Denmark offers some world-class fermented delights to travelers, but did you know that those suds once helped hinder Hitler’s conquest of Europe? In 1940, years before the D-Day invasion, Hitler was tightening his grip on Europe. Poland had fallen, and in April the German army swept north, invading Denmark and Norway. The Nazi war machine met little opposition from the Danes, whose king was forced to yield almost immediately. Soon Denmark was under occupation.
Danish institutions were not immediately dissolved under Nazi rule. For a while, the Danish king and parliamentary government remained, as puppets, subordinate to Hitler’s authority. By 1943, however, Danes began to grow restless as the Nazi noose tightened around their tiny country.
In what is now known as the “Danish Resistance,” courageous Danes surreptitiously committed acts of sabotage in Copenhagen and other places across the country. If they could not expel the Nazis from their borders, they were determined to cripple Hitler’s war efforts in Denmark. They acted covertly, knowing that their implication or capture meant certain death. They refused to shop in German-run stores, hid asylum seekers, and refused to work efficiently for the Germans. Outraged over some of their compatriots’ capitulation, resistance operatives wrote a “Ten Commandments” for Danes that included such rules as “You shall work slowly for the Germans,” “You shall delay all transport” and “You shall protect anyone being chased by the Germans.” The Danish Resistance operated underground through much of the war.
In August 1943, in response to the spate of fires, explosions, and general disorder, German authorities declared martial law in Denmark. The government resigned and King Christian was taken into custody. Denmark was cut off from the rest of Europe and secret communication with the Allies was undertaken at great risk.
The brave Danes soldiered on, however, and continued to resist their forced labor wherever they could. They set fire to a large textile shop that made German uniforms. Trains were derailed. Factories converted to produce U-boat parts were sabotaged.
Where does beer come into all this? Well, word of the Resistance soon escaped Denmark’s sealed borders to nations around the world. Through Danish sources in London, news spread as far as Australia, where newspapers printed a story of monumental sabotage. “Wherever Germans go, beer goes,” the Army News in Darwin reported on November 19, 1943. That month a large contingent of German troops gathered at a large exhibition hall called the Forum, just outside of Copenhagen’s city center. Nazis seized public buildings wherever they went, and this gathering of troops was to occupy Copenhagen’s largest public hall, a space that held 16,000 people.
As Germans do, the troops ordered crate after crate of beer for their gathering, unaware that Danes had packed the crates with ticking time bombs. Before the occupying army had time to prost, the bombs went off, blowing the roof off the Forum and reducing the building to rubble. Sources wrote that the explosion could be heard across the city. The Danish saboteurs were successful.
It would still be over a year before Denmark’s liberation from the Nazis, but this act of sabotage helped turn the tide in favor of the Resistance. Soon, workers began to strike, more acts of defiance followed, and the occupying forces began to lose their grip on Denmark.
It’s well known that wherever Germans go, beer goes, but in 1943, this was Germany’s undoing. So, the next time you crack open a Carlsberg, remember those brave Danes who used beer as a weapon in their fight for freedom.