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…

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.

Copenhagen’s paternoster lifts

Update: more lifts – New York’s elevators define the city

Paternoster lifts, God bless them. First encountered in Dr Murke in 1979, and seemingly a significant part of Heinrich Böll’s legacy – the very lift that inspired the story is the setting a WDR 2 interview show. Definitely a German thing – the final scene of Doris Dörrie’s 1985 film Männer has also stayed with me, and as evidenced by the 789 comments to the recent Guardian story, a thing for many other people too.

It turns out that Copenhagen boasts five paternosters, three of which are easily accessible. Some Google action brings up videos of three of them.

Easiest to visit is probably the KVUC building at Vognmagergade 8, a stone’s throw from Nørreport and just round the corner from the Danish Film Institute. KVUC is an adult education centre, so access shouldn’t be a problem.

Built for a public utility company in best National Romantic style in 1913, the building certainly looks like it should have a paternoster. Heritage Elevator’s video shows students getting on and off in orderly fashion.

Vognmagergade 8

Vognmagergade 8 (pic: Arkitekturbilleder)

Next up, the Axelborg building, at a plum spot opposite the main entrance to Tivoli. Dating from 1920, Axelborg houses a number of agricultural organisations and hosts conferences and other events. Getting into the foyer at least is easy enough. Heritage Elevators has bagged this one too, and there’s a further vid from January 2015. Note however that this paternoster was the scene of a fatal accident in May this year.

While you’re there take a look at the plaque on the wall of the pub on the ground floor, marking the spot where Børge Thing, leader of Danish resistance group BOPA, narrowly escaped arrest in 1944. Axelborg is named after Absalon, the founder of Copenhagen (Axel is the Danish equivalent), and has some notable neighbours. On one side is Arne Jacobsen’s 1960 SAS Royal Hotel, while the other will shortly be occupied by the 16 floor Axel Towers, replacing the Scala building pulled down in 2012.

Axelborg and the SAS Royal Hotel

Axelborg and the SAS Royal Hotel

Getting out of the city centre and moving on a few decades brings us to Frederiksberg Town Hall, inaugurated in 1953 after a 12 year building process. Frederiksberg is well worth a visit – a separate council area with a population of over 100K it is surrounded by Copenhagen but retains a rather different feel, due not least to its own brand of street furniture and a profusion of street trees.

There are tours of the town hall on the first Saturday of every month (see pics), but it is a public building so more than likely you can take a look during working hours. Failing that, there’s a two part video.

Frederiksberg Town Hall

Frederiksberg Town Hall

Paternoster no 4 can be found in Denmark’s parliament building, aka Borgen. Originally all Borgen’s lifts were paternosters, but all bar one were decommissioned in 1990. Assorted parliamentarians have used the lift to make a sharp exit, if not Birgitte Nyborg, while in 2014 a TV 2 reporter lost his equipment down the shaft. There’s a video showing the full circuit.

parliamentarian and paternoster

parliamentarian and paternoster (pic: Kasper S)

The fifth and final paternoster can be found in Danske Bank’s HQ in Holmens Kanal, or so they say. It’s in all the listicles, but no further information can be found.

On a related note, I’m pretty sure Danish escalators go at a faster lick than their UK equivalents, and the ones without steps are really steep – have a go next time you are at CPH airport.

Sources: Arkark.dkArkitekturbilleder, EkstrabladetFrihedsmuseets VennerInden for voldene, Kristeligt Dagblad.

Den Grønne Sti: walking from Frederiksberg to Valby

Amid the cacophony about cycling in Copenhagen there is a handful of innovative facilities for walking as a way of getting around. Den Grønne Sti (green path), also known as Nørrebroruten, is a handy way of cutting across Copenhagen’s tiresome topography from outer Nørrebro to Frederiksberg and on to Valby. Started as a pilot project in 2008, Nørrebroruten is 9km long, part of a 40km network of green (cycle) paths to be completed some day soon.

The path starts at Lyngbyvej in Bispebjerg and ends at Valby Langgade. Copenhagen Green states almost as an afterthought that “pedestrians are allowed to use the route too”, thanks guys, and bigs up mainly the northern section. Here’s a look at the southwestern section, following parts of the old railway line through Frederiksberg to Valby. Signage isn’t fantastic – a couple of times I had to retrace my steps to relocate the path after crossing a road, but for most of the stretch it’s a pleasant stroll. OpenStreetMap’s route plan shows clearly how the path opens up new routes from a to b across the city.

Start at Kejserinde Dagmars Plads, just across the road from Frederiksberg Centret and the metro. Kejserinde Dagmar, aka Tsarina Maria Feodorovna and mother of the last tsar, was daughter of Christian IX of Denmark (the father in law of Europe) and younger sister of Britain’s Queen Alexandra. Seemingly a feisty pair.

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Cross the road and walk across the windswept plains of Copenhagen Business School’s campus (update: redevelopment afoot), complete with pampas grass.

