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

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Golden Days: Denmark in the 1970s

Golden Days is Copenhagen’s autumn festival, at the highbrow(ish) end of the packed event spectrum. While its first outings celebrated Denmark’s Golden Age (1800-50), lately it has tackled rather broader themes – in 2013 philosophy, in 2014 World War 1, and in 2015 heritage itself.

The 2016 festival (calendar | programme aka 28 page content-thin broadsheet | case) explored the 1970s. All very  hyggeligt and nostalgic (the cassette! potato printing!) if you actually grew up in that lovely decade. What follows is a summary of events in the areas of literature, art and architecture, plus some general musings.

My struggle with Danish writing continues. The festival provided a 1970s literature checklist, made up of Suzanne Brøgger’s Fri os fra kærligheden, Kristen Bjørnkjær’s Kærestesorg, Vita Andersen’s Tryghedsnarkomaner,  Peter Laugesen’s Hamr & Hak,  Dea Trier Mørch’s Vinterbørn and Villy Sørensen, Kristen Helveg Petersen & Niels I Meyer’s Oprør fra midten. All of which I have just copied and pasted, you’re welcome. Among retrospective looks are Peter Øvig Knudsen’s typically massive Hippie (flippet also used).

As a golden entry in Denmark’s tiny place writing corner we have Dan Turèll’s Vangede billeder, published in 1975, on growing up in a 1950s suburb. Urban hero Søren Ulrik Thomsen’s first poems were published in Hvedekorn i 1977, but his first collection City slang wasn’t published until 1981.

Artist Martin Bigum (1966- ) now lives in Frederiksberg, but grew up in Brøndby Strand, finding himself unimpressed by its iconic tower blocks. His vej mod kunsten (journey to art) is described in Min personlige kunsthistorie (key excerpt), with an exhibition at Arken. At the other end of town, Louisiana has a Poul Gernes exhibition (article | guide), highlighting not least his udsmykningsarbejder at Herlev Hospital (1975) and Palads Biografen (rather later).

toilet door at Herlev Hospital by Poul Gernes

toilet door at Herlev Hospital by Poul Gernes

Onwards…1970s architecture was thoroughly chewed over and mainly spat out, with a guide (65 pages, OK-ish at DK 49,95 but with DK 30 postage I’ll wait for the library or try to track it down in a shop, thx all the same) and exhibition on 1970’erne – det forbudte årti:

Golden Days guider dig rundt i hovedstadens idealistiske og udskældte arkitektur
Parcelhuse og brutale betonbyggerier er ikke i høj kurs, og egentlig vil arkitekterne helst glemme 1970’erne. Men bag de forbudte facader gemmer der sig historier om et samfund præget af både fornyelsestrang og et stærkt ønske om at skabe lige muligheder for alle.

The guide features 11 buildings, many old favourites, while Politiken highlighted four. All begging to be mapped…update, May 2017: finally got round to having a look at the guide. Subtitled Guide til hovedstadens mest brutale, idealistiske og udskældte arkitektur, it’s nicely produced, with a map and lots of B&W photos. The back cover maintains that it is an “anderledes guide“, showing the 1970s dreams and visions of fælleskab (community) and frihed (freedom) translated into brick and concrete, the decade which architects would rather forget – no mugs or tea towels here. However, the text by Arkitektforeningen’s Karen Dyssel doesn’t really live up to the foreword/blurb. I’d go as far as to suggest that Karen has a sneaking regard for her subject.

Concrete has yet to be treasured in Denmark, and 1970s tower blocks are emphatically not Danish scale, even if at the time they offered the residents of cramped city flats lys og luft in a split new home with all mod-cons. It’s much the same story as the UK, with social problems and some poor quality builds leading to a ‘ghetto’ reputation for the biggest estates, now being refurbished eastern Europe style with colourful stick-on panels.

I went on Frederiksberg’s 1970s bus tour, where the city archivist didn’t even try to hide his dislike of some rather classy housing (but he has written a nice long article). Interesting, if not surprising, to hear that FRB was in the same state as CPH proper in the 1970s – current discourse makes it sound like it has always been a green conservative paradise. The proposed sanering of some areas was met with resistance, as it was in next door Nørrebro.

