Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

Aarhus, Denmark’s most innovative city

Aarhus, Denmark’s most innovative city

Aarhus is one of Denmark’s oldest cities, but as Simon Willis discovers, it has been busy reinventing itself

Aarhus is one of Denmark’s oldest cities, but as Simon Willis discovers, it has been busy reinventing itself

Simon Willis | August/September 2018

When Aarhus was named European Capital of Culture in 2017, fans of Copenhagen would have been forgiven for choking on their Smørrebrød. Copenhagen, after all, is the city of René Redzepi, the high priest of New Nordic cuisine, and Arne Jacobsen, the modernist-in-chief of Danish design – of Hans Christian Andersen, “Borgen” and Carlsberg. But in recent years, Aarhus has reinvented itself. Architects have brought new drama to its skyline, and Michelin has bestowed stars on its restaurants. Denmark’s second city has become its most innovative.   

This has not come at the expense of old-world charm. Aarhus, which is on the east coast of Jutland, the peninsula that sticks out from northern Germany, was founded in around 800 by the Vikings; its first streets, lined with timber-framed houses, still follow their original routes. Yet Aarhus has found a way of taking its heritage and giving it a sharp, contemporary twist.

The best example is the Moesgard Museum, an archaeological and ethnographic collection which includes Viking pit houses, runestones and Grauballe Man, a bog body from the third century BC whose head of red hair is still neatly parted. These ancient bits and pieces are housed in a sculptural, wedge-shaped building by Henning Larsen, completed in 2014. Featuring a sloping, turfed roof, it looks as though Larsen has literally lifted the ground to see what lies buried beneath.

In the centre of town Olafur Eliasson, a Danish artist, has transformed a bland art gallery into a monument to colour. His “Rainbow Panorama”, a giant ring of glass, sits on top of the ARoS Museum (above). Visitors can walk up through the galleries before entering Eliasson’s space-age walkway on the roof to be granted a view of the city through a joyous glaze of red, yellow and blue.

Danish chefs are famous for foraging. But sometimes sea purslane and reindeer moss are helped by fresh foreign flavours, and Aarhus’s best chefs are judicious importers. Wassim Hallal, a Beirut-born Dane, runs Frederickshøj, a restaurant to the south of the city which received its first Michelin star in 2015. A tasting menu of clams, seaweed and rhubarb from the region is complimented by caviar, miso and banana split. His open-borders attitude is both thoroughly Danish and playfully international. Like Aarhus itself, he takes old traditions and re-dresses them in contemporary clothes.