Vestegnens Kulturuge 2017: digital art, mindfulness and poetry

Vestegnens Kulturuge (FB; programmeprevious years) is usually almost exclusively family oriented, but this year it turned up some ‘high’ culture in the shape of a subset of events around 1980s poet Michael Strunge amidst the broader theme of PÅ ELEKTRISK GRUND (sic; FB).

Sadly though much of the week was a wash-out, grey and chilly with prolonged rain and some slushy hail to finish. Two events were cancelled: Mosensdag in Vallensbæk, due to the bog/marsh, which acts as a flood basin leading water away from nearby houses, being completely under water, and Copenhagen Art Run in Ishøj Strandpark, deemed unsafe due to the conditions.

Where last year there were giants, this year there was Tryllebundet (Spellbound), six exhibits in containers showing the latest in digital art, coordinated by Vallensbæk’s DIAS Kunsthal. As well as the works themselves DIAS put together a number of accompanying activities and a Google Map of the area’s public art – now that is handy!

Forstadsmuseet had a Hvidovre-based game (with notebook and pencil; update: got my hands on this analogue artefact, developed in conjunction with Play Agency – looks very impressive), plus re-runs of some of its walks, while Rødovre opened up its bunker, a kommunale kommandocentral under Arne Jacobsen’s library, who knew, as part of its Cold War project.

Each of the six kommuner had its special day, largely unrelated to the overall theme, made up of events organised by local foreninger with the communal culture centre as venue. Hvidovre, perhaps making up for the lack of a shiny culture centre while we wait for the new bymidte, mounted two special days, pushing the boat out on the second Saturday of the ‘week’ in Hvidovre C with a range of events including a 12 hour mindfulness themed soveconcert (Sleep Concert), from GoSlow and sound artist Karsten Pflum. Gosh.

The previous Saturday was centred around Hvidovre town hall at the opposite end of the kommune. This included readings in Risbjerggård from personal fave Søren Ulrik Thomsen, a contemporary of Michael Strunge, and Caspar Eric, very much inspired by him.

Other Strunge related events included several riffs on the title of his 1984 collection Væbnet med vinger:

Michael Strunge (1958-86) was born in a clinic in Rødovre (venue of Denmark’s first punk gig by Sods in 1977) and grew up in Hvidovre, specifically in Berners Vænge, on the modernist Bredalsparken estate. He went to Sønderkærskolen (reminiscences) before attending Vestre Borgerdyd Gymnasium on Sjælør Boulevard in Valby.

Between 1978 and 1985 he published 11 collections of poetry, most of it written in a flat he shared with his girlfriend in Hvidovre. He died in 1986 at the age of 27, like his heroes Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison, jumping out of a window at Webersgade 17 in Østerbro (plaque), and is buried in Assistens Kirkegård.

A figurehead for his generation and usually dubbed a ‘punk’ poet, but we’re not really talking John Cooper Clarke here:

Søren Ulrik Thomsen was born in Kalundborg and spent most of his childhood in Stevns, but at the reading admitted to living on Arnold Nielsens Boulevard from the age of 2-6, in one of the red and white blocks at the Hvidovrevej end. He knew Strunge well, although was careful to stress that they were very different in personality.

Fondly known as Hvidovre’s tourist bureau, SUT cited the “rigtig smukt forstadsbyggeri” Berners Vænge in Politiken’s Riv byen ned series. A poem in his latest collection has the title I Hvidovre, på novemberdage (translation by Susanna Nied, p19), while a recent essay includes the indispensable quote:

og jeg ser for mig, Hvidovre for fyrre år siden, som med små selvbyggerhuse og lys og luft mellem boligblokkene vel både historisk og geografisk var “den første forstad”, med alt, hvad det indbefattede af søde drømme om en lille sort folkevogn og et tv-apparat og i det hele taget et bedre liv end det, der levedes f.eks. på Vesterbro, som Hvidovre må være udflytning af