1970s bus outside Frederiksberg town hall

1970s bus outside Frederiksberg town hall

A bus tour was also offered round Gentofte, Gladsaxe, Lyngby and Rudersdal. In the 1970s the suburbs were the place to be, with the CPH urban area growing by up to 12 km2 per year, and in Denmark as a whole the built-up area doubling. As elsewhere the new-builds were predominantly housing estates and tower blocks, but by the late 1970s ‘low rise high density’ became more popular in an attempt to recreate the Danish landsby, plus a range of experiments into collective living.

BL (Danmarks Almene Boliger), who represent the Danish social housing sector and in 2015 offered a series of events on the tower block as cultural heritage, stepped up to the plate once more with Sunday events on three contrasting estates, complete with langbord lunches:

  • Gadekæret (Ishøj; 1976-79) – a reconstructed landsby made up of 650 element built yellow brick and red tiled terraced houses around a pond, described as En by der er blød som en krop by poet Inger Christensen in 1969(?) and lovingly drawn by childhood resident Ib Spang Olsen
  • Galgebakken (Albertslund; 1972-74) – 600 terraced houses, known as Albertslund’s Christiania; residents included Social Democrat politicians Mogens Lykketoft and Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, and writer/director Jørgen Leth
  • Urbanplanen (Amager; 1965-71) – the ultimate Corbusier-style estate with its own shopping centre, library and church; ironically the largest car free area in the city and the subject of some re-evaluation with En landsby på højkant (part of the current wave of site specific theatre) and Morten Pape’s autobiographical novel Planen (the estate abuts Ørestad Nord, a more recent regeneration effort which also has its critics, plus ça change…)

15 storey tower block in Urbanplanen, condemned in 2010 but still standing

Also place related was Konfrontation med 70’erne (Soundcloud), audio at 20 spots around town. If like me you find These soundscapes can be a tad uninspiring, but these are rather better than the norm, as is more intriguing is Last night a DJ saved my life, four podcasts on the story of the 1500 British DJs who kept the disks spinning in provincial Denmark during the 70s (a subgenre of interest is Brit musicians with err…Danish links, from Slade drummer Don Powell to Rick Astley).

Summing up…

The festival benefits from considerable amounts of funding and sponsorship, although state funding is to cease. I’m not entirely surprised, not least because it’s not very clear who the target audience/s is/are, and with over 100 partners and 200+ events it’s hard to work out what’s going on.

Events fall into three categories: something random from a big hitting cultural player tagged with the branding, pricey ‘experiences‘ organised by the festival secretariat for BYTs (in 2015 this included a polterabend and a wedding), and events organised by community organisations. It’s the last which are the most interesting, uncovering areas outside those more usually pimped by Visit Copenhagen, as well as ensuring the festival reaches the entire region.

There are however issues with history and the learning therefrom more broadly, identified by among others Michael Böss in his 2014 book Det demente samfund (Altinget | Politiken). Denmark is a very youth oriented society, and its ‘here and now’ culture constantly reinvents the wheel, fetishising the elements of ‘heritage’ which fit a single Danish national identity and self-image – hence, perhaps, no concrete, and little recognition of diversity or ‘overseas influences’. The country seems to be in a rush forward, neglecting and ignoring the past, at best relegating it to folkelig corner as outmoded and rather quaint. (See the IHR’s History now and then series for more on this.)

In previous years I’ve also got rather worked up by the festival website. There’s a search box but no easy access to search/browse by eg keyword, category, audience, venue. The jaunty design feels extremely tired, even if the massive mugshots, an issue for those not benefiting from ‘good genes’, are accidentally-on-purpose somehow on trend. And don’t go looking for any  social media action or event amplification, as there is none. It all feels rather amateurish. And isn’t it time for a My Golden Days app?

Finally, after going all out with Hello Heritage, “a weekend dedicated to visitors and expats” in 2015, this year there’s no English to be seen.

