Even newer Nørreport station?

In January 2015 we made one of our first urban beagling excursions, to the ‘new’ Nørreport station. Seven years later, it’s in line for a rethink.

CPH’s answer to Clapham Junction, Ny Nørreport opened on time and on budget after a three-year refurb costing DK 400 million. The new station was very much talked up at the time, feted for creating one of the largest and longest public spaces in the city and (almost) opening up a busy intersection, hence integrating Nørreport with the pedestrianised part of the city centre.

The design was based around an analysis of the routes taken by the station’s users, likened to animal tracks or water flowing round rocks, with ‘deposits’ in the form of pavilions and bike stations. Instead of one single building the station is made up of six curved canopies, the largest the size of a small family house. Under two are service centres, including a staffed ticket office, a free! public toilet and two kiosks. The canopies are covered with stenurt (sedum), designed to absorb rainfall and work as insulation, as well as offerng a different appearance depending on the season.

From ground level things aren’t quite so lyrical. The station’s iconic red sign remains, but the six covered islands have largely taken the place of any form of street life around the station. The small stalls selling fruit and coffee, pølsevogner and exotica such as Tonis Lángos’ Hungarian potato bread which had taken up position in front of the station building over the years have moved on.

A further issue is the bike station solution. Modelled on flowerbeds and designed to recall the canopies, bike rack islands are located up to 50cm lower than the rest of the concourse, taking them out of the normal sightline; capacity is however limited, Even more dominant are the 11 ventilation shafts which zigzag across the concourse, lit from the inside, covered in glass and surrounded by hurrah! benches, finally installed in summer 2016.

The concourse may have been envisaged as airy and aesthetically pleasing, but the resulting public space is not really accessible or usable, hardly somewhere you would choose to linger. At the same time it lacks the identity and coherence of a place of transit–somewhere you pass through on the way to somewhere else.

Meanwhile, there have been no improvements to the travellng experience; below ground things remain as grim as ever, and the narrow, dimly lit platforms quickly become overcrowded, It’s hardly state of the art.

The likes of Monocle praise Copenhagen’s sleek lines and design-led approach to urbanism, only occasionally revealing the everyday reality beyond the city break or international ‘expat’ lifestyle. If you are looking for the essence of a city, with diversity and buzz, or simply for people who look different from you doing different things, you’d be better off heading elsewhere.

Incidentally, Beagles 1 & 2 were six and four at the beginning of 2015. Beagle nr 3, who will be two in June, has already earned considerable urban and suburban beagling credentials, while nr 4, at nearly four months, has already visited a small housing estate and inspected the source of a lost river.


Sources: Nørreport og Nørre Voldgades historie (tag; paywall). DAC. 2020 critique: Arkitekturforeningen, Danish Design Review.

See also Politiken’s 2015 review (paywall), which awarded five stars out of six, citing the station’s ‘organic qualities’ offering a range of repetitions and variations, entrances and exits, a station which can’t be viewed as a unity – or even as a single place. The canopies were found to be reminiscent of Arne Jacobsen’s petrol station at Skovshoved, creating a new high space over a bigger and more human concourse.

In Monocle’s Tall Story 300: Sights and sounds, Andrew Tuck “ponders what lessons old photographs of cities can teach us about our contemporary metropolises”. See foot for the perpetual motion of Nørreport in 1950, courtesy of KBH Billeder.

Timeline:

  • 1918: the station opens as Frederiksborggadestation, a stop on Boulevardbanen, the first service running through rather than simply into the city; built underground, the station was marked by two soup terrine-shaped pavilions at street level
  • 1932; new funkis station constructed
  • 1934: the S tog opens; 8 million passengers per year
  • 1937: 24 million passengers per year
  • 2002: the metro opens, with a dedicated entrance on Frederiksborggade
  • 2015: the new station serves 80K S tog passengers a day, plus 20K mainline and regional train passengers and 40K metro passengers, not to mention all the nearby buses

Vestegnens Kulturuge 2021: pet rocks and roll

After a couple of fallow years Vestegnens Kulturuge came good again in 2021 with the theme of Naturens steder – stedernes natur and a welcome focus on place and landscape.

The Danes’ relationship to nature tends to the anthropocentric, often with functional and utilitarian outcomes; this goes towards explaining the prevailing perception of Vestegnen as over-planned suburbia bisected by transport corridors and plagued by noise. In search of the authentic — and perhaps the unexpected — festival artist Camilla Berner discovered a more diverse picture, with nature in an ever-changing relationship with human development since the Ice Age. The infrastructure which dominates the landscape today is merely the most recent manifestation of this relationship.

Camilla’s art project, Flyttet Istid/Ice Age Relocated (vid), consisted of a sculpture in each of the five kommuner, supplemented by a kulturvandring (culture walk, often involving fællessang) and a lydvandring (sound walk; PodBean; vid) by Adda Djorup — all of this could have been made a tad more obvious in the festival publicity.

