Events elsewhere (1): EdFoC

My Twitter bubble keeps serving up interesting events elsewhere offering food for thought to compare with the local summer festival scene. Some common themes keep coming up as well – it’s all quite inspirational. So, here’s the first in a series of posts on events #not_here, looking at the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling (@edfoc).

I grew up Edinburgh, for me the archetypal walking city. I biked as a student, in Bristol and Frankfurt, and ever since have chosen not to, not really a radical lifestyle choice even in (or just outside) Copenhagen. In the same way as hygge and those happy Danes, the picture painted of cycling in CPH is seen through a rather rosy lens, obscuring any number of cultural (and geographic) differences. EdFoC portrays some of these differences, even if it is suffering from a dose of Scandimania.

Unsurprisingly, there was nary a mention of walking on the programme (shared space issues! entitlement!!) – OTOH it’s a relief not to have it conflated as a sort of second best. As it happens the council does a pretty good job IRT walking, vs its near-invisibility in CPH. (The comparatively low number of pedestrian journeys in CPH is generally waved away as why would you, if you can cycle? The high cost of public transport, paticularly for impromptu short trips, surely also plays a role.)

The festival is aimed at ‘all types’ of cyclist, but a lot of events involved challenge style riding/touring, some for charity but others aimed more at self-empowerment – maybe this sort of thing goes on in CPH, but if it does it’s passed me by (although grim-faced lycra-clad MAMIL groups do plague both paths and countryside roads at weekends).

A couple of these events did however capture my imagination – the Ride to the Sun (@RidetotheSun) from Carlisle to Cramond for the summer solstice (over 1000 participated) and the Night Ride the week before. Cycling can be more than a convenient means of transport after all…

Guided ride offerings were mainly on the pricey side and in tourist corner (an Outlander location tour, anyone?), so I was happy to note the free event exploring Edinburgh’s 20th century buildings, with accompanying fab pic. A shout-out too to the UNESCO Chair Refugee Cycle, held as part of Refugee Week and a Summer Fun Day in Glasgow. (Noted also that good works are clearly done by Bike for Good and Bikes for Refugees.)

Danish envy aplenty however behind the cry to Copenhagenize Scotland, cancelled on this occasion due to high priest Morten Kabell falling ill; the grass isn’t always greener, folks. Some Celticization of Denmark wouldn’t go amiss, if only Scots (and Brits) could drop the habit of constantly running themselves doon in the name of self-irony.

Meanwhile pressure group Spokes (@SpokesLothian), celebrating its 40th anniversary, seems to at least equal @copenhagenizers in their zeal to transform the city, here’s hoping they don’t go the full Gehl. A tram is a better place to start, even if it stops just after tackling its first hill.

Literature got a look-in with the on-point Women’s Read and Ride tour (event), and EdFoc even runs a writing competition – for me one of the 2017 winners gets a special prize just for the multi-layered title of her story, Freedom of movement. Bless her.

Are events similar to EdFoC held in DK? I tend to avert my eyes from the self-congratulatory cycling discourse hereabouts, but I can’t help noticing that in Scotland it’s all rather different, and definitely made from girders – see Conquer Kaimes, cycling up this 9% gradient demon…

my breathless pic from Nov 2017, after walking (almost) to the top of Kaimes Road

So, a festival embracing diversity, with events featuring both lycra and cake (probably not together), people doing things for themselves, and lots of different ways of answering the question. Edinburgh has all the Copenhagen it needs.

Next up, and staying in Edinburgh, ArchiFringe.

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Lost lines, lost history? Amagerbanen

Last updated: 28 May 2018.

Update, July 2015: came across a handy piece on Amagerbanen in Tårnby, plus see Amagerbanens Venner

A recent Sunday outing took us to a lost railway line, Amagerbanen, on the island of Amager a stone’s throw from central Copenhagen and on the fringes of a new housing development.

