Under the Raydar: A little less fairy dust

I was doing my pub musician thing at the New Dubliner in Copenhagen last weekend when sometime around 1am, the punters started looking at their phones and whole tables full of previously partying guests made their way to the door.

I took a break and Justin the barman told me a second shooting had occurred. That was the end of my set and pretty much anything else in town for the night.

A city on lockdown
Copenhagen became a city on virtual lockdown. Train stations were closed. The main pedestrian street and other streets were blockaded. Sirens and blue lights split the air and a helicopter hovered over the area as police moved in.

I walked the streets that could be walked until grim-faced officers said I should turn around. The usual crowds of weekend revellers were at the same time scared, tense, angry and silly. A crowd outside a McDonald’s complained that cops wouldn’t let them get their late-night burger while others wondered how they were going to get home. Or if it was even safe to try.

Unsafe? Not this city
Not safe? In Copenhagen? How can that be possible? Part of what makes ‘Wonderful Copenhagen’ so wonderful is the sense of security we feel in the city any time, night or day. Young women walk from club to club every weekend, alone or in pairs, without a second thought. Sure, there are pickpockets and petty crimes, but news of serious violence is rare. Real violence seems to only occur between rival gangs and, well, that’s only something that happens to ‘them’, isn’t it?

But it’s not just ‘them’ any more. As the prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, said on Sunday morning, Denmark has now tasted the “ugly taste of fear”.

Shock, horror, sadness
I eventually got home, and still very much awake from the night’s events, I sat down at my desk at 4am to write up the story of the second shooting … moments before the life of gunman Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein came to an end in a final showdown with cops in Nørrebro.

Over the next day, as his victims were granted names and faces, the sense of fear also came more into focus. Responses on social media and around the water cooler were typical. Shock. Horror. Sadness. Racial invectives that condemned all Muslims and called for ‘pure’ Vikings to banish the invaders from these shores.

Reality-tainted fairy tales
Others pushed back, calling for reason and calm. While the overwhelming majority praised the police for swift and efficient action, a vocal minority said that they either dropped the ball or acted too swiftly and violently.

Whatever voice one believes, one thing remains sadly, devastatingly true. In Denmark, the land of fairy-tales and Hans Christian Andersen, the cold, grey light of Sunday revealed those fairy-tales to be a little tattered around the edges. And a little less safe.