The sculptures took the form of large concrete rocks, resembling kæmpesten or vandreblokke (aka glacial erratics), situated in diverse spots in the landcape. Time for our fourth September roadtrip!

Albertslund’s rock lies in Egelundsparken in Store Vejleådal, a tunnel valley created during the Ice Age. Store Vejleå, the eponymous river/stream, can be spotted, as with Harrestrup Å a shadow of its former self, but the ‘nature end’ of Albertslund has much to offer.

The culture walk kicked off at the former state prison, followed by a 15 minute stroll to Egelundparken and a brace of artists’ talks. The sound walk follows the route to the sculpture from Roskildevej. During the festival the prison, now sold for redevelopment, also hosted Fængselsgourmet (FB): possibly the most Danish event ever, with fancy food and vibes.

Next up in geoglogical time, Høje-Taastrup. HT-the-kommune is massive (on Danish scale), and the rock is to be found in Hedehusene, a former industrial town (pop: 13K) near Roskilde, now reinventing itself as a residential hotspot for familien Danmark with the punnish new district of Nærheden. More precisely, the rock can be spotted beneath the viaduct over the overflow reservoir in Hedehusene Kulturpark, marking the area’s industrial heritage which exploited the sediment left by the retreat of the Ice Age.

The 4km culture walk (again) followed the same route as the sound walk, starting at Paul Gernes’ stone at Høje-Taastrup Gymnasium, taking in the memorial to resistance fighter Verner Emil Sørensen on the way to the park, seemingly bypassing the runestone at the church.

Onwards to Ishøj, where the rock can be found on the banks of Store Vejleå in a small wood, 2km north of the reclaimed land of Strandparken. The sea level here was once three metres higher than now, but today both the rock and the park feel well established. (Somewhat disappointingly, Ishøj’s etymology seems to stem from the Old Norsk word for yew, rather than from the Danish is (ice) + høj (high); although a local legend cites Isses høj as an option.)

As in Høje-Taastrup the culture walk and the sound walk followed the same route, wending its way from the library in Ishøj’s 1970s centre to the rock, before making a turn left towards Bredekærgård culture centre in the village of Tranegilde, crossing two major roads and the S tog line (twice) on the way.

The Vallensbæk rock can be found in Strandparken, sitting rather forlornly to the side of a small meadow just to the north of the marina, While still showing traces of its original 1970s landscaping (straight gravel paths and grass), the meadow, inaugurated (pics) as Vallensbæk’s culture walk, marks the final stretch of a climate change-friendly grønne strøg from the station, featuring a fakely winding path and designer lights,

Here the sound walk goes off piste, meandering along the paths between the low-roofed houses which characterise the første række along the full length of Strandparken and the water meadows which once formed the rather more malleable coastline.

Which brings us home to Hvidovre, at the urban end of suburbia. Beagle nr 3 and I first clocked the rock on 1 June, behind a fence awaiting its final touches. In a triangle of SLOAP next to Q8, where Friheden’s old chemist and a kro used to stand, it faces the roaring traffic of Gammel Køge Landevej and the graffiti on the S tog underpass, currently calling out capitalism, It’s a long way from the tunnel valley nearly 20 km to the northwest in Albertslund.

Both Hvidovre walks ignored this rather uncompromising location in favour of Kystagerparken, focusing on Strandøre, a disused dance pavilion from the 1930s, although the rock was inaugurated med manér with a vernissage attended by the mayor.

The Vestegnen rocks are for me the most successful of the festival’s pan-communal art projects. While Thomas Dambo’s giants have proved to be durable attractions, they could be anywhere (and are increasingly everywhere). The rocks have rather more layers, opening up the landscape around them and situating the man-made contours of Strandparken in a new context.

Rocks as placemaking? Random rocks are everywhere, once you start noticing them:

  • as street furniture, to mark an entrance, eg to parking or a pedestrianised area, or a boundary, eg Kystagerparken
  • as garden furniture, at the foot of your flagpole, or just lying in the drive
  • as a memorial, often to the 1920 Genforening or 1945 Befrielesensdag, eg at every town hall
  • or simply there in the landscape, eg Lodsparken

There was even further rock-related public art over the summer in the shape of Lea Guldditte Hestelund’s three sculptures for HUMMINGS in Køge, which “refer to the Danish tradition of using large natural stones from the sea as a roadblock or decoration in the public domain, a tradition that means that fish today lack breeding grounds”.

Also of note at this year’s festival was Unge Strunge tur/retur, theatre-on-the-move about Hvidovre’s very local ‘punk’ poet. Much more on this shortly. Posts on previous years: 2018; 2017; 2016.

Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? (Choruses from The Rock, 1934)

Historieporten: 50 places in Hvidovre and Brøndby

Update, 19 Aug: 10 klistermærker, pavement stickers, now to be found, five in each kommune

Historieporten, a new exhibition koncept from Forstadsmuseet, finally opened on 27 June (article; FB & again) in one of the gatehouses at Avedøre Lejre. It’s Danish scale, consisting of a display of 50 postcards of points of interest (POIs) in Forstadtmuseet’s empire and not much else. The original plan was to open in February 2020 (FB); several postcards were presented via video or as FB posts during spring 2020 instead.

Concept: pick a postcard and take it with you to your chosen POI. Here you can read a short summary of what you are looking at and scan a QR code for more. This text can be found on Forstadmuseet’s website, accessible from thumbnails of all 50 postcards.

the Historieporten postcard display

the Historieporten postcard display

Drawbacks:

  • the postcards are quite big, not fitting in a standard pocket; worse: they are too big to be used as a bookmark
  • the photos are of variable quality
  • who scans QR codes anyway?
  • the website thumbnails can be sorted alphabetically or by age, but not by area, eg Avedøre, Brøndby Strand, Hvidovre
  • no keywording or owt
  • a map would be nice, also on the postcards themselves, as not all spots are easy to find, or offer much even if located; see esp Paradislejren

I’m familiar with most of the spots, but some are new to me, and some obvious POIs are strangely missing.

Example: De gamle Stuer

  • at Gammel Køge Landevej 599, opposite the airfield and just squeezing into Hvidovre, it seems; now a private house (ie there’s nothing to see)
  • text on the postcard: “At the beginning of the 20th century several small restaurants (dansk: traktørsted) could be found on Gammel Køge Landevej. One of these became known for its decoration, omelettes and homely atmosphere. Guests ranged from ordinary soldiers to royalty.”
  • text on the website: lengthy (not least because it is repeated) and not written in web style, ie poor readibility; surely too long to be mobile-friendly; no link back to Historieporten and hence does not appear to have been written specifically for this purpose
  • of note:
    • De gamle Stuer (“The Old Parlours”) opened in 1915 as Strandholm Bad; a 1950 postcard shows the later name; closed in 1970
    • offered access to the sea via a 400m long wooden pier and a homespun museum, expanded to 10K objects by the new owners after 1950
    • the omelette recipe appeared in a German cookbook in ?, with a picture
  • more: vid; more & again, latest; pics: 1949, 2018

Verdict: 3/5; acceptable rehash of existing material; several of the spots are rather underwhelming

De gamle Stuer

De gamle Stuer

Note: Forstadmuseet, the museum of the suburbs, covers Hvidovre and Brøndby kommuner, two suburban districts to the southwest of Copenhagen

Milestones on Gammel Køge Landevej

Around 18 months ago I spotted a milestone on Gammel Køge Landevej, outside a car showroom on the side of the road leaving town. Unusually, it appears to mark the distance from somewhere, in this case Copenhagen’s town hall, rather than the distance to somewhere. Who would need to know this? A similar stone two kilometres further down the road, behind a screen shielding some houses from traffic noise, marks 9 km.

7 km – from CPH town hall?

And if Gammel Køge Landevej is the old road from Copenhagen to Køge, why do the milestones look so modern? The answer lies in the fact that today’s Køgevej is not the only road with a claim to that title; the first road from CPH to Køge ran north from here, but few traces remain. Today’s GKL was in use from 1720, following the building of a bridge over Harrestrup Å at Flaskekroen (now Åmarken), until around 1786, when it was superseded by an inland route via Roskilde and Taastrup, over terrain less prone to flooding.

By the late 19th century the coastal route was not much more than a footpath, but times changed after WW1, with the growth of motor traffic. The coast road was upgraded to a modern concrete paved road from the late 1920s, completed in 1935, and heavily used by residents of inner city Copenhagen, who followed the road from Valby to Køge by rutebil/omnibus or bicycle during the summer holidays for a day at the seaside. The landscape changed again with the building of the Køge Bugt Motorvej, which reached GKL in 1980.

The history of Copenhagen’s milestones is just as tortuous. The main roads out of the city were marked with the distance to the closest market town, with some of the oldest set up at the end of the 17th century under the guidance of astromer Ole Rømer. Further milestones were erected with the development of the road network during the 18th century, usually with the king’s monogram, or with a postman’s horn.

Denmark adopted the kilometre in 1907. To mark the occasion the splendidly named Foreningen til Hovedstadens Forskønnelse opened a competition for the design of a kilometre stone in 1910. The competition was won by no less than PV Jensen-Klint, the architect of Grundtvigs Kirke, probably Denmark’s best (only?) brick Expressionist building. Which explains the simple, but classic, design of our GKL ‘milestones’.

Thanks to Slots- og Kulturstyrelsen on Facebook for the info! For much more about the introduction of the kilometre stone see Dansk Vejhistorisk Selskab.

