Saturday, 16 March 2019

Copenhagen Light Festival 2019

Light Festivals in major cities are definately an event in winter now (here), and (here), and I experienced some great artist installations whilst in the Danish capital as part of the annual Copenhagen Light Festival. The lights on Tivoli Gardens and amusement park above are a permanent fixture, but as part of the Copenhagen Light Festival an intense piercing green laser beam was shot from the Tivoli grounds across the city to the Christiansborg Slot tower (below). It was an installation by Martin Ersted. The Christiansborg tower itself was also illuminated in an ever shifting series of colours.

This building - House of Industry across the way from Tivoli at Rådhuspladsen was amazing as it displayed an arresting permutation of colour and light displays by Kollision.

These floral lights entitled Lighten Up, were installed along the length of Strøget in the shopping district.

This piece was entitled Pyramid Construction and was a student art installation by NEXT Cph. Again it was wonderful to watch it going through the phases of its pre-programmed light sequences.

The Magasin Du Nord department store dramatically floodlit by night.

Børsen - the old stock exchange was illuminated in purple in an installation called The Danish Chamber of Light.

I didn't manage to find out the name of this installation but it was large and situated on the waterfront and reminded me of 1970s-80s nightclub dance floors.

I love the architecture of the verdigris Control Houses of Knippelsbro bridge and I loved them even more when illuminated in glowing colours for the festival.

A very poignant installation - You Are Still Here by Anita Jørgensen on the facade of the Foreign Ministry building on the waterfront. Simple but very thought provoking, those four words loomed large out of the darkness, reassuring and comforting a message of hope for all.

I had to really search for this installation - Chromatic Field by light artist Jacob Kvis, but it was well worth it to experience this stunning light field divided into the warm and cool sides of the colour spectrum. It was both bright and beautiful.

There were many more installations dotted all over Copenhagen but I had little motivation to hunt them down after days full of sightseeing. I've saved perhaps the favourite of the ones I personally saw though until last. This is Eternal Sunset by Mads Vegas, and was absolutely stunning. Like Chromatic Field above, it displayed the colour spectrum along Kalvebod Brygge (Bridge) to amazingly vivid effect. Just so intense and gorgeous. 

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Copenhagen I København

"Just living is not enough," said the butterfly, 
"one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower. 
To move, to breathe, to fly, to float, 
To gain all while you give, 
To roam the roads of lands remote, 
To travel is to live 
Hans Christian Andersen

Who am I? It wasn't the best of starts. It was supposed to be one last European winter fling in Copenhagen - the first time for me in a Scandinavian country - to experience the much celebrated hygge, and a demonstration of solidarity with our European friends before the madness and recriminations of Brexit set in at home in Britain. Having watched the rest of the passengers from the plane I'd arrived on waved through passport control with nothing but a brief glance at their passports though, I was singled out, detained, and asked to explain the reason for my presence in Denmark. Apparently I do not look like the person in my latest passport despite it being only two years old. I was asked to remove my hat so the passport checker could get a good look at my head. I was asked the reason for my visit, to produce details of where I was staying, for other evidence such as credit cards, driving licence etc, did I have any pictures of myself with other people on my phone to prove I was who I was? Not being a fan of selfies I had none. One colleague was called over to gawp at me. He muttered something in Danish and then walked off. Another colleague was then summoned to examine me and walked off similarly unimpressed. We stared each other down across the glass partition - passport control woman and me. Awkward. I knew all too well the reason for her singling me out, and could tell in her heart of hearts, deep down, so did she. The stand off continued. I had no further account to give of myself, nor should I have had to. Pointless. We stared each other down some more. And then, realising she had nowhere else to go with this, in a moment of contrition perhaps, passport control woman decided to let me into Denmark, saying by way of explanation for her decision to detain and subject me to such levels of scrutiny compared to others from that flight, that she was "new to the job". Needlessly riled but bemused, I walked on into Danish soil. There was little sense of hygge to be had at the airport.

Things got much better however once I made my way into the heart of Copenhagen itself. 
After leaving the train station I made the short walk past the famous Tivoli Gardens amusement park which was dressed appropriately for winter with snowmen and frosted trees. Feelings of hygge were much more perceptible.

