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Sommerhus culture

Summer is a chance to get out of the city, slow down and connect with nature and family.

Photographs: Visit Denmark

Text: Heather Storgaard

German words are known to be varied and wonderful, if a bit absurd, and my favourite since I first heard it is: Zusammengehörigkeitsgefühl which means a feeling of togetherness and belonging.

This is what summer houses foster, be it to visit family, friends or colleagues. Surveys say that Danes are one of the happiest countries in the world, but many analysts say that this should not be understood as the whole country jumping for joy but being content and secure with their lives. This is partly, especially during the summer months, thanks to summer houses.

I like to joke that there is a mini migration during the Danish summer. Copenhagen and other cities are empty, and the countryside comes to life. The radio is full of announcements about the queues on Storebæltsbroen and Lillebæltsbroen, and the official speed limits near us are reduced to cope with an influx of city-dwellers not used to winding country roads and un-paved lanes (this upsets my husband greatly, and I hear about it from Easter through to September). While there are upsides and downsides to the extremely high rate of second homes in the Danish countryside, there is undoubtedly a buzzing atmosphere during the summer months.

Summer house areas and what to look for:

The Sea. The West Jutland coast is full of summer houses, and the North Sea offers the rugged landscape otherwise missing in the rest of Denmark. While beautiful, it has the downside of bringing summer storms that can be stressful to tourists in unfamiliar surroundings. With typically higher property prices, Eastern Jutland has warmer summer weather, with the Kattegat nearly a lake rather than a sea.

Remoteness. Are you used to a quick walk or cycle to the shop? This is still possible in summer house areas but is far from the norm. We are a 50-minute walk from the nearest shop, with no pavements at any point and little public transport. This is great for switching off, but it isn’t for everyone.

"Copenhagen and other cities are empty, and the countryside comes to life."

Variety. Want something truly different without going too far? Danish islands all have unique ways of life and could be what you’re searching for. For more variety than an island can offer, try spending the summer in Als, near the German border and city of Flensburg, or Northern Zealand, where it is easy to take day trips to Sweden.

Architecturally, many summer houses are created to have a central, communal space to hang out in, prepare food, and carry out other daily tasks. While spending time with family is the primary use, I know people who have gone to summer houses with their university study groups to spend time together following each exam season, with work colleagues for team bonding, or on writers retreats. Putting effort into maintaining relationships is considered normal in Denmark, despite the initially frosty exterior many foreigners first experience in the country. Danes are rightly proud of this culture and gladly tell others about it, as I found out when my dad started telling me about the virtues of summer houses! Odense-based colleagues recommended he use his almost-Danish daughter by spending his summer Danish-ly.

You may also have heard of kolonihavehuse - literal translation: colony garden house. On my first trip to Denmark with my husband, we borrowed one near Amager in the middle of winter. Trying to explain this concept to my mum got utterly lost in translation, and she seemed to think we were squatting in someone’s shed! Kolonihavhuser are small buildings situated on allotments, allowing owners to grow their produce while having access to a home-from-home with running water and maybe even heating installed. Typically, their residence is limited to the summer months, with occasional trips allowed during the rest of the year. If you don’t want to go anywhere but want to get out of your apartment and have the feeling of more rural life, a kolonihavehus is the solution!

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