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.

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