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The couple who fell in love in a Danish dungeon

<i>Courtesy Dorte and Greg Morse</i><br/>Dorte and Greg with their children today.
Courtesy Dorte and Greg Morse
Dorte and Greg with their children today.

Francesca Street, CNN

Dorte Poulsen was sunbathing in her parents’ backyard in her home in Copenhagen. It was 1983, and she was 19, just back from a gap year where she’d backpacked solo around South America and Israel.

Right then, she was enjoying doing nothing, but her sunny basking was interrupted by the phone ringing.

Dorte reluctantly hauled herself off the ground and answered the call. It was a guy she knew, Henrik — his sister was dating Dorte’s brother — he wasn’t a close friend, but they moved in the same circles.

“I’ve got these two Americans visiting me,” Henrik said. “They want to go sightseeing, do you want to join us?”

“Absolutely not,” said Dorte, definitively.

She told Henrik she just wanted to relax at home, but Henrik was persistent.

He explained they were planning to head to Kronborg Castle, one of Denmark’s most famous landmarks and the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Facing Sweden and looking out over the sea, it’s a spectacular site.

Dorte relented, she’d missed Danish castles during her year away, and it was a glorious sunny day. She agreed to come along.

An hour later, the doorbell rang and Dorte opened the door.

“My heart dropped,” she recalls now.

On Dorte’s parents’ doorstep, lingering behind Henrik and another American with a backpack, was Greg Morse, a 19-year-old college student who’d spent the summer exploring Europe by train.

“I was just in shock. This was the guy,” says Dorte.

Greg had ended up in Denmark almost by accident. The American friend he was traveling with — Mark — had a roundabout link to Copenhagen and vaguely knew Henrik, who’d offered the two students a free place to crash for a few days.

“We asked if he knew any good-looking Danes who might want to go sight-seeing with us,” recalls Greg today.

That’s how Greg had ended up on Dorte’s doorstep.

Greg recalls being equally blown away the first time he saw Dorte.

“We open the front door, and there’s Dorte with very wild blonde curly hair, polka dot turquoise pants and a cute shirt — and my jaw just dropped, just dropped,” he says.

After introductions, the group clambered into Henrik’s tiny Fiat. Dorte ended up in the back, next to Mark, so she couldn’t really chat to Greg, but she kept gazing at the back of his head.

“The whole time my heart is just beating like crazy,” she recalls. “He wore this cut-off tank top — it had a country on it, ‘Crete,’ and he was super tan and muscular.”

It was some 45 minutes later, when they arrived at the castle, that Greg and Dorte could finally speak alone.

“We were really kind of checking each other out and making eyes at each other,” says Greg.

The two of them broke away from Mark and Henrik, and headed down into the castle’s dungeons.

“In the basement, Greg takes off his sunglasses the first time, and I saw his eyes,” recalls Dorte.

“And that’s where we had our first kiss, in the dungeon,” says Greg.

“We’ve been together ever since,” says Dorte.

Three perfect days

Dorte and Greg passed the rest of the tour around the castle in a daze.

“It was pretty magical,” says Dorte. “We had so much to talk about, because we came from such different cultures, but he had also done this amazing trip, that was all over Europe. And I’ve been to a lot of those places. And so I think we just wanted to look at each other all the time, and talk.”

Greg only had three and a half days in Copenhagen before he was heading back to the US. He decided to spend every moment of them with Dorte.

The two made the most of the long Scandinavian evenings, going out dancing with Dorte’s friends until 5 a.m.

At Tivoli Gardens, the Copenhagen amusement park, Dorte introduced Greg to her parents.

“I learned later that her mother saw us walking away. And, said, ‘Arthur, I think you’ve lost your daughter,'” recalls Greg. “And he said, ‘Oh, no, no, no, summer lovers, summer lovers.'”

“My mum was like, ‘nope, this is it,'” recalls Dorte.

“I think my girlfriends and his friend, and my family members, they all realized this was very special, and they kind of let us be together — they could see that we’re something pretty special going on,” she adds.

Before long, the three incredible days had ended, and Greg and Dorte were saying an emotional goodbye at Copenhagen train station.

He was heading back to the United States. She had another year of high school. They didn’t know when they would see one another again.

Mark, Greg’s friend, had a camera with him. He’d been documenting the Europe trip, and now he snapped a photo of his friend saying goodbye to the Danish girl, as they stared into each other’s eyes, unaware of everyone else around them.

That night, there was a full moon. It felt symbolic. Greg promised Dorte that he’d call her every full moon until they were reunited.

“Of course, the days leading up to the full moon also look like a full moon,” says Greg today. “And that time of year in the summer, the sun never really sets […] so it was just this magical time when time stopped, but it kept going like it was just one long day.”

Waiting for the full moon

Back in the US, Greg went back to college in Oregon, and Dorte finished up her last year of school. They wrote letters and sent packages to each other.

Dorte recalls recording tapes, recounting stories about her life to Greg — a sort of pre-internet voice note.

And every full moon, she waited by the phone for his call.

“I’m pretty active, I’m always out doing things, and I’d go out with my friends dancing at night,” Dorte recalls.

But as soon as the full moon came around, her attention would be directed across the Atlantic.

“We would talk and it was just really special, something to really look forward to,” she says.

They’d hoped they might be able to meet that Christmas, but soon realized it wasn’t realistic. Instead, they planned that Dorte would visit the US the following summer, arriving in California on July 4, 1984.

