Day 1 Copenhagen. We are moving to New York in July, the madness is all consuming and trying to get everything in place resulted in us bursting at the seams with stress. A long weekend away from all the immediate complexities of a move overseas was a welcome break and I’d long wanted to visit Copenhagen…and look at some amazing original Danish chairs. We arrived at the airport, got a bus to the air b&b, tried to figure out how to put the fresh sheets on the remote controlled beds (believe me, it was a conundrum) and wandered out to the local Cafe Pixie where we sat over an early dinner and drinks, watching rain stream down the windows soaking the sheepskin blankets draped over the outdoor chairs. It wasn’t looking very Hygge. It was late in the day, we called it; headed back to chill out, negotiate the stairs up to our loft mezzanine bedroom and play with the remote controls which made the separate twin beds go up and down…top, middle and bottom, taking great amusement from doing it when the other least expected it. It’s the little things in life. The views from the back of the air b&b apartment were across a large communal area set out between neighbouring apartments; sandpits, folks sitting on benches chatting or reading a newspaper, one eye watching the kids playing. The next morning we ate breakfast on the narrow weathered wood strip balcony, basking in early morning sunshine, no sight of rain clouds.
Day 2. We wandered through our neighbourhood of Osterbro, through Kongens Nytorv, past the Det Kongelige teater on our way to the picturesque tourist hotspot Nyhavn. A gateway from the sea to the inner city, dug by Swedish prisoners of war in the 17th century, this pretty harbourside is popular with tourists who come to visit the cafes and bars and the address number 67 where Hans Christien Andersen lived for 18 years.
A spectacularly drunk young man clambered up the giant Memorial Anchor, balancing precariously whilst his equally inebriated friend took photos. We looked on laughing nervously…appreciating their youthful stupidity whilst embracing the wisdom of retrospect… and the boredom of A&E. The harbour, the further you walk along it, is lined with houseboats, much like the canals in London; hand painted, personalised, cluttered with potted plants, cast offs found in the canal. Creative, inventive, outsider art.
From the canal to Christiania or Freetown Christiania; an 84 acre commune established in a military area which was squatted in 1971. Home to approx 850 residents and infamous for its free spirit, artists and drugs. People will take different experiences from visiting here; many will be intimidated by the open drug pushing and the surly presence of posturing young men smoking cannabis glaring at the tourists. I was disappointed. I’d come to see a community of liberal artistic creativity, which whilst still partly evident has been overrun by dealers and cheap traders muscling in on its reputation flogging cheap t-shirts to tourists printed with outdated banal drug references. Some of the painted buildings were of interest but great street art has exploded worldwide since Christiania’s conception and its sell-by date has sadly passed. I feel sympathy for the original idea and for a community which feels like it has been hijacked by opportunists.
When leaving Freetown Christiania, look for the baroque Church of our Saviour with its black and gold 90 metre high spire and winding external staircase (which you can walk up if feeling energetic) which turns 4 times counterclockwise around the spire. It featured in an episode of the Netflix documentary series ‘Abstract’ in which Danish architect Bjarke Ingels climbs the staircase to the top to show views across Copenhagen whilst discussing his architectural influences. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vv07HmXDu-w It’s a series well worth checking out. From here we walked around the nearby classy area of Frederiksstaden; with the green copper domed roof of The Marble Church, a building project begun in 1794 but through various complications not resumed until the late 1800s and inaugurated in 1894. Close by is the beautiful Aleksander Nevsky Russian Orthodox Church built circa 1881/1883; from Wiki: “prompted by Princess Dagmar of Denmark’s marriage to Alexander Alexandrovich on 9 November 1866 and their later ascent to the Russian throne as Tsar Alexander III of Russia and Tsaritsa Maria Feodorovna. The church is dedicated to the Russian patron saint Alexander Nevsky. Three golden onion domes take their inspiration from Russian Muscovite architecture and beautifully elaborate red and grey brickwork pattern the building. The image below the domes but above the bells is an icon of Alexander Nevsky, the patron saint of the church.
The Design Museum is also a short walk away at Bredgade 68, 1260 København. It features works of famous Danish designers; Arne Jacobsen, Jacob Jensen, Kaare Klint etc. There’s an entrance fee but it is free to all under 26 years of age which seems like an odd age but caters towards students I imagine. The room of chairs was a highlight and really well displayed. You can find more info here: https://designmuseum.dk/en/besog-os/opening-hours-admission
Heading back to the air b&B we passed a park with a large pond and a black windmill on a rise and then on to the small but fascinating Garnisons cemetery in Osterbro, dating back to 1664. From Wiki: “In 1711 Copenhagen was struck by an outbreak of plague which killed an estimated 23,000 citizens. In a move to control disease, the authorities provided that all victims of the plague, within 24 hours and without a ceremony, had to be buried at Garnisons Cemetery or a Municipal Plague Cemetery which was set up next to it. From 1720 Garnisons Cemetery was officially opened to civilian burials.” We were fascinated by some of the simple stones especially those engraved with ‘Mor MorMor’ and Far Mor Far’. To us reading these inscriptions as english people they seemed amusing but we discovered that they referred to the maternal and paternal grandparents….MorMor being maternal grandmother and MorFar maternal grandfather. FarMor and FarFar are the paternal grandparents.
