The Danish tree

Updates, 2017: trees by the Rundetårn killed by piss – or maybe they were just olddo you know an iconic tree?…R4’s Front Row on the poetry of felled trees: Gerard Manley Hopkins, Charlotte Mew, John Clare and William Cowper all wrote poems lamenting the felling of loved trees…Peter Wohlleben’s The hidden life of trees reviewed: “vi i Danmark har et ‘bondesamfund’, der ser træer som noget, der skal dyrkes frem for at få lov til at gro frit”…


The UK’s National Tree Week has come round again. Last year we looked at Hvidovre’s trees – this year let’s broaden things out a bit.

With a winter as dreich as Edinburgh’s, a chilly spring which emphasises the bareness all around and an unreliable summer tending to the damp, there’s not much competition for autumn as Denmark’s best season. In October and November its trees come into their own, adding some welcome shades of colour to the grey.

autumn colours in Søndermarken

autumn colours in Søndermarken

It’s worth unpicking the Danes’ relationship with trees, and nature as a whole, a predominantly anthropocentric and functional take on things. Whereas in London it’s the building that’s in the way rather than the tree, and in Hamburg there’s a pocket park round every corner, the Danes’ loves of keeping things neat and tidy means that nothing is left to chance.

Take the case of the forest. North of Copenhagen is the area known as Kongernes Nordsjælland, offering a gently pleasing landscape of lakes and undulating land. As the playground of the royal family and the nobility over the centuries there is a long tradition of forestry – and hunting grounds aplenty. In the late 17th century Christian V planted around 12K beeches and oaks between networks of paths in support of the sport of par force hunting:

The entire North Zealand peninsula area was patterned with a Cartesian-based road system consisting of stars surrounded by distinct squares. Stone posts indicated whether roads led towards or away from the centre of the star. The mathematical approach reinforced the king’s image as a representative of reason in line with Baroque ideals. (source)

Par force hunting has been illegal since 1777, but the forests which remain were recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2015. The forests’ champion, the Dansk Jagt- og Skovbrugsmuseum (being subsumed into the Landbrugsmuseum in Jutland in 2017) offers a window into Danish discourse on hunting, not a pretty sight for a former sab, but the area is not uninteresting for map fans.

Moving forward three centuries and south to Vestegnen we find Vestskoven, a new forest established in the 1960s with the aim of adding some interest to the pancake-flat landscape – after nearly 50 years it’s maturing nicely enough, as is the forest closest to home, Brøndbyskoven, established by a far-sighted mayor in 1952, with its beech bench and pines combo.

Brøndbyskov's Heidegger bench in autumn

Brøndbyskov’s Heidegger bench in autumn

Before things start sounding too idyllic in this man-made paradise however it’s time to note the government’s current attempt at weakening the 1805 Skovlov, permitting even more nature huts, running tracks and clearings for wind power facilities among the trees.

Trees in the city are also often an appendage to human-centred activities. Bispebjerg Kirkegård offers a Danish scale Sakura experience for the Instagramming hordes, who avert their eyes from the bare plain where an avenue of poplars was felled (before | after). Most of the city’s new developments are similarly sterile, with trees a decorative afterthought at best where previously they provided shade and shelter – see Israels Plads (full story). In the case of Nordhavn, I suspect the wind and salt would put paid to any sylvan glades, but Carlsberg, come on…trees just don’t seem to fit with Copenhagen’s sleek branding and aggressive building programme. To put it bluntly, to thrive a tree needs 1.5m root space and 15m2 ground space, the size of a parking space – and as popularly proclaimed, that’s space for 10 bikes.

The Copenhagen enclave of Frederiksberg adopted its first tree policy in 1872 and has a map of every tree in the area, including those in private gardens. Streets such as Frederiksberg Allé have a quality lacking elsewhere in the city, with a tree on every corner planned in from the start.

Madvigs Allé. Frederiksberg - could almost be Hamburg

Madvigs Allé. Frederiksberg – could almost be Hamburg

While the city centre does have its delights, such as the horse chestnut on Vandkunsten and the plane tree on Gråbrødreplads, more symptomatic is the felling of a 114 year old chestnut on Enghave Plads in 2011 to make way for the metro, with the wood used to make stools for both locals and hipsters. For me, that’s in you-couldn’t-make-it-up corner.

Pressure group Red Byens Traer has been calling for a policy on trees since 2013 (now in draft), and the tide may finally be turning. The latest vision for the town hall square, to come into being in 2019 once the decade-long metro works are complete, comes with 60+ trees (in bags? is there sufficient root space?), and, in a rare nod to the city’s cultural heritage, the return of Dragespringvandet (the Dragon Fountain) to the centre of the square at a cost of DK 12 million.

Not wanting to be a wet blanket, but I have my doubts that sub-mayor Morten Kabell is a true convert to urban nature – this feels more like a way of silencing the critics, as well as a continuation of the city’s perpetual motion. Trees do seem to come and go in Copenhagen at an increasing rate – take Holbergs kastanie, a horse chestnut on Fiolstræde. The original, one of 2500 chestnuts bought in around 1720 for Frederik IV’s parks and gardens, lasted over 200 years – its 1954 replacement was felled in 2016. (Plus that fountain is a clunky horror.)

On Sunday Hvidovre’s two Xmas trees were lit, creating two more gaps in the increasingly empty local horizon. In the ‘burbs the sound of the power saw can be heard all year round and car ports and stockade style fencing are the prevailing fashions. A recent post on a local history forum stated how hyggeligt it was to see ‘your’ tree lit up – surely a rather fleeting pleasure? But then, in blocks of flats the tradition is to hurl your Xmas tree out of the window on New Year’s Day, for someone else to dispose of.

Too much wildness is just not hyggeligt. The Danes seem to have a ceaseless urge to control and remake the nature which remains in their small country – for a final example compare and contrast Østre Anlaeg with the new SMK forecourt.

Østre Anlaeg. a rare patch of wilderness behind SMK (national gallery)

Below is a 1948 poem by Piet Hein, set to music in the 1980s and now part of the school songbook. Written in a post-war spirit, with maybe an HT to Martin Luther, the sentiment is just as relevant today.

Du skal plante et træ.
Du skal gøre en gerning,
som lever, når du går i knæ,
en ting, som skal vare
og være til lykke og læ.
Du skal åbne dit jeg.
Du skal blive et eneste trin
på en videre vej.
Du skal være et led i en lod,
som når ud over dig.
Du skal blomstre og dræ.
Dine frugter skal mætte
om så kun det simpleste kræ.
Du har del i en fremtid.
For den skal du plante et træ.

(Martin Luther auf deutsch, probably apocryphal: Wenn ich wüsste, dass morgen die Welt unterginge, würde ich heute noch ein Apfelbäumchen pflanzen.)

London 2016

Thoughts from a recent trip to London, looking at building, buildings, buildings (more buildings on Flickr). What has changed in the last decade or so, and what does it all tell us about me, Copenhagen, London and life in 2016?

Sunday: Euston Road, Bloomsbury and Midtown

We started out by walking up Hampstead Road from the disused 1907 Euston tube station to Mornington Crescent, the first of many of Leslie Green‘s stations spotted in central London. Despite dying at the ridiculously young age of 33, Green’s impact on tube station design may well equal that of Charles Holden. Then entering ‘forgotten Camden’ (see Tom Bolton’s St Pancras trail) we took in the splendid 1960s St Aloysius RC Church before approaching the three monster stations on Euston Road.

A sort of 19th century Crossrail, the construction process involved in bringing the railways into London extended over the course of 30 years, displacing 30,000 people in the process. St Pancras International was a new one on me, completely renovated from 2001-07 to welcome Eurostar, and now as much shopping destination as station. A symphony in red and white by George Gilbert Scott from 1868, with the kitschy statue to end all kitschy statues in the gallery, its general over-the-topness is not for me.

Much better is King’s Cross, the gateway to the north, where I have taken many a train and met many a parent. It has also changed completely, a 2014 restoration opening up the concourse and revealing Lewis Cubitt’s beautifully simple building from 1852. In contrasting fortunes 1970s style Euston, originally built in classical style by William Cubitt in 1837 but demolished in 1962, is unchanged, with the Euston Arch still found only on pub signs.

Also shined up is the Brunswick Centre from 1972 , an unusual mixed use development with council housing in a ziggurat design alongside a commercial section. Now renamed The Brunswick with repetitive shopping, and still hosting the Renoir Cinema. Of the Bloomsbury squares and gardens we tarried most at Thomas Cubitt’s 1820s Tavistock Square, with its statue of Virginia Woolf set against Denys Lasdun’s 1977 Institute of Education. After that, Charles Holden’s Senate House (1937) seemed almost underwhelming.

Walking down Tottenham Court Road heralded the self-styled Midtown, centred round St Giles Circus and the iconic Centre Point (1966), currently under wraps. Tottenham Court Road tube is transformed, with 2010s style wide open spaces inside (Paolozzi’s 1984 mosaics either in store or in Edinburgh) and Crossrail damage outside. Renzo Piano’s Central St Giles (2010) sets the tone – time will tell how the refurbishment of New Commonwealth House (1939) will fit into this context.

With the rain showing no sign of slackening we then walked through the gloaming down New and Old Bond Streets to Piccadilly, with its splendidly Art Deco Waterstones in the former Simpsons (1936), before taking in Leicester Square and a sumptuous south Indian thali near Warren Street.

Tavistock Square

Virginia Woolf with Denys Lasdun’s 1977 Institute of Education behind

Monday: from Hampstead modernism to the Alexandra Road estate

Hampstead modernism day, starting in Belsize Park at the Lawn Road Flats (1934) then on to Ernö Goldfinger’s house (1938) on Willow Road facing Hampstead Heath. By all accounts a formidable figure and immortalised by Ian Fleming, the house is quite superb, a ‘reintrepretation’ of a Georgian terrace in brick and wood on a concrete foundation.

Up to Parliament Hill for a first look at London’s new skyline and an inspection of dog walking mores in this prime spot. In contrast to Denmark dogs almost entirely off leash – although up to four per person – and having a good time, interacting in an entirely stress free way. A proposed Dog Control Order on a lamp post emphasised there were no plans to force dog owners to put dogs on a lead on any part of the Heath, although they are not allowed in children’s play areas. Icing on the cake: ‘no cycling’ signs throughout.

After lunch we followed the rest of the Hampstead modernism trail, juggling a laptop and the London A-Z. Highlights: New House at 13 Arkwright Road (1939) with its blue porthole, the six houses at Frognal Close designed by Ernst Freud (1937), where a resident asked us if we were architects, and the multicoloured 66 Frognal (1938). Round the corner on Frognal Way, one of London’s most exclusive streets, is Maxwell Fry’s Sun House and Gracie Fields’ rather less titillating house (which she probably never lived in), both from 1934. On a mild Monday afternoon we encountered any number of east European au pairs with their charges as we walked down to Finchley Road to gawk at the prices in estate agents’ windows.

Leaping forward more than 40 years we finished the day at Neave Browne’s Alexandra Road Estate (1978), made up of 520 apartments in three long crescent shaped blocks and bounded on one side by the West Coast Main Line. The first post-war council housing estate to be listed, in 1994, Alexandra Road has had its problems but retains a pleasing green ambience akin to that of a traditional terrace, if not exactly Bath’s Royal Crescent. Looking at features such as staircases and balconies more closely the evolution of brutalism from modernism comes into focus.

Goldfinger's house (1938)

Goldfinger’s house (1938) in Hampstead

Tuesday: the Thames, London Bridge and Bankside

After mopping up some final West End sights time to go south of the river, with a brief jaunt to Vauxhall for the PoMo classic that is Terry Farrell’s MI6 building (1994) and the Vauxhall Tower (180m) on St George’s Wharf, the latter striking the same bum notes as the Strata Tower at Elephant & Castle, neither well designed nor in the right place.

Bypassing the South Bank on this occasion we re-emerged at the for me practically unrecognisable London Bridge, taking in St Olaf House on Tooley Street (1930) before catching Renzo Piano’s Shard (2012, at nearly 310m, the max allowed, the tallest building in the EU; £25 to visit). Then onward to Norman Foster’s bijou City Hall (2002) and More London, our first encounter with the privatised ‘public realm’.

The south bank of the Thames is well laid out for walking, albeit with endless upscale shopping and drinking opportunities on this stretch. The outdated 1980s viewpoints with plaques detailing buildings on the north bank provide some sort of context for the changing skyline and an overview of architectural fashions – what will remain after a further 30 years?

Next, a short stop at Tate Modern, itself undergoing redevelopment with a monster extension due to open in June. The gallery has been open since 2000, but I remember it better as Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s power station hulk, in operation for a scant 30 years. GGS was also responsible for Battersea Power Station, still ‘under redevelopment’ after being decommissioned in 1983. The Oxo Tower just west of Tate Modern, originally built as a power station but rebuilt as an Art Deco cold store in 1929, has found a new role as Oxo Tower Wharf, with a full raft of shopping, eating, housing and cultural uses.

Then over Norman Foster’s Millennium Bridge, a bridge story to rival some of Copenhagen’s, to St Paul’s and Paternoster Square, then onwards to Aldgate, where we were stayed for the next three nights.

London skyline

City skyline from More London

Wednesday: the City and the Barbican

A tortured heap of towers? Foster+Partners’ Gherkin (2003, 180m), aka 30 St Mary Axe and previously the Swiss Re Building, on the site of the bombed in 1992 Baltic Exchange, was in situ the last time I visited London, but it’s Richard Seifert’s 1980 NatWest Tower, now Tower 42, I think of first.

In 2016 though there’s a whole City cluster away from St Paul’s sightlines – notably Richard Rogers’ Cheesegrater (1 Leadenhall; 2013, 225m), across the road from his 1986 Lloyds’ Building, as well as Rafael Vinoly’s infamous Walkie Talkie (2014, 160m; Britain’s most hated buildingstory | Carbuncle Cup) at 20 Fenchurch Street with its Sky Garden (from which you don’t have to look at the thing). Less written about or in your face is the Heron Tower (2011), at 230m the tallest building in the City. Which will last the longest?

What effect is all this having? See climate walk article for starters. Then there’s Crossrail, eliminating numerous blocks, and the general privatisation of public space. Bankrolled by oil money, derided as phallic symbols…but a successful city brand, judging by the number of tourist around in the first week of January. If you enjoy looking up, getting some perspectives on things, it feels well done –  at least if you don’t know what was there before.

On another note, the City is one square mile of prime walking country. Even if you are just popping out for your sandwich/ramen of choice, during office hours the streets are never quiet. Visit the City offers a visitor trail map (“one trail: hundreds of stories”), with a main trail and ‘side-tracks’ for London stories, culture, law and literature, skyscrapers and sculpture, and markets. Each square of the map is approx 400m, or about a five minute walk at a steady 3 mph pace, just feel the walking love…in addition there are 10 city walk leaflets, including a tree trail, and for locals a cornucopia of delights including short lunchtime walks for a quick heritage hit. Apparently Harry Potter tours are a thing, as were James Bond tours around the time of Skyfall, plus anti-capitalism tours such as Occupy London tackling inter alia public realm issues. It never stops…

After all that corporate excess on to old friend the Barbican (story) with its nods to culture (we tracked a lad carrying a tuba across the plaza and back over lunch) and upscale brutalist housing, and the gentrifying 1950s Golden Lane Estate

Gropius shopfront

shopfront designed by Walter Gropius in 1936, at 115 Cannon Street

Thursday: the Olympic Park, Poplar and the East End

The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park reopened in Easter 2014. In terms of legacy, without coming over all Twenty Twelve, it shows off a lot of current tropes.

It was rainy and pretty deserted when we visited as part of our packed east London programme, so no time to explore the The Olympic Walk from Sporting Tours of London, good wheeze that. While the revitalised park, “the same size as Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens combined”, seems focused on looking forward, a London 2012 trail guide does offer pointers to what happened where. Designed by the team behind New York’s High Line with waterways, woods and wildlife habitats created on the marshlands, there’s plenty to explore beyond the playgrounds and between the building sites, although this kind of designed experience hides rather than reveals.

The four interactive trails on offer include a guide to the 26 permanent artworks in the park. Biggest is the 114.5m high ArcelorMittal Orbit, Britain’s largest sculpture. You can climb it or abseil down it for £85 (£130 to upgrade to live vid), and a slide will be in action later in 2016. Also offers activities and events. Entry: £12, which feels a bit steep for a view of east London. Rather more pleasing are Ackroyd & Harvey’s 10 History Trees, placed at entry points to the park; in total 4300 trees have been planted in the area.

The Olympic Village, renamed the East Village, is the most developed quarter, a dead ringer for any of Copenhagen’s bland new areas. Scandi style, or just modern style? It certainly didn’t feel like London. Oliver Wainwright in July 2013: “making workable streets from tarmac wastes and weaving housing around velodromes is a difficult and expensive way of producing a good city”. A shopping centre and a new ‘international’ station doesn’t a place make – the arrival of West Ham may be what’s needed. Update: here’s Olly in August 2016.

From Stratford we took the DLR down to Poplar, formed as a district as long ago as 1855 and encompassing areas including Bow, Blackwall and the Isle of Dogs, but from 1965 part of Tower Hamlets. Two town halls remain, both listed: on Poplar High Street (1870) and the Art Deco style New Town Hall on Bow Road (1938), which we missed by turning the wrong way exiting the station.

Poplar plays a key role in the history of social housing in the UK. Between the wars the council built a total of 1500 homes in the area, including the Art Deco Holmsdale House (1938), complete with deck access. In 1951 the first phase of the Lansbury Estate (again; fab article; in 2017 the home of the V&A’s Lansbury Micro Museum) was chosen as the site of the Festival of Britain’s Exhibition of Live Architecture. Alongside is Chrisp Street Market, the first specially designed, covered and pedestrianised shopping centre in the UK with iconic bell tower by Frank Gibberd, from 2012 a Portas Pilot.

A further round of development took place in the 1960s and 1970s resulting in two ‘streets in the sky’ developments. First, the much written about Brownfield Estate, with fairly unobjectionable low rise punctuated by the cluster of Ernő Goldfinger’s Balfron Tower (again; 1967, 84m), accompanied by Carradale House and Glenkerry House, aka the rather more well behaved baby Balfron. Goldfinger and his family stayed in Balfron’s Flat 130 for a whole two months in 1968.

The decision to kick off redevelopment of this concrete monster was made as long ago as 2008, since when some flats have provided live-work accommodation for a posse of artists. Other tenants have gradually been ‘decanted’ elsewhere, with the block to be refurbished for sale on the open market. A certain amount of hooha was caused in October 2014 when the Goldfinger flat was done up Sixties style by the National Trust and opened to heritage fans for 10 days as part of Bow Arts’ Balfron Season. Still awaiting refurbishment it all felt pretty desolate with wind of Himalayan proportions – a major treat for concrete fans.

Nearby is the Smithsons’ Robin Hood Gardens (1972), “an urban solution to an impossible site” and perhaps rather too clever for its own good, due (again) to be pulled down soon – there were CPO notices hanging by the entrance. Expecting something on the scale of Sheffield’s Park Hill, the 214 flats actually felt full of potential, and rather more viable than the Balfron wind tunnel, but is seems it is not to be.

Fascinating round here, so close to 1990s Docklands and so clearly on the cusp of 2010s gentrification, with three hotspots on the London campaigns map and cycle superhighway CS3 passing through. More wandering took us to Bartlett Park with its eponymous Brookside style close, complete with two private land signs and a burnt out church.

As for the rest of the East End, despite having visited London countless times from birth and living there from 1987-93 I had no mental map at all, but can now vaguely place what were formerly merely names, known mainly from the Monopoly board, with any number of leads to follow up. Our final impression was the creeping approach of the City, with Commercial Street gradually crumbling away – our bus to the airport left from beside a hoarding surrounding the one remaining wall of the 1929 Fruit & Wool Exchange.

St Leonard's Road, Poplar

converted church and WW1 war memorial at St Leonard’s Road, Poplar

Our trip summed up: a reminder that humanity comes in lots of different shapes and sizes. People just getting on with their lives, without being channelled into an approved lifestyle. People meeting your eye and not looking away (and talking extremely loudly), creating interaction and even a sense of wellbeing. And trees make a city – everywhere should have a Tree Routes app.

Tidy uptight Copenhagen is in a different place on its gentrification journey, with hipsters largely confined to the city centre and few creatives spotted on Vestegnen thus far. Social housing has been rather better maintained than in the UK, and most new housing is going up on brownfield sites left by the collapse of the harbour and related industries, extending King Canute-like onto reclaimed land. But Amager looks like becoming the first front line, as Ørestad pushes its shiny face into the older neighbourhoods of Sundby and Tårnby (which at a pinch translates as Tower Hamlets), creating some awkward transitions.

And Denmark has a different sense of place, very much of the here and now, with style (aka design) winning over substance. Is it too much of a stretch to suggest that this focus on surface is because there are fewer layers left to unpeel? And that some of the attraction for expat Guardianistas and journos is just how these differences play out? Or is it all just another successful city branding strategy?

Reading: Brutalism:Online | Concretopia: John Grindrod’s book, blog & timeline | London’s: footpathstallest buildings | London Deco FlatsModernism in Metro-Land | Modernist BritainMunicipal Dreams | Museum of London: City & Docklands | Spitalfields Life | Walk London | Adrian Yekkes: East End Modernism & More Hampstead Modernism & London Art Deco part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | yet more. Also Homes of tomorrow, audio on Goldfinger’s “utopian drive to build for a better world”. 

Some East End walks: Alternative LondonBrick Lane and Spitalfields cultural trail | Jack the Ripper tours (at least 10) | The Missing Voice (Case Study B) (Whitechapel) | Memoryscape (inc Royal Docks, Victoria Park) | Soundmap (Brick Lane) | Tower Hamlets walks & trails | A walk through Spitalfields’ stories. See also Richard White’s social walk in QEOP (blog) in May 2015.

Finally, Nairn…two pub walks (London Review Bookshop | Caught by the River), plus Gillian Darley on the bus.

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. 

One Danish tree: Klopstock’s Oak

For once a positive tale about trees in Denmark! On Sunday we visited Klopstocks Eg, a reputedly 850 year old oak on Prinsessestien in Lyngby, not far from Sorgenfri Station off Hummeltoftevej at Åmosebakken, or thereabouts – you can’t miss it!

Known to all Germanists, Frederich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724-1803) lived in Denmark from 1751-70 on the invitation of Frederik V, residing in Lyngby in the early 1750s. Like all good Romantics he liked a walk, and the area inspired not least his poem Die Frülingsfeier. Klopstock’s brother also lived in Lyngby, owning a silk factory.

Prinsessestien (the Princess’ Path), which first appeared on a map in around 1800, was probably created for the use of Princess Sophie Hedevig, brother of Frederik IV, who gave her a mansion at each end of the path (Sorgenfri and Frederiksdal) in 1716. In 1743 his successor Christian VI passed Frederiksdal on to his advisor, Johan Sigismund Schulin.

The wife of one of Schulin’s descendants, another Sophie Hedevig, owned Frederiksdal Slot from 1781-1807. She built a well, Louisekilden, close to the path, for the 50th birthday of her sister, Louise Warnstedt, in 1791.

The oak was protected in 1958 and is in reasonable condition, although a large bough fell off in 2013 and is lying to the side. Every July members of Det Danske Klopstockselskab (the Danish Klopstock Society) meet at the oak for a reading.

Denmark’s most famous oaks are probably those planted by Christian V in the countryside north of Copenhagen in 1669 (see Fodnoter) – around 1800 remain, including Kongeeg (The King’s Oak), reputedly 1500 years old and the oldest tree in Denmark, and part of a group of three with Storkeegen (a stump after the storm of 1981) and Snoegen. Christian V’s personal oak stands at the crossroads between Ndr Eremitagevej and Chausseen, and is so named because it was under this tree that he was kicked on the left foot by a stag on the Hubertus Day hunt in 1698, which contributed to his death a year later, or so the story goes.

The oak has been a symbol of Danishness since the 19th century. In 1915 many valgretseger were planted to mark women’s suffrage – Dendron.dk lists nine, with Kvindeegen in Viby one of the last surviving.

All this inspired Jens Blenstrup and Ole Lejbach to investigate in a four year project, Ege-ekspeditioner (oak expeditions; Facebook). The resulting text and images are on display in three galleries around Denmark.

More på dansk…Klopstock: Den glemte digter i egetræets skygge | Klopstock – en sporty digter…Ege-ekspeditioner in Magasinet Kunst | Nordea Fonden.

Høstfest! Harvest time in Denmark

foto

on guard

Time for some more foraging, aka going into your garden and picking stuff. We’re over-run with apples, although the beags do their best, endlessly playing in the evening sun with windfalls, and there are herbs to freeze or dry – rosemary and thyme are supposedly perennial, but not in our garden they ain’t. The rhubarb has survived being moved twice this summer, hopefully we’ve finally found its perfect spot, the gooseberries were as disappointing as usual and the raspberries should have been pruned earlier. Our grønkål/kale is coming along OK, despite the best efforts of slugs and snails. Can you tell I’m not much of a gardener? Partner is lined up to divide and conquer our løvstikke/lovage and kvan/angelica, so they can come into their own next year, and in the case of the latter, hopefully flower in a dramatic fashion.

Other things we can avail ourselves of:

  • damsons/kræge – or probably not, although maybe could substitute mirabeller, more prevalent here – Delia’s chutney | Telegraph
  • hasselnødder/hazelnuts – preferably cobnuts, sighted last year on Roskilde Torv
  • havtorn/sea buckthorn – good with apples in compote; chutney, infused as a tea
  • hyldebær/elderberries – soup with potato starch? ellers tak
  • kvæde/quince – after the first frosts
  • rosehips/hyben – infused as a tea; chutney
  • røn/rowan – aka mountain ash; apparently it is a tradition in both Scotland and Denmark to have a rowan tree by the front door to ward off witches and evil spirits, and we have one handily placed; jelly seems to be a thing, also wine; TBH thought the berries were poisonous
  • sandtorn/tjørn/hawthorn – jam?
  • slåen/sloes – Daily Mail | BBC | Gdn gin

A Facebook friend, who is doing the full Hugh FW, has been mushrooming and after several attempts located some kantereller/chanterelles, but I think we’ll have to stick to Irma for those. Theirs come from Belarus, how exciting is that.

