CPH 850: city identity at Golden Days

This year’s Golden Days festival (case), running from 2-17 September, took the 850th anniversary of Copenhagen’s notional founding by Bishop Absalon as its theme:

Byer skabes af mennesker, og ingen by har værdi uden sine borgere: Vi er alle skabere af byen. Det er kernebudskabet, når Golden Days Festivalen i 2017 fejrer 850-året for grundlæggelsen af København.

[Cities are created by people, and a city without its people has no worth. We all create the city. This is the message at the heart of Golden Days 2017, celebrating the 850th anniversary of the founding of Copenhagen.]

This truism demonstrates that it may be about CPH but really it’s all about Us. What is it with Danes and place? Or perhaps, what is it with Brits and place? Anyway, Copenhagen’s place-myth, the one everyone grew up with, dates back to Saxo Grammaticus, the Danish Geoffrey of Monmouth, who related how King Valdemar handed a small island over to his foster brother Absalon, Bishop of Roskilde. In 1167 Absalon built a castle on the island, today known as Slotsholmen in the heart of modern Copenhagen.

Archaeological finds date CPH as rather older than this, as pointed out by various sections of the press, but they’re sticking with it, needs must, playing with the myth med glimt i øjet and a fake news style eventFup og fusk! But in a country where supermarkets regularly celebrate spurious birthdays, it’s not really important.

Moving on, early publicity portrayed a fiendishly complicated festival, with 10 people to bear witness to the development of CPH’s cultural heritage around whom the whole shebang would revolve in a set of 10 spor (tracks, trails), with events, guided walks, maps, using “modern network theory” to reveal how the 10 individuals were connected with their contemporaries and with each other. Gosh.

The site design did seem to have had a bit of shine-up, greeting you with shots of the 10 and clips of Copenhagen, plus a blocky menu on the right. Events were keyworded with an appropriate individual, somewhat arbitrarily at times, and you could also browse by location (of the venue), category and day. On the added value content side there were short ‘essays’ and maps with spots for each of the 10, also to be found in this year’s free magazine.

Festival director Svante Lindeburg’s explanation of the curational strategy described a metro diagram, enabling you to see, for example, which of the 10 had connections to the Royal Theatre. This sounded fantastic, but in practice was let down by poor execution and a limited dataset.

Below I have overlaid the maps for near contemporaries Carl Jacobsen and Herman Bang, showing disappointingly no connections:

map overlaying spots for two of the 10

For starters, I’m peeved that the map can only be opened via the site, despite being made in Google Maps. I’d like to fiddle with it! Next, what are the connecting lines about – join the dots? Third, it’s not possible to browse by place. The squares/nodes merely present the text from each individual’s map.

Here’s what you get at the Royal Theatre if you overlay all ten maps and zoom in – there’s not a lot of network theory here:

the unnamed Royal Theatre appears on four maps

Who is Copenhagen?

What of the 10 themselves? Perhaps refreshingly, no Kierkegaard and no Hans Christian Andersen. Less happily we have Women: 2, and Immigrants: 0. That’s just lazy. It’s a shame no one was galvanised enough to come up with an alternative 10, although DR has offered up a five women of the 19th century without trying too hard.

the CPH 850 10: pick a person for events and an essay

The first woman of our 10 is hostess Kamma Rahbek (1775-1829), included largely as a peg for hanging salons on. A meta-salon at KU Bibliotek presented the 19th century salon as gammeldags networking and the equivalent of today’s bookshop readings, with åndrig samtale og et let traktement. Of several contemporary wannabees a Tove Ditvelsen salon at was held at Gentofte Hovedbibliotek; Danish sweetheart Tove lived in Gentofte from 1945-50 and would have been 100 this year, so there was cake…with her writing on growing up in Vesterbro before WW2 Tove might have been a better choice as the second woman of our 10, rather than folkelig inter-war entertainer Liva Weel. Sorry Liva.

A couple of events gave a nod to gender or explored the distaff side of the city – a literary evening in the form of Gin&Gender #9 and a walk from KulturenNu taking in the three statues of named women in the city (for the record: Caroline Amalie, queen consort to Christian VIII, in Kongens Have, women’s education advocate Natalie Zahle in Ørstedsparken and scientist Inge Lehmann, a newcomer on Vor Frue Plads).

A sole event was spotted on newcomers to the city, an Historisk morgen hosted by the National Museum in the Hamad Bin Khalifa Civilisation Center, looking at the effect of immigration (from Russian Jews, Swedish maids and Turkish guestworkers) on Nørrebro as place and its redevelopment as a diverse area in a multicultural society.

It would have nice to have made a passing attempt at presenting a rather more diverse selection of people to represent 850 years of the city’s history. Coupled with a lack of English or any other language other than the dansk throughout, there’s a clear message of who the festival is viewed as being for, and a clear picture of the city’s people-myth. Even going forward.

Where is Copenhagen?

Now then, when you say Copenhagen where (and what) exactly do you mean? The CPH urban area has a population of nearly 1.3 million and is made up of 18 councils, including Copenhagen itself on 606K. While not quite as extreme as Manchester (541K) and its urban area (over 2.5 million), you don’t have to travel far out of the city centre to hit another kommune, a fact that probably doesn’t feature on many mental maps of the city.

