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Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, lies on a crucial maritime juncture linking the North and Baltic Seas. This location has defined Copenhagen’s history as a trading society – in fact, the name Copenhagen is derived from the Danish term for “merchant port.” Despite a large portion of Denmark being attached to northern Germany, Copenhagen, along with most of the Danish population, resides on the islands.

As the gateway port between the Atlantic Ocean and the Baltic region, Copenhagen has long been one of the economic and cultural bastions of Europe, with its influence dawning as early as the 11th century. Maritime trade from the Scandinavians, the Baltic peoples, and the Russians bound for the open ocean passed through Danish territory, and so Denmark’s fortune has been tied to the prosperity of the region.

Just as Denmark benefitted from times of trade, its strategic position also made it a coveted target by its more bellicose neighbors, despite its historic neutrality. Copenhagen suffered many invasions from the Germans, the British, and even the Swedes. As a result, Denmark fiercely protects its sovereignty and is one of the few EU members to opt out of the Eurozone and many other member provisions. That same concern for national control has led Denmark to be one of the United States’ stoutest allies in Europe; rather than seek a united Europe, the Danes prefer to put their hope in a distant power with an interest in preventing anyone from dominating the entire Continent.

For more on Denmark and the (d)evolution of Europe, see Chapter 11 of The Accidental Superpower.