I encountered this huge bronze statue of Hans Christian Andersen, one of Denmark's most famous sons just across the way. Andersen was one of the first to visit the Tivoli gardens when they first opened in 1843. So inspired by the gardens and Tivoli complex was Andersen that he was moved to write one of his most famous fairytales - The Nightingale.

The Hans Christian Andersen statue is located on the edge of the large expanse of Rådhuspladsen (Town Hall Square), which is currently being dug up to accomodate the installation of a new Metro station which is due to open later this year. Here I encountered imposing examples of Danish art nouveau architecture in the Scandic Palace hotel, and the Rådhuset (Town Hall), dating from 1905, below. I liked the Scandinavian interpretation of art nouveau, it had a very Gothic feel to it.

The Rådhuset is rich in architectural details and includes this balcony and gilded statue of Bishop Absalon, an important former politician and churchfather to the nation.There are also many animals carved into the facade of the architecture surrounding the Rådhuset.

The Rådhuset is guarded by a set of fearsome, stylised bronze dragons whose purpose according to legend is to scare anybody coming into the building with the intention of complaining about the city. I kept my mouth firmly shut about the woman in passport control at the airport!

To the left of the Rådhuset mounted on a tall terracotta column is a bronze statue of Lur Blowers (Lurblæserne/Hornblowers) - a Medieval wind instrument. 

I wandered further into the city through the student focused Latin Quarter, and found myself in Amagertorv a square famous for the asterisk pattern of its paving, and Storkespringvandet - the verdigris Stork Fountain. There were lots of interesting old buildings which had been converted into shops.

A further short stroll saw me eventually find the particular historic building in the Købmagergade area that I had been seeking out. It is the Rundetårn (Round Tower), and dating from 1642 is Europe's oldest functioning observatory. It was originally built to study the stars by Christian IV and is still available for amateur astronomers to use during the week.

The entrance is very grand and impressive, and once you have paid your entry fee, you literally follow the yellow brick road, leading you round, and round in circles up the steep tower. The yellow bricks wind 7.5 times around the tower to the top, a length of 210 metres. The Rundetårn's spiral track has been climbed by royalty on horseback, cars, and has also been a venue for bike races. An annual unicycle race up the Rundetårn is still held in the spring.

There are spaces dedicated to the history of the Rundetårn displaying historic instruments and objects related to its former use as an observatory, and a gallery space hosting changing exhibitions. This gallery space below was once the university library where Hans Christian Andersen would study and write. It is thought that the Rundetårn is actually referenced in his story The Tinderbox.

Further astronomical references at the top of the tower.

Once you have reached the top of the spiralling yellow brick ramp, you climb a few stairs and you are rewarded for your efforts with some wonderfully expansive views across Copenhagen, taking in the numerous city spires, and views to the waterfront.

Copenhagen's vistas appreciated, it was then time to journey back down the yellow brick rampway. Goodbye yellow brick road. Attached to the back of the Rundetårn is Trinitatiskirke, a light, airy church erected in 1637, below.

There are many churches packed into the relatively small space of Copenhagen, and I duly came across Alexander Nevsky Kirke dating from 1884. It is Denmark's only Russian Orthodox church, and I was impressed with its decorative, patterned brickwork and those three gleaming golden onion domes.

Equally as impressive was Marmorkirken (Marble Church), designed by Nicolai Eigtved, and revised years later by architect Ferdinand Meldahl. The foundation stone for the church was laid in 1749 as part of a grand plan for a new district of the city, but a change in financial fortunes meant the project languished for several years until the project was rescued by a wealthy industrialist and the church was finally inaugurated in 1894. The huge copper dome inspired by that of St Peter's in Rome, is 46 metres wide, making it one of the largest in Europe, and is covered with paintings of the twelve apostles. The dome is instantly recognisable across the city and the church interior is a silent, peaceful space.

The Marmorkirken church forms a straight line leading through Amalienborg castle and across the waterfont to the new Opera house. These are the grounds of the Amalienborg castle, the most impressive bit of which is watching the changing of the uniformed guards as they huffed and puffed about the square with a great sense of self-importance.