Dorte went to Los Angeles, where Greg’s family lived, with her brother, his girlfriend and Henrik in tow. She was pleased to have an entourage — she’d never been to the US, and so much time had passed since she’d met Greg — she couldn’t help but be nervous.

“We’d spent three and a half days together, hadn’t seen each other for 11 months, and I’m going on this airplane to America for the first time to see this guy.”

But their airport reunion, says Dorte, was “absolutely perfect.”

They ran into one another’s arms, and then spent the rest of the summer exploring California together, watching the Olympics — which were taking place in LA that year — and spending time with Greg’s family.

Leaving, Dorte says, was “devastating.”

On the plane home, she couldn’t stop crying, listening to Billy Joel on her Walkman and trying to imagine how she’d cope without seeing Greg every day.

College sweethearts

Back home in Copenhagen, Dorte looked into applying for college in the US. She discovered she could apply for a scholarship at the University of Oregon, where Greg attended school, and she was accepted.

In the summer of 1985, Dorte started her American college experience. Suddenly, she was seeing Greg every day. Their months of separation and the full moon phone calls were in the past.

“There was a lot of cultural adjustment at the university, but in terms of living with Greg and going to school with him, and learning to cook together, and doing sports together, and bicycling and traveling — so natural, I couldn’t imagine it any other way,” says Dorte.

New friends assumed they’d crossed paths at college. When they explained that they’d fallen for one another in a Danish castle, no one could quite believe it.

The couple graduated together in 1988, hosting a big party for their friends and family from the US and Denmark, before embarking on a year backpacking the world together.

First they toured the US, then headed around Europe, before going to Thailand and India.

“We just went all over,” recalls Dorte. “We’re both scuba divers and we climbed hills and [went] trekking and just had an incredible time.”

They also supported one another through the more trying times that inevitably came with traveling together too — from getting sick, to almost missing flights.

“It was just such a great way to solidify our relationship,” says Dorte.

Back home

When the couple returned to the US in 1989, Dorte started studying again — she couldn’t remain in the US without a Visa.

Greg, meanwhile, was thinking about the future. That winter, he proposed to Dorte at Mount Hood Timberline Lodge, a ski resort in Oregon.

“It was just the two of us,” recalls Greg. “I got down on my knee and asked her if she would like to marry me, and she was very excited. So was I. I had some champagne hidden in the snow that I put up there earlier, and she said, ‘Yes.’ And we had a sip of champagne to celebrate a new chapter in our lives.”

The couple got married in 1990 in the state of Washington, at a hotel overlooking the Columbia Gorge, a spectacular site dividing Oregon and Washington.

During his wedding speech, Dorte’s dad joked there was only one thing he didn’t like about Greg — his American zip code.

A rediscovered photograph

The couple honeymooned in Hawaii, and then settled in the US. A few years later, they started thinking about children, although Dorte wasn’t sure at first.

“We’d been together 11 years and our life was so much fun, and kids kind of can change your life,” she says now.

But the couple decided to embark on this new adventure. In the summer of 1994, Dorte was pregnant and her parents had traveled from Denmark to be there for the birth.

Meanwhile, Mark — Greg’s friend he’d been backpacking with back in 1983 — was sorting through boxes of his old belongings in his mother’s house when he stumbled across the undeveloped photos from those three days in Copenhagen.

He rang Greg to tell him that he’d rediscovered the photo of Greg and Dorte saying goodbye to one another on August 20, 1983.

Greg couldn’t believe it.

“Those were really special photos,” he says.

Greg took the shot of the station farewell to a local artist he knew Dorte admired. He asked the artist to paint the photo in oil on canvas, planning to give Dorte the painting on the 11-year anniversary of the day they’d said goodbye — August 20, 1994.

“I surprised her with it,” recalls Greg.

They both cried when they saw the painting, a snapshot of one of the most important moments of their lives.

“We’re all emotional,” says Greg. “And within 15 to 20 minutes her water broke.”

Their first child was born on August 20.

“Our son was born on our anniversary, which is what we really celebrate more than our wedding anniversary,” says Greg. “Chance and luck and fate and all those things count for a lot more than setting a date and planning everything.”

A few years later, the couple welcomed a daughter, and the family relocated to Denmark for a couple years.

“Which was great, because Greg really got a feeling for my background, culture, my family,” says Dorte.

The Morses moved back to the US in 2000, and they had two more children in the early noughties.

Fast forward to 2021, and Dorte and Greg’s children are now grown up and have their own thirst for adventure. The couple say they’ve instilled their respective cultures — and love of travel — into their family.

“We created very international children, for sure, that are kind of all over the world, which we are proud of and, and happy about — of course, you’d rather have them all here, but they have wings, and they fly, and they’re doing great things,” says Dorte.

The family have also returned many times to Kronborg Castle, the site where it all began.

Growing up together

Now both in their 50s, Dorte and Greg reflect on how an instant attraction and a romantic moment in a Danish castle led to almost four decades of shared life.

“We have kind of grown up together, because we were both so young,” says Dorte. “We were both really well traveled, and we both come from families that really appreciate traveling and education and trying different things — and so in that sense, we were way more mature than maybe some other 19 year olds, but we were still very young.”

The painting of them saying goodbye at Copenhagen Station hangs in pride of place in their home and the full moon, meanwhile, still holds a symbolic place in their lives.

“I still go out and make a wish when I can see it,” says Dorte.

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