As in previous years a number of events were held to the administrative north (specifically in Gentofte, Gladsaxe, Lyngby-Taarbæk and Rudersdal), dressed up as Flugten fra København (the flight from Copenhagen) and limiting the relationship of city and suburb across place and time to a clutch of royal hunting lodges (C4), salon venues (KR) and post-WW2 housing developments (EW). Just don’t call it Copenhagen.

The Frederiksberg-shaped hole in the middle of the city, created in 1901 when CPH swallowed up Valby, Vigerslev and Brønshøj, was neatly filled by an exploration of the kommune‘s continued independence via walks on its eastern and western borders, noticeboards at strategic points and a podcast series. The difference does go beyond street furniture and parking regulations – it’s Danish scale in action.

Other than that CPH 850 meant the city centre and the inner parts of the ‘bros; few events extended further than your average city-breaker, ignoring the city’s own outer areas never mind its post-war suburbs and sprawlYet as cultural historian Ann-Sofie Gremaud of the Denmark and the new North Atlantic project pointed out, Copenhagen exists in many other places, in music, literature and film, and not least in all the people who have lived there or had a direct connection to its growth. Some of this Copenhagen was celebrated in an event at Nordatlantens Brygge, while KulturenNu led a walk on the city and Dansk Vestindien, now the American Virgin Islands, sold to the USA 100 years ago.

Some CPH 850 takeaways

  • Zoom København – the book version, by the prolific Martin Zerlang (who also did a turn retelling the whole tale in 85 minutes)
  • Københavnerkanon – they love the canonic in Denmark, and CPH is no exception; a panel came up with a top 20 based on 300-odd Facebook and Instagram submissions, subjected to a vote and whittled down to a top 10 revealed on 2 September
  • Copenhagen on film – series of films and talks marking the publication of a mursten entitled Filmens København (Gyldendal; Politiken)
  • Copenhagen in literature:
    • 10 forfattere. 1o perioder. 10 oplaesninger. – 10 authors gave readings from their own back catalogue and from one of the 10 historical periods
    • Litterær københavnercabaret (FB) – readings and songs in Literaturhaus
    • a literary drunks’ map of CPH (FB), one of three maps on offer _in_ CPH libraries (and which typically haven’t seen the digital light of day)

Any walks of interest? In Brønshøj, Oline Brønd, following in the footsteps of her grandfather Evald who has led more than 180 guided walks in CPH, traced the suburb’s identity from Absalon’s Brønshøj Kirke, founded in the 1180s, via the first school in the area, now Kulturhuset Pilegården, to Ib Lunding’s iconic 1928 water tower, soon to be converted into a venue for cultural events.

As well as the selection of tours from Kulturen.nu two rather unexpected delights looked at the city through a different lens: KLOAK, a sewer tour led by former Golden Days director Ulla Tofte, and a nine stop Science walk from Videnskabernes Selskab.

Overall though CPH 850 felt both of and for the creative class, offering an inward-looking, exclusive and rather one dimensional view of cultural heritage and identity, similar to that currently presented by DR’s Historien om Danmark. While I realise Golden Days is heavily dependent on sponsorship and the involvement of local cultural actors, it would be nice to see the festival taking more risks in terms of events and venues, and a more inclusive look at its potential audience – and perhaps presenting a more complex picture of Copenhagen reflecting all its people in the process.

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Vestegnens Kulturuge 2017: digital art, mindfulness and poetry

Vestegnens Kulturuge (FB; programmeprevious years) is usually almost exclusively family oriented, but this year it turned up some ‘high’ culture in the shape of a subset of events around 1980s poet Michael Strunge amidst the broader theme of PÅ ELEKTRISK GRUND (sic; FB).

Sadly though much of the week was a wash-out, grey and chilly with prolonged rain and some slushy hail to finish. Two events were cancelled: Mosensdag in Vallensbæk, due to the bog/marsh, which acts as a flood basin leading water away from nearby houses, being completely under water, and Copenhagen Art Run in Ishøj Strandpark, deemed unsafe due to the conditions.

Where last year there were giants, this year there was Tryllebundet (Spellbound), six exhibits in containers showing the latest in digital art, coordinated by Vallensbæk’s DIAS Kunsthal. As well as the works themselves DIAS put together a number of accompanying activities and a Google Map of the area’s public art – now that is handy!

Forstadsmuseet had a Hvidovre-based game (with notebook and pencil; update: got my hands on this analogue artefact, developed in conjunction with Play Agency – looks very impressive), plus re-runs of some of its walks, while Rødovre opened up its bunker, a kommunale kommandocentral under Arne Jacobsen’s library, who knew, as part of its Cold War project.

Each of the six kommuner had its special day, largely unrelated to the overall theme, made up of events organised by local foreninger with the communal culture centre as venue. Hvidovre, perhaps making up for the lack of a shiny culture centre while we wait for the new bymidte, mounted two special days, pushing the boat out on the second Saturday of the ‘week’ in Hvidovre C with a range of events including a 12 hour mindfulness themed soveconcert (Sleep Concert), from GoSlow and sound artist Karsten Pflum. Gosh.

The previous Saturday was centred around Hvidovre town hall at the opposite end of the kommune. This included readings in Risbjerggård from personal fave Søren Ulrik Thomsen, a contemporary of Michael Strunge, and Caspar Eric, very much inspired by him.

