“ARE YOU DANISH?” I’m asked as I pull up a bar stool. “Because you look like you could be Danish.” I admit that I’m not Danish, and the group assures me that I’m still more than welcome here at Fredagscafé, a monthly gathering hosted by the Northwest Danish Association.
“The Danish Association was founded in 1923, so it’s one of the oldest nonprofits in Seattle,” board president Edith Christensen says. The group produces an annual slate of programs and events, including Danish summer camps for kids, a guest speaker series and an annual beer festival every November.
Translated to “Friday’s cafe,” Fredagscafé began as a gathering where attendees spoke almost exclusively in Danish. Two decades later, most conversations are now in English, but almost entirely about Denmark or the local Danish community.
Christensen says there are sometimes as many as 30 people at Fredagscafé. Tonight, nine attendees fill the backroom at Heritage Distilling Co.’s Ballard tasting room. The small, boisterous group throws back cocktails, enjoys Heritage’s locally made Bavarian pretzels and samples the Heritage Signature Flight of assorted vodkas.
Christian Holtz is brimming with energy as he spreads a map over the cocktail table. “There it is, Greenland!” he declares. “Please, pore over it. The largest island in the world, but with a population of only 56,000!”
Holtz, a sailing instructor at The Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle, recently returned from Greenland — part of the Kingdom of Denmark — where he spent three weeks teaching sailing to kids in a remote village. He shares about the experience at a rapid-fire pace, gesturing to the map one moment and showing photos of smiling children and spectacular fjords on his iPhone the next.
Northwest Danish Association board member Claus Windelev says he always looks forward to Fredagscafé. Windelev grew up in Denmark and moved to Seattle as a young man in 1966. Windelev says he misses the days when most conversations at Fredagscafé were in Danish, but says he is thankful for any local event that brings the community together.
“There are Danes everywhere in the world, but Danes are not good at congregating like the Norwegians are,” he explains. “We stay separate. So a night like this is a good way to get a few of us together.”
It’s neither the first nor the last mention of Norway. These Seattle Danes are fond of Norway and appreciate the Norwegian influence here in Ballard. They also enjoy a friendly barb at the expense of Denmark’s northern neighbor. “After all, Norway used to belong to Denmark in the old days,” Windelev deadpans.
Throughout the evening, conversations cover a wide spectrum of topics, including the best way to make aebleskiver (Danish pancake balls), the ideal month to visit Copenhagen and the Danish political drama on Netflix called “Borgen.” Three attendees were raised in Denmark. A couple of others, like Emily Olsen, are the children or grandchildren of Danish immigrants.
“My link to my Danish heritage is really the Danish community here in Seattle,” says Olsen. “Nights like this help keep us connected.”