“Warning! Singalong can cause strongly habitual behaviour.”
The sign welcomes you at the entrance, and it is also the first sign of this well-founded Danish humour and willingness to embrace everyone who wants to put an effort into the community. Or as the text on the t-shirts of the staff puts it: “Shut up and sing along!”
Don’t tell us you were not warned.
This dark and grey Wednesday morning in January is a little special. Not that the weekly singalong session makes a big show of itself … as every Wednesday it just there. 8.30 sharp, at the Central Library in Copenhagen, open to everyone.
However, this morning the voice of the song host is a very well-known one to the Danish public; former politician and still-going-strong debater Özlem Cekic.
Although the lady herself strongly denies that she will ever add the title “singer” to her much impressive CV.
– I was told that I sing best, when I do it alone. Out in the woods, she confesses to the giggling audience.
Luckily, there is no need to demonstrate a beautiful singing voice at the “Morning Singalong”. Everyone who wants to join can sing along – and about 100 people did this morning, counting the ages from a baby to 70+ years old. Most people are at the age when they have probably left the labour market, though. After all, it is (early) office hours.
The staff of the library take care of handing out song books and – most important – voice warm-up, including picking the notes all the way down from the floor and up to the ceiling. So much the morning-gym.
Warm-up done, we are ready to carry on with the best tunes from our folk high school. Starting with “Goodmorning Little Land” as a tribute to Denmark (the best country in the world, says Özlem Cekic, remembering her childhood tales of a small country up North).
Most people stand while they are singing. It makes the best effort to a singing voice.
It is hard to sing old national hymns without touching upon fighting – and picking your weapon to do so.
Özlem Cekic reminds us that you can do this without violence. Just across the street from the Central Library in Copenhagen 37-year-old Jew Dan Uzan was brutally shot down a night in February 2015, while he worked as a doorman in front of the Jewish Synagogue. The murderer was a young Muslim man. Dan Uzan’s father has every reason to hate Muslims – but he does not. He says:
“Evil cannot be fought with evil, but with kindness. Kindness takes courage”.
With his words and a tiny sound of a singing bird outside in the dark, Özlem Cekic catches our common optimism in the room.
Being a Danish politician, born in Turkey with Kurdish background, Özlem Cekic has also experienced to be the object of hate. However, she has found the coolest way to handle this – ever! She simply invites the ones that send her most hate mails to a cup of coffee. With #dialoguecoffee she often finds that even though her opponents strongly disagree with her, her origins or opinions she also has something in common with them. And that can break down prejudices.
The idea is so good that it got her to do a TED Talk about #dialoguecoffee. Today she also challenges everyone else to give it a try and reminds us that Danes comes in many shapes.
The hateful tone of public debate makes a lot of Danish people feel that they are “ashamed to be Danish”. Özlem Cekic knows, because this is a sentence she has heard way too often lately.
– You should not be ashamed of yourself, she says and shares a conversation she has had with her mother:
– My mother has worked in a “key-job” for so many years (you know, the kind of job in which they hand over a key to you, ask you to do your job and be gone by the time the Danes arrive for their job). That means that the only Danes she has ever met are her neighbours – and there have been many, since we have moved around a lot. And she has never met anything but kind and open-minded people. That is why I simply could not explain to her that “venligboerne” is not just Danes as they all come, Özlem Cekic says.
– Danes are kind, open-minded and treats everyone equally. And integration does work. That is why you must never underestimate your own efforts. Because you are the only ones who can fight for democracy. So, walk tall – and be proud of yourself!
With these words Özlem Cekic introduces the final song of the day and sends us out to our everyday lives. But not until she has taken a proud moment to put down a memory of the Morning Singalong on her phone. As the rest of us would do.
Özlem Cekic always takes her time to talk to people. As soon as the singing is over she is surrounded by people who wants to say hello, ask questions or even start a discussion. I miss this queue. I have work waiting for me. As I walk into the late daylight, a bright smile slips my lips, like it does not mean to be there, it just … pops out.
It might be January, it might be depressing to listen to politicians, you might not be able to see much positivity. But you can proud – of all the small things you do to help someone else in your life. Every day.
I know I am.