My best and worst days in Denmark

Egyptian journalist Farah Bahgat recently left Denmark after a year living and studying in Aarhus and Copenhagen. Here, she reflects on her lasting impressions of the Scandinavian country.

My best and worst days in Denmark
Farah Bahgat in Copenhagen. Photo: Karis Hustad

At the dining table in my sublet apartment in Amager, south of Copenhagen, I was having my farewell dinner with my roommate and our friend, when they asked me to look back and choose my favourite and least favourite times in Denmark.

Where do I begin? I have come a long way, from knowing nothing about Denmark – other than the Muhammad cartoons – to knowing every Danish word that could possibly be coupled with 'tak' (Danish for ‘thanks’).

Last year, I came to Denmark having heard that it was perhaps not the most Muslim-friendly country in the world. But having lived my entire life in a developing country, I was pretty excited to move to the relative paradise of a welfare state.

It was not just a studying opportunity for me, it was an opportunity to run away from the many frustrations of post-revolutionary Egypt.

In August 2017, I arrived in Aarhus, where I was scheduled to spend the first year of my Master’s degree, wearing jeans, a flannel shirt, a headscarf and my preconceived notions.

During orientation week at the Danish School of Media and Journalism, we watched a PowerPoint presentation about Danish values – things like humility and hygge, which, to be honest, seemed too ideal to be real.

I can easily recall my least favourite times in Denmark: the little things that constantly reminded me that I did not belong here. Like how every time I got on a bus, or went grocery shopping and people would stare at me like some sort of alien who just landed from a UFO. I even caught a teenager on a bus taking a photo of me and my hijabi friend who was visiting from Egypt at the time.

Danes seemed to be very united in a way, or, for lack of a better word, it seemed like there was this sort of exclusivity, like Denmark was only a place for 'real Danes'.

READ ALSO: Tax plan means uncertainty for students and teachers at Denmark's language schools

It's no secret that it is difficult to befriend Danes, so my friends were my classmates, and because it was an international course, I had friends from more than 20 different countries.

We tried to familiarise ourselves with Denmark. We ate rye bread and liquorice. We even followed the Jutland tradition of throwing cinnamon on whoever turns 25 and happens to not be married.

But feeling out of place became a collective feeling – all of my friends felt the same. To this day, my friend Tanja tells me “I can’t believe that even a white German like myself was shamed for not integrating in Denmark”.

Regardless of our diversity, we each experienced difficulties with living in Denmark, which was surprising given the progressive and “hyggelig” image of the country that was presented to us during the orientation week at the beginning of our studies.

It felt like hygge was a Danish word for a reason: it was only for Danes.

Attempting to get out of my bubble, I decided to do some volunteer work, which led me to work on a video for a charity. Every Monday evening I would prepare dinner with refugees – 'new Danes', to use the term favoured by the charity’s organisers – and volunteers, and anyone else who wanted to join.

Some weeks we made pizza, other weeks we made traditional Syrian food. Hygge was not candles and fur blankets, but rather the warmth of the company, embracing the differences between every one of us, people who never met before and people who thought that they were not welcomed here.

READ ALSO: It's official: 'hygge' is now an English word

Mira, the Danish organiser at the charity, became a close friend – her number became the first I would dial on a bad day. She was my window to Denmark, not just in the sense that she introduced me to most of the Danes I met, but we also bonded over how we were both searching for our identities. For me, living with Danes challenged my identity; for Mira, working with 'new Danes' challenged hers.

During my year of study, I reported on news topics including the lockoutghetto plan and departure centres. This also meant that I spoke to many people with immigrant backgrounds in general and in many cases also Muslims.

The consensus that ‘they [politicians] want assimilation not integration', or ‘the government does want us here’, often came through strongly, with the perceived hostility of immigration minister Inger Støjberg and her hardline positions on refugees often prominent in the views of those I spoke to.

Støjberg’s statements turned the discourse, making it no longer about integration versus assimilation, but rather a clear statement: You are not welcome here.