Other Strunge related events included several riffs on the title of his 1984 collection Væbnet med vinger:

Michael Strunge (1958-86) was born in a clinic in Rødovre (venue of Denmark’s first punk gig by Sods in 1977) and grew up in Hvidovre, specifically in Berners Vænge, on the modernist Bredalsparken estate. He went to Sønderkærskolen (reminiscences) before attending Vestre Borgerdyd Gymnasium on Sjælør Boulevard in Valby.

Between 1978 and 1985 he published 11 collections of poetry, most of it written in a flat he shared with his girlfriend in Hvidovre. He died in 1986 at the age of 27, like his heroes Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison, jumping out of a window at Webersgade 17 in Østerbro (plaque), and is buried in Assistens Kirkegård.

A figurehead for his generation and usually dubbed a ‘punk’ poet, but we’re not really talking John Cooper Clarke here:

Søren Ulrik Thomsen was born in Kalundborg and spent most of his childhood in Stevns, but at the reading admitted to living on Arnold Nielsens Boulevard from the age of 2-6, in one of the red and white blocks at the Hvidovrevej end. He knew Strunge well, although was careful to stress that they were very different in personality.

Fondly known as Hvidovre’s tourist bureau, SUT cited the “rigtig smukt forstadsbyggeri” Berners Vænge in Politiken’s Riv byen ned series. A poem in his latest collection has the title I Hvidovre, på novemberdage (translation by Susanna Nied, p19), while a recent essay includes the indispensable quote:

og jeg ser for mig, Hvidovre for fyrre år siden, som med små selvbyggerhuse og lys og luft mellem boligblokkene vel både historisk og geografisk var “den første forstad”, med alt, hvad det indbefattede af søde drømme om en lille sort folkevogn og et tv-apparat og i det hele taget et bedre liv end det, der levedes f.eks. på Vesterbro, som Hvidovre må være udflytning af

[and I see before me the Hvidovre of forty years ago, which with its small self-built houses and open spaces between the tower blocks was probably the first suburb, both historically and geographically, with all that entails: sweet dreams of a little black Beetle and a television and all in all a better life than that lived for example in Vesterbro, which Hvidovre may be a relocation of]

Perhaps the suburbs still have an authenticity of time and place, less found in today’s Happy CPH. In København con amore (2006), the product of trips to the outer reaches of CPH with photographer Jokum Rohde, SUT presents photos of two very local spots, Hvidovrevejens Partyslagter at Hvidovrevej 277 (now Pangs Smørrebrød), while Lis’s Kaffebar at 340 C is now occupied by Hot & Cool and French Chicken. Things are changing, even in Hvidovre.

Back to Strunge with Vestegnens KulturCast, an enthusiastic effort from Vallensbæk Kultur- og Borgerhus, with two dedicated episodes plus full interviews with Anne Marie Mai and Jørgen Aabenhus. The second episode has readings from Asger Schnack in Taastrup Bibliotek and from school students in the 9th class in Vallensbæk. All well worth a listen.

In 1985 AMM and MS published Mai Strunge, a book of their conversations and letters. She followed this up in 2008 with an anthology, En bog om Michael Strunge, on what would have been his 50th birthday, co-edited with JA. In her interview she stated that MS was an ‘anarkistisk kameleon’, unconstrained by fashions/styles in poetry and uninterested in socially engaged poems with a message.

JA examined MS’s relationship with life in the suburbs, not least as reflected in his 1981 poem COMA, observing people waiting at a bus stop on Hvidovrevej. At that time Hvidovre was very homogeneous, middelmådig and småborgelig, a poster child for the velfærdssamfund – and a prime case for teenage rebellion. There’s a tension here with hygge, of which I’m guessing MS wasn’t a big fan, but as JA pointed out hygge is more likely to be found in the home than at a bus stop.

By way of contrast, when asked a brace of Vestegnen residents named the slower tempo of life, which you notice as soon as you get off said bus, vs too much traffic, too many people and the lack of greenery in the city, as the advantages of living in the suburbs today.

More Strunge? see Litteratursiden, which also has a recent feature on 1980s literature, and biographies by Knud Munck (2oo1) and Peter Rewers (2015). For more SUT, see People vs place in Copenhagen.

Bloom: celebrating the nature of nature

Festival Watch 2017 continues with Bloom (#bloomdk | FB), a new entrant from the Golden Days stable emerging from 2015’s Open Air Academy. It took place over the Kristihimmelfartsdag (Ascension Day) weekend at Søndermarken, one of two almost conjoined parks on the Frederiksberg/Valby border straddling Roskildevej, a stone’s throw from the ‘new’ district of Carlsberg.

Themed around nature and science, the festival positioned itself as a response to the post-factual era. Speakers came from backgrounds including biology and astrophysics, with more than a smattering of sessions slanted towards ‘lifestyle’. But it was all free, benefiting from lots of lovely sponsorship, taking place in the open air on a warm and rain free weekend.

Now then, I was grateful for a copy of the festival booklet from the library to leaf through, as the website was arty rather than usable. (I’m not the only one; comments on #some ranged from “I’m too old for this” to “how smuk“.) The situation was not much improved by offering the programme as a dense 54 page PDF. And despite the number of sessions in English there was no English version – OTOH there was a lot of English appropriation going on, with the now obligatory “talks og walks” and eight(!) stages with English names (I’m appropriating Wanderlust). Plus they went a bit over the top with schematics and classifications, different types of event and something called Bloom Balls. Let’s hope someone had full control of the big spreadsheet.

