Denmark: No longer a fairytale land

The Little Mermaid, CopenhagenFor an update on the recent shootings in Copenhagen, read my article in USA TODAY.

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Nostalgic for the Summer? Re-live Roskilde 2014.

Roskilde Music Festival 2014 is a place where anything goes. Take a trip through memory lane and celebrate self-expression.

Rihanna, Metallica and I @ Roskilde Music Festival

Read my new article in The Huffington Post on Rihanna, Metallica and I: We All Contribute to Northern Europe’s Largest Music Festival. An excerpt: Caught up in Rihanna’s allure, a combination of over-sexed precociousness and genuine love, and perhaps aware of the singer’s fragile humanity, the crowd surrendered and believed her. The encore, “Diamonds,” was merely icing on the cake.

Fresh off the Farm: Living With the Amish

Read my new article in The Huffington Post on How One Small Community Balances Two Conflicting Worlds.  An excerpt: “The Amish are the rage among America’s reality TV viewers… Commentators are speculating over the public’s obsession with Hollywood’s arguably dubious and prejudicial storylines…But after living on an Amish dairy farm for a year, I agree with those who argue that the reality programs reflect a lack of knowledge of the plain folk. In contrast, the Amish community I associated with had an intimate and sensible relationship to the mainstream world. The beauty is how they managed it.”

Twitter Is More Than A Couch Sport @CaliforniaRobin

A dilemma for viewers in Denmark waiting for daredevil Felix Baumgartner to break the sound barrier was whether to switch to the international TV hit, The Killing (Forbrydelsen).  Ten minutes before the show, sportscaster Ulla Essendrop voiced Denmark’s frustration by tweeting: “JUUUUUUUUUUUUMP.”

Two days later, Washington Post journalist Erza Klein tweeted “My sources say Obama will enter tonight’s town hall by space jumping from approximately 130,000 feet…” The President’s successful comeback that evening was dissected by 7.2 million tweets.

Of course, many still view Twitter as a fleeting pastime. But there are 140 million active users monthly and the company is valued at billions of dollars.  To prove once again that tweeting is more than an official couch sport, here are four reasons why Twitter is important.

First, it provides up-to-the-second snapshots of events. Live blogging can only stream information through one channel.  But with Twitter, users can tap into endless channels for instant fact checking, expert commentary and belly-aching humor. The result is a deeper, more sophisticated understanding.

This is illustrated by the Twitter reaction during the second presidential face-off. One debate question concerned the doubling of gas prices since Obama took office.  Resembling two fighting bighorn sheep, the candidates clashed horns repeatedly, but generally avoided answering the question. The confusion was settled when experts tweeted that prices plummeted because of the global financial crisis and that gas prices are largely controlled internationally, with little help from the President.

Second, while breaking news used to be captured through photos or quotes, now it is tweeted.  Similar to interpreting intelligence data, the trick is to find the gem. Last summer, many were convinced that America’s near-universal health care program, ObamaCare, was stillborn.  This was because it was assumed that the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority would overturn it.  But according to legal journalist Jeffrey Toobin, conservative Chief Justice Roberts’ switch to save the program was leaked via Twitter two months before the Court upheld it.

Third, Twitter further breaks down the barriers between average Janes and the famous. Michael Moore, the director of the film Bowling for Columbine, dedicated his day to getting Americans to vote on November 6.  He provided his cell phone number, tweeting: “If u know someone who isn’t going to vote but might if I called or texted them, text me their cell # …”  Five hours later, he tweeted his 1.2 million followers, “Thx for sending numbers of your loved ones who weren’t gonna vote. Have been on the phone or texting with scads of them for the past 4 hrs!”

Moore’s example provides direct evidence of a final advantage: Twitter’s potential to spur democratic participation. Admittedly, it can be difficult to measure just how effective Twitter is.  But Lady Gaga tweeted and retweeted her 31 million followers 13 times on Election Day. One tweet read, “If you’re old enough to vote for the first time, exercise your right today! It matters & can change the world.”  If anyone could convince a young American to vote, it is she.

Football and Danish National Pride: A Convert’s Perspective

Danish Football Fans, EURO2012, Lviv, Ukraine

Danish Football Fans, EURO2012
photo by Kathrin Pelgröm

Painting the flag on the faces of football fans on the way to the game against Portugal made me nervous.  Was I getting the proportions right?  After all, I am American.  Luckily, I was sitting on a train with over 400 Danes covered in a celebration of red and white, including flags. By the end of the tour in Lviv, Ukraine, I could draw this cherished symbol and had become a convert of Danish national pride.

Call it arrogance, but Americans are used to relaxing and waiting for success.  Of course this perception is unrealistic.  The U.S. never made it past stage two of the 2010 World Cup, losing 1-2 to Ghana.  Still, the feeling of being unbeatable persists because we say that football doesn’t really count.

In contrast, I found cheering for Denmark stressful, yet rewarding.  The train nearly danced on the rails on the way to the Fan Zone and the game against Portugal. Having already won the Netherlands 1-0, we were euphorically jumping up and down, continuing at the stadium: “Dem som ikke hopper, de elsker Portugal,” (Those who aren’t jumping, they love Portugal).

Our high spirits burst like a punctured balloon when the Portuguese scored in the 24th and 36th minutes. We were flying again before the first half ended, when Michael Krohn-Dehli headed the ball in for a goal. “Ole, vi er Danskerne, vi er Danskerne!”  (Ole’, we are the Danes, we are the Danes!). Hope peaked to new levels when Nicklas Bendtner headed the ball in to make it 2-2. With only 10 minutes left of the game, we waited out the tense atmosphere, but were again disappointed when the Portuguese scored with 3 minutes to go.

There was no party that night. Yet hope sprung eternal because Denmark won the European Championships in 1992.  Marching into the Fan Zone before the game against Germany, there was a feeling that it could happen again. “Deutschland, Deutschland alles ist vorbei!” (It’s all over Germany!).

When our red and white force of over 400 was met by Ukrainians smiling from the sidewalks and waving from the balconies, I was surprised to find that I felt like crying.  Although we lost the game to Germany 1-2, I had become a convert to Danish national pride.  Here success doesn’t come by default and we run into walls most of the time.  Instead, success requires an unwavering collective belief and a stubborn tenacity to hold on for the ride.  Because we know, one day, it will be like 1992 again.