READ ALSO: The middle of nowhere: Inside Denmark's Kærshovedgård deportation camp

I moved to Copenhagen for the summer of 2018, by which time parliament had passed the burqa ban.

I did not let my thoughts about politics ruin my summer. I went to a “Muslim attire” store in Nørrebro one day and bought a burkini to go to the beach. I was frightened to wear it in a country where people commonly swim naked.

To my surprise, most people did not look at me even once, no death stares, no “go back to your country” shouts, nothing. If anything, I was just as not-looked at as the naked swimmers.

Summer in Denmark was wonderful. I am not exaggerating when I say it was the best summer of my life so far. Every little corner of Copenhagen was just beautiful.

I have witnessed two revolutions in Egypt. Since I began working as a journalist, I have covered strikes, terrorist attacks and forced displacement of communities. I have worked for a website that the Egyptian public cannot access because of censorship and have seen friends arrested for practising their jobs as photojournalists. Compared to this, reporting in Denmark is a breeze.

But when August began, so did one of the most difficult assignments I have had to cover as a reporter.

On August 1st, hundreds of people gathered, covering their faces, in protest of the ‘burqa ban’, in a country where only a few dozen women wear the niqab, and fewer still the burqa.

The burqa ban was a topic I had been avoiding for a while. I lost count of how many fights I had with ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ friends who believed they were entitled to decide what women should or shouldn’t wear.

When I arrived at Superkilen, the park in Nørrebro, Copenhagen where the demonstration took place, my eyes were instantly filled with tears. I was caught up with different feelings: frustration, anger, gratefulness and love.

I pulled myself together and filmed the report that was later published on The Local. When protesters started marching towards the police station in Nørrebro, I took my spot ahead of the march to be able to get a better shot of the crowds.

READ ALSO: 'From one day to another, we're criminals': Muslim women speak against Denmark's burqa ban

Sobbing behind the camera, I watched the people chant “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here”, and “no racists in our streets”.

I have never worn a burqa or niqab, but as a practising Muslim woman, I never felt as accepted and loved as I did during this protest.

I was surrounded by people who might have no connection to Islam whatsoever, and might even disagree with its basic precepts, but were there to fight for the rights of other human beings.

August 1st marks my favourite day in Denmark.

After my farewell dinner in Copenhagen, we ended up watching YouTube videos, the 'things to do in Denmark' kind of videos, which were hilarious after spending a year and not doing any of the things that were mentioned.

My favourite things about Denmark weren't mentioned in these videos: how I felt at the protest on August 1st, my experiences cooking meals with new and old Danes together and how Mira and her home became a place I could go and find happiness, even on my worst days.

What these videos were missing was the inclusivity I found in Danes and in Denmark, and I hope that next time I’m around I get to witness more of this inclusivity.

READ ALSO: The ten things I'll miss most about living in Denmark


It’s still not too late to get a ticket to Denmark’s summer music festivals

For hundreds of thousands of Danish people, the big music festivals that take place across the country are the highlight of the summer, with many visiting more than one. It's still not too late to get your tickets!

It's still not too late to get a ticket to Denmark's summer music festivals

Denmark’s love of music festivals dates back to 1970s, when a string of huge rock festivals were held across the country in the wake of the Woodstock Festival in the US. 

The first was the Sound Festival, which was launched in 1971 at the dyrskuepladsen, the area of common land just outside of Roskilde, growing over the years in the Roskilde Festival, the biggest music festival in northern Europe.  

Then came the now discontinued Midtfyn Festiva in 1976, and then in 1980 came the Skanderborg festival just south of Aarhus, which has since mutated into Smukfest. 

While these festivals were all originally launched as not-for-profit ventures run by volunteers, with the exception of Roskilde, Distortion, and Smukfest, most of big festivals are now run by private companies. 

What are the big festivals you can go to this year? 

