5 destinations with a difference in Copenhagen

When somebody mentions Denmark, what comes to mind? Bacon? Borgen? Danish pastries? Or endless discussions on what constitutes hygge? In 2016, Copenhagen recorded 13,100 more bikes than cars in the city centre, and this combined with the excellent cafes to taste a pastry in, the world-class restaurants where you can nibble on a smørrebrød, makes it easy to fall in love with Copenhagen. There’s certainly nothing rotten in this state of Denmark, however I went to find out whether there’s more to Copenhagen than the Tivoli, the Little Mermaid, and the Michelin-starred Noma. I checked out the other side of the city on a weekend break to the Danish capital.

The Cisterns Art Gallery / Cisternerne

Lush, Baroque gardens surround the classy Renaissance Frederiksborg Palace, the Danish Versailles, where sun-drenched lawns are dotted with elegant statues. At one side of the park is a sprawling zoo and you can see right into the spacious elephant enclosure. However, across the road from the Frederiksborg Palace is a much more exciting attraction, for art lovers and culture vultures, in particular. The Cisterns is an old, abandoned, underground water reservoir that has been reconstructed to serve as a spacious and spooky exhibition space called Cisternerne (The Cisterns). The Copenhagen Waterworks company began excavation for the Cisterns in 1856 and it was completed three years later.

Cisternerne

To find this spooky gallery, cross over the busy main road that passes Frederiksborg Palace and look for a glass pyramid rising up out of the lawn of Sondermarken park. Visitors then descend into the chilly subterranean space that once held as much as 16 million litres of clean, drinking water. Lacking natural light, the eerie space is today illuminated by a line of candlelit chandeliers dripping with wax.

Cisternerne

On my visit, in Autumn 2016, I saw an exhibition by Eva Koch entitled “That Dream of Peace” which has as its theme the idea of survival and the belief that despite the world’s terrorism, war and destruction, there is always life and growth. The exhibition is extremely atmospheric in the semi-darkness of the labyrinths; poppy flowers bloom red and bright green leaves stand out against the black columns. White doves suddenly flutter up in the claustrophobic darkness. Koch trained as a sculptor and always brings the surroundings into her universe. Aside from the art, the Cisterns are the only example of a dripstone ‘cave’ in Denmark. The dripstones are formed from rainwater seeping from the concrete ceiling, which has dissolved the lime-rich minerals in the concrete and reacted with carbon dioxide in the underground air to create natural-looking, extremely fragile stalactites and stalagmites.

The Round Tower / Rundtårn

The Round Tower is a must-see in Copenhagen. The view from the top of the tower over the rooftops of Copenhagen in a 360-degree panorama is amazing. The notable feature of this relatively squat round tower is the spiral ramp, which winds round and round seven and a half times for 209m in a not particularly steep slope up to the top.

Round Tower

Legend says that the king had the ramp built out of cobblestones so that he could ride his horse all the way up to the top. It is indeed much easier to climb than many spiral staircases I have struggled up in my quest to see the view from the top of a church spire! The young lady in the ticket office told me, however, that this legend was not true, and the reason for the shallow sloping stone ramp was so that soldiers could take up supplies and ammunition. Also in the tower, in an adjoining chamber is the library, where there are often exhibitions, concerts and the annual flea market in January.

Round Tower

Hans Christian Andersen spent many hours in this library. His first fairytale The Tinderbox (1835) mentions a dog “with eyes as big as a tower” and scholars believe this refers to the Rundtårn, which was originally built as an observatory; literally an eye to the sky. Another little doorway leads off the ramp to the bell tower, a preserved attic-like room, which looks like a set from a creepy horror film as there is a rocking chair in the far corner, illuminated by a shaft of light from a dusty window.

The Round Tower was built in 1642 as part of the Trinitatis-complex, named after the Holy Trinity and designed to accommodate three things: The observatory at the top of the tower, the library on the floor above the Trinitatis Church and of course the church itself underneath. The astronomer Christian Longomontanus suggested that that the spiral ramp was constructed by King Christian IV, who suffered from terrible gout and found it hard to climb up steep steps.

In October 1716, Russian Tsar Peter the Great (1672-1725) rode up and down the Round Tower’s spiral ramp. It was obviously a popular thing to do, as Peter the Great was followed by his wife Tsarina Catherine II who rode to the top in a coach drawn by six horses.

At the top, visitors are rewarded for their climb with the most incredible view over central Copenhagen, stretching as far as the eye can see. There is a little cafe and souvenir shop at the top and plenty of room to move about and take the perfect holiday photos.

