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Denmark Becomes 51st State Every Fourth of July

July 02, 1989|JOY SCHALEBEN LEWIS | Lewis is a free-lance writer living in Milwaukee.

ALBORG, Denmark — On the Fourth of July in Denmark, drums roll and horns sound to the beat of "Stars and Stripes Forever," the breezes carrying the noise to picnicking families on the hills of Rebild.

For 77 years, except during two World Wars, this small Scandinavian country of 5 million people has celebrated the birthday of the United States at Rebild, the country's only national park, and in Alborg, a city 15 miles from the park.

At Rebild, flags from the two nations fly everywhere. Also, along the walk leading to the park's natural amphitheater is a special tribute--flags from every American state.

Denmark's celebration of the Fourth of July means oratory by prominent Danes and Americans, sing-alongs to such songs as "Home on the Range," folk and square dancing, Danish youth choirs, a U.S. Air Force marching band and a California high school band complete with pompon girls.

Visiting Americans are amazed. This is Denmark, land of Hans Christian Andersen, of Hamlet's castle, of a flag affectionately called "Dannebrog."

Why all the hoopla here over the Fourth of July, about 4,000 miles east of the White House?

The answer reads like a fairy tale. The story began 13 decades ago.

From the mid-1880s through the turn of the century, one of every 10 Danes left their native country for America. Many were poor farmers seeking fresh soil, a new economy and an education for their children. Although they settled across the United States, the majority stayed in the upper Midwest.

In 1912 the Danish-American Society was founded in Chicago. That same year the society bought 200 acres near Alborg, an old port city on sailboat-dotted Lim Fiord, about 160 miles northwest of Copenhagen.

Centuries ago, wandering Visigoths revered this tranquil area of heather-laden hills and woods as verdant as County Cork. But the society found that most of the beloved heather had been sacrificed to the plow.

The society replanted the heather and donated the land to the Danish government, then ruled by King Christian X. But it also wanted to honor the nation that had welcomed 500,000 Danish immigrants. The society told the king that in accepting the land, there is one very important stipulation--America's Fourth of July must be celebrated in Rebild every year.

His Majesty agreed.

King Christian X made the area a national park to stand as a symbol of the close friendship between the United States and Denmark.

Though the "Star-Spangled Banner" is sung only on the Fourth of July in Rebild, visitors are reminded of American-Danish kinship throughout the year.

A large Lincoln-type log cabin, constructed in 1934 as a memorial museum, symbolizes homes built in the United States by emigrants in the mid-1880s. Each of America's then-48 states contributed a log.

Over the years Rebild's celebration has featured many speakers, including Walter Cronkite, Earl Warren, Walt Disney, Hubert Humphrey, Raymond Burr, Richard Nixon, Jean Hersholt, Danny Kaye, Ronald Reagan and Dionne Warwick.

As Old Glory is raised to fly beside the red-and-white Dannebrog, Danes stand and cheer.

"I've never felt so appreciated as an American," said teacher Elaine Boettcher of Oak Park, Ill., as she stood to sing the National Anthem.

"Just gives me goose bumps all over," said Chris Thomsen, toting a huge American flag that he brought from the States when he left a year ago to retire here, the land of his birth.

Hot Dogs, Ice Cream

Munching foot-long hot dogs and licking ice cream cones wrapped in red, white and blue, the audience eagerly follows the festivities.

Rebild's square dancers don't have to travel far to display their Western attire and fancy steps. These dashing Texas-style dancers live in Alborg.

Alborg is an easy-to-walk-about city of 155,000 people, many of whom greet strangers with a merry " God dag " (good day). Denmark's fourth-largest metropolis, this city of half-timbered houses and numerous restaurants, museums and amusement parks is the cultural center of northern Jutland.

About 1,200 years ago, Alborg was a key Viking stronghold. The Norsemen's largest burial ground in all of Scandinavia is here; 682 tombs beneath a broad greensward are marked with large rocks, many set in the shape of a ship.

Here, as everywhere in Denmark, folks are keen about bicycles and pedestrian shopping streets. The old section has an abundance of both.

The best-loved and liveliest street, belying its saintly name, is Jomfru Ane Gade (Virgin Ann). Lined with discos, restaurants, jazz spots and pubs, Jomfru Ane Gade is an area where the sun never sets--which, in summer, is almost true.

Alborg is on the same parallel as Juneau, Alaska. In this latitude the Scandinavian sun doesn't draw its shades and go to bed until almost the stroke of midnight.

Sunset lovers are in for a treat. Brilliant reds and orange, blanketing the sky, are stitched with lavender and pink. Rich burgundy bedecks the waters like a quilt.

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