But what to do with all this stuff? The answer tends to be jam, involving massive amounts of sugar, or snaps. Planning to use some rowan berries in the last of our Faroese snaps, plus some sloe gin, which I have mixed memories of as a student.

Latest entry from backlash corner: from Jay Rayner’s Just because you can go foraging doesn’t mean you should:

5,000 years of agriculture and now we’re all foraging. I bet the Mesopotamians wonder why they bothered…the biggest argument against it is the lacklustre and uninspiring food that so often results from all that clomping about down in the woods.

As someone yet to empty their one jar of kryddesalt I can only agree, but the Danes seem well up for it, in particular as part of an event.

Last week a Høst-havemarked (harvest and garden festival; coverage) in nextdoor suburb Rødovre closed Vestegnens Kulturuge (also part of Golden Days). The garden of the Heerup Museum, which incidentally offers the least value for money of any museum I’ve ever been to, was transformed with mini-gardens, an apple press was on duty, honey from some local urban bees was on sale, you could roast your own coffee, grind your own flour, drink local wine…the gullaschkanon (field kitchen) got an outing, there was a WW1 exhibition including a row of tents, 200 flea market stalls and local radio supplying the sounds. Festivities continued with music from established names and local acts until midnight, moving to Damhuskroen until 5 in the morning. Blimey. Just a shame about the weather.

Sunday was Naturens Dag, with Byhøst doing an autumn forage in Valbyparken. Also involved was haymaking with scythes from Vild Med Vilje – read their report from the Vild Festival in August, when it also rained, and lots of stuff for children. Elsewhere there was some sort of fishing cum picnic thing at Sct Jørgens Sø, which is nice, as I’ve been pondering for a while why more doesn’t go on at the Lakes. Next Sunday sees a picnic at Tippen, with grapepicking at our local vinyard pencilled in for 11-12 October.

Meanwhile, the Eat your city conference (Facebook) promoted urban farming, particularly as a social movement, looking very serious minded, but it did culminate in KBHs Høstfest (Facebook | review), a harvest festival with a 2500 seater 800m longboard down Sønder Boulevard – it was hipster heaven. All part of the Sharing Copenhagen effort.

For a more realistic view of the eating habits of the average Dane see Michael Booth in The Local, or visit any ‘budget’ supermarket.

A final check-in with the local trees me and the beags have been monitoring (February | June):

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one lousy branch – better luck next year?

Update, May 2015: sad to relate, the three trees above have now been felled.

Vestegnens Kulturuge 2014

Update, Jan 2015: Glostrup will not be participating in this year’s Kulturuge, following Brøndby in leaving the intiative, which they don’t feel has “taken flight”. The event is funded by the members of Vestegnens Kulturinvesteringsråd to the tune of two kroner per head of population, but as a result of Glostrup’s departure this will go up to four kroner per head.

A quick look back at Vestegnens Kulturuge 2014 (Facebook | Regionalavisen coverage), a local festival which took place from 6-14 September, and a good opportunity to pull together some local history about areas we explore on our walks and beyond. More than 150 events hosted by 140 organisations in seven kommuner, some shared with Golden Days. Second time out – see post re 2013 edition,

Vestegnen is the name given to a flexible group of kommuner at the top of the Køge Bugt – see Visit Vestegnen for more. Mainly suburbs built on villages/landsbyer (there are usually some traces) after WW2 to provide housing for the burgeoning population, now with a 19% invandrer population. No fairytale towers or harbour baths here. Putting all the kommuner together gives you a population of over 250k, perhaps in a better position to offer services and cultural support akin to that in Copenhagen ‘proper’. Maybe more joint initiatives could make for a more dynamic area able to attract investment and undertake some creative redevelopment.

The programme for the week was available via Issuu or Kultunaut, hele Danmarks event calendar, with search, display by day or on a map. A lot of the events were child/family oriented, but the following had some appeal.

Avedøre and Hvidøre

Denmark’s oldest airfield (photo: 1001 Fortællinger)

Sunday saw the biennial family oriented Aeronautisk Dag at Avedøre Flyveplads (Facebook | Forstadsmuseet). Tucked away between Brøndby Havn and a motorway is Denmark’s oldest airfield, dating from 1917. It was used by the Danske Luftfartsselskab for test flights in the 1920s, and by the Nazis to test motors from 1943. Best story: a US B17 made a emergency landing nearby in 1943, thinking they had made it to neutral Sweden.

Closed in 1945, the airfield was used as a store by the military and Hvidovre highways dept, but reopened in 2001, thanks largely to the support of enthusiasts, with a limited number of flights permitted each year.

As well as a grassy runway the site consists of two red hangars from 1917, listed in 1986, constructed in timber so they could be burned down in the event of war, and a 100m long engine testing facility from 1943, made up of a row of 10 interconnected testing halls. The biennial display includes vintage planes and cars, hot air balloons, kites. It’s also a nice area for a walk.