The Steadfast Tin Soldier.

They're changing the guard at Amalienborg Palace.

I carried on walking through the Amalienborg palace courtyard and across to the waterfront. Across the water is the imposingly futuristic sleek design of Operaen - the new Opera House designed by Danish architect Henning Larsen, with artistic contributions inside by Per Kirkeby and Olafur Eliasson.

Another church I was eager to see whilst in Copenhagen was Grundtvig's Kirke situated out in the suburbs. I took a train to Emdrup to see this modernist Art Deco era church designed by Peder Vilhelm Jensen-Klint and his son Kaare Klint named in honour of Danish pastor and scholar NFS Grundtvig. Construction was began in 1927 and completed in 1940. The architects were hoping to create a gesamtkunstwerk - total work of art - and to this end as well as the architectural design, they were also responsible for the design of the facade, chandeliers, doors, pulpit, furniture and organs for music. Grundtvig's Kirke construction it is estimated consists of over 5 million yellow bricks, and the design is meant to symbolise ascension in both the physical and spiritual sense. I thought the building was magnificent. Especially impressive is the dynamic, soaring shape, reminiscent of that of the Hallgrimskirkja Church in Reykjavik. Grundtvig's Kirke is all the more spiritual for the austerity of the interior - just bare, yellow bricks which glowed inside, and the absence of the usual ornate decoration and heavy gilding synonymous with most other religious buildings.

Another interesting chuch building I felt compelled to seek out once back in the city centre was this Baroque beauty - Vor Frelsers Kirke, containing the most splendid golden brown spire. You can climb the spire at certain times of the year but sadly there was no access to the spire in winter, so I had to make do with the view from the street.

In Slotsholmen another historic building with an impressive spire is Børsen above, the gabled old stock exchange, which dating back to 1625 is one of Copenhagen's oldest structures. The roof was originally lead but was clad in copper in the 19th century. Børsen's unique dragon-tailed spire apparently protects it from fires and enemy attacks. The four inter-twined dragons tails are topped by three crowns representing the Scandinavian empire of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. 

The district of Slotsholmen also contains another palace - Christiansborg Slot, which has the tallest tower in all of Denmark. It is famous for the Ridebane - Royal Stables, where I spent some time watching the horses being put through their paces. 

The equestrian statue of former monarch Christian IX also keeps an eye on the horses at the Ridebane.

Just across from the Christiansborg Slot palace complex, by Højbro bridge, if you look closely into the canal water you can see this underwater sculpture installation by Danish artist Suste Bonnén. It is entitled Agnete and the Merman, inspired by a traditional Danish ballad which tells the story of a girl who unhappy with her life on land encounters a Merman and goes to live with him under the sea bearing him seven children. Years later on hearing distant bells from the land though, Agnete abandons her Mer-family and underwater idyll to return to her former life on land leaving the Mer-man and their children in mourning. The light was overcast when I took them so these pictures aren't the greatest but I think you can just about make out some of the ghostly Mer-children pining for the loss of their mother.

I discovered two more pieces of striking architecture whilst crossing Knippelsbro bridge on my way from Slotsholmen to Christianshavn. Above is one of a pair of control towers for the bridge. I really liked the shapes of their design and the bright verdigris of their colouring. Below is the equally striking mysterious architectural dark parallelogram known as Den Sorte Diamant (The Black Diamond) which is home to, and an extension of the Danish national library - Det Kongelige Bibliotek. 

One of the most salient things I discovered about the architecture in Copenhagen are the cheerful colours used on the facades. Yellows, greens, orangey ochres, and reds seem to be particularly popular colours. Combined with the verdigris of the statues, rooftops and city spires the colours are a much needed tonic, and just the thing to boost serotonin levels in the depths of winter.

A personal favourite building was this little red sagging, number clinging drunkenly to the support of its more upright neighbours. I also liked the anarchic decoration of the building below, discovered in one of the younger, edgier streets of the Strøget neighbourhood.

My wanders across the city took me up to the Nyboder district where I took in the strong earthy hues of these rows of tiny terraced houses which were originally built in the 1600s to house some of the ever expanding Danish naval fleet. As down at heel as some of the streets look, these vibrantly coloured houses are apparently fiercely sort after sources of accomodation by the general public as well as military personnel who get first preference.

Two lovely Copenhagen doortraits.

For reasons unknown to me the figure of Hermes/Mercury seemed to be entwined closely into the mythology of Copenhagen. His presence loomed large at various locations across the city in museums, up above on the roof of the Post and Tele Museum, and on a keystone.

This Baroque-style architectural beauty is Det Kongelige Teater (The Royal Danish Theatre) situated in Kongens Nytorv (King's New Square). It dates from 1874 and presents opera, ballet and classical concerts. Hans Christian Andersen would get roles occasionally as an actor in plays staged here. He also lived just across the road in the Magasin du Nord department store building when in its former incarnation it was a hotel. It is wonderfully ornate, and around the side you will find an interesting addition.

Under the Stærekassen annexe constructed in the 1930s are to be found some gleaming mosaics by Ejnar Nielsen.

More architecturally impressive than the Amalienborg and Christiansborg palaces, is this one - Rosenborg Slot. This palace dates from 1606 It has much more charm and lots of character in contrast to the other two. It was built originally as a summer house for Christian IV and was his favourite palace - he actually chose to die here - and is guarded by two bronze lions at its gate. I arrived just after lunchtime and for some unexplained reason the staff were escorting people off the premises and closed the palace, so I didn't get to look at the Danish crown jewels held inside and had to make do with a wander around the manicured box hedges in the grounds instead. 

To the north of the city is the star-shaped fortification of Kastellet, which features sheer grass banks surrounded by a moat. It was built in 1662 after an attack by Denmark's Swedish neighbours. The Kastellet/Citadel has always been the base for the the Danish army, and troops still live here in the red terraced buildings approached through an imtimidating gateway. As well as a church there are also original canons and a windmill.

Perhaps the most famous area of Copenhagen is the harbour of Nyhavn (New Harbour), full of picturesque colourful 18th century buildings and ships of varying sizes. Hans Christian Andersen lived at various properties along this canal for much of his life. As a busy commercial port Nyhavn was synonymous with sailors, ladies of the night, and public houses. Although very busy with tourists the area still retains much of its period charm and character.

But a mermaid has no tears, and therefore she suffers so much more.”
Hans Christian Andersen,
The Little Mermaid

Further along the waterfront from Nyhavn at Langelinje Pier can be found the symbol of Copenhagen - Den Lille Havfrue - The Little Mermaid statue immortalised by Danish sculptor Edvard Eriksen in 1913 from Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale. She was commissioned by wealthy Carlsberg brewery magnate Carl Jakobsen. She is inspired by ballet dancer Ellen Price who danced the lead in the Little Mermaid ballet, but modelled on the sculptors wife when Price refused to pose nude for the statue. The statue divides opinion. There are those who struggle to fathom her appeal dismissing her as twee and overrated, and she has been attacked in acts of vandalism on several occasions - having her head and an arm sawn off, as well as being covered with red paint and even bombed. She is much loved by locals and tourists alike though, and I must admit I fell under her spell. I thought she was beautiful given her story of personal pain and sacrifice for the sake of an unrequited love, and despite or perhaps because of the incongruous industrial backdrop of her setting. It was here at this harbour in her presence that I experienced the strongest sense of the much vaunted hygge. There is a 'genetically modified' version of The Little Mermaid a short distance away by artist Bjørn Nørgaard which it could be argued more adequately displays her suffering, but I'd seen pictures of it and wasn't impressed so stayed with the original statue amusing myself by watching the reactions of other tourists to her. 

Despite my initial impressions and misgivings at my treatment at the airport, and a couple of other customer service problems, I found Copenhagen to be a picturesque city full of pattern and colour and packed with much to see and do, although I found its frequently reported reputation of being one of the 'happiest places on earth' in polls a bit of a stretch. It's a city that punches slightly above its weight in comparison to other capital cities such as London or Paris which have much more going on. Given more time here though I would have liked to have visited Frederiksberg Slot and the old Carlsberg Brewery complex, and perhaps crossed the water for a day to see what Malmö in Sweden had to offer. Farvel København.