While the Danes’ relationship with trees is worth unpicking, Søndermarken is known for its sylvan lovelies, and a clutch of Bloom events went beyond saplings in bags. Saturday saw Perspektiv: træer, with four speakers exploring the videnskab (lit: science; here: what we know) behind trees. There were also three tankefrø (lit.: seed thoughts) exploring the cultural history of the oak, the beech and the lime.

Hans Christian Andersen called the oak “det største og ypperste træ i skoven”, a sentiment no doubt echoed by writer Jens Blendstrup, who together with artist Ole Lejbach completed a four year Ege-ekspeditioner (oak odyssey), resulting in an exhibition which toured the country in 2015 and is now available as a book. We also had a cabinetmaker and the founder of OAK – the Nordic Journal (“echoes of the Nordic way of life”) on the oak in Danish design, plus oak hors d’oeuvres from a food artist. Ah well. Here’s a picture of Klopstock’s Oak in Lyngby instead.

Klopstock’s Oak, where every July members of the Danish Klopstock Society meet for a reading

The beech is Denmark’s national tree, even featuring in the national anthem. Amongst Søndermarken’s beeches we find Ewald’s Beech, planted in memory of youthful Golden Age poet Johannes Ewald (1743-81), with a reed-covered parasol acting as shelter for a bench. Here though we had writer and boatbuilder Sigurd Buch Kristensen, a biologist and an architect, who posited the question of whether the Danish chair is an invasiv art. Plus beech snacks. In lime corner we had inter alia Neal Ashley Conrad on Proust and lime blossom tea dipping, and sessions from a landscape architect and an entomologist. You probably had to be there.

Lindehøjen, a group of limes on an artificial mound, site of Bloom’s Sound stage

Moving on, the walks n talks included lots of sciency stuff, with ant and bat walks for good measure, and three representatives from Denmark’s slim walking canon. Bakkehuset’s Gertrud With led off with Adam Oehlenschläger (1779-1850), author of the national anthem, who as son of the nearby palace’s steward had Søndermarken as almost his private playground. Famously, following a 16 hour walk with Norwegian philosopher Heinrich Steffens he composed Guldhornerne, a 1200 page epic poem, in one sitting.

Next up, RUC’s Dan Charly Christensen went for a walk with Oehlenschläger’s contemporary, the physicist Hans Christian Ørsted (1777-1851; of inter alia the eponymous park), who held Kantian beliefs about the unity of nature and the relationships between natural phenomena. Even more physics on the final walker’s walk, led by Henrik Bohr, grandson of Nobel prize winning physicist Niels (1885-1962), who lived for 30 years just round the corner in JC Jacobsens æresbolig (now Carlsberg Akademi) and made regular head-clearing walks in the park.

Adam Oehlenschläger, patron saint of Danish walkers, at the top of Valby Bakke

Frederiksberg was part of the same parish as Hvidovre until 1857, while Valby was not handed over to Copenhagen until its 1901 land grab, so it’s interesting to note that garden designer Marcus Friederich Voigt made a trial run for Søndermarken at Holmegården, just north of the 12th century Hvidovre church, in 1794. Clearly a spot of some note, a great-grandmother of Karen Blixen was installed in the manor house by her lover in around 1810, where she gave birth to three children. In 1833 the house was bought by Søren Kierkegaard’s great uncle, who owned it until 1853. (Our local museum notes that records do not show whether Søren visited Holmegården – but he could have done). Sadly, the original manor house burnt down in 1931 and the garden has long since been built over.

Originally designed in the best Baroque style for Frederik IV in 1709, Søndermarken was laid out in triangles around three long avenues in a ‘goose foot’ system. This layout can just about be detected in the surviving path network. FVI’s 1795 redesign incorporated the latest Romantic motifs such as a hermit’s hut, a Doric temple and a Swiss cottage, plus waterfalls and grottoes. Open to the public from 1852, people flocked from the increasingly built-up centre of Copenhagen to admire the view from the top of Valby Bakke, one of Copenhagen’s highest points at 31 metres above sea level, and to enjoy a picnic on the Smørrebrødsplænen lawn.

After falling into decline Søndermarken’s Romantic features were restored in 2012, with the addition of 21st century essentials such as climbing frames and exercise areas, plus a small dogs run free area (unfenced). Today you are more likely to see lycra clad joggers than poets or physicists taking a constitutional. It’s a nice corner of the city, but surely destined to become the playground of escapees from the hyper-dense new area around Carlsberg.

(Talking of playgrounds, the forthcoming CPH Stage has a clutch of performance style walks around the theme of the city as stage. Of passing interest are OmniPresence on surveillance culture, Inge Agnete Tarpgaard’s walking workshop and Cantabile 2’s Hidden Number.)

Søndermarken’s hermit’s hut, occasionally let out for artists’ residences

Rising ground: travel vs place

I have bookshelves groaning with travel literature shelved by place. This includes Philip Marsden‘s The crossing place (1993, Armenia), The Bronski house (1995, Poland; not to be confused with, although sitting next to, Radek Sikorski’s The Polish house) and The spirit wrestlers (1998, Russia). After that things gradually went boat-shaped for Philip, culminating in him buying Ardevora, a farmhouse on the banks of the River Fal. Rising ground: a search for the spirit of place (2014; extract) sees him return home to write about Cornwall.