Day 3. I’d read up about an exhibition being held in the Cisterns in Sondermarken Park in the Frederiksberg area. Based at Søndermarken, Roskildevej 28, 2000 Frederiksberg, the cisterns are an old water reservoir which used to be filled with 16 million litres of drinking water, based underneath the park and now used for art exhibitions and events. It’s a cavernous space, rather like wandering through catacombs, dark and damp with drips of water still leaking through in areas. The artist installation was by Jeppe Hein called ‘In Is The Only Way Out’. There was a fabulous flame installation activated when you walked towards it, the flame flared louder and louder echoing from the walls and creating intense bright light. Suspended rotating mirrors reflected walls and floors creating a disorienting effect and a visitor activated sensor controlled the passage of a series of suspended balls which moved through the cisterns coming in to contact at intervals with Tibetan singing bowls, reverberating through the space as the ball made contact with the bowl. Wonderfully eccentric and quite mesmerising to watch. If you are in the city definitely look up The Cisterns to see if they are open (I think they close through winter months) and to see what exhibitions they have.
We walked from the park to the Carlsberg Brewery at Gamle Carlsberg Vej 11, 1799 København V. Whilst we chose not to go inside to tour the brewery, a wander through the streets was hugely rewarding. The huge carved stone elephants guarding the entrance are beautiful and there is a lot of interesting, inspiring architecture in this area. There are also many small cafes and restaurants close by and some small boutique style shops.
We ended our day in Vesterbro at the infamous Tivoli Gardens. It is said that Walt Disney visited here and was inspired to create his own great theme park. Whilst not on that huge American scale, Tivoli is charming and pretty much ticks the box for all ages that come here. From a pirate ship, to a beautiful fountain, landscaped gardens with wandering peacocks, creative installations, imaginative architecture and wonderfully nostalgic rides. There are many places to eat and drink and a wall of circus mirrors in which to poke fun at your partner’s huge head and tiny body. What’s not to like about an amusement park set in gorgeous gardens dating back to 1843 and featuring a bone rattling wooden roller coaster built in 1914 (it’s great fun, we went on it). There are also many modern rides that hurtle you through the air and spin upside down but I’m too chicken to go on those and risk losing my lunch.
Day 4. Grundtvig’s Church. For me the highlight of our trip to Copenhagen, absolutely stunning. The detail of the brickwork is Taken from the official website: “Grundtvigs Church was erected in commemoration of the great Danish priest, poet, and reformer N.F.S. Grundtvig (1783 – 1882). This monumental church is referred to in modern terms as a gothic cathedral. Master builder and architect Peder Vilhelm Jensen Klint (1853 – 1930) died before the church was finished. The task was entrusted to his son architect and designer Kaare Klint (1888-1954), who completed the building of the church in 1940. Kaare Klint has also designed the chairs for the Grundtvigs Church – a chair made of beech wood with wickerwork seat – a Danish furniture design classic. Despite its massive size, the church seems to exude an atmosphere of calm contentment. Perhaps it is the appeal of the regular yellow brickwork forming the sole decoration of the church.”
Legendary writer of children’s’ fairy tales Hans Christian Andersen is arguably one of Denmark’s most famous sons. ‘The Ugly Duckling’, The Little Match Girl’, The Red Shoes’ were some of my favourite stories as a child and I loved my illustrated book of ‘Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales’. We visited the Assistens Kirkegard Cemetry where he is buried in a beautiful spot with a simple headstone. Allegedly saying to a composer before his death, Andersen requested of the music for his funeral: “Most of the people who will walk after me will be children, so make the beat keep time with little steps.”
This blog post only skims the surface of Copenhagen and for us this trip was planned as a relaxing escape from our upcoming relocation move from London to the US, so we took it at a very leisurely pace, pretty much all of it walked other than a few metro rides and didn’t attempt to cram an entire city in to just 4 days like we usually try to. For a great resource on visiting Copenhagen let me point you to their official website visitcopenhagen.com which is a really useful site and also features a top thirty things to do in Copenhagen. Go when it’s warmer in spring or summer because it will be lively and far easier to walk around the city…and I know its puerile but who can resist the humour of a place named Middelfart marked on the Danish map on the apartment wall of our Air B&B.