May 31st to June 4th

Distortion, Copenhagen’s largest electronic music festival with a 25-year tradition, kickstarts Denmark’s summer festival season drawing in around 100,000 visitors each year.

Taking place from May 31st to June 4th, the festival (divided into Distortion X, Distortion Ø, and Distortion Club events) is run by a not-for-profit foundation, and it takes place in some of the best venues in Copenhagen.

The Distortion X events centre around big street parties catering to lovers of EDM, HipHop, House, and Trance (confirmed artists for this year include Bjerregaard, Djames Braun, Dø Chef Dø, Felix, Hedegaard, Helle Helle, and more). On the other hand, Distortion Ø revolves around a major forest rave and is promoted as the weekend finale of the festival. Some 36 artists (you can find the full line-up here) are expected to perform across four stages at Ø this year. You can find more information about the Distortion Club program for 2023 here.

A festival pass for Distortion Ø, X, and Club events will set you back around 1100 kroner, but daily tickets are also available.

June 1st to June 3rd.

Festival fever then moves north to Jutland for the The NorthSide festival in Aarhus. This year’s headliners include Muse, The Chemical Brothers, NxWorries (feat. Anderson .Paak & Knxwledge), Lukas Graham, The 1975, First Aid Kit, Sam Fender, LP, Yemi Alade, Pusha T, and the British rapper Little Simz. 

Prices went up on April 3rd, but at the time of writing you could still buy tickets here, for 2,545 kroner for the full three days.  

Unlike Roskilde, festival-goers cannot camp at Northside, with the majority of festival goers travelling back and forth from Aarhus every day. The festival recommends staying at the Blommehaven and Aarhus Camping campsites.  

Northside is a profit-making festival run by the British events company Superstruct Entertainment, which runs more than 70 music festivals and other events in Europe and Australia, including Denmark’s Tinderbox festival. 

June 8th to June 10th

The party moves back to Copenhagen in the second weekend in June with the Syd For Solen festival held in the Søndermarken park in Frederiksberg, Copenhagen, which is easy to get to from anywhere in the capital by metro, bus or cycle. 

Headliners this year include Bon Iver, Aphex Twin, Peggy Gou, the War on Drugs, and Iggy Pop. 

At the time of writing you could still buy tickets for the Thursday, June 8th here, for Friday June 9th here, and for Saturday June 10th here, all for 740 kroner a day. All were all marked “few tickets remaining”. 

You are not allowed to bring your own food or drink to the festival, meaning you are reliant on the food trucks on site. 

The festival is arranged by the private Danish promotors Smash!Bang!Pow!, which arrange more than 300 concerts each year in Denmark. 

The other big event this weekend is the Heartland festival in the grounds of the stunning Egeskov Castle on the island of Funen.

This is a more upmarket festival aimed at an older audience, with food organised by gourmet restaurant Falsled Kro, and a series of talks put on by the Danish publisher Gyldendal. The music programme is arranged by Live Nation, the giant US promoter, which is the festival’s co-organiser. 

Headliners this year include Robbie Williams, Sting, Minds of 99, The Cardigans, Fatboy Slim, Mø, and Jack Johnson. 

At the time of writing you could still buy a three-day ticket for 2540 kroner, a two-day ticket for 1,840 kroner, and a one day ticket for 1,240 kroner. 

You can camp at the site for an additional 250 kroner, for 1,000 kroner for a pre-pitched tent, and 1,250 kroner for a caravan, although the last two were sold out.

June 14th to June 17th 

For lovers of hard rock and heavy metal the Copenhell festival is not to be missed. Held on the Refshaleøen peninsular in front of the famed mural of a wolf’s face, the festival has become a city institution. 

This year’s headliners include giants of hard rock history such as Guns n’ Roses, Def Lepard, Mötley Crüe, Slipknot and Pantera.

At the time of writing could still buy a four-day ticket for 3,855 kroner here, although it was marked “few tickets remaining”. Tickets for Saturday alone are already sold out.  