Marsden describes the reasons for this shift from travel to place: “Getting a bit older perhaps, having a young family, being a little less restless. But more than that is the sense that looking deeper into the local is ultimately more revealing than reaching for the exotic”. And it was never just about the travel. “I have written travel books certainly, but have come to each subject fresh – explored it, researched it, teased it out and tried to unravel its attraction. Only then do I assemble the form that it requires to tell.”

But Rising ground is not just about place. It’s also about a journey westwards, tracking earlier ‘topophiles’ of the region such as John Leland, the father of topography, the first to write about people and their relationship with the physical aspects of the landscape, a roving antiquary who suffered a breakdown under the weight of knowledge he had amassed. And John Whitaker, who unlike the ‘crag-happy’ Romantic poets of his era felt that places should be examined to reveal the past, not the picturesque. (It’s quite distressing how many of these early writers of place came to a sorry end. Charles Henderson, who read the landscape like a palimpsest, layered with the text of former lives, died in Rome on his honeymoon at the age of 33, while John Blight, author of A week at the Land’s End, was confined to an asylum for 40 years, dying there in 1911.)

Marsden himself grew up on the edge of the Mendips, where as a child he explored Aveline’s Hole, a 10,000 year old cave cemetery. Revisiting “fuses childhood wonder and adult knowledge, both of which originate in the universal drive to make sense of the world through an understanding of place…a need to belong”.

The second chapter introduces Ardevora as character, run-down with malfunctioning pipework: “knowing a little of the past brought with it the first sense of belonging”. In intervals between house renovations he explores thinking around space and place, starting with Heidegger’s Building Dwelling Thinking (1954):

‘Dwelling’ meant much more than just living in a house. It described a way of being in the world. In Old English and High German the word buan – meaning both ‘building’ and ‘to dwell’ – is linked to the verb ‘to be’. So to be is ‘to be in a place‘. Only by knowing our surroundings, being aware of topography and the past, can we live what Heidegger deems an ‘authentic’ existence…

‘Place’ is somewhere distinctive, where people react to and live with the particular topography around them, whereas ‘space’ is an idealised location, abstracted from the real world, a template which can be dropped over any point on the earth’s surface and allow meaningful discourse about it…

Physical surroundings (places) have the capacity to create mythologies around them…[but] every topophile knows that some sites are better than others – not just prettier or more dramatic, but endowed with a certain quality that attracts to it a host of stories and ideas.

All this inspires him to compose a topophile’s history of Cornwall, following the axes of time and place on foot to Land’s End in a chronology spanning the ritual landscape of Neolithic times, the Middle Ages and the Enlightenment and on to the 20th century.

In Tintagel he probes Geoffrey of Monmouth’s telling of the Arthurian legend, with the castle perhaps the product of “suggestive topography” where idea and place became intertwined in stories which “bounce down through the centuries, their edges rounding and their shape altering with the collective spirit of each age”. Geoffrey drew on the tradition of the locus amoenus or delightful place, in medieval polarity with the hostile wilderness, defined as comprising a tree (or several trees), a meadow, a spring or brook, possibly with birdsong. “The most elaborate examples add a breeze”. Often asserting a collective sense of belonging, with a recurring motif of a sense of enclosure or encirclement.

Returning to the Mendips as his parents sell his childhood home he walks to Glastonbury, whose tor was a constant presence in his childhood. The mythic heart of England, the town was a one-stop pilgrimage site reducing the idea of earthly sanctity and of the nation to a single place, until it was sacked under Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, as universalism took the place of local cultism.

Visiting his parents’ house for the last time he finds only “hollows and imprints” of his family’s presence, “the memories of the place separated from the place itself”. Lying in bed in Ardevora he hears the iron casing of the stove cooling down with a clicking sound, creaking like an old ship, settling down again and getting used to its refit, coming back to life.

The walk westwards is “like walking the plank”. In West Penwith, the “end of the end-end” in Welsh, the ages are rolled into one in a post-modernist bundle. Nearing the coast the land becomes more marginal. Many feel an altered perception as they reach Land’s End: “We began to feel that we could walk like this for ever, never having to turn back but always going on, to see what was round the next headland, and the next”.

In pre-Christian Europe there was a belief that when the sun dropped below the horizon it went on to shine on the realm of the dead. This makes a walk to Land’s End a “rehearsal for the last perilous journey, or perhaps the realm of the future and the time beyond our own death”. Topography gradually seeped into popular consciousness, going beyond the local (what you can see) to the map or plan, an abstracted version of space which creates its own imperatives.

Beyond Land’s End lies Lynonesse, embodying a sense of loss, of that “vanished era when everything was larger and better”, a locus amoenus which goes one step further with the addition of Tennyson’s King Arthur. The mountain that rose from the land was called Camelot, where “save the Isles of Scilly, all is now wild sea”, the site of Arthur’s last day on earth. Mortally wounded, Arthur is carried out to the land’s end, where a barge takes him away into the western ocean.

As for the Isles of Scilly, “like all the best places, [it] draws you into a state of ceaseless questioning…the reduced scale brings questions closer, and adds a heady combination of freedom and isolation”.

To return to the theme of travel vs place, there’s a a sense that all place writing is travel writing, as any book about ‘place’ to a degree moves through the land. And a journey offers a familiar narrative structure, with walking in particular giving “the slow pace with which to be fully attentive, to notice“. Where place writing differs from conventional travel writing is in the deep mapping required to exhaust a place – in a travel book both reader and writer see a place for the first time, as a tabula rasa, and then move on, without building a permanent relationship. Rising ground is about what makes certain places special and about our fundamental response to landscape, whether personal or collective, cultural places which have accrued meaning and stories.