Revisiting the Faroes

Small islands have often inspired dreams of total knowledge in those who love them…familiarity with a place leads not to absolute knowledge but only ever to further enquiry. (Robert Macfarlane, The Old Ways)

My partner and I spent five days on the Faroes in early June 2014. I delved deeper over the course of that summer, reading everything I could get my hands on, setting up a short-lived blog and compiling one of my first a-z’s. What has particularly stayed with me was how different the islands were from Denmark, and, conversely, how similar to Scotland.

I’ve just read the latest addition to the slim Faroes literary canon in English, Tim Ecott’s The land of maybe: a Faroe Islands year (Amazon; excerpt). I did wonder if this was a example of Nordic bandwagon-jumping, but Tim has been battling the elements on the Faroes for over a decade, a complement to his earlier tropical island-hopping. His focus is “the relationship the islanders have with nature” (source), so somewhat different from my concerns, which centre around place, culture and identity.

Opening with killing a gannet to prove his worth to the locals isn’t a great start for me, and as the book progresses there is much more in this vein. While Ecott highlights the role of the islands as a Celtic outpost, finding connections with his own childhood in Ireland, the bulk of the book describes at length life on the smaller islands, where “many of the old ways remain, and they go beyond some kind of quaint folk museum exhibit”. These old ways seem mostly to concern men hunting; women appear only marginally, running cafes or as a hunter’s wife. There are extended passages of landscape description, especially in the Ravens section between the chapters.

As the book goes on the focus seems to narrow, epitomised by the chapter on the Grindadráp (pilot whale drive), which Ecott finds more troubling than the other forms of hunting he describes. It’s a one-sided look at the Faroes, omitting the rather more familiar and mundane lives of the majority of the population who live in or around Torshavn and Klaksvik, or in the more dense urban areas on Streymoy and Eysturoy.

FWIW, I noted at the time that while bird hunting is still going on – 25K puffins on Mykines each year, several hundred fulmars, 600 gannets…it is now mainly a leisure pursuit, with most sold to restaurants to bring in cash. Stuffed puffin is served as a delicacy in Torshavn, for that authentic edge, while the locals prefer burgers,

There is exoticisation, as reflected in the readers’ comments on Amazon, but the extended passage on the painter Mikines at the start and the stories retold of those lost at sea throughout lead me to suspect Ecott has more to say. For a more rounded take on a ‘remote’ Nordic society see Sarah Moss’s Names for the sea (Amazon). Updates: Ecott’s eight things in the Gdn; Faroes PM pledges dolphin hunt review amid outcry at carnage.

Below are some short (to longer) pieces inspired by the Faroes which I wrote in 2014. I also have 200+ photos, a glossary of geographical terms used in place names, an a-z (from alcohol to wood) and timeline, plus two lenghty sets of notes (on topography and places, and on tourism, language and arts). All can be made public.


Celts vs Vikings

Once upon a time there were Smyril ferries between the Faroes and Scrabster on the north coast of Scotland, as well as Lerwick – the latter stopped running as recently as 2008, citing lack of demand. Now the only ferry to the Faroes sails out of Hirtshals on Jutland.

Orkney and Shetland were under Norwegian rule until 1472 and hence have Scandinavian heritage, forming a nice contrast with the Faroes, originally settled by Celts. Orkney is about as British as the Faroes are Danish, which is to say, not much. It lacks the Faroes’ pricey bridge/tunnel infrastructure, but has hobby farmers.


The Shipping Forecast

Ask any dedicated BBC Radio 4 listener where they first came across the Faroes and many will mention the Shipping Forecast, a radio broadcast of weather reports from around the coast of Britain, transmitted for the first time in 1867 (story). The Faroes features, between Fair Isle and South East Iceland.

Aimed at those at sea, its sonorous tones take on a hypnotic quality, particularly for insomniacs catching the broadcast at 00:48, just after Sailing By, another quintessentially Radio 4 moment, and just before R4 switches over to the World Service. Its strict format is part of the charm, leading to a number of popular tributes (The People’s Shipping Forecast | Simon Holliday’s Shipping ForecastUKIP Shipping Forecast | as an emotionally powerful imaginary space | Attention all shipping & revisited). 2022 update: shipping forecast will outlast Radio 4 long wave.


Iconic confectionery

I knew to look out for Dairy Milk on the Faroes, a legacy from the British occupation during WW2, and sure enough there it was taking pride of place next to the wine gums and liquorice allsorts in the duty free shop coming off the plane.

Next up, creme eggs! Three for DK 25 in a supermarket in Klaksvík, not bad, all things considered.

But taking the biscuit were the Tunnock’s teacakes, DK 5.95 each (60p!) in Viðareiði, the Faroes’ most northerly settlement. We had to have one – quite possibly my first.