[and I see before me the Hvidovre of forty years ago, which with its small self-built houses and open spaces between the tower blocks was probably the first suburb, both historically and geographically, with all that entails: sweet dreams of a little black Beetle and a television and all in all a better life than that lived for example in Vesterbro, which Hvidovre may be a relocation of]

Perhaps the suburbs still have an authenticity of time and place, less found in today’s Happy CPH. In København con amore (2006), the product of trips to the outer reaches of CPH with photographer Jokum Rohde, SUT presents photos of two very local spots, Hvidovrevejens Partyslagter at Hvidovrevej 277 (now Pangs Smørrebrød), while Lis’s Kaffebar at 340 C is now occupied by Hot & Cool and French Chicken. Things are changing, even in Hvidovre.

Back to Strunge with Vestegnens KulturCast, an enthusiastic effort from Vallensbæk Kultur- og Borgerhus, with two dedicated episodes plus full interviews with Anne Marie Mai and Jørgen Aabenhus. The second episode has readings from Asger Schnack in Taastrup Bibliotek and from school students in the 9th class in Vallensbæk. All well worth a listen.

In 1985 AMM and MS published Mai Strunge, a book of their conversations and letters. She followed this up in 2008 with an anthology, En bog om Michael Strunge, on what would have been his 50th birthday, co-edited with JA. In her interview she stated that MS was an ‘anarkistisk kameleon’, unconstrained by fashions/styles in poetry and uninterested in socially engaged poems with a message.

JA examined MS’s relationship with life in the suburbs, not least as reflected in his 1981 poem COMA, observing people waiting at a bus stop on Hvidovrevej. At that time Hvidovre was very homogeneous, middelmådig and småborgelig, a poster child for the velfærdssamfund – and a prime case for teenage rebellion. There’s a tension here with hygge, of which I’m guessing MS wasn’t a big fan, but as JA pointed out hygge is more likely to be found in the home than at a bus stop.

By way of contrast, when asked a brace of Vestegnen residents named the slower tempo of life, which you notice as soon as you get off said bus, vs too much traffic, too many people and the lack of greenery in the city, as the advantages of living in the suburbs today.

More Strunge? see Litteratursiden, which also has a recent feature on 1980s literature, and biographies by Knud Munck (2oo1) and Peter Rewers (2015). For more SUT, see People vs place in Copenhagen.

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On looking and dog walking

tracks for a human, most dogs, labrador and beagle

I got into walking as a ‘cultural activity’ after our first dog moved in. He’s now eight and a bit, joined two years later by a little brother. Being beagles, known for their stubborn nature and equipped with the second best nose in the canine kingdom, they are not the most trainable of hounds. (My mother: don’t get a beagle – they run away). This can make walks challenging.

The writer walking the dog describes dog walking thus:

a strange activity somewhere between Romantic walking for inspiration and walking to work and leisure walking and a chore like washing up…

We have a repertoire of five walks which can be extended or reduced depending on the season (our routes on the coldest and hottest days of the year are practically identical), a beagle-scale interpretation of the 30 minute walk round the block. We have also tried beating the bound/aries, or at least as much of them as is within beagling distance, off-pavement action permitting.

While the beags keep their noses on the job I am free to make my own observations of our patch, exploring the unexpected in the local streetscape from prize winning modernist housing to a Le Corbusier style block, tracking the latest teardowns and outdoor fashions, and monitoring the state of trees. Our walks are the perfect justification for wandering into areas where a daily routine would never take us.

After growing up with dogs I had my own take on how things should be, and getting to grips with Danish dog walking habits has taken its toll. I never got the memo which said you should train your dog to ignore other dogs – round here most dog walkers would rather cross the road than exchange greetings. End result: a food chain of unsocialised dogs ranging from the French bulldog who reacts to a beagle, who himself reacts to a labrador.

It’s a different matter in parks and open spaces, where it seems that beagle owners are the only ones who pay attention to dogs on leash signs. And the few dog parks are packed with over-excited dogs getting a rare social fix – a stressful environment with a fight just waiting to happen. (Sadly, most dog parks aren’t well fenced, which makes them a no-no for beagle nr 2, a true escape artist.)

