Danish RVers have US-type problem

Corona Camping, home to 80 or so full-timers in defiance of Danish law limiting winter camping; note the smaller size of European RVs compared to their American counterparts .

Dour Hamlet—an English export!— notwithstanding, modern-day Denmark seems like a delightful country. Home of Legos and Hans Christian Andersen, Denmark every March 20 falls within the top handful of 156 countries ranked by Gallup as the happiest in the world, based on income, life expectancy, freedom, social support, trust and generosity. What other country, after all, can claim a four-foot tall bronze mermaid perched on a granite rock as a world-famous tourist attraction?

So it’s disconcerting to learn that the Danes are less than enthralled with American leisure culture, at least that part of it epitomized by RVers, even as they start grappling with a very American kind of conundrum. March 1 marked not only the opening of Denmark’s camping season, but also a renewed and ever more passionate debate over the question of whether campers should be allowed to live in their RVs year-round. Should RVers, that is, be allowed to afflict the tidy Danish landscape with “trailer parks and American conditions” that could “damage the image of an entire industry and thus damage Danish tourism”?

Most prominently provoking this hand-wringing is a facility called Corona Camping, where some 80 people have been living year-round in their RVs—typically described in the Danish press as “trailers” or “caravans”—in defiance of Danish law, which limits winter camping to stays of no more than 15 to 20 days. Køge Municipality has been attempting to evict the long-term residents at least since 2017, but an already cumbersome legal process became even more bogged down when a national television show, “Trailerpark Danmark,” started shining a sympathetic spotlight on Corona’s residents.

As it turns out, there are hundreds of Danes throughout the country living full-time in their caravans—enough to provide Trailerpark Danmark with three seasons of programming thus far—but the Corona coverage prompted an outpouring of public support and generated enough donations for the campground’s owners to hire an attorney. And that, in turn, led to the discovery that Køge Municipality had been citing the wrong law in its eviction efforts and would have to restart the process from square one, allowing Corona’s full-timers to get through yet another winter. Now that the summer season is up and running, they can heave a sigh of relief until November.

Meanwhile, all this fuss about full-timers has gotten the politicians involved, with Parliament giving preliminary approval to a bill that would allow a two-year experiment in extended winter camping. Not willing to rush into anything too bold, however, the bill would limit extended stays to just 5% of sites already approved for winter camping—already a subset of all campsites—and which, as the Danish press has pointed out, would permit only a fraction of Corona’s campers to stay legally.

So the debate continues, and the American experience frequently has been cited as a cautionary note. “We think camping is a form of holiday and leisure and not a form of housing,” said Anne-Vibeke Isaksen, chair of the Dansk Camping Union. “There must be some very clear rules in this area, otherwise we’ll have trailer parks and American conditions and that is not something we want in the DCU.” Among the “challenges” full-timers pose, she offered, are ‘having all their belongings in one place,” creating a “look completely different to those who only arrive with their holiday and leisure gear.” Moreover, full-timers require “a high degree of rules and discipline.”

Corona’s owners, Michael and Susanne Farnø, reportedly have greeted the two-year experiment with mixed feelings, pointing out that the 5% threshold is “a tiny door that opens in a pinch” and won’t have any real significance for their property. The real problem, as Susanne Farnø pointed out, is that full-timing is the only option for some of their campers, either because it’s a lifestyle choice or because they have nowhere else to go. But at least, she added, “the politicians have opened their eyes to the problem and are open to looking at other forms of living.”

Final action on the two-year experiment is expected later this summer, but it may prove to be too little too late. If the Danes really want to learn from the American experience, they need to look at the fleets of RVs parked on U.S. city streets and realize that there are worse alternatives than trailer parks. And when that happens, it’s not just the tourist trade that gets turned off—it’s the local residents and taxpayers.

Lastly, on a dour closing note, it must be observed that the iconic mermaid was defaced within the past week by someone who painted her with a Russian flag. None of our cultural touchstones, it seems, can stay above contemporary economic and political strife. Not RVs, and not bronze statues.

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