowds, and if the weather permits, it is really a great evening.

However, plan carefully in advance what you want to see, as the events are so widespread that you do not stand a chance of going to all of them.

A few other cities organise similar events on this Friday, however, Aarhus no longer participates – so check your local municipal culture guide, or the local library for more information on whether or not your hometown participates.

For sure the one in Copenhagen is the largest and most successful.


Young Danes eat fewer potatoes

According to the Danish potato organisation, Danske Kartofler, Danish potato consumption is declining every year, particularly among young families. With two working parents, peeling and boiling potatoes (about 30 minutes) is just too time-consuming for the modern working family.

Instead, take-away (on the menu up to five times a month and even more frequently in the big cities), as well as rice and pasta, with their easy-to-cook formulas, are increasingly pushing potatoes off the daily menu.

Also, potatoes are accused of containing a large amount of carbohydrates, which, in a society scared of the negative impact of carbohydrates, impacts people’s perceptions of their nutritional value. Eating potatoes on a daily basis is, however, still recommended in the nutritional guidelines promoted by the Danish Food Board, Fødevarestyrelsen. However, bread, rice, and pasta made of whole-wheat flour, are on the same list, thus continuing to compete with the potato.