Just how iconic the teacake is became clear during the opening ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games:

Since then I’ve had to try to keep my mind of other delights such as caramel wafers, snowballs and McCowan’s Highland Toffee.  No wonder Scots have terrible teeth.

Great job by Tunnock’s!


Scottish neighbours

As with Danish a number of Faroese words look familiar to Scots speakers, and the language is also inflected by its Celtic connections. Not having the gift of the Gaelic I can’t take this much further, but compare Norwegian Fugløy, “fowl island”, and Gaelic Fughlaigh. The Shetland island of Foula (pop: 38) is the closest inhabited land to the Faroes. a mere 284km to the southeast.

The closest land to the Faroes is North Rona, 71km northeast of the Butt of Lewis and 75km northwest of Cape Wrath, 257km south(ish) of Akraberg, the most southerly point on the Faroes. That route could make a nice cruise.

Further afield, mainland Scotland is around 300km to the southeast of the Faroes, with Iceland around 430km to the northwest. Norway comes in at 600km to the east, while Copenhagen is a distant 1300km away.

In The Old Ways Robert Macfarlane paints a picture of pre-modern sea ways, when the boat was the fastest means of long distance travel and the western roads of the Atlantic led from Norway to Scotland and Ireland. With the right tides and winds Viking longboats would have sailed from the Outer Hebrides to the Faroes in two to three days.

The name Rona may come from hraun-øy (Old Norse for rough or rocky island) or a combination of ròn and øy (Gaelic and Old Norse for ‘seal’ and ‘island’ respectively). Or it may be named for Saint Ronan of Iona, who first settled the island in the 8th century.

In Faroese style farmers from Lewis still graze sheep on North Rona and sail out to nearby Sula Sgeir to catch young birds at the end of August. In a striking parallel, the Sula Sgeir gannet hunt must apply for an annual licence to be allowed to continue, and while officially sustainable has been criticised by animal welfare groups. (More: First catch your gannet | Cliffhanger for a bloody tradition | The guga hunters of Ness.)

Once able to support 30 people, North Rona was finally abandoned in 1844 and is today was until April 2021 owned by Scottish Natural Heritage, with important seal and seabird colonies. St Ronan’s Church remains, plus an unmanned light beacon to warn oil tankers. Read Kathleen Jamie’s Island at the edge of the world, plus her essay in Sightlines.

Macfarlane’s descriptions sound quintessentially Faroese:

[Sula Sgeir’s] form is geological brutalist. It is a jaggy black peak of gneiss, the topmost summit of a submarine mountain…the sea has bored clean through the southern part of the island to form a series of caves and tunnels.

[North Rona] a tilted slab of green pasture which has been inhabited on and off for thousands of years by saints, farmers, shepherds and naturalists…green fertile Rona, black hostile Sula Sgeir, the Pasture and the Rock.


Time, space, scale

If ever you need a reminder that all things are relative, consider the Faroese. For them, moving to Copenhagen means moving to the big city.

The British called the Faroes The land of maybe, as whenever they asked the Faroese about something the answer was often “maybe” (kanska). They have developed a relaxed attitude towards time, due in part to the unpredictable and ever-changing nature of the weather. For visitors this translates into a luxurious feeling of slowness, away from the restlessness and hectic tempo of daily life. The soul ages at a lesser pace…

This peace of mind may be valued as a quality and welcome part of life, but by same token services in villages are contracting, with shops closing and post offices all but vanished – that’s what brings the slowness. Facilities such as cafes and hotels are few to non-existent on the smaller islands. At the same time the distance to the Faroes is contracting, as transport alternatives are reduced to air.

We may have only spent five days on the Faroes, but looking back it felt longer. Having hired a car we were able to cover a lot of ground, racking up the miles particularly on Eysturoy. The heavily-subsidised roads were in excellent shape, with a network of tunnels and bridges making it pretty easy to get around, although we had a couple of misty moments on the road.

Two years ago we spent a similar period of time on Orkney. What we saw was limited by the fact that we used public transport; we seemed to spend an excess of time at Kirkwall bus station, although we did make it to Hoy.

Just how dependent are the Faroese are on their cars? We did spot a couple of buses, but without your own transport you’d be pretty stuck, which you may well also be in the winter, when the hours of daylight are few. Driving on the Faroes, despite parking woes in Torshavn, has an extra frisson, turning every journey into a potential road movie. While you aren’t going to turn the corner and see the Grand Canyon, it’s often breathtaking.

Petrol was noticeably cheaper than in Denmark, where car driving is increasingly frowned upon, and ownership is no longer aspirational, at least in the Copenhagen bubble. What is not often questioned is how this affects mobility, including people’s knowledge of other areas and all that goes with it. Without a car my viewpoint on Denmark would be much narrower.

I often reflect on an scene from Polanski’s Tess, where an outing in a horse-powered haycart to a festival in the next village is a major life event. This was also the situation on the Faroes until relatively recently, where one woman had never left her own village, and people may never have been to the farthest reaches of their small archipelago.

