Bringing cultures togetherOn a warm early autumn afternoon, people started to gather in small groups toward a house in the town of Charlottenlund, Denmark. The place they were headed for was my residence, where a “Rejsegilde” ceremony was about to take place.
Rejsegilde is an old Danish tradition where neighbors and workers gather together at a house to celebrate - with plenty of sausages and beer - the erection of a new roof. The practice of this warm tradition is on the decline, but I felt that it would be a gesture of goodwill to invite neighbors and workers for a little friendly get-together. At this ceremony, it is customary to hoist a flag. So when the Danish flag was unraveled along with the Korean flag, there was a big round of applause from the guests. At this point, I expressed my appreciation to the construction workers for their hard work. I also didn’t forget to thank my neighbors for their patience in enduring all the noise while the construction was going on.
In Denmark, people say that if the workers find the food at a Rejsegilde to not be adequate, they would put marbles in a can and hide it beneath the roof so that it would make noise at night. Therefore, we not only prepared sausages and beer, but provided an abundance of Korean food as well, including bulgogi (marinated beef), japchae (stir-fried sweet potato noodles) and kimchi. Many neighbors showed up with flowers and sincerely thanked me for carrying out this lovely Danish tradition. One person said that “the ceremony felt like it was a bridge between Denmark and Korea.”
There is also something very special about the building where the “Rejsegilde” ceremony was being held. The long wall along the inside of the building holds the key to this mystery. This white wall, which has many colorful geometric openings, was designed by Mogens Lassen (1901-87), who was one of Denmark’s most influential architects, globally renowned for his characteristic style of architecture. He was a pioneer of Functionalism in Denmark, a movement that later brought international fame to Danish and Scandinavian design.
Many of Mogens Lassen’s rooms were designed in a particular way to enable sunlight to flood in through the windows or walls. For this wall, the original colors were selected by Lassen’s colleague, Le Corbusier, the French pioneer of modern design. Mogens Lassen was known for constantly sketching - even on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. It is said that he passed away with a pencil in his hand.
The funny thing is, this wall could have been torn down all together. The wall used to be part of an indoor swimming pool, which was being renovated into a reception hall. In the beginning of the renovation work, the wooden panels covering the wall were being taken out. Then, a very peculiar-looking wall with numerous colorful holes appeared. The demolition was put on hold, and upon further research at the archives of the municipality, the blueprints of the building revealed that this wall was actually a “treasure.” Renovation plans were changed so that the wall would be restored.
Against this backdrop, distinguished guests from the design company “by Lassen,” which is run by the great-granddaughter of Mogens Lassen, also took part in the Rejsegilde ceremony. These guests made a suggestion to hold a photography event at the residence, so that pictures of this wonderful wall can be published in design and architecture journals of Denmark.
When the Danish authorities got word of the rediscovery of this “treasure,” they got in touch with the Korean Embassy and floated the idea that the wall should be registered as a national cultural asset of Denmark.
In all, I am glad that I decided to hold the ceremony to honor Danish traditions. Moreover, I am also pleased that I helped restore a cultural asset of Denmark that was sitting right in my backyard.
I believe honoring the traditions and respecting the culture of the country we serve in is an integral part of being a diplomat. Indeed, public diplomacy can play a big role in bringing the people of Korea and that of the host country - in this case, Denmark - even closer together.
*The author is the Korean Ambassador to Denmark.
by Young Sam Ma