Vestegnens Kulturuge 2016: forgotten giants and guerilla knitting

Update, Nov: spotted in our local library, a booklist from the six library services covering the topics of ghettoen, forstadsliv, de fremmede, to be or not to be and på den anden side – mainly Danish books, and very well done, but not traced online – seems a bit of a wasted effort

Fourth time of asking for our local festival, Vestegnens Kulturuge (2013 | 2014 | 2015), which ran from 9-18 September. Aimed increasingly at Familien Danmark, like so many festivities in Happy DK, with lean pickings for those not in that demographic. One news story even went so far as to highlight a classical concert as an event for those interested in ‘culture’, so kudos to Albertslund, offering a range of Hamlet themed events as the final part of its participation in the literary exhibition hall project, plus a kunstvandring.

While generally each of the six kommuner do their own thing during the festival period, Thomas Dambo’s Forgotten Giants project (Vestegnens Kulturuge) extended across the whole area, with six sculptures constructed over a period of six months. Made from recycled wood and built with the help of volunteers, the giants were hailed by local mayors as illustrating Vestegnen’s values: working together, recycling and volunteering.

In a sort of ‘because it’s there’ approach, we picked up our first giant in Ishøj back in June, mopping up the final one in our manor both under construction and at its fernisering. While the project did fulfill its stated aim of taking us to new parts of Vestegnen, it also showed off the bleakness of its over-planned nether regions, empty streets of low rise sprawl broken only by broad roads, reachable mainly by motorway or local train, with all traces of life hidden away.

Driving out to Høje Taastrup all the way down ruler-straight Roskildevej through a stretch lined with shiny sheds we could have been in the USA, an impression only reinforced by a pit stop at Wittrup Motel. Having located the giant via iphone (as well as being forgotten ie glemt, most of the sculptures are also hidden, ie gemt) we snapped it and exited, never likely to return. Sited in a low-lying marsh, now managed parkland, and a stone’s throw from the motorway, the background hum of traffic was ever present – a common problem in the area.

So let’s call it for an enterprising soul in Hvidovre who set up a Strik byen smuk project (broadly: Knit the city prettystory), which can’t quite be called for guerilla knitting due to its planned nature, but heck, this is Denmark, nothing happens without a plan. Mainly around the town hall, and taken down in no short order by Monday morning.

Knitting also featured in the 1970s themed Golden Days festival, also taking place during September throughout the Greater Copenhagen region. Ishøj library offered a session on Hønsestrik, a feminist inspired knitting movement kicked off by Kirsten Hofstätter’s 1973 manifesto, riffing on women as a flock of hens (høns) and dispensing with patterns. Rather more upmarket, the new Kähler i Tivoli enterprise hosted a knitting salon on the same theme.

Before you say: how hyggeligt, yes indeed, but the knitters, lucky with the weather (soggy knitting would not have been great), were plagued by thefts and vandalism, malicious or no, so some norms do apply. And interestingly, Dambo’s sculptures outside DK tend to have rather more edge.

Also running over the summer was Stemmer fra Hvidovre (Voices from Hvidovre; story | again | yet again | critique | response | again | again), egnsteater from Teater Vestvolden, a former children’s theatre gradually offering some rather more innovative productions. Taking the form of teatret i byrummet, the production was part of the current wave of site specific theatre. 40 people per performance were driven around the locality in a toy train in search of Hvidovre’s DNA, hearing stories old and new from a squad of 90 volunteers in a celebration of Hvidovre’s fællesskab (community spirit) and foreningsliv (participation in clubs and societies).

With schools in Denmark starting the new term in early/mid August Vestegnens Kulturuge represents a good opportunity to enjoy late summer, which tends to have rather better weather than the increasingly unreliable mass holiday month of July. As well as Golden Days it overlaps with a cornucopia of other festivals, including NaturensdagAeronautisk Dag, Mosensdag, Copenhagen Art Run (Vinkbh)…and with a clang of inevitability, Family Days.

Brecht in Denmark

Updates: On thinking about hell in Los Angeles, disrupting utopian images of California, and Concerning the label emigrant continue some of the themes of  the Svendborger Gedichte…meanwhile, the Danes went Brecht crazy in autumn 2016, with Immigranten, an interpretation of Flüchtlingsgespräche performed på dansk by Xenia Noetzelmann and Katrin Weisser to music by Bent Fabricius-Bjerre, at Louisiana (11 Oct) and Karens Minde (20-28 Oct), plus Svendborger Gedichte, in a new – and complete – translation as Svendborgdigte set to music by Saybia’s Søren Huss, at Baggård Teatret (Svendborg, 17 Nov – 2 Dec) and at Teater Grob (6-10 Dec); coming to Valby in January 2018.