All this has a parallel in the unspontaneity of Danish social life, where encounters are planned ahead with those you know and eye contact on the street is avoided. Just the first of many lessons into Danishness learned through walking.

So we tend to walk solo on our own particular kind of drift, with the twin inspirations of John Zeaman’s Dog walks man, a unique combination of doggy memoir and psychogeography, and suggestion 15 of the Lonely Planet guide to experimental travel:

If you don’t normally walk a dog, take one for a walk and be led by what interests the dog.

In On looking Alexandra Horowitz, psychologist and animal behaviourist (plus owner of “two large, non-heeling dogs”) describes how she was inspired by walking with her dog Pumpernickel to consider how her daily journeys could be done better. In the book she undertakes 11 walks round the block with assorted experts in the way of seeing. Some lessons from her walks:

  • from her 19 month old son – the world at a different granularity, overlooking the edges or limits of an object
  • from  a typographer – the compulsion to read what was readable, to parse all visible text (it’s the same for editors, I’m thinking)
  • from a naturalist – the power of the search image, a mental image of what you seek, ignoring everything else (this explains the efficiency of how a dog finds food – and how we can spot our friends in a crowd but not find something under our noses when it deviates from the expected)

Her reaction to a walk with Fred Kent of the Project for Public Spaces presents a refreshing take on Jane Jacob’s ‘sidewalk ballet’. Alexandra is a pavement rage type: “slow-moving pedestrians clutching recent purchases and looking at the storefronts, up in the air, anywhere but where they are going…the storefronts that attract their attention are ubiquitous and cluttered – to my eye, visually messy”. For her “a surfeit of slow walkers and loiterers” is a hindrance, for Fred “it’s social; it’s kind of getting a sense of something.”

On that block of Broadway with Fred Kent, I was starkly reminded of the very simple truth that there are many ways to look at the same event.

Alexandra also revisits the territory of her earlier Inside of a dog. Most dog walks are done to allow the ‘animal’ to pee or to get exercise – just as most human walks are done to get from a to b in the quickest time possible. What about walks simply to ‘see’ the world?

Walking with Pumpernickel means seeing the world through her choices, the subjects of her attention and what she balks at or lunges towards. Walks geared to Pumpernickel’s needs:

  • into-the-wind walks – eyes closed, nose in the air, nostrils working
  • smell walks – revisiting old smells, finding new ones…walks defined by smell rather than length or destination (for humans, odours tend to be either enticing or repugnant, alluring or foul, evocative or evaded, but to a dog, smells are simply information, their world a topography wrought of odours)
  • sitting walks for the more mature – in a field with ample olfactory vistas and plenty of dogs upwind (the beags do this in the garden)
  • social walks – to interact with other dogs
  • to avoid: long blocks with no trees or lampposts

Returning alone to her walk round the block Alexandra finds herself alarmed at the limitations of ‘amateur eyes’. Her 11 companions, equipped with diverse sets of coordinates and systems of navigation, have helped her overcome the ‘selective enhancement requirement’ for paying attention, highlighting the different parts of the world we have learned to ignore or do not even know we can see.

She realises that she is missing much simply in the name of concentration (attention’s companion: inattention to everything else): “we miss the possibility of being surprised by what is hidden in plain sight right in front of us”.

From Howard Nemerov’s Walking the dog:

Two universes mosey down the street
Connected by love and a leash and nothing else.

…a pair of symbionts
Contented not to think each other’s thoughts.

foto

walk? who said walk?

What’s in a name? Creating and curating urban narratives

Exploring place names can increase the interest of a location, triggering a sense of place and evoking cultural or natural associations – like mini cultural narratives, place names create experiences of belonging.

Take Hvidovre, my personal suburb, abutting its polar twin, Rødovre. Tricky for most foreigners to pronounce or even differentiate, with the first featuring a silent H, the second an unfamiliar vowel, and both the ever-softer blød D. Stick with this, it gets even better.