Our reaction to places, to certain landscapes, lies at the heart of both our personal lives and our collective lives, our culture and traditions…It is us who imbue it with spirit and meaning…Something in our make-up drives us to animate the world around us, to fill it with significance.

Globalisation, with the accompanying increased pace of life and communication, is affecting our relationship to place. It is getting more and more difficult to build and maintain connections with a place (aka the local, home) – perhaps one reason for the current boom in place writing, a given genre in English, with its own prize (the Wainwright). How much is this a British thing, built on a melancholic sense of genius loci developed over generations?

Place writing is not much found in Denmark. Having pondered long on why, I wonder if it is partly down to the fact that in a small, homogeneous, essentially inward-looking country there is a lot less moving about, hence less need to find a place or to make it anew in order to belong. This must affect the Danes’ relationship with place – and be indicative of how it can present an issue for the outsider.

The sense of a need to belong to a place is rather less resonant here, with the Danish sense of national identity perhaps taking its ‘place’. There’s also a dominant narrative about people, when I can’t help thinking they protest too much – no one reading about Jack Clemo (who raged against his physical impediments, against nature-lovers and the sentimental, against chapel-goers, and derived a perverse pleasure from devastation) in Rising ground could be in any doubt that place writing is as much about people and their stories as it is about the landscapes and buildings they inhabit.

the walk to Land’s End concluded (Richard Carew, 1602; source)

Sources: The ClearingGranta Books | Guardian | Ramblings | Start the Week. See also my post on Place writing now.

#CAFx2017: Denmark’s architecture festival

Update, 5 June: London’s Festival of Architecture is running throughout June, while it has got itself a dedicated ArchFilmFest as well

This year’s CAFx (2016 inc Tingbjerg | 2014 & 2015) took place from 27 April to 7 May with the theme of Arkitektur som identitet/Architecture as character. For social delights (mainly photos of people enjoying themselves) see Twitter | Facebook | Instagram.

Co-founded by Josephine Michau, who has a background in film distribution, the festival quickly expanded to take in the black-clad big-glasses-wearing young urbanist set, as well as spreading outside the capital. It’s now really three festivals, with CAFx in Copenhagen, AAFx in Aarhus and ALAFx in Aalborg, with plenty of lovely things.

Aalborg: haven’t been there since 2007, when it came over as pleasingly robust. Centred round the Utzon Center (2008) and the Create City Campus (2013), the programme gave a handy overview of current/recent developments, eg:

Aarhus: visited in 2006, seemed like York on a dull day – not particularly urban, definitely not gritty. But as European (co-)Capital of Culture lots going on this year (interestingly, the city architect is English Stephen Willacy, who has been in DK for decades, as is the Capital of Culture director):

Films: in a battle of BIG vs small, each city had showings of BIG Time (new Bjarke Ingels doc; MurmurPolitiken | DR) and Citizen Jane. I’m ambivalent about both figures, taking more to BIG lately for Jantelov-busting habits and buildings which are definitely not your usual boxy apartment block, but rather less to Jane J – the sidewalk ballet is too choreographed and as for eyes on the street, that’s just sinister.

Copenhagen: the hot topics may be Axel Towers (too shiny?), Palads Teatret (tear it down?) and Amager Fælled (build flats on it?), but here things were pleasingly more nuanced.

Let’s get this out of the way first:

Walks on offer included a couple of performative delights. At Teglholmen, an interactive and performative walk from Studio Debris (FB) explored the past, present and future of this part of the harbour, where traces of the past are just about hanging on.

Anja Humljan’s The Urban Yoga, an exhibition with lecture and multi-sensory guided tour attached (also in Aarhus), aimed to “bring you back in touch with your living and working environment”.

The slogan for the Brug byen theme: The city is your playground!, was guaranteed to set my teeth on edge, and the blurb was somewhat perplexing:

Public space belongs to everyone! Or does it? This program dissects the different layers of the city, focusing on how we use the city – and on who uses it. While Airbnb turns private homes into tourist attractions, the recreational spaces of the city become more and more planned: public space should serve many purposes and users.

But how do we protect the hidden, inspiring, and unplanned spaces where the city really does become a playground?…we will also seek out the places that oppose planning…we will start debates on the urban spaces of Copenhagen and Frederiksberg – all in order to find new playful and creative ways of being city-dwellers.

Let’s here it for people who don’t want to play! Much of the city centre seems to be meticulously planned in the very name of play, as long as you follow one particular lifestyle that is…anyway, events included some tough questioning for Papirøen and other multi-functional architecture, public space as free space, and Indre By: hjem eller turistmål?, acknowledging Copenhagen’s current tourist boom.

People vs place in Copenhagen

On 4 April I attended Guardian-alike Politiken’s event Byen mærker os (“the city marks us”), where three speakers, moderated by Marcus Rubin, engaged in a conversation about people and place in Copenhagen. The event was framed around the assertion that the city marks us – and we mark it – through its buildings and the spaces inbetween. Urban space (byrum) affects both our moods and the way we experience the city.

Copenhagen’s egenart may be celebrated abroad, but there’s a prevailing discourse centred around the idea of a ‘generous city’ (generøs by) which I find problematic. Would the event present any challenges to the one-note Happy Copenhagen image?