Skønlitteratur på P1 featured the Svendborgdigte on 7 June 2017, with an interview with translator and old Brecht hand Hans Christian Nørregaard. Nørregaard visited Helene Weigel in East Berlin in 1963. Following several radio broadcasts he made a film for DR2 about Brecht’s Danish exile, Under stråtage (review), in 1998. He has also published several works on German exiles in Denmark in the 1930s, including På flugt fra nazismen and Tysksprogede emigranter i Danmark fra 1933. (In this connection see also 2016’s Networks of refugees from Nazi Germany.)

It seems that Brecht as poet was/is? less known in Denmark. In the 1930s he was viewed  as having had his time with Die Dreigroschenoper – it was only later that it became clear that his Danish exile represented a period of transition, with his next great work, Mutter Courage, written under that thatched roof in Svendborg, heralding a new epoch in theatre.

Nørregaard highlighted Til efterkommerne (An die Nachgeborenen; Wikipedia | English) as one of the Danish poems which has stood the test of time (it seems that in Danish literary circles Brecht was for a time known as Bertolt Brugt). A snippet of BB reciting the poem (in an unexpectedly high-pitched voice) can be heard at around 13 mins in (here’s a full reading), followed by a Danish reading.

And finally, it turns out that Svendborg has its own kulturkanon, featuring Brecht and other writers including Karin Michaëlis, owner of the house on the nearby island of Thurø where Brecht first stayed in 1933. Five times Nobel nominee Johannes Jørgensen (1866-1956) was born and died in Svendborg, while Danish modernist poet Tom Kristensen (1893-1974), born in London, lived on Thurø from 1946  until his death in 1974.

On last autumn’s Golden Days festival programme I spotted two bouts of German cabaret songs, at Frederiksberg’s Revymuseet and Riddersalen, where, hold the front page! Brecht sat at the back during the final rehearsals for the Round Heads and Pointy Heads premiere on 4 November 1936. The thing itself even got a performance in Den Sorte Diamant, as part of an Eisler 2015 conference.

It turns out that Brecht lived in Svendborg, a fair sized town (pop: 26K) on the drive-through island of Fyn, from June 1933 to April 1939. He was invited to Denmark by journalist and writer Karin Michaëlis, who during the 1930s had several German emigrants as houseguests in her house on the nearby island of Thurø.

While in Svendborg Brecht wrote Mother Courage, The life of Galileo (with the figure of Galilei initially based on Niels Bohr) and The good person of Szechwan, and was visited by Hanns Eisler and klaxon! Walter Benjamin. The Brecht family also had a summer house in Dragør (update: according to Ekstra Bladet of the 29 September 1934 the Brechts spent that summer at Dragør Badehotel, which feels more likely). In 1939 they upped sticks to an island near Stockholm, then to Finland, ending up in the USA from 1941-47.

Other pining Germanists may enjoy Re-thinking Brecht, an international research project, responsible for some new translations into English. I watched Songs of Exile and War, a film launching the project in 2013 with poems and songs set to Eisler’s music – see the rather moving Visit to the banished poets and Children’s Crusade 1939. While the style can feel a little over-egged today, I still had an urge to reach for my Dagmar Krause cassettes. And I can visualise a volume of Brecht poetry I owned in the 1980s (why does one get rid of books, really?), which was surely John Willett’s translation part 3.

Brecht’s Svendborger Gedichte (1939, published in Copenhagen) also got a couple of run-outs at Golden Days courtesy of Oktoberkoret. Here’s the Motto to the ‘Svendborg Poems’:

In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will be singing
About the dark times.

Bertolt Brecht: Poems 1913-1956 (trans. John Willett, 1976)

Motto der ‘Svendborger Gedichte’

In den finsteren Zeiten
Wird da auch gesungen werden?
Da wird auch gesungen werden.
Von den finsteren Zeiten.

