Hello and welcome aboard today's flight. It'll take us northeast from Brussels, first over Amsterdam in the Netherlands, then across northern Germany and into Denmark. Let's go!
Leaving Brussels, we quickly cross the border into another country, the Netherlands. (Belgium was actually part of the Netherlands until it became an independent nation in 1830.) It's the land of tulips and windmills and canals, but the Netherlands (sometimes called Holland in English) is also a modern nation with one of the world's most advanced economies. This area has been home to wealthy trading companies and banking houses that controlled a major portion of the global commerce in the days of sailing ships.
Amsterdam, the nation's major city, is a cosmopolitan place famous for its canals, its "anything goes" attitude, and for being where the family of Anne Frank was hidden from the occupying Nazis for two years during World War II. Although the family was discovered and Anne died in a concentration camp before the war's end, her diary was published in 1947 and became a classic text about the war's effect on a young girl and her family.
Like Bruges and other coastal trading cities, the oldest part of Amsterdam hosts a network of canals. Still in active use today, they host houseboats and tour cruises. With its many small bridges, as well as bicycle paths and tram lines and narrow homes with upper floors often overhanging the lower ones, Amsterdam offers an urban environment unlike any other city.
Beyond Amsterdam, we fly over land that's been reclaimed from the sea. For more than 2,000 years, the Dutch, as the residents of the Netherlands are called, have worked to push back the North Sea and turn wetlands into usable land called "polders." The famous Dutch windmills are often used to pump water to keep the reclaimed land dry. The process of reclamation continues today, although under strict environmental control.
We then cross into Germany, a country we'll pass over today but see more of later in our journey. For now, we'll fly over the northern German city of Cologne, home to the immense Cologne Cathedral, one of the largest Gothic buildings in the world. Begun in 1248, work stopped in the 1400s and it remained incomplete for 400 years. The cathedral was finally finished in 1880. Its twin spires, each 515 feet high, became landmarks for Allied bombers in World War II, when the city was almost completely destroyed.
Cologne, known as Köln in German, lies inland on the Ruhr River. A bit further up river is the smaller city of Bonn, which served as the capital of West Germany after World War II. We'll learn a lot more about how Germany was divided in two when we arrive in Berlin on a future flight. Bonn is the birthplace of Ludwig Van Beethoven, a towering figure in music. He was born there in 1770, which is 250 years ago this year!
We'll continue north/northeast, next flying over the city of Hamburg, Germany's busiest cargo port and nicknamed the nation's "Gateway to the World." A key harbor and trade center for nearly 1,000 years, Hamburg was also Germany's main terminal for trans-Atlantic passenger liners bound for America. Today, Germany's second-largest city is a popular destination for cruise ships, with passengers eager to explore the city's many cultural attractions.
As we travel about Europe, it's hard not to bump into big names in the arts and culture. Hamburg, for instance, is the birthplace of Johannes Brahms, another famous 19th century composer. More recently, it hosted early concerts of the Beatles, whom we met earlier flying over Liverpool. Hamburg also boasts the world's largest model railroad display, the Miniatur Wunderland, which includes a working model of the city's airport, complete with jumbo jets landing and taking off. There's a video you can check out in the links.
Continuing to the northeast, we'll soon cross from Germany into the part of northern Europe that's home to the Nordic nations: Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland. (Sometimes Iceland is included due to its historic ties to Norway.) We'll look at these nations, sometimes generally referred to as "Scandinavia," in more detail on our next flight. But for now we'll point out that residents enjoy a high quality of life, with the Nordic nations often ranking at the top of "happiness" studies. Why do you think this is so? There are links below to help explore this question.
Our destination today is Copenhagen, Denmark's capital and largest city. Known as one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world, Copenhagen has a long history of military battles from the Middle Ages all the way to World War II, when the German army occupied the nation for more than five years. Today it's the prosperous business center of a nation that, among many accomplishments, is where Legos were invented.
In landing at Copenhagen Airport, we'll fly over Øresund Bridge, an enormous new span linking Denmark with neighboring Sweden. The 10-mile long road/railroad crossing, completed in 2000, consists of a long bridge with an enormous cable-stayed main span, an artificial island, and tunnel for the part closest to Denmark so ships can pass with no height restrictions.
The island where the bridge turns into a tunnel is completely manmade, and is the site of an ongoing study to see how nature establishes itself on new land. Although the island carries a busy highway and railroad, the land is off limits to visits so scientists can study what plants and animals appear naturally, and in what order. The island is known as Peberholm (or Pepper Island), because it was created right next to a larger natural island called Saltholm. Can you see the connection of the names?
Landing in Copenhagen, we look forward to resting up for our next leg: a swing around Scandinavia, where we'll learn a lot more about this beautiful and interesting part of the world. See you next time!
Resources to learn more about today's flight: