#CAFx2016: Copenhagen Architecture Festival

Last updated: 1 March 2018

Copenhagen may not have a decent open house event but it does have probably the world’s biggest architecture-cum-film festival, on its third run-out this year. The Copenhagen Architecture Festival (aka CAFx; Twitter | Facebook), took place from 10-20 March, still dominated by film but accompanied by debates, walks etc in 12 themes at more than 30 venues, with presences also in Aarhus (AAFx) and Aalborg (ALAFx).

Of the themes, Københavns Forvandlinger stuck out as by far the biggest – subdivide, guys! The most eye-catching events were sold out when I looked, but at least there was some hand-wringing around gentrificationCopenhagen vs the rest of Denmark also looked on point.

Providing further food for thought was Det urealiserede København, showcasing the 1960s proposal for a motorway round the Lakes, which has a certain perverse appeal in the face of the bucolic set of potential projects generally rolled out. 2015’s six best, which you could visit on a guided bike tour, included Cykelslangen, which surely opened in 2014 (and still makes me want to poke someone in the eye). But it’s not all about Copenhagenized and Copenhagen Dreaming – two housing projects, Brygge Blomsten and Sundholm Syd, were also recognised.

Film i s-toget meant that instead of TV 2 News the screens in the trains showed historical film clips, if only after midnight and at the weekend. More multimedia in the shape of three new audio walks, with one on (inevitably) Vesterbro bag facadenLyt til København offers short recordings made at random spots, while Ghettoblaster from young folk in Nørrebro probably does what it says on the tin. Part of a Lyd og rum theme, there was also a workshop on Havenlyd og byrum, the sounds of the lost harbour.

In the handful of place-centred events, an exhibition looked at DSB Byen, the area behind the central station, which we nosed about back in August 2014. The creative classes have now moved in, with a three part event from AMPD (Facebook), themselves based on Otto Busses Vej.

The Brønshøj council estate of Tingbjerg, designed by Steen Eiler Rasmussen in the 1950s, surely merited its own theme, like Aarhus’ Gellerup – so will get its own post shortly here.

Website critique: it’s very blue, and I wish things wouldn’t slide up and down when you hover over them. Then there’s a Mine Favoritter section, but no way of favouriting things. Would never have happened on my watch. On the plus side this year you can filter by type – see walks, including one on bikes, one on the gentrifying tracks of Nordre Fasanvej (involves games) and yup! Vesterbro.

Interestingly, the EN button takes you to an on-the-fly Google translation. Google as globish? As far as #some goes, it’s strictly PR in best exclamatory style! No attempts at coverage or recordings of the very interesting talks etc for those not able to attend. Instead there was Snapchat.

CAFx in previous years:

  • 2015: in both CPH and Aarhus, now without the FILM but still mainly film; included the now obligatory A3 newspaper thing, and launched via Instagram and Snapchat, spot the target group (prompting someone to ask if the prog was available digitally); otherwise, pretty much as you were, with 60+ events/films, including a salon/debate in The Silo, possibly on DR K, a performance in the tunnels under Carlsberg and the mysterious House nr 2 at the central station (aka the Royal waiting room), from Kontoret for undergrundsanliggender
  • 2014: the catchily named Copenhagen Architecture Festival x FILM, with walks! the website is one of those one page scrollers with massive pics, and for some reason the text is centred (update: still), but let’s get over that and cut to the chase…the festival has six themes but no obvious way of finding the walks – not a ‘type’ on the programme page; a combination of CTRL+F and searching tracked them down, inc:
    • vilde huse at Christianshavn, looking at “the unique house and home architecture on Christianshavn, with a discussion of identity and self-understanding in relation to property”; there’s a map showing the 7km route, but only as a photo on Facebook, which is a bit of a let down
    • Nørrebro Station: a journey in time – now you’re talking! presented/led by Mette Willert (Digital Marketing Manager, DSB) and Sigrid Kipper Thau (event planner); curated at #DSBkunentogturvæk (ie 10 photos from @trinepingel)
    • also a showing of Lost Rivers followed by input from Line Kjær of Kontoret for Undergrundsanliggender (The Office for Underground Affairs) and discussion with Anders Jensen (project manager for Ladegårds Å / Åbn Åen) and Flemming Rafn Thomsen (Tredje Natur), chaired by Annette Skov
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The Water of Leith: a storymap

At the beginning of December I spent a weekend in Edinburgh, combining shopping for festive essentials with some heavy duty city walking. I’m now a tourist in what used to be my home town, although my Edinburgh, of the late 1970s and early 1980s, is still there too.

On the Sunday I walked a section of the Water of Leith, somewhere I had never really been before. Rather than a series of photos I’ve tried something different as a way of curating this walk, using Knight Lab’s Storymap JS. It’s a really easy to use tool, synching with Google Drive as a back-up. Among the maps on offer is Open Street Map, which shows the walkway perfectly, although it seems to pick the scale it fancies. The end result is attractive, with the drawback that it’s not possible to draw a route – and it doesn’t play with WordPress.com.

Click on the image below to go to the interactive version of my My Water of Leith storymap.

WoL storymap

For more see the walkway and audio trail on the Water of Leith Conservation Trust (@wolct) website. If you are in Edinburgh you can pick up a free leaflet with a basic route map in the TIC at Waverley Bridge, but the £1 version, with text from a book now out of print, is well worth the investment.

Danubia and the myth of Mitteleuropa

Updates:

  • 30 May 2018: fabulous piece by Mark Baker on the Danube and re-reading Magris 30 years on: “as I paged through the book I was constantly reminded of Central Europe’s über-rich cultural history. But I also found myself wondering how much of this would resonate with modern readers, for whom the Danube is just another waterway in the European Union. The answer is probably not very much, and that feels like a loss.” Indeed. He also highlights two further articles revisiting Magris, The Danube transformed (2003, New York Times) and Richard Flanagan on Why Claudio Magris’s Danube is a timely elegy for lost Europe (Gdn, 2016).
  • 2 May 2015: just back from Sofia, pretty definitely not Mitteleuropa and also not on the Danube, although not a million miles from either, brings us the story of Liberland, a self-declared microstate consisting of a wetland wilderness upstream from the point where the Danube is joined by the Drava, a borderland between Croatia and Serbia. More to be done on this stretch of the river, and also on the Rhine, rather less written about.

Before I kick off my latest batch of belated travel  blogs here’s my first book of the year, Simon Winder’s not unrelated Danubia (Amazon | GoodReads | Google Books). Reviews: GuardianNew York Times SpectatorTelegraph.

The Austro-Hungarian empire, at the heart of the alluring concept of Mitteleuropa, is a pyschogeographic gold mine – a “psychic and liminal space between east and west rather than an objective geographic reality, its borders imaginary, drawn and redrawn with each new historical situation” (Chris Haddix), erased almost unnoticed in a world of dichotomies after the Second World War. Writing in the New York Review of Books in 1986 (republished in the 1991 edition of The uses of adversity) Timothy Garton Ash explored its temporary rebirth – and in the early 1990s it briefly looked as if there just might be a middle way.

Simon Winder’s Danubia, the companion piece to his Germania, is a “personal history” of the mosaic of Mitteleuropa, taking political and especially military history as its main framework but seasoned with a host of sidesteps and even dead ends. Not entirely chronological and assuming an amount of prior knowledge on the part of the reader, it’s a long haul to get to my personal main event, typified by 1913 (“when Freud waved cheerily from a tram at Schiele and the Second Vienna School sang a capella to delighted cafe-goers”), but equally it’s a pleasure to bathe in the quirks of the Hapsburgs and their blundering incompetence, a quality they excelled in, and simply enjoy the ride.