I’d assumed there were only ever buses on Amager prior to the arrival of the metro, but discovered from radio programme Natursyn back in November that a railway was constructed from Amagerbro in the north west all the way down to Dragør at the south eastern tip of the island as long ago as 1907. A trip on the Amager railway originally heralded a day in the country, and its maintenance also came in handy as one of the spurious workplaces devised to keep locals busy during the Second World War. But passenger traffic ceased back in 1947, replaced in some parts by buses, with the line used solely for freight as far as Kastrup up to 1991. The metro has now taken over the track south of Øresundsvej down to the airport, with Øresundsvej station dismantled, possibly to rise again at Denmark’s Open Air Museum.

Amagerbanen is currently in the news because the remaining old tracks are to be pulled up to make way for the holiest of holies, a super cycle path. The path will run between Lergravsparken and Prags Boulevard, accommodating the hordes of eager biking commuters moving into the new high density apartment complexes under construction in the area. Anthropologist Majken Hviid has led walks along the railway in the hope that the old can be integrated into the new, perhaps in the same way as in the Islands Brygge waterfront park in central Copenhagen.

Truth to tell there is little left here for a true psychogeographical musing, the transitions are just too abrupt. Just as at nearby Refshaleøen, the industrial buildings around Ved Amagerbanen, a road following the railway lined with factories and other industrial buildings, tell the story of Copenhagen’s recent history but are out of tune with the city’s post-industrial branding. A few hang on, sometimes with temporary uses which may become permanent, sometimes incorporated into the new as a shiny shell.

You do wonder about development control hereabouts. The flat nature of Copenhagen means it is largely void of terrain, with unsightly areas simply sliding out of sight until they get in the way. The chief attraction in this area is Amager Strandpark, a colossus of an artificial beach. Within paddling distance is Prøvesten, a former fort standing on yet more reclaimed land, still in use for the storage of petroleum and an obstinate reminder of the past.

Meanwhile the current fashion for one-note residential solutions, as shown at KADK’s Housing and welfare exhibition, is leading to an ever more predicatable and uninteresting cityscape.

Flâneur in Copenhagen

Last updated: 10 March 2018

Back on 19 February I attended Flanør, an event hosted by the Goethe Institut and the Forening af Danske Kulturtidsskrifter, co-hosted by (and at) upscale newspaper Information. Speakers were Ricarda Messner and Fabian Saul from Flaneur Magazine (Facebook | Twitter) and Ulf Peter Hallberg, a Swedish writer living in Berlin since 1983. Here are some photos.

Kicking off proceedings Ricarda (publisher) and Fabian (editor) were asked to define “flâneur “. Cue much shifting in chairs, ending up with:

  • Ricarda: doing something without an aim
  • Fabian: dealing with things which could be lost, on the edge of time; ahead of time, avant garde

Frankly I’m with them on this, it is all more than a tad nebulous and open to interpretation, plus it’s really hard not to come over all pseud’s corner. Looking back my notes are pretty gnomic, and I reckon we’d all do better reading one or more of these articles: William Helmreich in Aeon | Paris Review praises the flâneur | The urban observer.

But the magazine is a lovely thing, internationally focused and published in English. Each issue explores a single street, so far in Berlin (review), Leipzig, Montreal and Rome (video review), with Athens coming up in the autumn (update: now plus Moscow and São Paulo). If they would like to tackle Copenhagen I’m inclined to suggest Valby Langgade. Each issue deals with some oddity, confusion or disruption, with an overall theme emerging during a two month research period.

Moving on, Ulf Peter Hallberg was born in Malmö and now lives in Berlin. I came across him too late! from a Facebook post by Politikens Boghal. He’s another one who blends fiction with real life – see his latest, Strindbergs skugga i Nordens Paris (2012), which intertwines his own background with August Strindberg’s stay in Copenhagen from 1887 to 1889 (published på dansk as Det store tivoli in 2014).

He also walks, and wrote the seminal Flanörens blick (The flâneur’s gaze, 1996; på dansk as Flanørens blik, 2000; Kristeligt Dagblad). It’s an essayroman; quotes from all the usual suspects, photos…I now have an autographed copy : D. Mind you, it’s par for the course that the first book in Danish I might _really_ like to translate is actually Swedish…

Ulf’s flâneurie habit started with childhood visits to Copenhagen with his father, in particular to the auction houses on Bredgade. His father was a collector, along with the flâneur one of the social archetypes in Benjamin’s Arcades Project, and sought inter alia wooden statues from Africa. This approach to life, the attempt to create – curate? – a universal order, is reflected in the novel Europeiskt skräp (2009) – published in English in 2013 as European trash: fourteen ways to remember a father (Amazon | “blends memoir, essay and fiction in an evocative journey through his late father’s world of collecting the European trash”).

