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Viking boats, diversity and inspiration; Aarhus shows how being Danish and international is not mutually exclusive

Sustainability, diversity, and democracy; Aarhus’ core values for its year as European Capital of Culture 2017 according to Rebecca Matthews, CEO of Aarhus 2017, and also stated in her speech at the opening ceremony.

By Inger Stokkink     Pictures: Inger Stokkink, Bo Amstrup

Showing the core values is what the Grand Opening Ceremony Saturday night was intent on visualising, and if you can find the core values in the programme for Aarhus 2017, then the organisation behind it has done what it intended to do.

Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen opened his speech with a smile. Nothing more appropriate than that in Aarhus, also called Smilets By – the City of Smiles. All of Denmark smiles, too, he said, and all of Europe smiles back at us.

He also mentioned the second European Capital of Culture 2017, Pafos on Cyprus, and he pointed out how different Aarhus and Pafos are.

However, he also stressed how a common approach can overcome differences: “The cities share a vision of a European community, where we learn from each other, and cherish democracy and freedom,” he said.

Kom så Aarhus!

Danish Queen Margrethe mentioned why Aarhus has such a special place in her heart: since her early childhood, Aarhus has been a city she has visited frequently with her family. Also as young woman, the city was important to her, it was in Aarhus she went to study, and here she lived a relatively normal student life at the university dormitory, a memorable experience for a crown princess.

She also mentioned that the theme of Aarhus 2017 invites reflection: how can we re-think the meaning and function of culture in our society?

One aspect she highlighted was diversity. “Being Danish and being international must not be mutually contradictory,” she said, ending her speech with a ringing,”Kom så Aarhus” – Let’s go Aarhus!

Lights in the darkness

The procession, winding its way through town after the ’indoor’ ceremony, was a reflection of the Queen’s statement.

A stream of boat-shaped lanterns “sailed” through ’midtbyen’ (what Aarhusians call their city centre) – from huge Viking ships to masses of small ones. More than seventy thousand people had come to watch them.

Music accompanied the boats and spectators along the way to the harbour. A choir of six hundred voices, all with their own little lights, sang a modern version of ’Drømte mig en drøm i nat’.

A spectacular light show with images was projected on the old silos in the harbour. After that, the music floated effortlessly to the pulsating rhythms of DJ Static and the fantastic fireworks.

The cultural year has started with a bang. Aarhus won’t be the same after it. Come and see for yourself – and be part of it!