Bloom: celebrating the nature of nature

2018 update: second run-out for the naturvidenskabelig turn on 26-27 May, this year with an English programme and much more of the same, inc HCA, wolves (don’t ask), a splendid portfolio of walks (with Træer tackling the Danes’ eagerness to fell ‘sick’ trees) and my personal nightmare, a langbordsmiddag; many events stuffed with speakers while lasting c45 mins, so can’t help thinking it’s more about the hygge

Festival Watch 2017 continues with Bloom (#bloomdk | FB), a new entrant from the Golden Days stable emerging from 2015’s Open Air Academy. It took place over the Kristihimmelfartsdag (Ascension Day) weekend at Søndermarken, one of two almost conjoined parks on the Frederiksberg/Valby border straddling Roskildevej, a stone’s throw from the ‘new’ district of Carlsberg.

Themed around nature and science, the festival positioned itself as a response to the post-factual era. Speakers came from backgrounds including biology and astrophysics, with more than a smattering of sessions slanted towards ‘lifestyle’. But it was all free, benefiting from lots of lovely sponsorship, taking place in the open air on a warm and rain free weekend.

Now then, I was grateful for a copy of the festival booklet from the library to leaf through, as the website was arty rather than usable. (I’m not the only one; comments on #some ranged from “I’m too old for this” to “how smuk“.) The situation was not much improved by offering the programme as a dense 54 page PDF. And despite the number of sessions in English there was no English version – OTOH there was a lot of English appropriation going on, with the now obligatory “talks og walks” and eight(!) stages with English names (I’m appropriating Wanderlust). Plus they went a bit over the top with schematics and classifications, different types of event and something called Bloom Balls. Let’s hope someone had full control of the big spreadsheet.

While the Danes’ relationship with trees is worth unpicking, Søndermarken is known for its sylvan lovelies, and a clutch of Bloom events went beyond saplings in bags. Saturday saw Perspektiv: træer, with four speakers exploring the videnskab (lit: science; here: what we know) behind trees. There were also three tankefrø (lit.: seed thoughts) exploring the cultural history of the oak, the beech and the lime.

Hans Christian Andersen called the oak “det største og ypperste træ i skoven”, a sentiment no doubt echoed by writer Jens Blendstrup, who together with artist Ole Lejbach completed a four year Ege-ekspeditioner (oak odyssey), resulting in an exhibition which toured the country in 2015 and is now available as a book. We also had a cabinetmaker and the founder of OAK – the Nordic Journal (“echoes of the Nordic way of life”) on the oak in Danish design, plus oak hors d’oeuvres from a food artist. Ah well. Here’s a picture of Klopstock’s Oak in Lyngby instead.

Klopstock’s Oak, where every July members of the Danish Klopstock Society meet for a reading

The beech is Denmark’s national tree, even featuring in the national anthem. Amongst Søndermarken’s beeches we find Ewald’s Beech, planted in memory of youthful Golden Age poet Johannes Ewald (1743-81), with a reed-covered parasol acting as shelter for a bench. Here though we had writer and boatbuilder Sigurd Buch Kristensen, a biologist and an architect, who posited the question of whether the Danish chair is an invasiv art. Plus beech snacks. In lime corner we had inter alia Neal Ashley Conrad on Proust and lime blossom tea dipping, and sessions from a landscape architect and an entomologist. You probably had to be there.

Lindehøjen, a group of limes on an artificial mound, site of Bloom’s Sound stage

Moving on, the walks n talks included lots of sciency stuff, with ant and bat walks for good measure, and three representatives from Denmark’s slim walking canon. Bakkehuset’s Gertrud With led off with Adam Oehlenschläger (1779-1850), author of the national anthem, who as son of the nearby palace’s steward had Søndermarken as almost his private playground. Famously, following a 16 hour walk with Norwegian philosopher Heinrich Steffens he composed Guldhornerne, a 1200 page epic poem, in one sitting.

Next up, RUC’s Dan Charly Christensen went for a walk with Oehlenschläger’s contemporary, the physicist Hans Christian Ørsted (1777-1851; of inter alia the eponymous park), who held Kantian beliefs about the unity of nature and the relationships between natural phenomena. Even more physics on the final walker’s walk, led by Henrik Bohr, grandson of Nobel prize winning physicist Niels (1885-1962), who lived for 30 years just round the corner in JC Jacobsens æresbolig (now Carlsberg Akademi) and made regular head-clearing walks in the park.