On central Europe’s towns:

the standard full kit: electric tramways, an opera house, a whole lot of art nouveau, a bust of Schiller and a comically dreary monument featuring a statue of a lumpy woman with an ivy entwined sword and a palm leaf

On the Hapsburg jaw:

the women in portrait after portrait appear to have a sort of awful pink shoe attached to their lower faces

At the start of his bibliography Winder states that he has deliberately excluded Claudio Magris’ Danube (1986), along with Rebecca West’s Black lamb and grey falcon (1941), reprinted in 2006 with an introduction by of course! Geoff Dyer. Like Winder I find it impossible to avoid the gravitational pull of a growing canon of books and authors, and having dusted off my central European bookshelf am now embarking on Nick Thorpe’s The Danube: a journey upriver from the Black Sea to the Black Forest (Amazon), ie the wrong way, which looks like a good counterpoint to the rather blokey Danubia.

Also making a case to be read is Nick Hunt’s Walking the woods and the water (Amazon; blog), a 2011/12 retread of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s 1933 trek from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. Nick H highlights even more jolly japes in Paddy’s footsteps, including Travellers’ century, a 2008 TV documentary by Benedict Allan, Blue River, Black Sea (Amazon) by Andrew Eames, who “travelled the length of the Danube by bicycle, boat, and, for some reason, a green plastic bathtub” in 2009, and New York Times‘ journalist Matt Gross, who walked from Vienna to Budapest in 2010. A final PLF related find is this analysis of the literary and historical references in A time of gifts, crying out to be mapped.

For a different perspective see Dimiter Kenarov’s From Black to Black, a literary overview which starts and ends with the significance of the Bulgarian equivalent of R4’s Shipping Forecast:

For nearly fifty years the Danube was a demolished bridge, a liquid roadblock. The wall may have been in Berlin, but the truly impassable one was an invisible dam on the Danube, somewhere between Vienna and Bratislava…Today, to sail along the Danube is to see the new face of Europe, old as it is…The great changes of 1989 might have brought freedom to the people of Eastern Europe, Eames suggests, but it has been the freedom that comes from the sudden bursting of a dam wall, the waters inundating everything on their way downstream.

In an article about Freud’s Vienna as inspiration William Boyd asks: “Why do certain cities haunt the imagination? Not just the city itself but the city in a particular historical period.” He identifies the cause as a place in time you would like to have lived in yourself, but sadly the 1913 narrative was a post-war creation. According to Winder at that time Austria-Hungary “could probably have been summed up as a barracksridden, aristocratic and actively philistine place”, with its music viewed as having a merely museum-like quality (Der Rosenkavalier rather than Mahler’s Ninth), its writing disregarded and its painting and architecture swamped by the Paris art scene.

This society “only really appreciated in the rear view mirror” was preserved in the memoirs of countless exiles and the writings of in particular Stefan Zweig and Joseph Roth, all soon eclipsed by a fresh wave of horrors. The keepers of the flame of the Hapsburg myth see the Dual Monarchy as a period in which a diversity of nationalities lived together peacefully in a well ordered, ideal fairytale world, compared with the series of “small and dirty cages of the new nation states” created after 1918, a dichotomy which persists into the 21st century.

Highlights from my Mitteleuropa bookshelf:

  • Frederic Morton’s A nervous splendor: Vienna 1888/1889, the year Crown Prince Rudolf shot himself
  • Gregor von Rezzori’s Snows of yesteryear on his childhood in Czernowitz  (“his very name a perfect Hapsburg amalgam”)
  • Bruno Schulz’s The street of crocodiles – Schulz lived in Drohobycz, where “oil deposits created a strange little semi-Americanized enclave of prosperity” near Lviv, and was shot dead in 1942 by a Gestapo officer

Just where is Mitteleuropa? The shifting borders are a thing of endless confusion – this timelapse doesn’t really help. Winder includes a map of how Kaiser Karl’s United States of Austria could have turned out, with names such as Carniola and Galicia which have vanished into history.