Research traces the two names back to the 17th century, with the ovre suffix coming from Old Danish awartha, meaning åbred (the banks of a stream) or bevogtet sted ved åen (a protected place by the stream). Records of a village with the name Aworthæ date as far back as 1186, when Pope Urban III acknowledged receiving it as a gift from Archbishop Absalon. Variants in spelling abound, and there were several villages bearing the name. To differentiate between the two villages south of Copenhagen Rødovre was initially called Øvre Ovre, as it lay further up Harrestrup Å (stream) than Hvidovre, aka Ydre Ovre. The Latin spelling of Hawerthi was also used by villagers in Øverød, north of Copenhagen, as the name for their locally produced Havarthi cheese.

According to one wag if you say Øvre and Ydre Ovre quickly enough they sound like Rød (red) and Hvid (white) Ovre, but most attribute the prefixes to the local parish churches – plastered in red in Rødovre and in white in Hvidovre. The two colours are used on local street signs – red on white in Hvidovre, and white on red in Rødovre. One street has signs in both variants.

Street names in Hvidovre range from a handful of natural features and the great and the good to batch naming after Greek gods or trees. Former farms and market gardens have been kept alive in the naming of housing estates – Bredalsgården is now Bredalsparken. And in a nice touch, a stretch outside Hvidovre C was recently named Laurits Olsensvej (again), after the hero of the 1919 railway accident at nearby Hvidovre Station (and setting off a debate about whether it should be Olsensvej or Olsens Vej).

Copenhagen’s current expansion means busy times for the city’s street naming committee, the splendidly named Vejnavnenævnet. They had a clear run in Ørestad, a tabula rasa on reclaimed land. In an approach to warm the cockles of a jaded urbanist’s heart they went for a modernist theme complementing the aspirations of the area. Streets in Ørestad City are named after architects, such as Arne Jacobsen, who also has his own Lounge in Fields shopping centre.

car park on Kay Fiskers Plads, named after the architect responsible for some pearls of Danish modernist architecture

Streets in Syd are named after artists, including CoBrA founder (and author of Fin de Copenhague) Asger Jorn, while those in Nord after writers (eg Karen Blixen) and musicians (but no Carl Nielsen). Rather more could be made of this though – there are no explanations on the street signs or other information to be had, other than an article in the local rag.

Sadly now though the naming committee seems to have dropped the ball, with streets in the new district around Bella Center to be named after random female writers including, pleasingly if rather improbably, Virginia Woolf. Equally random is the choice of Nobel peace prize winners for the area around Enghave Brygge, where I had spotted a couple of rather nice street signs earlier in the year; historical names disappearing here include Enghave Brygge itself.

Coal Road - named after the quay erected on the same spot in 1920 to supply coal to the nearby power station

Coal Road – named after the quay erected on the same spot in 1920 to supply coal to the nearby power station

Six streets around Rigshospitalet and Bispebjerg Hospital are to be named after pioneering female medics, in recognition of the lack of streets named after women. This well-meaning fashion has led to questions about whether gender is the now the sole criterion, and why all the streets have to begin with E, making them difficult to differentiate, particularly for those feeling a tad under the weather.

In 2014 12 new names were approved for the streets of Carlsberg Byen, a new area emerging on the site of the old brewery. While streets in the south east of the area at least refer back to the area’s historic functions, those in the south west are rather more tangential, supposedly acknowledging Carlsberg founder JC Jacobsen’s engagement in Denmark’s cultural life. Whereas Bohrs Tårn is memorable enough, with Nobel prize winner Niels Bohr living in Jacobsen’s house for 30 years, other figures are relatively unknown, and meanwhile some of the area’s most significant architects are being airbrushed out of history. Both Carl Harild, responsible for listed buildings such as Ny Carlsberg Bryghus and Tap E, and Svenn Eske Kristensen, the mastermind behind not least the ‘iconic’ Lægerkælder 3 (now to become a boutique hotel), are invisible.

