- Bicycle Culture by Design: January 2011

This shot was taken by Sandra, who writes the wonderful Classic Copenhagen blog, just the other day. Among the other stickers and street art is a rather prominent middle finger whereupon there is written, in Danish, Fuck Bike Helmets. Is that a dagger waved in the face of the safety nannies I see before me? Reminds me of Helmetgate when a previous Prime Minister was, indirectly, ousted because he wore a bike helmet at a demonstration against the French nuclear testing in the Pacific.

Aside: We have a rather relaxed relationship with the word fuck. It bounced back to us from English, after it was sent abroad to infiltrate English from its meaning in dialectal Norwegian fukka (to copulate), and dialectal Swedish fokka (to strike, to copulate) and fock (penis).

Aaaanyway, I have often been heard to lament the fact that there is little or no bicycle activism left in Copenhagen or Denmark. Even though so much has been done, there is much left to do. Not least because the car is enjoying a revival over the past ten years or so, due to the massive economic growth in this country prior to the global financial crisis.

Gone are the days where this many people - regular citizens - could gather on City Hall Square to demand the re-implementation of bicycle lanes, as they did in Copenhagen in the 1970's. These people won their battle - and thanks to every one of them back then. Now, the 'war' has changed character, as has society. Activism - in its previous incarnation - long-haired and aggressive - doesn't really fly anymore. Not in a wealthy, highly-educated and egalitarian society like the Danish. Activism needs a new angle. I don't know exactly what that is just yet. Street art is popular here in Copenhagen. It is rich in creativity and social commentary. Little of it is, however,I activistic.

I've spotted these stickers, though, around Copenhagen. At left; More Fucking Bicycles and at right; Buy a Bicycle, Redneck. Beneath both of the texts it reads, translated, "Loving regards, Vigilius Haufniensis". This is interesting.

Vigilius Haufniensis, I've discovered, is the non-de-plume of, and narrator for, the philosopher and Father of Existentialism, Søren Kierkegaard in his book The Concept of Anxiety, written in 1844. The name is Latin for 'The Vigilant Copenhagener'. A bit of googling brought me to a Facebook page, where there are a collection of photos and stickers and suchlike and a little used Twitter account, where the person - ironically - retweets Sandra's tweets, as well as Copenhagenize's on occasion. I checked with Sandra - it isn't her. Nothing like a bit of mystery.

These are photos found on Vigilius Haufniensis' Facebook page. The text can be translated as 'Ego Cars'! Whether it is Vigilius' own work or not is unclear.

The extent of bicycle-related 'disobedience' I've seen is this lovely reworking of a Copenhagen bicycle pictogram on a bike lane on Nørrebrogade. A simple pictogram goes Cycle Chic. Where are the Copenhageners who want congestion charges? A majority does - in polls - by where is the street art and/or grafitti? Where are the calls for lower speed limits? Safer routes to school? Where are the classic stencils reading "Fat Lane" in the car lane and "Fast Lane" in the bicycle lane? Where's the burning desire to make this city better It's all gone to the Facebook dogs, perhaps. Click on 'Like' and you've supported a cause. Deed done. Open a bottle of Chablis. The fuck finger from MISA and the stickers of the vigilant Copenhagener, however, are an interesting (re)start.

Politically Speaking

I'm sure many of you remember the Mohammed cartoons, published in a provincial Danish newspaper in 2005. Today a man was in court for smashing his way into the house of one of the cartoonists, Kurt Westergaard, threatening to kill him with an axe. There is speculation that he will be charged, if found guilty, according to the Terror Laws. The paragraph, I discovered, is worded rather interestingly.

Paragraph 114 (”Terror Law”) "§ 114. Life in prison for one who deliberatly tries to seriously scare the population [...] where the action can seriously harm a country or organisation... :

4) Disturbance of traffic safety..."

Maybe a group of citizens could try to bring the Danish Road Safety Council and the Danish Cyclists Federation - and various politcians and lackeys - to court for their promotion of bicycle helmets in this country, to stand accused of scaring the population and disturbing traffic safety.

Wouldn't THAT be a hoot. Although stickers and street art would be prettier.

Read More