I knew that artists traveled to the small island Fanø to get away from their hectic city lives. That’s all I knew about the island before departing with my Core Course A Sense of Place in European Literature. Yesterday marked the end of Core Course week which began with trips to the West Indian Warehouse, Nordatlantens Brygge, and ended with a three-day trip to Fanø. I am impressed with how much DIS incorporates real-world Danish culture into the classes. We have the chance to learn from our teachers as well as other activists and museum exhibits. There are many lessons that happen outside of the classroom.
We took the ferry called Fenja–after the mythical women Fenja and Menja–from the industrialized city of Esbjerg to Fanø. From a distance, I got a first glimpse of the mostly green island with a few red roofed houses. I told myself that I would not be the tourist looking at the landscape through my phone’s camera. I managed to only take a few pictures to capture the essence of the island. Fanø is not a living museum exhibit. Three hundred people called Sønderho (the town at the southern tip of Fanø) their home and we needed to respect that.
The day we arrived, we settled into our homey cabins, visited the only supermarket in town, and then headed out to the Wadden Sea with our Danish John James Audubon, Marco. Marco told us the history of the island and its involvement in World War II. You can still visit German bunkers on the beach. After eighty years, the concrete has completely set, ensuring that those painful reminders of the war will be there for a long time. It is hard to imagine that this island holds memories of many turbulent years in the peaceful landscape.
A local woman in Fanø, Kirsten, invited us into her home and she and her daughter made dinner for us. It says a lot about her that she let about twenty strangers into her house and served us all a four course meal. She and Marco told us stories in a tradition called “Darkening,” aptly named because we listened as the sun went down and the room became darker. It’s a very hygge tradition. I felt very contented, eating food and sharing stories in the candle-lit room.
The next day we met the poet Jeppe Brixvold and the musician Peter Uhrbrand in an old farmhouse turned into an event space. Jeppe performed his poems while Peter played his violin. Afterwards, we asked them about their creative process, Fanø’s culture, and the meaning of certain lines in the poems.
Mette got us tickets to a music festival happening that night. We were so lucky to be there at the right time. Earlier that day, we learned how to do the traditional dance of Fanø. The dancers looked like planets orbiting the sun. For the dance, you find a partner, hold hands with them, and walk in a circle. Then you grab your partner and spin in circles while still rotating around the room. Here’s a picture of the dance.
My classmate Lizzy became friends with a woman at the festival who invited her to visit her before we left. The next day, she gave us a tour of her eighteenth-century house. She told us that she does not consider the house to be her house. Many people inhabited the house before her. She is there to preserve the house for the next people who move in. I was not expecting to encounter the kindness of strangers in Fanø. We got to experience the non-touristy side of Fanø and observe the close-knit nature of the town of Sønderho.
It is comforting to know that the Wadden Sea is a Unesco World Heritage Site. Many generations will be able to visit the sea and admire it in its most natural state. In the morning when I visited the beach on my own, I felt a sense of peace. For a moment, I could let go of my future obligations and just listen to the wind blowing through the reeds.