This is all very well for the likes of Guy Debord, who mapped the triangle of Paris he spent most of his life in, but for those of us who enjoy the journey as much as the getting there it feels a bit restrictive.

On the other hand I have a regular beat I make with my two beagles during the week. which chimes in with Thoreau (source):

There is in fact a sort of harmony discoverable between the capabilities of the landscape within a circle of ten miles’ radius, or the limits of an afternoon walk, and the three-score-years and ten of human life. It will never become quite familiar to you.

Rigsbjergkvarter 1: Stadsrenden

Updates: Stadsrenden west of Hvidovrevej: Jan 2022: the Ege Alle oak tree case is ongoing; Mar 2022: 14 day prison sentences handed down, surely The End

With spring in the air Beagle nr 3 and I are extending the range of our five walks, revisiting streets I’ve not been to for years and venturing to new places. At nearly nine months Lubo is well up for a long walk, especially as our basic routes become familiar. A typical hound, he finds it hard to settle without a lot of stimulation, but after a solid beagling session he is able to sleep soundly in the afternoon. Frankly, we’re all worn out.

Continuing our lost rivers theme we’ve started looking for traces of local watercourses which have come in and out of the landscape.

The path follows a stream, although technically it’s only a drain and a fairly runty one at that. (source: DG)

That’s pretty much what we’re working with here.

The centre and west of the kommune was once home to Stadsrenden, a drainage channel dug during the 19th century, extending through the fields and meadows south through what is now Bredalsparken to the sea and north as far as Brøndbyøster. When groundwater levels fell in the late 1970s the drainage function was confined to pipes running under Sønderkær and Arnold Nielsens Boulevard (see 1962 map).

Left behind was an empty ditch, gradually filled in along most of its length. West of Hvidovrevej one physical trace remains on the spur which ran north, but memories are still fresh for those who grew up on the nearby housing estate. A video from 1976 shows the stream as it once was, at the heart of Hvidovre’s own Sherwood Forest. Now only a redundant footbridge (again) remains amid the tidy deserted lawns, with children coralled into play areas and dogs and outsiders striclty not allowed.

Stadsrenden at Spurvehøjvej

East of Hvidovrevej Stadsrenden ran through Risbjergkvarter, an area of detached houses, before feeding into Harrestrup Å. The ditch runs behind the short terrace at Sønderkær 47-55 (see 1988 pic), if the ample greenery which can be spotted from Poppel Alle counts as evidence, backing onto a back garden on Ege Alle. A smidgeon can also be glimpsed running between Birke Alle 17-19 through Sydkærsvej (at 81/83 & 84/86; 1989 pic) into the park.

The houses in this area offer particularly fine examples of changing fashions in private housebuilding during the 20th century and beyond. With Beagles 1 & 2 I tracked down many of the listed houses from the council’s list; how much protection this offers it is hard to say, as several have now been demolished and a new, slimmer list published; another sign of the ever-changing landscape.

Stadsrenden ran through four broad streets batch-named after trees. In the dendrologic equivalent of nominative determinism Ege Alle does house some oaks, the existence of which caused a storm in the local paper during the autumn. Residents of the cul-de-sac backing onto Stadsrenden lined the street with trees around 20 years ago, but the council seems only to have spotted this recently, and cut three of them down; both these actions were agin the local plan or otherwise illegal. In a rare green turn the council is to replant the oaks, at a cost of DK 220K (there is more, but that’s the gist of it).

oaks – and missing oaks – on Ege Alle (photo: Hvidovre Avis)

The stolid murmester (master builder) villa at the junction of Ege Alle with Vestkærs Alle was built in 1934, and housed Købmand Aagaard, the Danish equivalent of the corner shop, for nearly 40 years. Once part of the local community’s lifeblood, most of these shops closed in the 1970s as the shopkeepers retired and supermarkets opened on Hvidovrevej.

These two houses on Elme Alle caught my eye, built at almost the same time but looking in different directions:

Birke Alle, closing in on the park, packs a punch, with six out of 29 houses listed. At nr 3 is Forgylder Henry Kibenichs havehus, a ‘garden’ house from 1934 set at the rear of the plot to yield a year-round supply of fruit and vegetables, while at nr 19 is Overpolitibetjent Axens moderne hus, a rare modernist gem from 1964 built for the local police sergeant. Sadly, today’s newbuilds tend to be rather less generous.

ultimate teardown (details redacted)

Looking for Harrestrup Å

In January and February my partner and I, accompanied by our eight month old beagle, walked the course of Harrestrup Å, a 20 km river which flows to the west of Copenhagen proper. Outputs from our 11 walks include a map, photos and Viewranger tracks, plus a lot of notes to be pulled together in some way.

The landscape to the west of Copenhagen has been transformed since the Second World War. Summerhouses dot much of the area, while the 1947 Fingerplan led to the rapid development of new towns-cum housing estates around former villages. Several motorways cut across the wetlands, with the river impassable at several points. Much of the urban stretch of the river has been confined to a narrow channel lined by paving stones, its course straightened and its waters heavily polluted by sewerage.

This makes it hard to form any kind of mental map of the river, or even to put together a route following it downstream from source to sea. Out of sight and out of mind to most, its most obvious traces are to be found in street names.

The past few years have seen sporadic attempts to bring some life back to the river, kickstarted by the imperatives of climate change. An over-arching project covers the entire 30 km regional river system, encompassing an 80 km2 area and involving 10 local councils, with a timescale of at least 20 years. When complete the region’s waterways will play a key role in rainwater drainage systems and flood risk management.

Copenhagen is going large on flood risk mitigation, which should see the river’s concrete jacket removed and a more natural course restored. Consultations are lengthy and ongoing, including on the stretch of the river which is part of our regular five walks, with several parks due to get a facelift in the form of new recreational options.

A very Danish story? Just as Harrestrup Å has its own local-scale version of the Deutsches Eck (where two streams meet) and the Danube Bend (suddenly plunging due south after gently flowing eastwards), there are cultural traces still to be found. And while Denmark’s relationship with both nature and walking could do with further exploration, the rewilding of rivers is becoming a commonplace, from Los Angeles to Denmark’s only substantial river, the Gudenå in Jutland.

How to make a start? At the source is tempting, for walking a river upstream is like reading a book backwards, but our weekly walk takes us to where the river meets the sea, so this is where we shall begin, taking a look in 500 words at a spot where there was once an inn and a toll house.

Note: How to define a river? Globally most fall at the larger end of the scale, involving substantial quantities of water. The usual English translation of å is stream. However, all things have their context, and in Denmark things tend to work to Danish scale.

Five walks: the last summerhouse

Cold snap over, partner about to return to work, so we are easing back into the five walks routine. Yesterday Lubo and I took a turn round Hvidovre’s Grækerkvarter, an area of detached houses on what was once the site of three farms. The land was bought by speculators after the First World War and gradually sold off in small plots to eager buyers from Copenhagen, many of whom built allotment houses (kolonihavehuse) or summerhouses on what was then open land.

Seemingly laid out by an idle planner with a protractor, the kvarter takes the form of a square cut through by two long and wide diagonal streets, foiled only by a curve at Bredegårds Alle, the path to one of the original farms. It’s surprisingly easy to lose your sense of direction. The streets, named after classical Greek heroes, are an excellent example of batch naming.

Grækerkvarter’s houses have gone through several iterations over the years, with the original houses giving way to small family homes in the immediate post-war years, and then to larger houses during the parcelhus boom of the 1960s and 1970s. When we first started exploring the area a handful of the first houses were just about hanging on, but the turnaround can be rapid – an old summerhouse on the corner of Nestor and Argos Alle was torn down in June 2015, and by November a large new house almost filling the plot had replaced it. By February 2016 the house had turned completely inwards, shielded from the road by a high fence.

Across the road on Nestors Alle stands what is probably the last of the original houses. Built in 1946, with no heating and only an outside toilet, a few years ago it looked reasonably well cared for, if vacant. After all, the location no longer provided the rural idyll it was built for – a railway line now runs behind the garden, and one house away a constant flow of traffic drones down Avedøre Havnevej.

Nestors Alle 49 in 2015

The 374 m2 plot is now for sale for DK 1.7 million (June: still for sale; Dec: ditto, now joined by nr 47 next door). Sneaking through the gate we explored the overgrown garden, where two basket chairs still stand between the council bins, and peered through the broken windows – two rooms are squeezed into the house’s 28 metres, one facing the summer sun and the other with a 1950s style kitchen and easy access to the loo. A classic kolonihavehus, then.

Can this small plot really support one of the 150 m2-plus off-the-shelf houses currently favoured in Copenhagen’s suburbs? It seems unlikely, but we will keep a eye on things. Whatever happens, a further component of Hvidovre’s historical fabric will have vanished, along with the vegetables once grown in the garden and the apple tree providing shade during the Danish summer.

Update, May 2022: sold! Sketchy details, but nr 47 went for DK 2.7m. The gate being open, we went for a look round the back, fnding a nicely laid out garden with a sheltered sunken terrace. A house surely with many stories to tell, by July it was coming down. Left on the post box outside,, perhaps found by the builders, was a postcard from Torshavn, postmarked 2017, preserved by farfar along with all the other family stories.

Below: Nestors Alle 49 today (pics via EDC):

Note: in Denmark simple constructions are permitted on allotments, as long as they are not used for residential purposes; the line between an allotment house and a summerhouse is, however, somewhat blurry.