The other big festival of this weekend is the Tinderbox Festival in Odense, Funen, which like NorthSide is run by Superstruct Entertainment. 

Held in the Tusindårsskoven forest, southwest of the city, this year’s headliners include Black Eye Peas, Dean Lewis, George Ezra, Jada, Lukas Graham, Maroon 5, Nik & Jay, Tobias Rahi, and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. 

At the time of writing, three-day tickets were still available for 2,595 kroner on Ticketmaster here, with two-day tickets for 2,195, and one-day tickets for 1,595 kroner. 

June 24th and July 1st 

The Roskilde Festival is Denmark’s oldest and biggest music festival, with over 130,000 visitors annually. It is run by the non-profit Roskilde Festival Charity Society, with any profits going to their programmer of charitable, non-profit and cultural work focused on children and young people. 

This year’s headliners include Kendrick Lamar, Queens of the Stone Age, Lil Nas X, Blur, Rosalia, Christine and the Queens, and Lizzo. 

You can buy an 8-day festival pass for 2,400 kroner here on Ticketmaster, with one-day passes selling for 1,200 kroner. Tickets include access to the vast but somewhat chaotic camping area, where you can choose where to pitch your tent. 

For an extra 1,600 kroner, you can rent a pre-pitched tent, with two mattresses pushing the price up to 2,200 kroner.  

The stage at Smukfest in 2022. Photo: Scanpix

June 30th to August 6th 

Taking place from July 13th to July 15th at Syðrugøta, Faroe Islands, the three-day-long G! Festival gathers thousands of indie rock lovers from all over the world.

Both media and festival goers describe G! Festival as a unique experience. It takes place in Syðrugöta, a quaint village on the island of Eysturoy. The festival sets up its stages on the beach and the football field, in close proximity to the houses of the village.

The 2023 line-up includes 200, Annika Hoydal, Antti Paalanen, Beharie, Benjamin Rajani, Jada, Lucky Lo, and many more.

Tickets are around 1495 kroner (available for purchase on the festival’s page – Stripe payments are accepted), and you can also pay for several add-ons, such as tent spaces (also available in family options).

Smukfest, Denmark’s second largest camping festival that boasts a crowd of 60,000 guests a day, is a somewhat different animal – it takes place in a forest outside Skanderborg, and it caters to heavy metal, rock, blues, electronic music, pop, and folk. It takes place from July 31st to August 6th, and roughly 200 artists from Scandinavia and abroad visit Smukfest each year.

Big names that are part of the program this year include Imagine Dragons, Megadeth, Ava Max, Sigrid, Christina Aguilera, David Guetta, Christopher, Jason Derulo, Sean Paul, Suede, and many, many more.

Daily passes start from 1495 kroner and can be found on the festival’s website. At the time of writing, passes for Friday and Saturday are already sold out. The 5-day tickets (August 2nd – August 6th), priced at 3295 kroner, have already been sold out.

August 24th to August 27th

Over the last four decades, Tønder Festival has emerged as a prominent music extravaganza in Denmark. It has witnessed continuous expansion over the years while remaining closely connected to its original charm and handmade music, such as folk, blues, country, old-time, cajun, and roots.

The festival takes place from August 24th to August 27th, and the festival site – which has nine stages – is located close to the Tønder town centre. The 2023 line-up is already live.

You can buy 1-day tickets for 700 kroner, or a pass for all four days for 1975 kroner, on the Tønder Festival website.

Karrusel, a three-day festival dedicated to house, disco, and techno, takes place (almost) at the same time (from August 24th to August 26th).

This event is held in central Copenhagen, close to an abandoned shipyard at Refshaleøen. Around 30 artists are expected to perform across three stages.

Confirmed acts for 2023 include Haensen&Gretel, Kölsch, Mira, Acid Pauli, HAAi, RSS Disco, and many others. Daily passes can be purchased on Ticketmaster for 450 kroner, while the festival pass is priced at 950 kroner.