Svendborg hosts an annual-ish Brecht festival, Dage med Brecht (Facebook), running this year from 24-28 February. I visited Svendborg back in the day, it’s pleasant enough if crashingly dull; Benjamin described the southern tip of Fyn as “one of the most remote areas you can imagine”, with its “unexploited” nature and lack of links to the modern world a mixed blessing. This year’s festival has lots of music and a bit of a refugee focus, as well it might, and there’s a tour round Brecht’s house at Skovsbo Strand 8, which looks a world away from 1930s Berlin.

Update, 9 March: the library has duly delivered two publications on Brecht in Denmark:

  • Bertolt Brecht i Danmark – pamphlet published by the Brecht-Zentrum der DDR in cooperation with Svendborg Kommune in 1984 as a celebration of the setting up of a memorial plaque in Svendborg in 1981, currently languishing in the Stadsbibliotek’s Depotbibiliotek; includes reminiscences from journalist Frederik Martner and actor Dagmar Andreasen
  • Brecht på Fyn – in two parts (Under det fynske stråtag covering mainly his life on Fyn and De alt for små øer on his work and its reception in Denmark at the time), by Harald Engberg, published in 1966 by Andelsbogtrykkeriet i Odense and acquired by Hvidovre libraries on publication, now smelling a bit fusty TBH
  • see also Die Welt geht hier stiller unter: Das Brecht-Haus im dänischen Svendborg

At the front of Under det... there’s a great photo of Brecht in June 1934 in flat cap and what looks like my father’s cardigan, holding a cigar, plus a picture of the house in 1966 (“der er kommet lidt småpynt til siden Brechts dage, som ikke er hans stil”); other photos include Brecht at the typewriter in his study and behind the wheel of his ancient Ford Model T, in which he took drives to stave off restlessness, but not the money shot of Brecht playing chess with Walter Benjamin in the garden.

Brecht left Germany on 28 February 1933, the day after the Reichstag fire, travelling first to Prague and Vienna, before looking for somewhere to live in Switzerland. Finding Zurich too expensive, he next checked out Paris where Kurt Weill was living, but he was no Francophile and did not settle. He arrived in Denmark on 20 June 1933 and bought the ramshackle fisherman’s house in Svendborg on 9 August 1933 for 7000 kr., moving in on 28 December. In a letter to Walter Benjamin on 22 December he wrote “Der er behagligt her”, and that it was possible to survive on 1oo kr. (6o Reichsmarks) a month. In addition, Svendborg library would get you _any_ book you want. The language was unusually easy, and above all “verden går under mere stille her”. (Any links to the original German of these and other quotes below appreciated.)

Brecht brought his own world with him into exile, making no great effort to learn Danish or mix with the locals. He also travelled widely – in 1934 to London and again in 1936, in 1935 to Moscow and New York, to New York again in 1936, plus several visits to Paris.

The Svendborg VI poems Zufluchtsstätte, Gedanken über die Dauer des Exils and Über die Bezeichnung Emigranten underline his feelings of flight, coupled with impatience and restlessness:

Immer fand ich den Namen falsch, den man uns gab: Emigranten.
Daß heißt doch Auswanderer. Aber wir
Wanderten doch nicht aus, nach freiem Entschluß
Wählend ein anderes Land. Wanderten wir doch auch nicht
Ein in ein Land, dort zu bleiben, womöglich für immer.
Sondern wir flohen. Vertriebene sind wir, Verbannte.
Und kein Heim, ein Exil soll das Land sein, das uns aufnahm.
Unruhig sitzen wir so, möglichst nahe den Grenzen
Warten des Tags der Rückkehr…

The Danish idyll was not for him. No Romantic, the delights of Fyn, the garden of Denmark, did not entice him to reverie, although his sojourn in “isolated Svendborg” was paradoxically productive – perhaps a reaction to that very peace and stillness – and he was able to enjoy a stable family life with his two youngest children for the first time. The Danish stråtag (das dänische Strohdach – thatched roof) offered him a form of camouflage, and became a frequently employed metaphor during his years of exile.

