As I round the corner the air raid sirens go off. The sound is terrible. Huge. It penetrates me like a pole run through my chest; it makes me choke. It bounces between the houses; it grows.
Every year, the first Wednesday in May, I take the day off. I go into the center of Copenhagen, preferably close to Kongens Nytorv (King's New Square), get a cup of coffee, and sit outside a café and listen. At noon the air raid sirens sound. The systems are tested every night to make sure the sirens are online, but only once a year the actual sound systems get checked. And that is the first Wednesday in May.
The intense howl rises and falls, rises and falls, bidding me to run and hide, crawl into shelter with my hands covering my ears, eyes closed. Cower.
This year I was running a little late, and I was only halfway to the café when it started. Right beside me was a school, and behind me a church. There was a siren on top of the school, and it went off just as the church bells started tolling. The effect was overwhelming. I almost lost a step, and, as always, I got a lump in my throat.
(It speaks of bombs and rain-soaked nights, and fear).
And it tells me to remember things I never knew. It is coming down like a blanket; rising like a dome over the city. The country.
The reason I do this every year is the same as the reason I try to always remember to look at the sky every night when I come home from work, and remind myself that my loved ones and I have made it through another day, alive and as happy as can be. The sirens remind me that my children live in a country without war, and that they have never known real hardship. They remind me how incredibly lucky I am.
At this precise moment this whole nation, as one, hears the same sound.
I look at the people going by. They don't seem to pay any heed to the horrible warning blaring overhead. One woman halted her steps briefly as the sirens went off, but now she is continuing her stroll, smiling into her phone. Nobody else.
I walk down the street towards my favourite coffee place, thoughtfully. The "All Clear" signal is intoned, picked up by siren after siren until it colours the sky lead.
There is nothing to fear here. Not any longer.
I need coffee.
The sirens never go off all at the same time, and the slight delay drags out the sound, until it seems to go on and on and on. In fact each burst lasts only nine seconds, repeated four times, and then a pause. The "All Clear" goes on for some 40 seconds. But the experience lasts for so much longer.