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A bit of a dogleg at Finsensvej brings you to a bicycle counter…

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…and a nice wooded stretch. The path was initially designed for commuters, but on a Saturday afternoon there were dogwalkers, people carrying their shopping home, etc. But let’s just enjoy the autumn colours.

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HF Dalgas (usually translated as allotments, but with permanent structures allowed and running water for six months of the year many people use their plots as quasi summer houses) offers some great photo opportunities…

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…with some reasonably successful new developments the other side of the path.

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At this point the path runs alongside Solbjerg Parkkirkegård, dating from 1865. One of Denmark’s biggest graveyards at 18 hectares, it’s to be turned into a park by 2050, the result of changing burial fashions.

A rather larger dog leg at Roskildevej (a labrador rather than a beagle, maybe) and under the railway bridge brings you to Domus Vista, completed in 1969 and until 2005 the tallest residential structure in Scandinavia. Now in need of the same level of TLC being lavished on all those new developments.

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Leaving Frederiksberg and walking across the aktuell if underwhelming Monrads Plads (DG Monrad is the anti-hero in DR’s current blockbusting 1864) and you are on Valby Langgade. Turn left for Langgade S tog station on Herman Bangs Plads with its new street art, courtesy of Områdefornyelsen Gammel Valby and Statens Kunstfond.

Now clearly this only works when it’s dark (see pics in Magasinetkbh’s article), but Søren Ulrik Thomsen’s poem regn søvn blå kys from his 1982 collection Ukendt under den samme måne is displayed on that building in neon, part of the Valby Fortællinger gable art project. The word blå (blue) is in blue. Søren Ulrik sounds like a good egg – in an article in Politiken about the opening he says “there should be traffic, so you can get the city buzz. Lots of traffic, on different levels and going in different directions.”

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Audio walks: Frederiksberg, Hanstholm and getting lost

A clutch of audio walks has come along of late. Three main types:

Falling more or less into the first category, I’ve just listened to a series of 10 audio files from Frederiksberg Stadsarkiv about the area during the First World War – see Syndikalister, kunstnere og gullaschbaroner (map). (Frederiksberg is an enclave with Copenhagen, a separate municipality, which means it does its own thing culturally.)

Part of the recent Golden Days Festival, the files are also available as an app, which does offer a map, but they work just as well as podcasts. At over eight minutes in some cases they might feel too long to listen to in situ, where there were also pictures and text on stands during the festival. Content heavy, I don’t feel I’ve retained much in the medium to long term, and I’m more likely to go back to the text versions which popped up on the blog.

Bill Aitchison highlights a feature of this sort of audio tour: “You look on the map, walk to number 1 then press play and listen. When that’s finished you look at the map, go to number 2, press play and so on.” More effective, although more onerous to create, are tours which offer directions and a commentary at the same time, “so that you walk with it and it talks to you throughout”.

An example of this type of audio walk is the Energy Walk at Hanstholm, a small town on the north west coast of Jutland with several claims to fame. As well as its fortress bunker, Europe’s biggest fortification from the Second World War, the town has the largest industrial harbour in Denmark, with ferries to the Faroes and Iceland, and is a centre for marine energy. Traces can be found in the area from both prehistoric times and the Vikings.

The Energy Walk, developed as part of the Alien Energy project (Facebook | fanzine) running at Copenhagen’s IT University under its Energy Futures banner, brings all this together. Launched on 6 September in Hanstholm – see the photos or listen to the audio (English and Danish) – until 1 November you can collect a digital walking stick at Færgegrillen in Hanstholm, should you be passing, and follow the walk that way, although it works fine as a podcast.

This one takes a more lyrical approach, with the English version narrated by ethnographer Laura Watts, who blogs at Sand14. I have to admit to finding it a tad tiresome in places, although traces have stayed with me.

Finally, coming up on Friday 3 October at 18:30 BST is Fracture Mob, an audio led flash mob by artist Jennie Savage, who is inviting people all over the world to get lost simultaneously:

This audio walk invites you to become lost in your familiar geography and the fictional sonic landscape of the audio guide, where you will encounter street markets, shopping malls, beaches and birdsong recorded in enigmatic locations. The artist’s instructions to walk are the same for us all, however each of us will interpret her directions, walk at a different pace, become lost in familiar territories and, of course, inhabit different landscapes.

The walk can be followed live on the day or downloaded as a 30 minute ambient soundscape in three flavours: wanderer, idler or drifter. Meet points have been set up at various locations, including Christianshavn metro. The walk was commissioned by Plymouth Arts Centre and coincides with the opening of the Walk On exhibition, still doing the rounds – hear Jennie talk about it and her other work on Talking Walking.

While I’m getting the intention behind all this, the performative aspect is troubling and when I’m walking I like to be in the moment, it’s kind of the point. But getting lost, or waylosing, is turning into one of those tropes – see the experimental travel tag. On the day I will be in Venice, however if you are tempted to participate do let me know how you get on. Update: Bill Aitchison on following the tour in Beijing, and hear Charlotte Spencer and friends describe Walking Stories, a similar performance undertaken by groups of 20 in a park.