Brecht received a residence permit from Sweden on 14 April 1939, leaving Denmark on Easter Monday and selling the house to a sheet music dealer. While in Sweden he wrote his reminiscences of his time in Denmark, collected as De alt for små øer (can’t trace), and continued his satirical writing as Herr Keuner, a version of which was published as Flüchtlingsgespräche after his death in 1961.

One of the 18 conversations tackles Dänemark oder der Humor. Brecht was particularly piqued by the Danes’ sense of humour, maintaining that “han ville gerne være venlig, men hans Widerspruchsgeist lod sig ikke mane i jorden”:

Sie haben immer betont: Wir sind zu schwach, um uns zu verteidigen, wir wir müssen Schweine verkaufen…Sie waren alle überzeugt, dass der Faschismus bei ihnen nicht geht, weil sie zuviel Humor haben.

His Danish friends told him that “deres humor desværre lod sig ikke oversætte, fordi den bestod af ganske små sproglige vendlinger”, to which he retorted that “når man kun kan sige små ting på et sprog, kommer man let til at skrive om små ting”.

The worst thing about Denmark was not its size, but the fact that it had everything, just on a very small scale:

Her eksisterer intet, som man kan måle det med, fordi selv målestokken er for lille. En ‘høj’ bakke i Jylland hedder som bekendt Himmelbjerget, men den er knap 200 m. høj.

While Brecht never returned to Denmark, the day before his death in 1956 the sale went through in his name on a small house in Humlebæk. Was the restless Brecht once more seeking camouflage, or simply a bolthole to work in?

Brecht’s house in Svendborg

#futurecity15: cities with an edge

Bristol took over from Copenhagen as European Green Capital in January 2015. While the CPH experience seemed to be largely aimed at the professionals, as reflected in the Danish intervention at #futurecity15 (see #liveablecity), the Bristol edition had lots of delights.

The city hosts a stonking annual Walk Fest, which in 2015 offered over 160 events. In July a symposium on walking (abstracts) at #icml52 explored walking as an aspect of the liveable city, launching a Romantic Bristol app (iTunes) looking at “how walking through a city is altered, enhanced, encouraged and deliberately or subliminally directed by representations of its history”. See also the Bristol and Romanticism walking guide (PDF).

From 17-20 November the Bristol Festival of Ideas (@festivalofideas | blog posts) hosted the Festival of the Future City (lots of audio on Soundcloud and even more on YouTube) – I’m completely green, it’s so exciting, everyone’s there, you could go on a coach tour with Jonathan Meades and a walk with Will Self (Gdn: “a way to break free from the shackles of 21st-century capitalism” (source); Will also gave a talk on JG Ballard), Iain Sinclair also in convo with Matthew Beaumont and Lauren Elkin…so different from 2014. There was also an RSA #heritageQT and any number of other delights, including thought provoking sessions  on ‘age friendly’ cities, the 100 Resilient Cities network (see website, includes Vejle; article), social mobility and Guy Standing on The Precariat. Less my thing, but worthy of note, is Playable City, based at Watershed.

From Jonathan Meades in convo with John Harris (@johnharris1969):

  • where there are people and buildings nowhere is boring
  • not a fan of planned urbanism – cities need untidiness, mess, nooks and crannies
  • the “silent majority” of buildings not commented on, vs “institutionalised tweeness” (Letchworth) – all create a richness
  • precipitous cities (up/down, hills!) are good too
  • “the irony curtain” (north of Birmingham)

How can I entice JM to CPH?

Iain Sinclair:

  • you can judge the quality of a city by how fast people walk in it
  • commented on the “entitlement of bicycles” in London, cue much hilarity, if only you knew…with pedestrianism, in particular individual/ised walking, seen as a regressive pastime
  • the magnetic pull of places in a city, eg the Arnolfini in Bristol, and the need to walk to perceive this geography of the city – walking renews the city as landscape

The #futurecity15 opening event explored what we want our future cities to be. In the age of modernism the stress was on the practical and quick; at the moment many are following the path of enchantment, which brings its own dangers. We are now entering the second cycle of urban development, with a range of different lenses the city can be viewed by:

Increasingly there is a need to stand up for the traditional unruly city. Isolated people are excluded by gentrification, which offers a safer, cleaner, richer environment where everyone and everything is alike – lurking behind this is a fear of difference. Cities are shifting from being liminal places of contact and connection to isolation wards, with the like penned in with the like (Olivia Laing). Gentrification is in opposition to the cosmopolitan (multiple, diverse).

