Today I joined a gym. Yes, I know. I haven’t set foot in one for 15 years but the time had come to do so again. I apologise to regular readers who might be expecting something along the lines of some subject matter that is at least tangential to peak oil, global hegemony or environmental meltdown – that will all have to wait until next week. I should probably say now that if you’re of a sensitive disposition you might not want to read certain parts of this post, because today’s post is about … (drumroll) … violence!
But first, let me explain a little something. When I say I haven’t set foot inside a gym for 15 years, that’s not because I am some kind of couch potato who can’t walk up a flight of stairs. In fact, I run around 20km a week, bike about 100km and I’m even training for a half-marathon. Don’t forget, part of preparing for a future of limited medical care and inaccessible or ineffective drugs is the ability to keep fit and try and heal your own body. And just like sex, poetry and friendship, exercise is one of those things that you shouldn’t have to pay for. In any case, I have to exercise because if I don’t then the chronic pain I live with gets worse.
I’m not sure how it happened or what it is, but I live with an endless pain in my chest. It could have been when I had a snowboarding accident, or maybe it was the time I was infested with a tropical parasite that gnawed away at my insides unchecked for two years, but it’s been with me for this past decade, and sometimes it is debilitating, but usually it is just a low level ache in the upper left side of my chest. I’ve been to doctors and hospitals aplenty and they’ve run numerous tests on me and the conclusion is always the same: there’s nothing detectably wrong with me. Except there is. At times the pain spreads right up through my neck into my head and leaves me finding it painful to breathe and sleep. It isn’t fun.
I don’t know how it started or how to fix it. People have suggested acupuncture, visiting a chiropractor or various homeopathic treatments. Alcohol and coffee make it worse, whereas rubbing a pressure point under my left eye makes it go away temporarily, as if by magic. Very intense exercise also makes it go away for a few hours, as do strong pain killers. It’s a pain, but apparently not a fatal one.
So that’s why I go running. The only thing is that it seems to be getting more and more dangerous to go running where I live. Some people might think that it doesn’t get much safer and cleaner than Copenhagen – that is how the city likes to present itself to an international audience. That’s probably what the unfortunate American tourist thought last week who met a grisly end after an automated street cleaning machine suddenly developed artificial intelligence and went amok, sucking him up and ramming his head against the wall of a bank, thus killing him in a most unexpectedly unpleasant way. But anyone who has ever lived here or watched the superb TV series Forbrydelsen (renamed ‘The Killing’ in English) won’t be entirely surprised by what I am about to say. This has been my experiences in the past ten days or so:
- A man was murdered with a single shot to the head outside the office I work in. The attack was thought to be a revenge attack for a hit on some people walking out of a mosque a year ago (also next to my office) which I heard. At the time I had thought somebody was throwing heavy things into a skip – that’s what it sounded like.
- A couple of days later I went running at night. On a particularly dark street near the beach a car pulled up next to me and a man yelled something obscene at me. I ignored him and he drove off. Ten minutes later the whole place was full of police cars and it was on the news later that a man on that street had been randomly cruising around and stabbing passers-by. One victim was stabbed in the chest but managed to walk to hospital.
- I also went running the next night and surprised two men doing something suspicious at a deserted building site – they didn’t take it well and I had to put a sprint on.
- Three nights later I encountered a gang of youths, one wielding a metal pole outside a grim local shopping precinct. They were dressed in the American ‘gangster’ style of pants hanging down and covered in bling. They were also smashing the place up and again I had to sprint to get away from them as they shouted after me.
- Then last night – the final night I went out. Half the police force of Copenhagen descended on the island of Amager where I live after violence flared up between the two main Hells Angels gangs who are Denmark’s de facto mafia. One man was thrown out of a moving car, and another was found kneecapped in the back seat of another. Just another night in Copenhagen.
Sporadic random cases? Maybe. But I used to regularly attend crime scenes in my capacity as a reporter here a couple of years ago, so I know very well that there’s a very dark underbelly in this city. Here are a few of the scenes I attended during that time:
- A cold blooded murder of a Somali man who was leaving his flat for work and was gunned down from a passing car in front of his children.
- A local bar (very close to my flat) invaded at night by a machine gun wielding gang hunting for junior members of a Hells Angels club. After shooting up the bar they dragged one unfortunate punter outside, pulled his trousers down and put the gun up where the sun don’t shine. I photographed the blood spattered plants pots and gore covered latex gloves of the paramedics.
- The assassination of a powerful Chinese businessman in a restaurant outside the office.
- The aftermath of a drugs turf war related grenade attack on some people enjoying a quiet beer in the alternative commune of Christiania. The grenade landed on the table and blew a young man’s jaw off.
- The attempted assassination of a biker leader as he sat in a Joe and the Juice café drinking a milkshake. The bullet went through the window into his back, where he was sitting, although he didn't die.
Apart from those there have been dozens, perhaps hundreds of others. Just across the water from where I live, in the Swedish city of Malmø, they also had to contend with a serial killer who was shooting dark skinned people at random. Luckily he was caught, but the fact remains that these kinds of people just seem to pop up over here with unnerving regularity. How long before we get Denmark’s answer to Anders Breivik?
But now the police fear a new biker war. Forget Islamic terrorists, Scandinavia is plagued with home grown ones with blonde hair and blue eyes. It brings me back to the happy days on the mid-nineties, when I first visited Denmark. In those days the various biker gangs, who ride around on shiny $80,000 Harley Davidsons and control the lucrative drug trade in these parts, were taking part in some pretty spectacular public battles. Who could forget the machine gun battle at Copenhagen Airport, for instance, or the RPG attack in central Copenhagen which launched a victim through a plate glass window as shoppers stood by gawking?
I should probably say that the leader of the Hells Angels, convicted killer Jørn Jønker Nielsen, is particularly web-savvy and on occasion phoned the office I used to work in to politely point out factual errors in our stories. So, if you’re reading Jørn, er, hello.
This is all very puzzling. The statistics don't bear out my observations - Denmark has, on average, 0.9 homicides for every 100,000 people, making it the 21st safest country in the world (the US rate is about five times higher). It could be that victims are treated well in state of the art hospitals and usually recover, combined with the observation that most attacks tend to leave people half-dead rather than fully. And, of course, most violent crime tends to occur in the capital city, and most of them are premeditated attempts on the lives of various gang members and religious minorities.
So I have no particular desire to get caught up in all that again – hence my decision to join a gym in an international hotel near where I live. It’s a peculiar place to be. Everyone is so focussed on themselves and whatever is playing on their headphones, and they hardly seem to notice one another. It’s a kind of anti-community, where the lycra clad denizens drink only from plastic water bottles and nobody says a word but instead focuses on the numerous flat screen TVs affixed to the walls spewing out their 24 hour news and MTV feeds. Paper towel dispensers are much in use as every drop of sweat is quickly dealt with, and occasionally one of the gym employees will come round and empty the bins which quickly fill up with these and the plastic bottles. Various tattooed meatheads lift the free weights and flex their muscles in the mirrors, and afterwards there is a pool to cool off in, or a sauna to heat up in if you prefer. I quite like it.
It’s all very artificial and contrived, but for the time being it’s where I’ll be spending several evenings a week. What exactly am I doing as I run my standard 10km like a rat on a treadmill, dripping sweat onto the iPhone docking station? I’m writing my new sci-fi novel in my head, if you must know. And not getting shot up the backside or stabbed or having my jaw blown off by a grenade.
Normal service will resume next week.