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. The views from the back of the air b&b apartment were across a communal area set between neighbouring apartments; sandpits, residents sitting on benches chatting or reading a newspaper, one eye watching the kids playing. The next morning we ate breakfast on our narrow weathered wood balcony, basking in early morning sunshine, no sight of rain clouds.
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. It’s a pretty harbourside 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. The further you walk along the harbourside you see more of the 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; whilst still partly evident it’s been overrun by dealers and traders 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.
We walked nearby to 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. We wandered around classy 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, dedicated to the Russian patron saint Alexander Nevsky. Three golden onion domes take their inspiration from Russian Muscovite architecture and elaborate red and grey brick pattern the building.
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 apartment we walked in to a park with a beautiful pond back-dropped by a black windmill. On to the small but fascinating Garnisons cemetery in Osterbro which dates to 1664. In 1711 Copenhagen suffered an outbreak of the plague killing circa 23,000 people. To control the disease, plague victims had to be buried within 24 hours at Garnisons Cemetery or a Municipal Plague Cemetery next to it. In 1720 Garnisons Cemetery 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 native English speakers they seemed amusing, but we discovered that they referred to the maternal and paternal grandparents. MorMor is the maternal grandmother and MorFar maternal grandfather. FarMor and FarFar are the paternal grandparents. A stone engraved with ‘Brane Fred’ remained amusing.
I’d read about an exhibition being held in the Cisterns in Sondermarken Park (Roskildevej 28) in the Frederiksberg area. The cisterns are an old water reservoir once filled with 16 million litres of drinking water based beneath the park and now used for art exhibitions and events. It’s a cavernous space, rather like wandering through catacombs, dark damp with drips of water leaking through. The artist installation was by Jeppe Hein called ‘In Is The Only Way Out’. A flame installation activated when you walked towards it, the flame flared louder and louder echoing from the walls creating an intense bright light. Suspended rotating mirrors reflected walls and floors to disorienting effect. A visitor activated sensor controlled the passage of a series of suspended balls rolling along an overhead track, contacting at intervals with Tibetan singing bowls resulting in a deep sonorous echo. Wonderfully eccentric and quite mesmerising.
Walking further to the Carlsberg Brewery at Gamle Carlsberg Vej 11, 1799 København V, we chose not to join a tour, but wandered through the streets instead. Huge carved stone elephants guard the entrance and there’s some very interesting old and contemporary architecture in the area. Cafe, restaurants and boutique style shops give a young hipster style vibe.
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 theme park. Whilst not on that huge American scale, Tivoli is charming and pretty much ticks the box for all ages. From a pirate ship, to a beautiful fountain, landscaped gardens with wandering peacocks, creative installations, imaginative architecture and wonderfully nostalgic rides. 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’s also modern rides to hurtle you through the air and spin upside down but I’m too chicken to go on those and risk losing my lunch.
Grundtvig’s Church, a highlight of our trip to Copenhagen, erected in commemoration of the Danish priest, poet, and reformer N.F.S. Grundtvig (1783 – 1882). Referred to in modern terms as a Gothic cathedral. Sadly, builder and architect Peder Vilhelm Jensen Klint (1853 – 1930) died before seeing his building completed. Kaare Klint (1888-1954), his son and an architect and designer, took over the project and the church was completed in 1940. Klint also designed the classic beechwood and wicker seated chairs for the church. Despite the huge size of the building, there is an atmosphere on entering it and gazing up at the stunning vaulted ceiling. Sole decoration is afforded by regular yellow brickwork which glows softly in the interior natural light.
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 childhood stories and I loved my illustrated book of ‘Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales’. We visited the Assistens Kirkegard Cemetery where he is buried 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.”
We merely skimmed the surface of Copenhagen, the trip was planned as an escape from our upcoming move to America; we took it at a leisurely pace, pretty much all of it walked other than a few metro rides. There was much more we could have done. Spring or summer are the best times to visit, livelier, nicer to walk around. Admittedly not my favourite European short break as we found the people to be a little cold and standoffish, which I’m aware is a sweeping statement but it was an experience shared by both of us; I’m very socialble and keen to meet people…I just found it tougher to get in to conversations here. It would be interesting to explore outside the city and discover more of Denmark, especially the countryside and villages.
visitcopenhagen.com is a great resource