The Old Town, Altstadt in Aarhus is an open air museum; its local name is Den Gamle By. Some time ago it was decided to preserve the Danish history in this very special place by highly original means. 75 houses from all over the country dating back to the 15-20th centuries were gradually moved on the allotted plot of land and arranged into a small village, an open air museum, complete with cobblestone streets and horse drawn carriages. In summer it is rather pricey, the entrance fee is 135 dkk or €15-18. Children under 18 go free. Once you buy the ticket and get inside the enclosure, you can spend as much time exploring as you wish. Every building has a sign in several languages telling visitors the short history with all the relevant dates and names. You can enter any house to visit several small museums inside, like The Toy Museum, The Placard Museum and several others. You can buy expensive souvenirs in numerous shops tucked into the many buildings and enjoy freshly baked breads in one of the bakeries, have a nice meal in one of the cafés or eat your own lunch in the picnic area. There is a pretty children’s playground too. All around you can see dressed up citizens of past epochs leisurely strolling by or sitting around on benches, so you can snap as many period pictures as you like. I was impressed when I met a complete “family” with the baby girl in the traditional Medieval bonnet and tiny long dress. The half timbered houses add their own inimitable charm to the whole exhibit. The Mayor’s house and the Mint Master’s house are completely restored to their original state, they look very imposing. Some of the other dwellings look old and somewhat weatherbeaten as befits their age. Modern toilets are to be found in some of the houses and in every café. It is said that, first, before visiting Den Gamle By one should check the weather forecast, since there is not much fun in trying to wander around in the pouring rain; second, allow about three hours if you wish to visit absolutely every nook and cranny.
i confess one hour was enough for me, maybe partly because we have recently visited Petite France in Strasbourg, a very picturesque well-preserved lovely district popular with tourists. Den Gamle is very authentic. You get a good idea of the country’s architectural styles and of the changes that Time wrought. It’s a neat idea to have such a museum right in the city.
Finding the museum deserves a special paragraph. The first time I tried, it started to rain heavily, and I had to run back to the hotel. The second time I walked along Fredericksgade, came to the famous large Magasin store, saw the sign which said Den Gamle By 1 km, and followed it walking along the river. Ah, but things are never what they seem, especially when you are trying to follow any street sign without the gift of being able to understand the map. And of course 1 km means totally different things to students cycling by or to a lost pedestrian. Oh, I did find something. When I discovered many pretty half-timbered houses all around me, I simply strolled around taking pictures. It’s never occurred to me that an open air museum would not be free. Then something clicked, I realized I was in the old town per se but not in the museum. So I went back. Next day – well, third time must be the charm! To Magasin and the sign again, then along the street, 1 km at least. I saw ARoS museum to my let which told me I was moving in the right direction, so I began asking the few passers by. Some women told me to follow the street until I reached a street light barely discernible at a distance of at least another kilometer. I walked towards it, saw Thorwaldsengade stretching ahead, asked again. A middle-aged man stared at me then said in good English, “Yes I know but I won’t tell you”. Ha. Luckily a very old lady heard my question. She spoke no English but she gestured and I understood that my destination was right behind a tall modern building, another kilometer or so away. And finally I reached it, followed the signs to the entrance, bought my expensive ticket and enjoyed. It was a learning experience!