Denmark, ranked the happiest country in the world by a United Nations survey, has discovered Sacramento.
The red and white Danish flag now flies in the honorary Danish Consulate at 112 J St., at a hotel built in 1853 that once belonged to California's first millionaire, Sam Brannan.
Brannan, a newspaper editor and scoundrel, is credited with starting the California Gold Rush, said city historian Marcia Eyemann. Brannan brought Danish Mormons to Sacramento in 1847. After gold was discovered in January 1848, Danes struck it rich at Mormon Bar in Folsom, Eyemann said.
Now Denmark is cashing in on a new gold rush. Dozens of Danish businesses have staked claims in Northern California, an increasingly popular destination for sunshine-starved Danes, Honorary Consul Dorthe Wright said.
SAS, the Scandanavian airline, has announced a new direct route from San Francisco to Copenhagen in April.
"We are invading the state capital, so it makes sense," said Wright, a veteran Danish diplomat who has served at the Danish mission at the United Nations, in South Korea and in South Africa during the fall of apartheid.
To promote the growing cultural, economic and recreational links between the two nations, the Danish Consulate in San Francisco has moved east into a second-floor law office with a balcony overlooking Pioneer Park and the California State Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento. It will be open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., five days a week, starting on Jan. 2.
Sacramento will have the only Danish diplomatic outpost west of Chicago that is authorized to issue new passports with digital fingerprints to the nearly 30,000 Danish immigrants in the United States.
"We also have many tourists in the U.S., and some of them lose their passports or get themselves in trouble and have them stolen," said Vice Consul Mette Bertelsen Scott of the Danish Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Danes get free health care and education which the U.N. survey says accounts in part for their happiness and six weeks of vacation.
Many enjoy California winters, Wright said.
"People are now riding their bikes through a snowstorm in Copenhagen, where the sun rises at 9:30 a.m. and sets by about 3 p.m.," she said.
They often rent convertibles and hit Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Yosemite, the California coast, Napa and Sacramento, where hotels are cheaper than San Francisco, Wright said. "Sacramento's a fun place; it's a no-brainer."
With the start of direct flights, "Sacramento's coming closer to Copenhagen," said Christina Heinze-Johansson of VisitDenmark, the Danish tourist board.
The Danish government moved its honorary consulate here partly because rent is cheaper than in San Francisco, but mostly because Wright and fellow consular officers Laila Thau-Jensen and Sisse Nielsen followed their hearts to Sacramento. All three said they fell in love with American men working here and decided to set down roots.
"Here, men are gentlemen," Wright said.
She's married to attorney Edward Wright, an American who started the firm of Martensen Wright with Danish immigrant Finn Martensen in 1999. The firm has helped more than 280 Danish companies set up shop in the United States, including about 50 in Northern California, Wright said.
"Danish entrepreneurs in great numbers see the U.S. as the ultimate market for their products," she said.
A Danish firm in the same building, ChemoMetec, makes equipment that analyzes cells for medical research and wineries, Wright said.
In the first half of 2012, Danish imports to the United States jumped 25 percent, said Lin Hansen, head of the Danish Embassy's Commercial Department.
"It's primarily renewable energy, such as wind power, and pharmaceutical products including antidepressants."
An estimated 18,800 people of Danish ancestry live in the Sacramento region, according to the census.
The new office hopes to spread Danish influence to Sacramento. For example, Wright hopes to bring 28 Danish gymnasts to local schools before they perform at Memorial Auditorium on Jan. 12.