The closing event (George’s state of the city address) was a tad formal, after the introduction by Ian McMillan (around 9 mins), that is:

It seems Ian is poet in residence at the Academy of Urbanism.

So that’s it for the Bristol as Green City and the Bristol Method – Ljubljana up next.

#futurecity15 bon mot

Vestegnens Kulturuge 2015

Third time out! See my posts on 2013 and 2014. This year’s Vestegnens Kulturuge (programme | Facebook), the local arts festival, took place from 4-13 September. Sadly with no Brøndby or Glostrup this year, but with events across six kommuner to the south west of the Copenhagen council area (Hvidovre, Rødovre, Albertslund, Vallensbæk, Ishøj and Høje-Taastrup).

Vestegnensruten

Vestegnensruten: marathon route around six kommuner

It being International Year of Light the festival had the over-arching theme of light art, with a joint project entitled Lys over Vestegnen (Light over Vestegnen) projecting six beams of light, one per kommune, into the sky after dark. The six beams met over Vestegnen as a symbol of their joint effort.

A further joint event saw the Vestegnensruten marathon route relaunched, with starts and a range of activities in each of the six kommuner.

Other than that there was little to tempt outside Hvidovre, with the programme dominated by family friendly activities rather than cultural events. Despite best efforts Vestegnen doesn’t hang together as an area, but remains six separate entities joined by transport corridors.

Three events in Hvidovre of note. Forstadsmuseet’s Poul Sverrild gave a lecture about Avedøre and its contribution to local cultural heritage: “Vi ser dem hver dag som selvfølgelige. Vi ser dem måske i virkeligheden slet ikke. Men de er vores kommende og nuværende kulturarv. Bygningerne og det menneskeskabte landskab. Vores forstad Avedøre, som måske er by – måske land – måske noget helt tredje? Avedøres historie er nemlig noget helt særlig.”

Two events made a stab at realising Hvidovre’s ‘filmby’ branding. Open Air Film saw a film café in Risbjerggård showing archive films about the area and a feature film on the grass outside, while Stage your mind saw the realisation of the Innosite competition on the grass (see article):

 ’Inside the Camera & An Unknown Bird', artwork and seating area in one!

David Musaelyan’s ’Inside the Camera & An Unknown Bird’, artwork and seating area in one!

The Edinburgh police box

I bagged two old Edinburgh police boxes on my visit in December:

It turns out they are a thing! Next sighted on a post on Urban Ghosts, which led me onwards to Planet Edinburgh’s cultural historyThe Edinburgh Reporter’s collection and Malcolm Irving’s gallery.

My box was the Barnton Box. I could have sworn it wasn’t there the last time I passed, nearly three years ago, but Wikimedia Commons has a picture from April 2006, and here’s now, or at least June 2014, courtesy of Google Street View. It looks rather unloved. (And WTF is going on with the Barnton Hotel and the petrol station?)

It just goes to show how you stop noticing things when you walk past them every day. Now I just need to find an older picture with the 20 bus stop outside, maybe a 1970s Google Street View, with me, my brother and my mother waiting for the bus.

Next time there’s a sell-off I might even be tempted. After all, there’s a red phone box in the garden of a house at Friheden, so why not an Embra police box too? (Turns out you can rent a phone box, should you want to.)

a red phone box - now how did that get there?

a red phone box – now how did that get there?

And what do you know, this weekend sees the Edinburgh Police Box Festival (@Edinburgh_box; #policeboxfestivalFacebook; mapstory), celebrating this iconic piece of street furniture and its new eclectic uses. Now that’s what I call a festival.

Updates: and now there’s the Embra police box book, aka From cuffs to community by Dane in Edinburgh @Photina_dk. I’m sure it’s gorgeous osv, but at £25 that’s Danish prices. You can take the girl out of Denmark…The Police Box, open on Doors Open weekend in 2016 and 2017 (but where is it?? lots more police box news)…