Assistens Cemetery / Assistens Kirkegård

Assistens Cemetery (Assistens Kirkegård) is the burial site for a large number of important figures in Denmark’s history as well as a peaceful, green park. It is located in the Nørrebro district, northwest of Copenhagen’s centre, and was inaugurated in 1760, originally as a burial ground for the poor, laid out to relieve the pressure on the crowded graveyards inside the walled city. In the first half of the 19th century, many leading figures of Denmark’s Golden Age were buried here. The most famous is probably Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875), who has a very modest gravestone. HC Andersen, as Danes call the legendary storyteller, is remembered all over the city, but this graveyard is the perfect place to walk on a sunny afternoon and think about his fairytales, such as The Ugly Duckling, Thumbelina, and – of courses – The Little Mermaid.

Assistens Cemetery

Nearby, across the Garden of Senses by the southeast gate entrance is another modest grave plot, that the philosopher Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (1813-1855) shares with members of his family. It was only on this visit that I made the linguistic connection: Kierkegaard is buried in the Kirkegård!

Assistens cemetery

The Tourist Office near the main railway station provides an excellent map to guide visitors around the greats of Danish cultural and scientific life. I found the grave of the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Niels Bohr (1885-1962) who made outstanding contributions to the understanding of quantum theory and atomic structure, while the Assistens also provides an everlasting resting place for some musicians born under different skies. In the neighbouring plot is the grave of the American tenor saxophonist Ben Webster, who settled in Copenhagen in the 1960s and lived here until his death in 1973.

Visitors can join one of the guided tours, held in both Danish and English, at this famous graveyard where more than 300,000 bodies are entombed.

Superkilen in Nørrebro

Superkilen is a new park, which opened in 2012 in Nørrebro, one of Copenhagen’s less-known districts, northwest of the centre. Designed by the arts group Superflex with the collaboration of the Bjarke Ingels Group, and a German landscape architecture firm, Topotek1, the project is part of an urban improvement plan coordinated by the City of Copenhagen with the plan to upgrade the Nørrebro neighbourhood and celebrate diversity. Superkilen is filled with objects from around the globe, and designed as a kind of world exhibition for locals and visitors, covering more than 60 nationalities, who have been able to contribute their own ideas and artefacts to the project.

Superkilen

Superkilen is made up of three main areas, a red square, a black market and a green park, and stretches for 750 metres along two sides of a cycle path. The red square is painted bright red, orange and pink and focuses on recreation and modern living. The black market at the centre is laid out like a classic square with a fountain where neighbours can meet, and adorned with grills for impromptu barbecues and palm trees from China. The green park is indeed totally green, with rolling hills, trees and plants, it’s perfect for picnics, sports and dog walking.

Superkilen

Many of the objects in the park have been specially imported or copied from foreign designs. They include litter bins from England, benches from Brazil, swings from Iraq, and a fountain from Morocco. There are neon signs from all over the world advertising everything from a Russian hotel to a Chinese beauty parlour. Even the manhole covers come from Zanzibar, Gdansk and Paris. In total, there are 108 plants and artefacts illustrating the ethnic diversity of the local population.

Nørrebrogade 210, 2200 København N, Denmark

Copenhagen Street Food on Paper Island / Papirøen

Papirøen occupies a large space on Christiansholm that was home to grey, industrial warehouses where the Danish Press Association stored its paper, hence the name ‘Paper Island’. Christiansholm is one of several artificial islands, which make up Holmen. The Danish Navy purchased the island in 1723, and for many years the island housed a shipyard. It now houses Copenhagen Street Food, with dozens of stalls selling a tasty diversity of cuisines from organic Danish to Korean to Mexican.

If you take a recommended boat tour around the canals and harbour, you can’t fail to spot Paper Island and its handful of creative buildings presenting a range of showrooms for art, performance and street food. The cavernous halls and the surrounding area is undergoing a transformation from industrial area to lively urban space with creative companies, artists and cafes all moving in. Some of the new island residents are Copenhagen Street Food, Danish rebel fashion wonderkid Henrik Vibskov and Experimentarium, a science centre with fascinating exhibitions. Copenhagen Street Food has taken over an entire hall, which is now filled with colourful and tasty food trucks with food from every corner of the world.

The island’s new residents have all taken out temporary rentals. The current contract runs until the end of 2017, and until then the plan is to take advantage of the island’s potential and see what works. Take advantage of a mild spring afternoon and enjoy tasty Mexican dishes outside in a harbour-side deckchair.

Comments (1)

  1. John says:

    Oh, I am so there. Though I have never been to Copenhagen I feel a real longing to go see it, especially as I am an avid cyclist. They have it sussed!

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