Similar issues have been encountered in Nordhavn, a new district emerging on reclaimed land previously occupied by the old Frihavn (freeport). It’s a common trope for streets in harbour areas to be named after other port and harbour cities, and Århusgadekvarteret is no exception. Once again, the new names have not gone without comment, and in the end three streets were allowed to retain their original names, with the proposed Liverpool Plads (square) now named Nordhavns Plads.

Some of the new names feel somewhat random, based on ports of all shapes and sizes with no particular relationship to Nordhavn or even to Denmark (Murmansk, anyone?), and ranging from Southampton (which no one can say) to Sassnitz to Skt Petersborg; the clutch around Harwichgade, Calaisgade, Dover Passage and Dunkerquegade at least has a little topographical logic, and ferries used to sail from Harwich to Esbjerg, back in the day…Previous names were rather more grounded in function, such as Jernvej (Iron Road) or Tværgade (Cross Street, now the out of scale Kielgade). Others were named after luminaries now forgotten, such as the freeport’s founder Ferdinand Wilhelm Lüders.

But while Lüders may have lost his road he has gained a car park, currently one of the area’s chief draws with a rooftop exercise area, adorned by a frieze in weathering steel which also tips its hat to the former Glückstadtsvej.

frieze on P-Hus Lüders showing scenes from Nordhavn's history as a working harbour

frieze on P-Hus Lüders showing scenes from Nordhavn’s history as a working harbour

More riding roughshod over the past in Valby, where Grønttorvet (old pics), a market which provided fruit and veg to the cities’ restaurants for nearly 50 years from 1958, has recently moved to Høje Taastrup, reopening in April 2016 after a three year delay as Copenhagen Markets (rather than the initially proposed Det Nye Grønttorv, a nod to creeping Anglicisation). The area had been slated for redevelopment a la Carlsberg since 2006 and is currently experiencing the first stage of gentrification as Det Gamle Grønttorv, while we wait for delights such as Himmelhaverne. Among local concerns is the loss of local heritage, as epitomised in the proposed batch naming of the roads after types of apple, such as Cox Orangevej, more resonant of Donald Duck’s home town than authentic cultural history (latest | Magasinet KBH).

Much fun (and academic ink) can be had tracking Viking place names around the North Sea. Take THING sites – assembly sites throughout areas of Scandinavian influence can be identified by their common ting, thing, ding and fing place names, such as Gulating (Norway), Tinganes (Faroe Islands), Tingwall in both Shetland and Orkney, Dingwall (Highland) and Tynwald (Isle of Man), plus Thynghowe in Sherwood Forest, and not least Folketinget, Denmark’s parliament.

The names a city bestows on its streets are reflections of its current values. Royals may have won over Communist heroes on the streets of eastern Europe, but it’s worth remembering that in the latest chapter of the city’s toponomy St Petersburg only narrowly  beat Leningrad in the public vote. Meanwhile Londonist has a nice article about the role of placenames in city branding. In new Copenhagen street naming follows the best PC fashions, with a distinct leaning towards listing. Should do better!

best street naming ever, in Dessau

best street naming ever, in Dessau

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.

Studying walking and my practice

I’m currently participating in the Walk Exchange’s Walk Studies Training Course, a six week online seminar which “takes the form of a walk that facilitates interaction with the city through the lens of critical readings and examples of artistic practice”. Now I don’t do performance or play, let alone self-identify as an artist (at best a curator/formidler), so it’s all a bit tricky. (For more on tours as performance or artwork see B_Tour’s Imagining new spaces for an urban society through artistic guided tours | full lecture.)

From my course application:

The trigger [for my interest in walking as a practice] was moving to Denmark, which for me has not proved to be a fairy tale. Key factors are the homogeneity of Danish society and what I have come to call ‘Danish scale’ – Danes do not often dare to dream.

Walking (in a city which worships the bicycle) has played a key role in coming to terms with this. Brought up in an Edinburgh suburb in a walking family with dogs as constant companions, daily walks with my two beagles, a questing breed, have led to an intimate knowledge of Hvidovre, the suburb I live in. Weekly excursions to Copenhagen, in the main the less touristed parts, are illuminating in making connections with my life experience in a range of UK urban environments. Overseas trips provide further input – maintaining a holiday methodology in Copenhagen makes it almost feel like being on holiday once a week.