The speakers each presented four slides showing places they either loved or hated. First up, Martin Zerlang, professor in literature and modern culture at KU and go-to academic on matters urban. He drew gasps by kicking off with the assertion that it is not people who make a city, but rather both people and place, the interplay between them and the stories they tell, such as a bollard on a road marking the spot where a doomed wedding party fell into a lake.

His ‘love’ examples were the Enghave Småhuse threatened with demolition and (predictably) Cykelslangen, while his bile was directed at balconies which don’t fit in (and, more often than not given the weather, never have anyone sitting on them) and Rem Koolhaas’ BLOX. Koolhaas’ “f*** context” approach has resulted in a building which blocks Slotsholmen and Christian IV’s buildings from view, while giving nothing back.

Next, Christian Pagh, partner in kulturdesignbureauet Urgent.Agency “with substantial experience in turning site-specific qualities into creative and value-adding design solutions”. For Christian it’s all about people – his loves were quirky architecture in Christiania and a celebration of Sankt Hans Aften in Christianshavn, with late lamented pop-ups in Carlsberg Byen thrown in for good measure.

He then proved wholly unoriginal in castigating a building at Kalvebod Brygge (can we have a moratorium now please, in particular in ibyen’s Min by column; heck, it’s just a few office buildings and a hotel) for ‘closing down’ the harbour, and UCC at Carlsberg for looking like it could be in Hamburg (? their new developments are rather more interesting), with the supposedly slim Bohrs Tårn that isn’t.

Last, and the main draw for me, canonical poet of the city Søren Ulrik Thomsen, who from his first collection City Slang (1981) onwards has placed the city at the centre of his work. He didn’t disappoint, coming up with a bunch of one-liners plus a well-placed quote from Theodor Adorno.

SUT’s slides:

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Just what is a city for? Growing up outside Copenhagen he wanted something more – anonymity, urbanity, grit…different things going on, different people living different lives, space to be yourself and do your own thing. He is often criticised for indulging in nostalgia, but for him the past provides the fuel for thinking about today, giving pointers to where we could be going wrong.

Copenhagen’s council helmed developments are turning the city into a big village – the very thing he wanted to get away from – planned to the nth degree to facilitate one sanctioned lifestyle supporting an experience economy where everything is fælles (for and of the community). He is particularly down on andelsboligforeninger (institutionalised collectively owned housing) with their langbord dinners and organised events, but also on carfree streets and semi-private gårdhaver (courtyards).

With the current pace of building large areas of the city will be forever date-stamped State of the Art 2017, uniform and lacking diversity, dominated by the most affluent. Where once a mix of traffic and people created buzz, now all is empty and trist, an ideologically driven hyggehelved inhabited by the rekreativ klass (the logical development of the creative class), who leave few traces. Where is place in this scenario?

SUT expounding his theory of the hyggehelvede (while most cultures have a couthy tendency only in Denmark is it a cornerstone of national identity, and even architecture)

After a short break our panel discussed how we should respond to the development of the city, and how we can (learn to) live with the pace of change. Three hot topics:

  • Amager Fælled, where the proposal for new housing on common land has caused uproar
  • the covering of the railway tracks around Vesterport, involving the demolition of the Palads Teater, which up to now most people loved to hate
  • the latest proposals for tall buildings (albeit at Copenhagen scale; 100m is considered dangerously high rise), surplus to requirements and just not Danish

There was consensus around the need for more social diversity through the building of truly affordable homes (billige rather than almene boliger), if rather less on SUT’s other remedy – more traffic to create buzz, even if it might bring the dividend of improving cyclists’ bad behaviour.

The generous city prevails, as seen in the portfolio of tours planned for DAC’s 2017 summer season, including Carlsberg, where listed buildings are remade without a backward glance, skyscraper-spotting by bike (article), and a trip round the former harbour, now a rekreativt byrum:

Københavns Havn er synonymet på byens vækst og fremgang ift. befolkning, arkitektur, boligsammensætning, infrastruktur, kultur og Liveability.

(Copenhagen’s harbour is synonymous with the growth of the city and its increasing prosperity, in relation to its population, architecture, housing market, infrastructure, culture and Liveability.)

Amen to that. Everywhere Martin’s hyggelige (nostalgic?) stories are hidden from view in the history-free city. Every year there are fewer layers to unpick or places to discover, with everyone the same and doing the same thing, leaving few unique traces. Copenhagen is increasingly a city devoid of grandeur and aspiration, grit or buzz, all the things that make a city urbane. Blink and it could be a giant theme park for the extraction of money.

I am guilty as charged on a city being somewhere you go to use and then come home. Growing up in a middle class Edinburgh suburb with plenty of space the city centre was where people at the extremes of the social scale lived, while I took the bus “into town” for any number of other reasons. It offered (and I trust still does) rather more than housing, events and coffee shops – even offices and hotels.

Another of DAC’s summer tours is taking on this style of place in Copenhagen. Metropolzonen (a name which has been quietly dropped) stretches from the Lakes to the harbour. A central area rich and resonant in space and place, inspiring and exciting, used by thousands every day, but which DAC claims is a “no man’s land which very few have a relationship with”. This doesn’t play in a lifestyle city, so things are about to change, with the area to be transformed fra transit til ophold. As SUT would say, it’s Adorno’s Sundhed til døden (The health unto death, riffing on Kierkegaard’s The sickness unto death) come to life.

SAS Hotel (1960) and Axelborg (1920), heart of Metropolzonen

On looking and dog walking

tracks for a human, most dogs, labrador and beagle

I got into walking as a ‘cultural activity’ after our first dog moved in. He’s now eight and a bit, joined two years later by a little brother. Being beagles, known for their stubborn nature and equipped with the second best nose in the canine kingdom, they are not the most trainable of hounds. (My mother: don’t get a beagle – they run away). This can make walks challenging.

The writer walking the dog describes dog walking thus:

a strange activity somewhere between Romantic walking for inspiration and walking to work and leisure walking and a chore like washing up…

We have a repertoire of five walks which can be extended or reduced depending on the season (our routes on the coldest and hottest days of the year are practically identical), a beagle-scale interpretation of the 30 minute walk round the block. We have also tried beating the bound/aries, or at least as much of them as is within beagling distance, off-pavement action permitting.

While the beags keep their noses on the job I am free to make my own observations of our patch, exploring the unexpected in the local streetscape from prize winning modernist housing to a Le Corbusier style block, tracking the latest teardowns and outdoor fashions, and monitoring the state of trees. Our walks are the perfect justification for wandering into areas where a daily routine would never take us.

After growing up with dogs I had my own take on how things should be, and getting to grips with Danish dog walking habits has taken its toll. I never got the memo which said you should train your dog to ignore other dogs – round here most dog walkers would rather cross the road than exchange greetings. End result: a food chain of unsocialised dogs ranging from the French bulldog who reacts to a beagle, who himself reacts to a labrador.

It’s a different matter in parks and open spaces, where it seems that beagle owners are the only ones who pay attention to dogs on leash signs. And the few dog parks are packed with over-excited dogs getting a rare social fix – a stressful environment with a fight just waiting to happen. (Sadly, most dog parks aren’t well fenced, which makes them a no-no for beagle nr 2, a true escape artist.)

All this has a parallel in the unspontaneity of Danish social life, where encounters are planned ahead with those you know and eye contact on the street is avoided. Just the first of many lessons into Danishness learned through walking.

So we tend to walk solo on our own particular kind of drift, with the twin inspirations of John Zeaman’s Dog walks man, a unique combination of doggy memoir and psychogeography, and suggestion 15 of the Lonely Planet guide to experimental travel:

If you don’t normally walk a dog, take one for a walk and be led by what interests the dog.

In On looking Alexandra Horowitz, psychologist and animal behaviourist (plus owner of “two large, non-heeling dogs”) describes how she was inspired by walking with her dog Pumpernickel to consider how her daily journeys could be done better. In the book she undertakes 11 walks round the block with assorted experts in the way of seeing. Some lessons from her walks:

  • from her 19 month old son – the world at a different granularity, overlooking the edges or limits of an object
  • from  a typographer – the compulsion to read what was readable, to parse all visible text (it’s the same for editors, I’m thinking)
  • from a naturalist – the power of the search image, a mental image of what you seek, ignoring everything else (this explains the efficiency of how a dog finds food – and how we can spot our friends in a crowd but not find something under our noses when it deviates from the expected)

Her reaction to a walk with Fred Kent of the Project for Public Spaces presents a refreshing take on Jane Jacob’s ‘sidewalk ballet’. Alexandra is a pavement rage type: “slow-moving pedestrians clutching recent purchases and looking at the storefronts, up in the air, anywhere but where they are going…the storefronts that attract their attention are ubiquitous and cluttered – to my eye, visually messy”. For her “a surfeit of slow walkers and loiterers” is a hindrance, for Fred “it’s social; it’s kind of getting a sense of something.”

On that block of Broadway with Fred Kent, I was starkly reminded of the very simple truth that there are many ways to look at the same event.

Alexandra also revisits the territory of her earlier Inside of a dog. Most dog walks are done to allow the ‘animal’ to pee or to get exercise – just as most human walks are done to get from a to b in the quickest time possible. What about walks simply to ‘see’ the world?

Walking with Pumpernickel means seeing the world through her choices, the subjects of her attention and what she balks at or lunges towards. Walks geared to Pumpernickel’s needs:

  • into-the-wind walks – eyes closed, nose in the air, nostrils working
  • smell walks – revisiting old smells, finding new ones…walks defined by smell rather than length or destination (for humans, odours tend to be either enticing or repugnant, alluring or foul, evocative or evaded, but to a dog, smells are simply information, their world a topography wrought of odours)
  • sitting walks for the more mature – in a field with ample olfactory vistas and plenty of dogs upwind (the beags do this in the garden)
  • social walks – to interact with other dogs
  • to avoid: long blocks with no trees or lampposts

Returning alone to her walk round the block Alexandra finds herself alarmed at the limitations of ‘amateur eyes’. Her 11 companions, equipped with diverse sets of coordinates and systems of navigation, have helped her overcome the ‘selective enhancement requirement’ for paying attention, highlighting the different parts of the world we have learned to ignore or do not even know we can see.

She realises that she is missing much simply in the name of concentration (attention’s companion: inattention to everything else): “we miss the possibility of being surprised by what is hidden in plain sight right in front of us”.

From Howard Nemerov’s Walking the dog:

Two universes mosey down the street
Connected by love and a leash and nothing else.

…a pair of symbionts
Contented not to think each other’s thoughts.

foto

walk? who said walk?