150km (93 miles) SW of Århus; 298km (185 miles) W of Copenhagen; 47km (29 miles) N of Tønder
This is one of Denmark's oldest towns, and if you have to miss all the other cities of Jutland, spend a night here, where local residents ponder the question, "Will the storks return on April 1?" Every year some storks -- now an endangered species -- fly to Ribe to build their huge nests on top of the red-roofed, medieval, half-timbered, and crooked houses of Ribe which flank the narrow cobblestone lanes.
One of New York's most legendary citizens, Jacob A. Riis, was born in Ribe. When "the town's prettiest girl" broke his heart, he headed for New York in 1870. Once here, he was shocked by the city's inhumane slums, which he wrote about in his first book in 1890, How the Other Half Lives. A friend of Theodore Roosevelt, Riis was offered the job of mayor of the city but turned it down to pursue his efforts to get a million people off the streets and into decent housing. For such work, he became known as "the most beneficial citizen of New York." In time, he returned to Ribe, where "the prettiest girl" said yes this time. His former residence lies at the corner of Skolegade and Grydergade, a plaque marking his former abode.
As a former port, Ribe was an important trading center during the Viking era (around A.D. 900) and became an Episcopal see in 948, when one of the first Christian churches in Denmark was established here. It was also the royal residence of the ruling Valdemars around 1200.
In medieval days, sea trade routes to England, Germany, Friesland, the Mediterranean, and other ports linked Ribe, but then its waters receded. Today it's surrounded by marshes, much like a landlocked Moby Dick. On a charming note, the town watchman still makes his rounds -- armed with his lantern and trusty staff -- since the ancient custom was revived in 1936.
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