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Stjernestøv: en stedsans/Stardust: a sense of locality on Hvidovre Torv

Less successful is Hvidovre Torv, a surviving part of the original village opposite the old church, one of those public spaces which hasn’t really worked. Frequent articles in the local paper bemoan the lack of life and ambition on the square, with this week the news that five of its 10 chestnut trees have succombed to kastanieminermøl and are to be felled. I tend to the sceptical about the urge to fell, but in this case the trees are to be replaced with “large” tulipantræer, and the gravel which teenagers persist in throwing into the fountain, blocking it from doing its thing, is to be replaced with shrubbery. Hurrah!

During the festival the square was transformed into a Norse mythology inspired art installation (review) by Karoline H Larsen in conjunction with Hvidovre Produktionsskole, who brightened up the nearby shopping centre with Fra Ingenmandsland til Allemandsliv last year. There was also Mobil Lyd, a pop-up musical something or other from Yes DR Far, and folk dancing. (Shudders. One day I’ll work out what Danish folk dancing is about.)

In the shopping centre itself pupils from Langhøjskolen and artists Cold & Butt (it’s their names…) mounted Save the Apple, an installation “questioning the way we as a society perceive packaging and food waste”, ie making apple juice and pancakes. There’s a video, showing off the increasingly forlorn shopping centre.

Albertslund and Vallensbæk

Opstandelseskirken, Albertslund (photo: Ib Rasmussen)

Opstandelseskirken, Albertslund (photo: Ib Rasmussen)

Slightly further afield is Albertslund, an area which doesn’t have the best of reputations but makes the most of what it’s got. Named after a French count who fled to Denmark in 1802, most of the area was laid out in the 1960s in best modernist style, with the population growing from 3000 to 30,000 over a period of eight years. Inspired by the Garden City Movement (again) it’s strictly zoned and emphatically low density, made up of terraced houses and a network of separate roads and bike/pedestrian paths. Another feature is the canal quarter, which aims to make an attraction out of the drainage system.

Moving swiftly on from Har du lys til at vandre? (a play on ‘Fancy a walk?’ and ‘Got a light?’, involving a bonfire, warm soup and goodnight stories) from the local library, Kroppedal Museum offered På tur gennem Albertslunds historie, a walk through the area’s cultural heritage, from Opstandelseskirken (church, 1984) to the rather older Statsfængsel (state prison, 1859). There was also a guided tour of Skulpturbank Hyldespjældet, a sculpture gallery in an area of public housing. It seems that sculptors park their work at Hyldespjældet until it is sold or sent to an exhibition, how about that?

Other arty things on during the week included Streetart with William Hjort (the brains behind Roskilde Festival Graffiti) on the viaduct between Vallensbæk Sø and ditto Mose on the Køge Bugt motorway to the south of Albertslund; same kommune but two motorways away from DIAS (Facebook), Vallensbæk’s digital arts gallery, which offered Sound Treasures and video workshops, culminating in a Videoextravaganza and lounge on Saturday. DIAS receives support from the Danish Art Fund and DSB, an interesting initiative all round.

street, Albertslund (photo: Gåafstand)

street, Albertslund (photo: Gåafstand)

Revisiting a 1968 dérive undertaken by a group of artists in Albertslund walking group Gåafstand wrote in 2010: “[the] lack of horizon makes one feel a bit disoriented and can cause a loss of sense of direction”. Certainly the streets tend to be empty and devoid of much life, but could expansion and renewal be an alternative solution to the prevailing redevelopment rhetoric of stacked egg boxes with minimal space to breath? An issue though is that these developments were built quickly with little attention to quality, meaning that at a time of low house prices it’s often cheaper to pull individual houses down than renovate them.

On the beach

More art if less walking from Copenhagen Art Run (Facebook | preview | coverage; oi Copenhagen, get yer own art run), a 5km run (walking also permitted, mind) for body, soul and all the senses, held along the beach at modern art gallery Arken in Ishøj. Artists are invited to submit works for display or to entertain along the route, and the race is not timed.

The beach in question is the 7.2 km long Køge Bugt Strandpark, stretching from Avedøre Holme to Hundige Strand, a wholly artificial construction complemented by four small marinas and six salt water lakes. The idea for the beach was first mooted in the 1930s but did not become a reality until 1980, after 5 million km2 of sand had been pumped out of the sea bed. This stretch of coast is a mixture of suburban overspill, summer houses and caravan sites, a legacy of the feriekolonier set up for residents of inner city Copenhagen, who followed the road from Valby to Køge by rutebil/omnibus or bicycle during the summer holidays.

cykeltur

on yer bike! (photo: Forstadsmuseet)

This period was celebrated in Sommerliv langs Gammel Køge Landevej, a bike ride led by Forstadsmuseet’s Lisbeth Hollensen from the site of Flaskekroen at Åmarken Station, one of a series of former roadside inns, to Brøndby Strandhotel. The road (Køgevejen), laid in the 1720s and running from Valby to Køge, is now synonymous with car traffic, with the Køge bus discontinued a couple of years ago.

Telling local histories

The local museums and archives do a great job of preserving Vestegnen’s history, which is also kept alive through the revived tradition of oral storytelling. Vestegnens Fortællerkreds held its annual festival on the last night of Kulturuge, and Hvidovre libraries is offering Hvidovre FortælleLab, a free course, over the autumn.

