CPH 850: city identity at Golden Days

This year’s Golden Days festival running 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 (pic).

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); update, Dec: library copy inspected and lugged back after an unopened month or so, ticking all the usual boxes in terms of materiality and style, feeling more like a coffee table item than something corresponding to 21st century reading habits…there’s a post to be written here; the worthy output of a lifetime’s research, but FWIS a disappointingly conventional chronological presentation, dropping the 10 people and the angle of how they might be connected – maybe they should have taken a leaf out of Niall Ferguson’s latest? 2018 update: the Museum of Copenhagen is preparing an eight volume (yes, eight) history of CPH, with the first “richly illustrared” volume due to be published in 1921 2021, gabe
  • 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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