Copenhagen Gets A Cosmopolitan Face Lift

In May, Queen Margrethe II, the popular figurehead monarch, opened a new extension of the driverless subway system, the Metro, that began operations in October.

Large-scale demolitions and restoration work have swept over downtown working-class neighborhoods since the early 1990s, and a former navy base became an arts campus.

"We have gone from a somewhat dusty and dull city to a modern, dynamic city," said Rolf Larssen at Copenhagen Capacity, an agency working to attract foreign companies.

He exaggerates about the past.

Copenhagen once was an international jazz capital. And the city remains a haven for individuality, particularly in Christiania, a hippie enclave created at an abandoned military barracks in 1971 by a handful of flower-power Danes advocating nudity, free marijuana, no authorities.

In 1969, the easygoing and liberal-leaning Danes made headlines when parliament legalized pornography and Copenhagen hosted the first ever international sex fair. For years, its famous sex district was crowded with foreigners who visited the adult stores and sneaked into the X-rated cinemas.

Still, few people dispute the city's transformation.

"It used to be a provincial kind of city. Now it has a more international image," said Leif Livjaegergaard, who has driven a cab for 25 years. "My customers include more businessmen in suits speaking a foreign language than before."

The city's population has grown by 100,000 since the early 1990s, including an influx of immigrants from the Middle East and Asia. Downtown districts blossom with signs in dozens of languages, and the spicy aromas of ethnic dishes spill from restaurants.

About 7% of Denmark's 5.3 million residents are of foreign descent, and Islam has become the Scandinavian country's second-largest religion after Lutheranism.

Once-popular dim saloons serving beer and stale coffee increasingly are going out of business because people prefer to meet over a latte or macchiato at French-style cafes or American-style coffee shops.

The restaurants at Nyhavn, the picturesque old harbor with multicolored houses and wooden schooners, are getting stiff competition from chic restaurants across town.

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