After 10 years in Denmark I still feel adrift – but it’s been a rewarding process getting to know the city better.

As far as walking in Denmark and writing about it goes, it’s a very different culture. There is, however, a wave of site specific work going on over the summer, spotted first in the shape of En landsby på højkant on Amager (reviewanother | Byens NetværkReumert-salon):

My aim in undertaking the course was primarily to put a stop to going down rabbit holes and work out what my walking practice is all about, so I can move onto a more productive phase. Here’s the course process:

  1. Read the attached text and the website linked above.
  2. Look through the walking exercises submitted after last week’s walk. Pick a few to try out during your walk.
  3. Complete this week’s walk along with a few of the exercises developed last week.
  4. Create instructions for a walking exercise that reflects your walking experience. Make sure this instruction could be completed by a solo walker, or a group of walkers. Include your instructions in the comments section below.
  5. Add any reflections, thoughts, writings, photographs, ideas, etc. to your personal page.

It’s an odd thing, with the reading a very mixed bag and the requirement to create a walk and integrate others’ into the next week’s walk representing a further challenge. Plus it feels quite anonymous – compared with a MOOC it’s not very social.

Of the other participants the Edinburgh Walking Workshop, founded in January 2016, is obviously of interest. From performance corner (see founder Jeni on on walking as a creative process), where walkers can engage with the prompts/provocations in any way they like.

Looking through their work so far I enjoyed Jeni on The Esplanade and Account of a group walk to Musselburgh, plus Kay Cur’s Purposes of walking to the airport. And, just seeing the placenames (Crags, Hermiston, Oxgangs…).

I find responding to the exercises hard, but rewarding afterwards, and it’s highlighting some key issues to unpick.

Full posts to come, but for now here’s a quick overview:

  • week 1: territories in transit – a solo walk to Hvidovre’s former centre, now a transit zone (text and photos)
  • week 2: pigeon patrol – a beagle led walk in the garden to reflect on cultural approaches to nature in the city (text)
  • week 3: going for a walk – a drift through shared space and its associated obstacles (text and photos)
  • week 4: the last walk/invisible walking – a drift on Nordic taciturnity and the designing out of personal contact (text)
  • week 5: soul experiments – hitting a dead end (text)
  • week 6: walk anywhere anytime – from oppositional practices in everyday life to the articulation of cultural narratives (text and photos)

Post-course reflection: I only actually went a specific WSTC walk in week 1, which ironically featured the least creative response. In the other weeks I used the exercises as a kick-off for my own walks, with mixed success. The exercises helped create a focus, however my issues with walking art remain. See Debbie Kent:

Does there really have to be a big gap between walking art participant and someone who takes a country walk to look at the landscape or who goes on a tour to learn about the history of a place?

She suggests that “the artist’s walk might tend to have the intention of affecting the participant or the audience in some way, whether by involving them in an unusual activity or shifting the way they perceive and process the world”, but is this specific to walking art?

 

Hvidovre’s trees

Update: 2016’s Xmas trees came from Sydkærsvej 102 and Toft Sørensens Vænge 11

A post in honour of the UK’s National Tree Week (#NationalTreeWeek), running since 1975.

Tree survey

As a planned 1950s suburb, with luft og lys (air and light) as watchwords, Hvidovre has some well planted green areas among the social housing. Bredalsparken boasts a diverse collection of mature trees including poplars and beeches, while Grenhusene, designed to evoke the branches of a tree, is made up of a series of terraces separated by copses. Egevolden makes good use of oaks, as well it might (eg = oak), with one line screening traffic noise from Gammel Køge Landevej and a second hiding the railway line.

oaks at Egevolden

oaks at Egevolden

Risbjerg Kirkegård was landscaped by architect Eywin Langkilde as an new cemetery for the growing kommune in 1965. Its avenue of plane trees between beech hedges was innovative in Denmark at the time. In 2002 the cemetery was extended with the addition of a more open section including a small lake and lawns, plus a group of quince trees.