And so time was up, before I could get my question/statement in on Kierkegaard (Denmark’s ultimate flâneur), and everyone rushed off looking at their shoes as per usual.

For me Copenhagen is just not set up for flâneurie, or Danes to be flâneurs; it’s not just the hygge, it’s also the over-planning and regulation in both public spaces and personal lives – and not least, the fact that the bike is king. Can you be a flâneur on a bike? Every time I go into ‘town’, ie central Copenhagen, I’m reminded that cyclists rule. While car drivers have become accustomed to giving way on crossings, the rules of the road vs pavement etc, these cyclists just aren’t bothered. The lack of crossings doesn’t help – you can be left standing wondering just how fast those bikes are going, and what direction the next one is going to come from. It’s disturbing for someone with a serious jaywalking habit. But I digress.

Also of interest was the fact that flâneurie’s partner in crime, psychogeography, never came up, as it also didn’t on a recent Danish podcast about Sebald. (And did Asger Jorn, a founder member of the Situationist International and a close friend of Guy Debord, not indulge in the dérive?) Why is this? A quick check of bookshop Saxo brings up zero for Danish translations of Messrs McFarlane or Sinclair, gosh, and while there are translations of Sebald’s The rings of Saturn (1995; translation: 2011) and Vertigo (1990; translation: 2012; see review), Austerlitz (from 2001) will debut in translation in December. Double gosh. And Sebald seems to have a Spanish following, so it’s not just an Anglo/German thing.

But hov, what’s this? On 26 March Mette Kit Jensen (interview) gave a ‘performance lecture’ at Nikolai Kunsthal with the title Ongoing flâneuse, complete with turtle (sic), or perhaps, tortoise. I assume the shelled one was given full respect, I’m not totally comfortable with that aspect…anyway, I was otherwise engaged, and go for the literary turn rather than performance/interventions in any case, however Mette looks interesting. Last year she exhibited Flaneuse de l’Europe, an audiowalk and book at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Roskilde, as part of their Museum in the city project:

an audio walk conceived through research the artist has carried out in several larger Europeen cities, such as Rome, Athens, Paris and Istanbul using sounds, impressions and narratives. The short stories are joined together in one long story, which connects to places in Roskilde. Local sound scapes recorded in Roskilde are mixed with global places and episodes in one total sound collage where proximity and flash backs alternate.

An article in Kunsten.nu gives a bit of background (in English here – scroll!) and a map, plus there’s an audio version should you find yourself in Roskilde.

Update: had a go at Det store tivoli (Information: excerpts another & last | review | Berlingske); apparently CPH was dubbed the Paris of the North after the World Exhibition of 1888; Hvidovre Bibliotekerne kindly lent me their new copy, but after three renewals it was time to hand it back – often an issue with library books. The main character is Strindberg’s secretary Knud Wiisby (1865-1941), hired by Edvard Brandes to spy on what August gets up to. (Ulf made Wiisby up, but connected with him on some level, and also has a vague family connection with CPH at that time. Or something.) Wiisby has a close relationship with Swedish author Victoria Benedictsson, who just happened to have unrequited love for Georg Brandes. And why not? Rather more worryingly there appears to be a parallel story set in LA in the present day, but there’s a sticker over that part of the cover.

Update, March 2017: Swedish app merchant Guidly launched a soundwalk about Victoria in Copenhagen at KBH Læser (FB event). The 90 minute walk, with some parts på dansk, runs from Axeltorv, where she met Brandes in 1886, to Kongens Nytorv, where she killed herself in a hotel room two years later.

Update, March 2018: Fabian and Mette resurfaced at #kbhlæser; no sign of Ulf.

Below: scenes from my drift in central Copenhagen, prior to the Flanør event.