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Home > Places

Silkeborg: home to northern Europe's largest colour fountain

Can't decide whereabouts in Jutland to spend that long weekend? Jane Skelton has some hints...

1 December 2003

The Danes of Central Jutland simply can't stop preserving stuff. Soused herrings, cured salmon, smoked bacon, salted beef, prehistoric men - you name it, they've marinated it. The second most famous preserved man in the world is the Tollund Man, and he lives in a glass case in the Jutland town of Silkeborg. Some 2,000 years ago, the Tollund Man (not his real name) enjoyed a last meal of pips and seeds, went for a stroll near a bog, and was promptly garrotted. The look of surprise, tinged with annoyance, is still visible on his leathery gob.

The Tollund Man is certainly Silkeborg's biggest draw, but there is more to the town than a single pickled human. It also boasts:

‘The World’s oldest paddle steamer’
‘The World’s biggest limestone mine’ and
‘The World’s largest long distance race for canoes and kayaks’

Not bad for a town which is only a century and a half old. The town dates back to 1844, when an enthusiastic entrepreneur established a Paper Mill on the Gudenå River. The mill still stands, but is now a hotel. The building, once the centre of the region's paper fabrication industry, stands in the heart of the historic quarter of Silkeborg, which is known locally as 'Papirfabrikken' - but why the district is called this is a mystery lost in the swirls of time.

An old-town highlight is the Hotel Ludvigslyst, which is both a restaurant and a museum, and has been refurbished to look as it did in 1906. Lace abounds, but it boasts a thoroughly modern kitchen run by the charming Vita Bundgaard, whose years as a Helena Rubenstein consultant in London in her twenties has given her a fine command of English and baby-soft skin. Perhaps only the Tollund Man's is softer, and he's had the slight advantage of a two thousand year face pack.

Head out of town on the number 10 bus and you come to the Kunst Art Centre in a district called Silkeborg Bad. Once a spa, it has been transformed into an international arts venue and has a famous weeing statue: a life size blue ceramic model of a naked man, blessed with tremendous buttocks, whose genitals are tenderly cupped in his hands, and whose face wears an expression of intense bladder relief. No-where else in the world has bladder relief been so movingly and powerfully depicted, not even in Florence or Venice or Sweden.

Most sites of interest in Silkeborg can be reached by boat: like Aqua, the largest freshwater aquarium in Northern Europe. It is a revolutionary building, sunk into five lakes, and has a tank where you can grope carp if you're feeling brave. The waterways are served by the ancient and celebrated paddle steamer, which is named Hjejlen and sells bottles of 'Jolly' cola at reasonable prices. It runs on the original steam engine that has been active since 1861, the same year that Lincoln was inaugurated and Dickens published 'Great Expectations'. They don't tell you this on the boat, but they should do, as there's nothing like a bit of historical context to help you appreciate the age of a paddleboat engine.

If you're still not tempted to pay the town a visit (are you mad?) consider this: Silkeborg is also home to northern Europe's largest colour fountain. That's right, you read it correctly, you weren't dreaming: northern Europe's largest colour fountain.

Somewhere in southern Europe is one larger, but wherever it is, you probably haven't got easy access to an ancient paddle steamer - so why bother?

Right then, you'll be wanting the flight details:

Maersk Air, the Danish airline has 39 weekly flights from Gatwick. Return Fares (including all taxes, fees and charges) from £98 to Billund and from £100 to Copenhagen. Reservations: 0207 333 0066, or email lon@maersk-air.com

Radisson SAS Hotel, Silkeborg. Prices for a single room from £110, inclusive of whopping great breakfast buffet. Reservations: (+45) 8882 2222 or email info.silkeborg@radissonsas.com

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