Denmark has been called a bridge because it links northern Europe with the Scandinavian Peninsula. In 2000, that became literal, as the Øresund Bridge opened across the sound, connecting the island of Zealand, on which Copenhagen sits, with southern Sweden, at the city of Malmö, for the first time in history.
The smallest of the Scandinavian countries (about half the size of Maine), it has a total land mass of about 41,400 sq. km (16,000 sq. miles), most of which is on the peninsula of Jutland, which borders Germany. The major islands are Zealand, Funen, and Bornholm. Denmark has adequate space for its population of 5.5 million people, but its population density is much greater than that of the other Scandinavian countries. About 1.4 million Danes live in the capital city, Copenhagen, on the island of Zealand.
About 98% of all native-born Danes belong to the Danish Lutheran Church, the state church, although church attendance is actually low. The second-largest group is Catholics (30,000), and there are about 6,500 Jews.
Only 4.5% of the population is made up of immigrants, including refugees identified as Palestinians, Somalis, Bangladeshis, Kurds, and Iraqis, among others. Some immigrants, such as the Vietnamese, seem to fit smoothly into Danish life. Among some members of the Muslim and Arab communities, there have been cultural conflicts -- as blaring world headlines about those Danish cartoons revealed.
Technically, Denmark is a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy. Its territories include the Faroe Islands (an autonomous area under the Danish Crown) and Greenland (which was granted regional autonomy in 1985). The sovereign is Queen Margrethe II, who ascended the throne in 1972; her husband is a Frenchman, Prince Henrik. Margrethe is the first woman sovereign in Denmark in 6 centuries. Real power is vested in the unicameral parliament (the Folketing), which citizens older than 23 elect every 4 years. The royal family's primary function is ceremonial.
Although it has been a NATO member since 1949, Denmark does not permit nuclear weapons to be deployed on its soil. Denmark became the first NATO country to grant women the right to serve in frontline units. It's also an active member of the European Union (but not part of the Eurozone, having voted in Sept 2000 to retain the Danish kroner), and enjoys harmonious relations with its Scandinavian neighbors and other European countries.
Denmark boasts one of the world's highest standards of living plus a comprehensive social welfare system, which is funded through extremely high taxes. Danes enjoy 7 1/2-hour workdays, cradle-to-grave security, state-funded hospitals and schools, and a month-long vacation every year. During their vacations, Danes tend to travel extensively. By and large the Danes are extremely well educated; they have pioneered the establishment of adult education centers (for those ages 18-35), a movement that has spread to other countries of Europe.
No country in the European Union has less poverty or a fairer distribution of wealth than Denmark. Both the poor and the rich get richer, and in most cases young people have little trouble finding employment.
Although a progressive, modern, and liberal state (it was one of the first countries to recognize same-sex marriages), Denmark has its share of problems. Drug use among young people is a growing concern, and the young are increasingly rejecting the institution of marriage, with common-law relationships becoming the norm. Also, the divorce rate is rising.
The "melancholy Dane" aspect of their character (if there is one) is reflected in a relatively high suicide rate. Otherwise, their general health is excellent -- a Danish girl born today has a life expectancy of 78 years; a Danish boy, 72 years.
Culturally, Denmark is an avid producer and consumer of art and culture. Some 12,000 books a year are published in Denmark. There are 42 newspapers, and the theater and film industries are thriving in spite of cutbacks in government funding.
Denmark in the late '90s built bridges to the world. On June 14, 1998, Queen Margrethe II cut a ribbon before driving across the Great Belt Bridge, a span that links the island of Zealand (on which Copenhagen sits) with the island of Funen. Because Funen is linked by bridge to Jutland (part of mainland Europe), and with Malmö across the Øresund Sound, Copenhageners can now drive to Germany or Sweden without having to rely on ferries.