Community on a European Vacation

As it turns out, the recipe for Community is very simple; Singing in public, beer, and a little dash of wild animal. Surprisingly, I am not talking about drunken nights of karaoke (exclusively). I recently spent 6 weeks studying in Copenhagen, Denmark and followed that up with a two week northern European Vacation. Below is a selection of the top five community building places and activities I encountered in my travels. These are the things that made me think, “Man oh man, I wish I could do this at home!”


1. Mauerpark Market and Bearpit Karaoke (Berlin)

Late on a Sunday morning we headed over to Mauerpark for the Berlin’s local favourite flea market. After several hours of exploring the winding stalls of the outdoor market, with several stops to rest in mini-manufactured-beach beer gardens, we had had our fill of bargain hunting and novel snacks. So, made our way over to Bearpit Karaoke just outside the market gates. We were lucky enough to arrive just in time to hear a rousing rendition of Frank Sinatra’s My Way performed by a bearded, German, older gentleman. I was not entirely surprised to find out that this was not his first time in the Bearpit. The only performer who gave him a run for his money was this little girl who made the crowd fall silent before we all joined in to clap along with her song. It was a gorgeous day and the hill over the stage was stacked with people of all ages and walks cheering on the performers. The organizers turned an umbrella, a wagon, a laptop, and some speakers into one of the best boundary breaking, community-building events I have been to.


2. Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (Denmark)

This was my favorite museum and is a great example of how to make art an accessible and fun experience for a wide range of people. Before I made the trip myself I had heard from many people who couldn’t speak highly enough of the museum and one who said he took his kids there as often as possible. After spending several hours exploring the facility, all that I felt was missing was that feeling of backache that usually accompanies long walks on hard museum grounds. These grounds were not the usual museum grounds though and moved the visitor almost seamlessly between in and outdoor exhibits. There was even one point when we got to use a slide for transportation! (A transportation method that should be adopted on a much wider scale.)  Exploring the outdoors was a refreshing way to discover Louisiana’s impressive collection of sculptural works against a backdrop of the beautiful Øresund beach front and manicured hills that are perfect for a picnic on one side of the property and a beautiful lake nestled into a wooded area on the opposite side.


3. Midsummer’s Eve Celebrations (June 23, Copenhagen)

People go out en masse, not just to one spot but basically to any park, beach, or barge in town. They eat hogs, drink beer, and laugh and chat until someone lights a huge bonfire with a scarecrow/witch on top. That’s when they start singing in unison. Amazing.


4. A la Mort Subite (Brussels)

Founded in 1928, this was a stunningly beautiful Belgian bar whose name translates to  “At the Sudden Death”. Well if sudden death were to strike, there are plenty worse places you could be. Picture soaring ceilings, golden yellow walls and pillars, and locals enjoying a selection of Belgian beers so flavorful that it is probably impossible for anyone to claim they don’t like the taste of beer after trying these variations. This place had an incredible community atmosphere. We sat down at one of the long communal tables next to an older couple from Brussels who were only too happy to share with us the secret of the Brussels classic brew called Gueuze (it has to do with a reaction between the yeast and a bacteria that is only found in the air in Brussels) and their life long dream to travel to Canada. A perfect Belgian experience.


5. Elephants in the Park (Frederiksberg, Denmark)

Anyone who remembers when the Vancouver Zoo had a place in Stanley Park is not likely to have forgotten how awesome it was to go and watch the polar bears from the zoo’s outer confines. The Copenhagen Zoo has elephants that you can get within about 40 meters of from the surrounding park without paying the zoo’s hefty entrance fee. They play and throw dirt and swim and splash and break sticks and lift logs and sit on each other. Watching gigantic, beautiful, social creatures makes for easy conversation with the other observers and was a perfect place to chat with the very friendly Danes who always seem to out for a leisurely afternoon. The elephants were a mere five-minute walk from my apartment so I made a practice of visiting regularly.

If we can’t travel to Europe or have elephants in our backyards at least we can get together to drink some great craft brews and sing about it. Anyone got a karaoke machine?






Beer retailing in Ontario is dominated by the Beer Store, a near monopoly, owned by the large breweries.  This set up has some positive aspects, as the employees are well paid and they recycle almost everything they sell.  However, for those of us more interested in craft beer than industrially

produced domestic or imported brands, the Beer Store limits options.  The other booze monopoly, the government owned LCBO, sells a wider selection of Ontario Craft Beers, but they only sell in single cans or six packs and the prices are prohibitively high.  Neither retailer provides a wide selection of craft beers from across Canada or the United States.  This leaves beer drinkers with few options aside from figuring out how to brew your own craft beer.

Thankfully Craft-U-Brewing is a growing trend.  If you have the time and space its possible to brew your own beer from scratch at home.   Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher is a good resource to learn more about home brewing. For those of us living in apartments, too poor/cheap to buy the equipment or to lazy to learn all the complicated steps in brewing high quality craft beer there are great Craft-U-Brew stores like Toronto’s Fermentations that make brewing easy.

I know that many of you hear U-Brew and think about cheap kit-beer that taste terrible and allow hangovers to start while you are still drinking.  This is true of many of the cheaper U-Brew options that substitute corn sugar for barley to keep the price down.  Thankfully, it is now possible to buy micro-brewed wort (unfermented beer) made with barley malt, water and hops (you add the yeast yourself to make the process legal).  By adding more malt, hops, fruit, spices or coffee you can transform the base wort into almost any style of beer.  Fermentation have a wide selection of beers on their regular list (here are just a few):

  • Danforth Lager
  • Dutch Lager
  • Hoffbrauhaus
  • Czech Pilsner
  • Fuggles Pale Ale
  • Bavarian Bock
  • Newcastle Brown
  • Oatmeal Stout
  • Hefeweizen
  • Belgian Wit
  • Trappist Dubbel

However, what makes this U-Brew special is their ability to emulate just about any beer you have ever tried or read about.  My friend Val tried a Hefeweizen  in Colorado Springs with a really pronounced banana flavour.  Scott, one of the two employs that work with Charles the owner, thought it thorough and choose a yeast strain that would bring out the banana in their wheat wort.  The resulting beer was amazing and that batch did not last very long.  Over the past years we’ve experimented with beer style from around the world.  earthy Peat Smoked Scotch Ales, bitterly hoppy West Cost IPAs, danerously strong imperial coffee stouts (8-9%) and traditionally lagered double bocks. Continue reading