The grounds are well cared for, although there has been some felling near the gates leaving the remaining topped conifers looking rather forlorn. Some greenery also went on nearby Biblioteksvej a couple of years ago and on the grounds of the school round the corner. Here apparently the trees were syge (diseased), but quite possibly the need for yet more bike racks played as much of a role.

Hvidovre’s lack of street trees has been highlighted in the plans for the new town centre. At our end of the kommune Paris Boulevard is lined with London planes and there is a further group on the corner of Hvidovrevej and Brostykkevej just across the road from a line of horse chestnuts.

early pollarding!

getting ahead with the pollarding

Off the main road, Svendebjergvej somehow retains a well tended ash grove, admittedly with negative effects on the pavement in places, while Catherine Booths Vej running parallel is completely bare, increasingly so as the residents get out the power saw as part of the widespread slapping down the paving habit.

Tree stories

Hvidovre’s tallest tree is the copper beech at Brostykkevej 56, on the corner of Risbjergvej. Here’s a picture of it with Valby’s late lamented gasometer behind:

Around 18m tall, the tree may well have stood on this spot in 1913 when Carl Andersen set up his market garden, using copper coloured tiles for the roof to match. Carl called his business Brassica – he grew cauliflowers and won prizes for his efforts, with the seeds exported as far away as the USA. The business closed down in the early 1950s, with part of the plot taken over for Risbjergskole, a new school.

The house has only had two owners, with the present owners buying the house from Carl’s widow in 1997. It’s an imposing old house and well looked after, so should be safe from the tear down brigade.

Hvidovre’s most famous tree is Smedens pæretræ, a pear tree planted by a blacksmith who ran a smithy from 1897 to 1930 on land now occupied by Friheden Station. Frequently watered by my beagles, the tree is protected and forms an interesting contrast with the rather functional station building dating from 1972. A mural inside tells the full story.

the smith's pear tree

the smith’s pear tree

As I write the willows are the only deciduous trees in the area still with leaf cover. This includes the willow below on Strandhavevej, an award winning estate designed by Svenn Eske Kristensen in 1955. He chose to build round the tree, which was deemed syg in early 2015, to be felled in the summer (source: Hvidovre Lokalhistoriske Selskab). Happily still in place, and looking pretty fit and healthy too:

On a less happy note, two pine trees have just been felled to fulfill their destiny as Hvidovre’s Christmas trees, taking pride of place outside the town hall and on Hvidovre Torv. Until Monday the town hall tree stood on HC Bojsensvej, right next to the water tower. At four o’clock today, the first Sunday in advent, it will be lit with singing, dancing and general hygge. 

Tearing down the neighbourhood

The council is tearing down five buildings. Three of these communal gems are pretty familiar, and all bar one within beagling distance, so last week we took a closer look.

Parallelvej 47

Kindergarten built in 1981 to serve the Nymarken area, a handful of streets made up of detached houses behind Avedøre’s big social developments. Never been there before – tucked behind the main road on the edge of the kommune bordering Vestvolden it’s all nice enough.

The 614m2 building, with its own kitchen, three bathrooms and nine toilets, closed for business on 10 May 2013 as it posed a danger to health. My first thought was asbestos, but a notice on the door blames damp and a bad smell. Two and a half years later it’s all a bit sad, with a broken climbing frame and weeds taking over.

The future of the site is not quite clear. At the beginning of 2014 a proposal for a two storey development made up of 10 low energy houses was approved after appeal, in line with Hvidovre’s policy for tæt-høj developments in areas close to stations. Now, according to the last council meeting minutes, it’s going to be four detached houses (2017 non-update).

Meanwhile, plans to build a glossy new børnehave on Cirkusgrunden, a leftover piece of land closer to the business end of Avedøre, haven’t gone uncriticised. Slated to be ready in 2017/18, here’s hoping Lille Sky will make some concessions to its environment, or it will look like it has landed from Mars.

