A guide to occupied Copenhagen

Writing about place isn’t really a thing in Denmark, so here’s a big cheer for Turen går til besættelsestidens København (A guide to occupied Copenhagen), published in Politiken’s Turen går travel guide series. At 264 pages with an RRP of DK 250 (£25 give or take; ebook DK 165), it’s Danish publishing in a nutshell. (Thanks once more to the Danish library service.) Of the four (really!) authors (Claus Bundgaard Christensen, Jakob Sørensen, Joachim Lund, Sofie Lene Bak), three are academics and all are garlanded with PhDs. And in places you can see the joins.

In a parallel universe this could have been a nice topic for a blog, with a Google Map and everyone getting excited on Twitter. But Danish academics don’t blog or tweet as a rule, and there’s little in the way of non-traditional forms of dissemination or public engagement. (Note though, Claus BC offers byvandring). Instead it’s culture in a box, nothing to excite.

I find the travel guides over-written and lacking in the content department compared with English language equivalents, although my partner claims they offer a handy introduction. Is the tie-in more than a gimmick? The overall design is the same, with numbered maps, short(ish) factual snippets and longer articles. An excerpt (27 pages; on Issuu) consists mainly of the foreword and introductions, when a sample of how the places are presented might be more tempting to a potential purchaser. And surely there are maps? Jada…

book spread with map

spread from Den Korte Avis’ review, showing 30 selected points in central Copenhagen and Vesterbro

As well as comprehensive coverage of the buildings in the city used by the occupying forces or targeted for sabotage and other resistance activities, spots covered include memorials, bullet holes and even graffiti, selected with an eye to there still being something to see today,

Overall, though, the style is drier than dry, suited more to a reference book than a travel guide – there’s certainly no sense of place to be gained. Divvying the guide up by area means that places which are practically next door to each other appear in different sections, and with no index by place the whole thing is pretty hit and miss.

The longer articles, aka themes, offer a lot of reading, but again it’s all very factual (maybe, though, this is just, err…Danish??); TBH the book might have worked better, and been rather cheaper, without going over the same ground as numerous other books about the German occupation and just offering the key content around the places.

Basically it doesn’t do either bit very well – as history it’s well trodden ground and not very readable, as a guidebook it’s too confused and lacks decent maps. In a rather more inspiring piece of writing Politiken‘s review notes some examples of spiritual resistance not listed in the guide:

Kortene burde også henvise til Riddersalen i Allégade, hvor den første frihedssang, PH’s ’Man binder os på mund og hånd’, blev modtaget stående af publikum.

Til de provokerende Dagmar-revyer – endda i stueetagen til tyskernes Dagmarhus.

Til Frue Kirke, hvor Kaj Munk prædikede trods forbud.

Til Det Kgl. Teater, hvor man dristigt opførte Gershwins sorte opera ’Porgy og Bess’ trods nazistisk raseri, hvor Kjeld Abell afbrød en forestilling for at mindes den myrdede Kaj Munk, og hvor teaterchefen overnattede i huset som modtræk til bombetrusler.

It would be easy enough to plot the city centre sites of most interest to visitors on a map (added to the todo list, meanwhile see list below, including sites on Amager), but for me the more interesting places are those further afield. See for example the imposing building in Nordvest we drove past on our travels last weekend:

Emdrupborg (1941), Tuborgvej 164 (photo: 1001 fortællinger)

Now part of Aarhus University, Emdrupborg is the closest thing to a piece of Nazi architecture in Denmark. Designed by Werner March, also responsible for the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, the building was a school for the children of German functionaries stationed in Scandinavia. The clock tower was used as an observation tower during the occupation. After the war a red stone wall was built to hide the building’s concrete foundations, the monumental entrance hall was converted to classrooms and oak panels were added in the aula to hide the ‘Nazi’ pillars.

Giving a rather different perspective on events, the open field at Kløvermarken at the top of Amager was from 1945-49 the site of a huge refugee camp. In one of those forgotten stories, between February and 4 May 1945 a quarter of a million Germans fled to Denmark from the Eastern Front. The Kløvermarken camp opened in November 1945, made up of 950 red Swedish barrack houses spread over a 500km2 area surrounded by barbed wire. At one point the camp housed 18,000 refugees, 51% women, 36% children. There were 263 registered deaths in the camp, 44 of children under one, mainly due to malnutrition. (13,000 refugees, almost 8000 children under 5, died in Denmark in 1945 alone.) Some of the barracks ended up in Ellebjergvej in Valby as housing for the homeless, and are still there today.

Copenhagen is flat

Kløvermarken today

Reviews and excerpts: Den Korte Avis | DR | I Byen | Østerbro Avis | Jyllands Posten (also in Finans) | Oplev København i krigen | Politiken.

City centre spots (story):

  • Gothersgade 100: bullet hole from fighting in April 1945
  • Grundtvigshus, Studiestræde 38: used by the Luftwaffe; graffiti on wall (by appointment only)
  • Hotel d’Angleterre: the Germans’ military HQ; Adolf Eichmann stayed in the hotel in 1943; Navy HQ at Hotel Phoenix on Bredgade
  • Krystalgade: Holocaust Memorial (1989, the first in Denmark) in the synagogue
  • Nyhavn: memorial to the 6000 members of the merchant navy who fought with Allies, 2000 of whom lost their lives (the big anchor, 1951); during the war a lawless area, where German soldiers took their recreation
  • Persilhuset/Jernbanegade 7: now housing Macdonalds and an Irish pub, was the SS’ HQ, where  6000 were recruited into Frikorps Danmark
  • Rosengården 11: WW2 bullet hole: Rosengaardens Bodega, behind the counter, from the liquidation of a collaborator by BOPA in 1944 (in the Gdn, Nov 2016)
  • Skt. Annæ Passage: housed the offices of the Danish Nazi Party’s newspaper Fædrelandet, and today Information, founded as an illegal operation in 194?
  • Skt. Annæ Plads: equestrian statue of Christian X (1954), who rode through CPH every day during the Occupation until an accident put a stop to it in October 1942
  • Skindergade 44: memorial: to the executed members of the resistance group Skindergadegruppen
  • Strøget: Café Mokka  and Restaurant Tosca, where Danes and Germans used to fraternise, were both bombed (the latter was ransacked on liberation day); ditto Hviids Vinstue on Kongens Nytorv
  • Tivoli: bombed by the counter-sabotage Petergruppe on 25 June 1944, resulting in the destruction of several buildings including Glassalen and part of the rutsjebane; Wivex restaurant, where the Hard Rock Cafe stood, was popular with collaborators and informers, who held business lunches with Hauptsturmbannführer and others


  • Kastrup
    • fort used as a command station for the Luftwaffe in WW2; military hospital from March 1945, from August 1945 refugee camp for around 500 children and mothers and babies; children sent back to Germany in January 1947
    • Kystvej (next to airport): the around the long stay/cheap car parks house lots of WW2 efterladenskaber, such as tjekkiske pindsvin and iron blocks used as a barrier
  • Dragør and Store Magleby

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s