Memorials and memory at Copenhagen Art Week

Updates: the theme for 2015 was Shared space, with guided tours of various types (performance, on bikes, in the metro). In 2016 (26 Aug – 4 Sep; ibyen) it’s Open gestures, with B_Tour offering Through someone else’s eyes (FB), eavesdropping on Ion Sørvin of N55 and Anne RommeHjem til Blågården (more) and a packed SMK programme, plus performances by inter alia Nøne Futbol Club (Politiken); other tours include guides to specific parts of the city (FRB, Østerbro, Amager). In a packed couple of arty weekends CHART (26-28 Aug) has slogans on the street by Douglas Coupland (Politiken), plus an architecture competition, while B_Tour is also in action at Alt_Cph (2-4 Sep; participants wanted | review), along with Copenhagen Game Collective, with a number of place based events curated by Råderum. Phew!

Copenhagen Art Week, also known as CAW, is taking place from 29 August to 7 September. The book-sized programme includes eight, count ’em, guided tours.

At the arty end of the spectrum we have gallery viewings on Bredgade, Gammelholm (the other side of Nyhavn) and in Kødbyen (the ‘meatpacking district’). Inevitably there are bike tours (Kunsten og samfundet/art and society in Vesterbro and Besøg fotokunstnerens atelier/visit photographers’ studios), but two are super-exciting – a Guidet togrejse on the S train with architect Carsten Hoff, responsible with Susanne Ussing for the public art in five stations on the H line (Måløv,Veksø, Stenløse, Ølstykke, Frederikssund) and State of Exception/Undtagelsestilstand, exploring the world of international diplomacy (next Sunday).

On Saturday, after dropping in on the Stasi Secret Rooms in Nikolaj Kunsthal, I joined KØS’s guided walk exploring statues in the city centre. KØS, the museum for public art in Køge, was previously known as the rather less inspiring Køge sketch collection. The walk was part of its memorials project, which kicked off with a tour of 10 monuments around the country (programme | Facebook) and culminates in the Mindesmærker i dag/Memorials of today exhibition running until February 2015. There’s also a creepy talking statues app and upcoming sessions at Folkeuniversitet.

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Hanne Varming’s Hyldemor, named after HC Andersen’s The Elder Tree Mother and modelled on her great grandparents – take a seat!

The walk was led by Sasja, responsible for KØS’ schools service, who had us filling in post-it notes with words we connect with memorials at the foot of the Absalon statue on Højbro Plads. From there we moved on to Frederik VII outside Christiansborg, also on a horse but rather less imposing, and then to Kierkegaard in the national library garden. Our final stop, following a 1km Kierkegaard style menneskebad to Kultorvet, was Hanne Varming’s Hyldemor, completing a narrative arc from imposing to eye level.

Sasja also showed us the empty space previously occupied by the Isted Lion, a familar tale to the Danes on the walk. Erected in Flensborg in 1862 after the First War of Schleswig, moved to Berlin in 1868 after the Second War, then to Copenhagen after instense lobbying in 2000, it’s now back in Flensburg. A symbol of the Schleswig-Holstein Question?

She also related two tales demonstrating once again the importance of trees in urban space. Until 2011 a tree on Kultorvet stood as a memorial for the city’s homeless, who would hang photos and other memories from its branches when one of their number died. The tree was cut down as part of a modernisation scheme, but a new Gravplads for Gadens Folk has opened at Assistens Kirkegård/cemetery (where the trees are protected by the local plan), together with a statue which featured in KØS’ memorials tour. Also with a happy ending for now is the controversy over an old plane tree in the square in front of KØS in Køge. A formal investigation is to explore the scope of potential damage to neighbouring buildings.

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some less successful public art at Kongens Nytorv

Having been on several city walks over the last year or so I’m beginning to put together a picture of the city’s layers – and to spot other tours going on at the same time. It seems there’s no avoiding Segways. Also on during this rainy Saturday was the swimming round Christiansborg thing, with changing rooms slap bang on top of a Kierkegaard quote tastefully embedded in the pavement, and the culmination of both CPH Pride and Cooking. Outside the city centre there were local festivals in Valby and Ørestad, and no doubt a few other happenings I’m not aware of. Could this constant whirl possibly be tipping over into too much? When everything is about performance and play there’s no room for the city just to be. It’s suffocating and confusing.

Next up is Golden Days, after which we settle into months of hibernation during CPH’s grey days. So how about a festival of the everyday? Have that one for free, WoCo.

Thanks to Sasja and KØS for the inspiring walk!

Monumental updates: as part of Golden Days KØS hosted a lecture on Käthe Kollwitz’s Grieving Parents, which also featured on R3’s Essay by Ruth Padel. More Kollwitz on R4’s Germany: memories of a nation, this time focusing on her pietà in Berlin’s Neue Wache. See also Käthe Kollwitz, a Berlin storyplus more on the red horses (2015 update: they’re back!).

Two more alternative mindesmærker highlighted in an event on 4 Dec: Hein Heinsen’s Talerstol på Vartov commemorating Grundtvig (1783-1872), priest in Vartov for 33 years; the front of the talerstol (speaker’s rostrum) bears the inscription rostra populi on the left and fællesskab & frihed (community and freedom) on the right, while the back bears ord (word) in 54 languages; and Kenn André Stillings Alfabet TURÈLL in Vangede, commemorating Dan Turèll (1946-93), in the form of letters and punctuation marks surrounded by a 47m long bench, one meter for each year of Turèll’s life.