Lenses: The Borders of ‘Hyggelig’

How do young international journalists percieve Denmark? The first in a series of photo stories explores the Danish lifestyle of ‘hygge’ and its contrast to the country’s immigration politics.

by Michael Seckler

Aarhus is a beautiful city. So far every friend who came to visit me approved this statement. Whenever I walked them through the city (center), it was perceived as “cozy”, “lovely” and “modern”. And indeed: The streets are clean, one coffee place is nicer than the next and people look fashionable. The Danish people have a word to describe this special atmosphere that also seems to coin Arhus’ city center, they call it “hyggelig”. Hyggelig in the more narrow understanding means simply “nice”, or “good”. In the broader understanding it has connotations of security, intimacy and coziness, a mix of feelings that has been used to describe Danish mentality in general.

A group of students enjoys a bite to eat and sips on glasses of wine at one of the most popular cafes in downtown Arhus. This café in particular is also a bookshop and is known for its cozy atmosphere.

A group of students enjoys a bite to eat and sips on glasses of wine at one of the most popular cafes in downtown Arhus. This café in particular is also a bookshop and is known for its cozy atmosphere.

But as these nouns already suggest, there seems to be a hint of exclusiveness mingled into the concept of hyggelig. There is a border of the hyggelig-area in Arhus. Outskirts like Brabrand lie outside of it and seem to transport a different atmosphere, a different lifestyle. With most of Arhus’ immigrants living in this area it seems more heterogeneous, more diverse, less hyggelig.

This girl lives in one of more than 1500 apartments in Gellerupparken. Lifestyle in this area of Aarhus is not the same as it is in other parts of Aarhus. People live here in a balance in between their culture and Danish society.

This girl lives in one of more than 1500 apartments in Gellerupparken. Lifestyle in this area of Aarhus is not the same as it is in other parts of Aarhus. People live here in a balance in between their culture and Danish society.

This contrast, between the physical closeness and the cultural distance of the two places is brought into perspectives through pictures. This photo story focuses on everyday-activities of people in both of these places. How do people spend their leisure time? What are the places that coin the general atmosphere and public lifestyle? Questions like this were the most crucial in sparking my interest for exploring these two places.

Consequently, the photos represent these two different areas of Aarhus. The pictures of downtown mainly illustrate the daily life in the old town, where different cozy coffee shops and bars are scattered around. On the contrary, the pictures in the outskirts of Arhus depict the everyday life of the Brabrand, the area of the Gellerupparken, and the Bazar Vest marketplace, where mainly immigrants and foreigners are settled.

Click on the pictures to enlarge

About our contributor:

The german journalist student Michael Seckler is currently finishing his one year studies at Aarhus University and DMJX – The Danish school of Journalism in Aarhus. His stay in Denmark is part of the Erasmus Mundus Master in “Journalism, Media and Globalisation”. The combination of history and political science is what determines his work as a freelancing journalist. He will finish his Master studies in 2014 at the University of Amsterdam, specializing in European Media and Politics. His fascination for photography is relatively fresh, but he hopes to pursue it more in the future. 

He is currently working on Danish Society and Immigration. If you are interested in either part of the story, contact him via michaseckler@gmx.de

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One response to “Lenses: The Borders of ‘Hyggelig’

  1. I wouldn’t agree that Aarhus is a beautiful city. In fact, I think it would be misleading to suggest that it is, as you have. Sienna is beautiful. Rome is beautiful. Venice. St. Petersburg. Aarhus is a rather dull little provincial town. Granted, there’s a tiny portion of the city with quaint streets known as the Latin Quarter – but it really is quite small. And there are the canals – littered with broken glass every Sunday morning after drunks go on the rampage on a Saturday night (I never take my kids there on a Sunday morning for fear of injury). There are a couple of buildings to look at: AROS, the Domkirke and the town hall, but otherwise the architecture is non-distinct. The main pedestrian precinct is decidely average. In the twon center there’s often a disgusting smell wafting up from the docks – like rancid soap – I think it comes from an oil factory. On Saturday afternoons in winter it turns into a bleak windswept ghost town as the shops close earlier than most places. The suburbs look generally quite dull and lifeless. You describe the immigrant districts as less cosy than the town itself but in many ways they are more colourful, flamboyant and interesting. Aarhus is a port but there’s nothing to see at the port because it’s sprawling and industrial. There is a lot of building work going on there right now which hopefully will inject some life into the town.

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