Not Risbjerggård, Hvidovrevej 243

Risbjerggård

Hvidovrevej 241

Hvidovrevej 243 is next door to one of the kommune‘s crown jewels, Risbjerggård, an old farmhouse from 1850. Following a sustained community campaign and a vote by the full council, Risbjerggård itself, or at least parts thereof, is saved and will now feature in some way in the new bymidte, but Projekthuset, which dates from 1936 and is actually joined on, is to be torn down. Doesn’t anyone care? It looks harmless enough from outside, but has been neglected and hence just doesn’t fit.

Update, 19 Dec: gone!

Biblioteksvej 60A

Bibloteksvej 60A-C

left to right: creche, fishing club, chess club

Featuring on our five walks reportoire, this part of Biblioteksvej is really just the badminton club’s parking lot plus a back way into Gungehusskolen. 60A, put up in 1972, is one of a row of buildings facing HBC-hallen, including a fishing club and a creche. On Monday the door was off and the facade was coming down. Today it will probably be gone.

Hvidovre chess club met here from 2003, sharing the tenancy with three other organisations, but gave it up in 2014 due to heating costs. The chessplayers now meet in Strandmarkens Fritidscenter, a former school on Enghavevej, along with the local bridge club.

The beags usually have a good sniff here on the lookout for anything tasty dropped by passing schoolchildren on the way back from the 7-Eleven at the nearby petrol station. This time we had a nosey round the back, finding a picnic table and a couple of benches, no doubt used for a beer and a smøg on summer evenings, contemplating the next move or maybe just exchanging pleasantries with the fisherfolk next door.

Disused toilet, Strandvej 31A

Again, rising costs have been the problem here. The red brick toilet at the harbour, one of Hvidovre’s few public toilets, dates from 1957. Due to annual cleaning costs of DK 65K it was closed in 2013, forcing those in need of a comfort stop to pop into one of the neighbouring clubhouses. Understandably aggrieved by this, these now restrict access to paying guests, via “get your door code at the till” systems.

The council installed a new toilet in the summer of 2013, partly financed by advertising. This kept breaking down – an eight year old boy locked himself in and had to be rescued – and was finally burned down a couple of months later by local vandals. It’s been replaced by one of those coin operated jobs, which seems to be functioning OK for now. This story has run since 2009.

Update, 17 Nov: a(nother) local fishing club applied to take over the old toilet building, but were refused permission. For shame!

Byvej 98

A typical red brick house from 1935, nr 4 on Hvidovre’s building register and still occupied by a range of clubs (Denmark is big on clubs), including the bee people and the petanque club, Byvej 98 looks in reasonable shape, so it’s not quite clear what the issue is. Probably, like Projekthuset, it just doesn’t fit any more.

A number of other buildings have stalled due to neglect and rising costs over the years, including the main post office on Hvidovrevej and the police station at Hvidovregade. There’s also a former old people’s home at Langkildevej 5-7, dating from 1975 and closed down in 2009. Owned by Copenhagen council, the site has been for sale for over three years, and it’s hoped that a new local plan adopted in May this year permitting housing on 50% of the site, both good old tæt-lav bebyggelse or flats, will finally kickstart things. Updates…Feb 2016: 64 house terrace on the way?…April 2016: now it’s 29.

We’ve had a good look round – as well as the main building there are two rows of sheltered housing behind. With nameplates still on the door, and in some cases curtains still hanging, it almost looks like the residents have just popped out to the shops.

In an area with a low tax base it’s probably inevitable that things drift in the hard times, but still, along with all the houses and trees going it seems there’s an unstoppable urge to follow current fashions with little heed to the area’s cultural heritage. Hvidovre has form here – unlike neighbouring kommune Brøndby few old buildings survived after 1930s council leader Arnold Nielsen commanded: “Riv det gamle lort ned!” Avedore landsby was only saved as it was part of Glostrup at the time.

Sources: