Why I Now Have a Danish Social Security Number

Endless groups of bikes line almost every street in Copenhagen, mostly unattended and locked to nothing but themselves.  Such a common practice gives off an impression of low crime rates in Denmark that Denmark, especially to an American who would never imagine locking my bike so lackadaisically in such public spaces for such long periods of time. Any thief could easily pick one up and walk away! But my first impression has been very shallow – this is a story about theft in Denmark and why I now have a Danish social security number.

Just some of the lackadaisically-locked bikes at Copenhagen's Central Train Station.

Just some of the endless bikes locked to nothing but themselves at Copenhagen’s Central Train Station.

Before we get to my story, though, I’ll share the criminal story we encountered a day earlier. I started to pay with cash when Jack and I went kayaking in the Copenhagen canals on a beautiful sunny morning. When I asked for change at the part kayak-shop, part-cafe/restaurant/bar, though, the impressively calm kayak guy asked me, oh so casually, if I wouldn’t mind paying with card. “We’re low on cash since a thief broke into the shop last night and took a lot of our stuff – more than they usually do,” he shared. It turns out “more than usual” included a refrigerator, coffee machine, a CAR and more. ‘Usual,’ by the way, is about every month or two. Retrospectively, this seems like a strong case of foreshadowing. The next day, I spent a groggy morning in the common space of our hostel waking up with breakfast and coffee. Jack had left for the airport by then, so I was back to traveling alone. I got there around 8:15 am and by 9, the space around me bustled with hostel guests and I craved round two of a coffee and yogurt parfait. My camera bag sat right next to me while I shared a table with two older couples from somewhere else in Europe. I left the table ever so briefly to refill my bowl eight feet away from my bag, and it was just a little later that I noticed my bag was gone…. When you walk into the hostel, there’s a big screen TV with the view from the 14 or so security cameras around the place. Upon realizing my camera bag (with camera and audio recorder, etc.) was missing, I went right to downstairs to see which camera angles might have witnessed a thief. I took it to the hostel front desk, and he quickly pulled up photos from several different angles of the guy. We now had the whole story of  what he looked like, how he took it and how he left. Here’s what we saw:  a middle-aged man of ambiguous ethnicity.. I think white.. chubby with short brown hair, average height, wearing all black. In the midst of many people intent on conversations, coffee and breakfast, he slipped the bag slowly and slyly off the table and into another bag he had brought with him. He then left  by walking straight out the front door, turning left and disappearing by foot down the street. Not a guest at the hostel; just one of those guys that comes into busy spaces at peak hours and takes advantage of what’s available. It always only takes a few seconds.

The view from one of the security cameras that caught a view of the thief. NOTE: this is NOT the moment or the person.

The view from one of the security cameras that caught a view of the thief. IMPORTANT NOTE: this is NOT the moment or the person. I snapped this screenshot an hour and a half after the incident, after breakfast had cleared out.

Post-Theft Perks:

(1) now I’ll get to go Disposable Film Festival style and capture/create narratives solely using an iphone.

(2) I have a Danish social security number now, which means nothing more than I’m in the system so they can contact me easily IF they recover my stuff, but I like the new fun fact 🙂

(3) I was able to borrow a bike free of charge for the morning and afternoon so that I could ride to the police station and file the report. It’s difficult to be all that upset or anxious when riding a bike so comfortably on endless protected and raised bikeways on a fantastically beautiful day! I took an extra few hours after filing the police report to ride along the swan-filled lakes and enjoy an oreo milkshake and the largest veggie burger I’ve ever enjoyed.

At the end of the day, it’s just stuff. I don’t think I’ll be able to afford such a nice camera for a while again, but  I actually would have been MUCH more upset if my journals had disappeared. Irreplaceability vs. replaceability.


Oh! And so what’s gonna happen to this guy if they catch him? He might go to jail for 5-20 days, said the cop who recorded my case. Then he added, “if you want to be a criminal, come to Copenhagen.” are the words he left me with. “They get off the hook really easily.”

Even outside the police station, bikes are locked to nothing more than themselves, making it incredibly easy for any thief to pick up a bike and walk away.

Even outside the police station, bikes are locked to nothing more than themselves, making it incredibly easy for any thief to pick up a bike and walk away.

On a final note, I think one reason so many Danes are less paranoid about bikes getting stolen is that they choose not to use super fancy and expensive bikes. Then it’s not as much of a loss if/when your bike disappears. Because, as I’ve been told by the police and others since my arrival here, it’s a misperception that bike theft is low in this town.

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