Adam Oehlenschläger, patron saint of Danish walkers, at the top of Valby Bakke

Frederiksberg was part of the same parish as Hvidovre until 1857, while Valby was not handed over to Copenhagen until its 1901 land grab, so it’s interesting to note that garden designer Marcus Friederich Voigt made a trial run for Søndermarken at Holmegården, just north of the 12th century Hvidovre church, in 1794. Clearly a spot of some note, a great-grandmother of Karen Blixen was installed in the manor house by her lover in around 1810, where she gave birth to three children. In 1833 the house was bought by Søren Kierkegaard’s great uncle, who owned it until 1853. (Our local museum notes that records do not show whether Søren visited Holmegården – but he could have done). Sadly, the manor house burnt down in 1931 and the garden has long since been built over.

Originally designed in the best Baroque style for Frederik IV in 1709, Søndermarken was laid out in triangles around three long avenues in a ‘goose foot’ system. This layout can just about be detected in the surviving path network. FVI’s 1795 redesign incorporated the latest Romantic motifs such as a hermit’s hut, a Doric temple and a Swiss cottage, plus waterfalls and grottoes. Open to the public from 1852, people flocked from the increasingly built-up centre of Copenhagen to admire the view from the top of Valby Bakke, one of Copenhagen’s highest points at 31 metres above sea level, and to enjoy a picnic on the Smørrebrødsplænen lawn.

After falling into decline Søndermarken’s Romantic features were restored in 2012, with the addition of 21st century essentials such as climbing frames and exercise areas, plus a small dogs run free area (unfenced). Today you are more likely to see lycra clad joggers than poets or physicists taking a constitutional. It’s a nice corner of the city, but surely destined to become the playground of escapees from the hyper-dense new area around Carlsberg.

(Talking of playgrounds, the forthcoming CPH Stage has a clutch of performance style walks around the theme of the city as stage. Of passing interest are OmniPresence on surveillance culture, Inge Agnete Tarpgaard’s walking workshop and Cantabile 2’s Hidden Number.)

Søndermarken’s hermit’s hut, occasionally let out for artists’ residences


Seven walks in Valby

Last updated: 12 Apr 2018


Valby, one of 10 districts making up the Copenhagen council area, is one of my favourite parts of the city. It’s got a no nonsense feel, unpretentious, diverse and full of undiscovered corners. It’s even got a hill, although at 31m Valby Bakke is maybe more of a hillock.

Located on the south western fringe of Copenhagen Valby has an air of isolation about it, separated from Frederiksberg to the north by a park and from Vesterbro to the east by a cemetery, with further parks to the west and south. Railway development has also left its mark, with a main line and a local line dividing the district into two with only one road bridge across, and two more local lines creating further pockets of edgeland. Several areas of low density housing also contribute to a suburban feel.

This may however all be about to change, with the redevelopment of the Carlsberg brewery site, higher density housing under construction on a number of brownfield sites and the new Copenhagen-Ringsted railway line, due to open in 2018, cutting through the south of the district.

Valby shares a border with Hvidovre, my home council, to the west. The original village of Valby was even a part of the same parish until 1901, and the two areas are much the same size in terms of population, around 5oK. But with industrialisation starting rather earlier in Valby, and as part of Copenhagen rather than a separate council, it operates in a rather different climate.

On a walk last November I spotted a poster for Valbyruter, a series of seven self-guided walks. In December the community council), announced that a new edition was being prepared, which hit the streets in January 2015.

ValbyRuter in Vigerslev branch library

Valbyruter in Vigerslev branch library

This being a nice manageable translation project I got in touch with the council, who sent me six copies of the leaflets to scribble on. While the translation itself didn’t take too long, some added extras, not least visiting Valby’s farthest flung corners to take photos for storymaps, meant that two months elapsed, but we now have a finished product!

Walking in Valby is a 14 page Google Doc. As well as full details and an overview map for each walk there is a link to an interactive storymap (around Langgade | around Vigerslev Alle | classical housing | Folehavennorth west | Vigerslev).

The seven walks fall into two main categories, with two looking at historic Valby and four exploring some of the unique housing in mainly lesser known parts of the district, with a final foray taking in Valby Park, Copenhagen’s biggest. Best discovery: the laundrette in Folehaven. Most surprising: old Vigerslev village, a seemingly unplanned jumble including a Bronze Age burial mound, just a stone’s throw from Hvidovre station.

Having originally planned to plot the routes on a Google map I gave this up, partly as far too fiddly without coordinates to hand, but also because step-by-step routes can be rather confining, making one a slave to the map rather than drifting and lingering. I don’t think my partner and I have ever managed actually to follow a route, and not just because of uncooperative beagles.

For such a low word count the translation itself was unexpectedly tricky, starting with the issue of the byggeforeninger, small pockets of housing built around the turn of the 20th century. The literal translation is ‘building society’, but while the English equivalent may have started out in the same way, ie groups coming together to finance and build houses, today when UK building societies can barely be distinguished from banks this doesn’t work. After toying briefly with ‘housing association’, I settled on ‘cooperative building society’.

A further issue is the Danish usage of by and related, eg bydel. Can you really call a clutch of 80-odd houses, come in Den Hvide By, a ‘town’? The new area of Carlsberg Byen is usually translated as ‘city district’, which doesn’t work for me, but the alternatives (quarter, area, neighbourhood) can be equally clunky if not chosen with care.

I like Knight Lab’s storymap service but finding photos for the areas I haven’t systematically walked was a nice illustration of the contradictions in the social/visual turn. In addition to plain old copyright there are issues around privacy and data mining – it’s easy enough to snip from Google StreetView, but should you? And do you really need to contact third parties about using their photos if they seem blithely unaware of rights issues? I have added credits on any borrowed photos on my storymaps, but it’s a rather grey area.

Revisiting Carlsberg Byen

Last updated: 22 Feb 2018

Yesterday we explored the area between Toftegårds Alle and Gamle Carlsberg Vej in Valby, just outside the grounds of the former brewery. Walking along Banevolden, an elevated path running parallel to the railway line, the influence of the Carlsberg dynasty becomes ever stronger, for which read, not least, money. This led me to wonder how far the area, despite appearances, is residential. Some of the houses, particularly on Bjerregårdsvej and Antoinettevej, are stunning, although newer buildings have snuck in here and there:

buildings on Antoinettevej and Bjerregårdsvej

two houses on Antoinettevej flanking the location of the home of DASK, Denmark’s first computer, on Bjerregårdsvej

It turns out that several buildings here and on the surrounding streets have been bought by Edlund A/S, a firm of IT consultants cum actuaries. The area is almost an Edlund campus, although in order to conform with local plan requirements most have a residential component. We thought Bjerregård itself, the original farmhouse, was a museum – turns out its Erling E’s house. Sorry!

Two houses facing each other at the end of Bjerrgårdsvej are particularly interesting. Built in historicist style, Frans Schwartz’ house and Onkel Toms Hytte (Uncle Tom’s Cabin) both have a half-timbered appearance and an unlikely selection of ornamentation, including elephant heads on the former and dragons on the latter. Both were restored by Edlund in 2010.

Frans Schwartz' house (1884)

Frans Schwartz’ house (1884), designed by Hans Jørgen Holm, a leading proponent of National Romantic style

Onkel Toms Hytte, the slighter of two, dates from 1905. At that time it stood at the entrance to the harbour near Østerport station and housed a corner shop, but had to make way one hundred years later for an extension of the railway tracks. It was saved from being torn down by a campaign led by architect Michael Varming from Foreningen til Hovedstadens Forskønnelse (lit: Association for the Beautification of the Capital), who I’ve not come across before but who sound splendid.

In the same eclectic style is the nearby Jesuskirken (Jesus Church), erected in 1891 by Carl Jacobsen (for whom the berg was named) as a mausoleum for his family. Designed by Vilhelm Dahlerup, responsible for most of the turn of the century architecture in Copenhagen it seems, the church boasts a campanile decorated with swastikas and a troll statue.

Jesuskirken (1891)

Jesuskirken (1891); the troll is just out of shot

Could you get much further from Danish minimalism?

Sources: Politiken; Valby før og nu on Bjerregård, Frans Schwartz’ hus and Onkel Toms Hytte, all with lots of lovely old pictures.

Foraging in Valby Park

Last updated: 19 Feb 2018.

2015 update: it’s coming round again, quite possibly redoubled. See fex Spis Amager Fælled, and from the US, Salad from the sidewalk, which has lovely pix in the faux traditional style. And ditto for 2016 – see the rather bucolic Galloway Wild Foods, with a big foraging events programme.

The arrival of warmer days means it’s time for some foraging. As in the UK collecting local food is a la mode among the Danish chattering classes, chiming in with the Nordic food vibe, silly prices and all. More down to earth efforts include Byhøst (gloss: City Harvest), who crowdsource ingredients and offer simple recipes. On 25 May a free sanketur (foraging walk) was on offer in nearby Valby Park, organised by the local community council and led by Julie Swane.

Valbyparken, inaugurated in 1939, is Copenhagen’s biggest park at 64.2 hectares. The area was used as a dump until 1937, but now boasts northern Europe’s biggest rose garden and Café Rosenhaven (1964), a naturlegeplads (nature playground), 17 themed gardens (established during CPH’s turn as European Capital of Culture in 1996) and three haveforeninger (allotment associations).

A number of festivals, most recently a medieval market, and open air concerts are held in the park during the summer, and plans are afoot for horrors! an urban beach at the mouth of Harrestrup Å. Given the park’s varied topography, from wilderness areas to cultivated lawns, hedges and bushes to windswept coastlines, it’s one of the best places within the city limits for foraging.

What we gathered (see photos from a previous Byhøst sanketur):

  • humle – humulus lupulus – wild hops (twisty turny shoot around another plant)
  • granskud – fir tree shoots (really)
  • røllike – achillea millefolium – yarrow (Steen of Vorherres Køkkenhave used the flowers for snaps; the most common weed in Denmark)
  • fuglegræs – stellaria media – chickweed (Steen sautes in butter)
  • strandkarse – lepidium latifolium – pepperwort (very strong, reminiscent of horseradish)
  • løgkarse – alliaria petiolata – garlic mustard/Jack by the Hedge (Steen: a gift)
  • strandmælde – atriplex littoralis – grassleaf orache??
  • hvidtjørn – crataegus laevigata – hawthorn (Steen: use flowers in tea or wine)
  • kvan – angelica archangelica – angelica
  • spansk kørvel – myrrhis odorata – cicely (not to be confused with hundepersille or skarntyde)

I’m a bit of a halfhearted forager – the price and quality of herbs, fruit and vegetables in Denmark give the concept some appeal, but I tend to think there’s a reason why these plants haven’t been taken up by commercial retailers – yes you can eat the things, but would you want to? The Danish answer to Alan Titchmarsh, Søren Ryge Petersen, is also more than a little sceptical. In his review of Claus Meyer’s Naturalmanak (DK 249/£30, 312 pages), Søren says he has never been tempted to forage, not least because his kitchen garden offers more than enough provender. For him it’s all a bit Emperor’s New Clothes – it may be politically correct to eat local, but it takes time, both to gather enough to eat and to prepare something worth eating. He suggests there’s a reason why we started growing our own food rather than gathering it.

The Guardian’s beginner’s guide to summer foraging also attracted some barbed comments, such as “Surely this is more like ‘going into your garden and picking stuff’ than foraging?” The trend attracts a particular vintage style, illustrated in the admittedly rather lovely free Byhøst leaflet with pictures from Flora Danica. Of use in decoding Danish names was my Observer’s book of wild flowers 1963 edition (first printed 1937), inscribed ‘Gatehouse of Fleet 1964’ in my mother’s dashing hand on the flyleaf, with a six year old’s signature from my brother beneath. Which for some reason brings me in mind of butterscotch Instant Whip and frozen Steaklets. When’s all that coming back? (Update: Angel Delight is having a moment. And while we’re at, how about the Sainsbury Packaging Archive, also as book.)

Back in the garden, having spent the previous day digging up copious amounts of Jack by the Hedge I subsequently went a bit overboard looking for its garlicky mustardness, which however seemed a bit lacking. I also made some herb salt as an alternative salad dressing and have just strained a batch of fancy elderflower cordial. The Byhøst boys had jars of Arken pesto, named after the modern art gallery at Ishøj beach, for sale – tasty (and pricey) enough, given the benefit of a large number of additional non-foraged ingredients.

See more photos from the afternoon on Facebook, plus a dish made by one of the participants.

A further tour in September will look at the berries and fruit in the park. In the meantime, the new Byhøst app retails at DK 70 (£8), which feels on the pricey side, so we’ll stick to the map. An issue with this sort of crowdsourced data is that it needs periodical weeding to be useful.

In Denmark you can gather anything growing in a public space – just don’t break branches, dig up roots or take the last shoots (ensures something there for the next person and for next year). A lot of people worry about pollution, however we were assured that not much is taken up through the roots, and any nasties can be washed off  – use your common sense, and remember the Jyske Lov (1241):

Collect only as much as you can carry in your hat

Some books and blogs:

Update: a feature in Politiken on 21 June highlighted Trondheim resident Stephen Barstow’s Around the world in 80 plants, on eating such delights as Caucasian spinach (spinatranke), hostas and xtreme salads. Danish enthusiasts include Søren Holt on Amager, who blogs at In the toad’s garden (dansk) and Naturplanteskolen in Hedehusene, who sell seeds for dandelions. What a business concept!

Coming along on 29 June we had Claus Meyer with a riposte to Søren Ryge, foraging in our very own manor at Hvidovre Havn, where he found strandasters, strandmælde, spydmælde, røllike, vild kørvel, kvan, vild pastinak and forvildet peberrod (horseradish). We’ll have a look for the last next week.

His argument came down to “it’s free so you might as well”, which is a bit weak.