Five walks: corona edition

A cold snap at the moment, meaning that we’ve been opting for car-facilitated jaunts rather than pounding the five walks pavements. So this week we’ll take a look through the walking lens at how Denmark has responded to lockdown.

Lockdown 1: March to May 2020

Initially, hordes of people in carefully socially distanced groups on the streets, plus far more people than the norm in parks. There was a notable change in behaviour – people were much more friendly than usual, meeting your eye and even smiling as they negotiated a two metre gap on the pavement. Normally Danes take no prisoners, barging on regardless.

Perhaps for this reason one-way routes (clockwise) were introduced in some of CPH’s green spaces (more); anticlockwise round Søndermarken for joggers.

For two weeks in early summer me and beags 1 & 2 participated in Deveron Projects’ Slow Marathon 2020, which took the form of Under one sky, led by Iman Tajik, a Glasgow-based Iranian artist. The aim was for a worldwide community of walkers to share their lockdown constitutionals to form a collective circumnavigation of the globe, crowned by a collage of 1500 photographs of the sky taken en route. 10 of our walks are listed here, with a brief comment designed at summing up the walk, and I also tracked the full 16 walks we did using Viewranger. In total we must have achieved one marathon.

I also lurked at Deveron Arts July reading group, where someone noted that British Covid choreographies include “people just going past, looking into the road or at their feet” when they spot someone coming towards them; as noted above this is the exact opposite of in DK, where perceptions of personal space and how it is used are rather different.

Lockdown 2: Dec 2020 and ongoing

A return to form now, although there do seem to be more people out and about than in a normal winter. It’s actually quite annoying, as sharing space issues constantly surface.

Maybe walking as more than a form of exercise requiring special equipment will catch on. On 25 January Danmark går sammen (FB), a month-long effort supported by early evening TV magazine Aftenshowet as part of the Bevæg dig for livet initiative was launched, with step counting, litter picking and selfie competitions. A welcome stress away from cycling, if, as ever, mechanistic and more about the hygge than place.

A handful of corona-themed walks spotted:

Last summer saw Wa(l)king Copenhagen, with 100 artists undertaking 100 walks over 100 days…each artist walked for 12 hours from their home, livestreaming every hour. From Metropolis, an initiative launched by Copenhagen International Theatre, this was largely sited in performance corner with every trope covered. The most interesting walks were those which took in less ‘mainstream’ locations, although the video-based format was not for me.

This summer will see the concept extended to Denmark at large, with Walking Landscapes, a 130-day programme (June-Oct) with walks in 12 mainly touristy areas.

wintry landscape

Five walks revisited

I once met a very, very old man in Suffolk who had gone beagling with Orwell, a rather specialized form of walking, admittedly. (source)

Back in March 2014 I blogged about the repertoire of five walks me and the beags did on weekdays, with the aim of documenting them in detail in due course. At that point the boys were six and four, well up for at least an hour and a half of beagling. Sadly, we recently lost them both, but our new puppy is now six months old and ready to extend himself a bit more. It’s time to revisit our five walks.

The initial forays were made with beagle nr 1 on his own. We soon discovered that far from being a bland and boring suburb Hvidovre had a variety, as well as some interesting quirks, once you take the trouble to look under the surface. We got to know our patch pretty well, although ground covered shrank somewhat with the arrival of beagle nr 2 – sniffing time seemed to double at least. Eventually our routes became so familiar that Osc could probably have taken himself for walks, and during the three months he was back as solo beagle he designed our walks.

It’s a joy to watch Lubo finding the nooks Oscar or Mylo liked to linger at, as well as discovering new spots. Finally a positive experience after all the tears, a reminder of the simple rewards of an everyday walk, flaneurie with a canine connoisseur.

To help me get back into the blogging habit rather than trying to document the five routes as a whole I’ll aim for a 500 word highlight per week, mirroring Lubo’s experiences. Here’s an overview of what’s out there:

  • Monday: Modernist Hvidovre, with social housing from the 1920s to the 1950s, including one of Denmark’s 10 best, a 1960s graveyard, an industrial zone and a town hall
  • Tuesday: Friheden, an area conceived by the council as its southern centre but today rather lacking in identity, despite much lost heritage, including two burial mounds and an historic pear tree
  • Wednesday: through Hvidovre’s ‘Greek quarter’, seemingly laid out by an idle planner with a protractor, and across the old communal border to Avedøre, dominated by the Corb-style Store Hus; see The last summerhouse
  • Thursday: Risbjergkvarter, the story of a Danish suburb from the turn of the last century to the present day, and Vigerslevpark, a 4km ribbon park following Harrestrup Å, Greater Copenhagen’s very own lost river; see Stadsrenden
  • Friday: Hvidovre is by the sea, of sorts, and once offered pilotage services into Copenhagen as well as an active bathing culture in the 1930s; today there is a bird reserve, a pocket-sized beach and a marina

Lubo at six months: those legs are made for walking