“If you do not drink your schnapps in one go, then tomorrow it will rain.” So says hyperbolic Nikolaj, the college student pub crawl guide with a shock of red hair, trim mustaccios, and a flair for overacting.
I sat on a wooden bench under a monastery from the late 1300s. Cross vault overhead, red brick church sprouting into a large cathedral sometime over the next 400 years. The Danehof pub crawl underway, locals carrying steins and a length of twine to hang them around their necks. Nikolaj crouches and stands tall, ebbing and cresting with his body and his voice as he enspirits the longship crawl, Baltic Crusades, the free and easy flow of beer, the Varangian graffiti artist Halvdan in the Hagia Sophia.
Skål. Danish. From old Norse skál (“bowl”). Swedish: skål. Mythically a Viking ritual of raising glasses and looking one another in the eyes as a demonstration of trust; i.e.: you haven’t just poisoned your drinking partner.
Danehof 2016 begins. The Danehof (“Danish Court”) is an early parliamentary institution that existed between 1250 and 1413. King Christopher I (1219 – 1259) lived precariously (read: was a man of his time). His father a King and second son. Accused his dead eldest brother of murdering his second brother. (The machination being to transfer succession to his own children rather than the alleged fratricidal sibling). Most likely died from poisoning at the hands of the church – they disapproved of his incarceration of the archbishop. He disapproved of the archbishop denying his son Erik V recognition as the rightful heir. He only ruled from 1252 – 1259.
His wife, Margrethe Sambirsdatter, a slav from Pomerania, became queen regent until 1264. Son Erik V lived and “reigned” longer than his father, but by 1282 the Danes – ever freedom-loving and independence-craving (Bede wrote (mid 8th C) that they would draw lots to pick a leader in times of war, but “the lords revert to equality of status” once completed), forced the Danehof to be gathered. A royal charter limited the throne’s ability to tax and to impose law, and redistributed authority to the collective. The seat of the Danehof was the drinking hall of Nyborg Slot (“Castle”). Even with the appeasement of this charter, Erik was still murdered in 1286, only four years later.
Annually the Danehof festival occupies the town. A medieval costume party, everyone pitches in. Ripe peas and strawberries are abandoned in the fields to knit liveries. Breweries load their barrels onto wagons. Smiths and jewelers hammer out swords, armor, and shiny trinkets. The town square is layered with sod and wood pulp, pine branches are fashioned into lances, and horses are prepped for battle.
The jousting is the main attraction. Four knights in full regalia (three boys and one girl) are accompanied by their squires and pages. Spouting Nikolaj ascends the king and queen’s box with a flourish and an olive smock, the color commentator. These are not staged. These are not faked, or for show. Not a facsimile. This is true competition.
At full tilt and in full armor, it is difficult to imagine how they can see anything: narrow slits high in the helmet, and an alarming number of shots to the head. Points are scored for striking your oppoenent’s shield, extra for breaking your lance, extra for knocking off their helm adornments, and the most points for unseating the rider (nearly impossible with these high-backed saddles). Wooden mallets clang away to both put the helmet on and to take it off.
The horses are extremely difficult to control. The woman knight is the best rider, executing a beautiful sideways trot. She also has the most spirited horse. Most of them shy away from the squires bringing the lance, but once they know the rider is armed, they are ready to charge, and do not like to wait. At least half of the contests result in no hit and missed aim, often because one horse charged too soon, or ran too far off course.
(I will post my brief 10 sec video clips when I upgrade my account. But for now, here’s a 2012 video on youtube that does a great job highlighting the preparations and execution of the joust, filmed at this same festival.)
“Mad med mere.” Food and more. Finally found him. The mead brewer. He knows people in Durango (he looks to me like he’s from Durango). Brews about 1,000 liters per year, all homemade, all alone. Has no interest in going commercial. A German company sold mead at Danehof, as well, with four stalls around the city. “But they put weird stuff in there, I don’t trust it.”