Copenhagen (4 – 6 April 2012)

So, I’ve made it to wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen! City number 4 of The 40 Project.

The name always conjured up a variety of romantic historical images for me, so it was interesting to see what present day reality was like. Immediately the city felt European to me – much more so that Oslo. Lots of buildings look old and there are more noticeable western influences; KFC, Burger King etc. The canals and bikes really remind me of Amsterdam. In fact cycling is obviously very big in the city – lots of bike racks in major locations, bikes more often parked outside houses than not, and proper bike paths. By proper I mean the road is on 3 levels; lowest for cars, a raised path for bikes and a further raised path for pedestrians. Also we saw very few bikes obviously locked; a stark contrast from Bristol! All very impressive.

Easter appears to be quite a big thing here. More so than in the UK, and Maundy Thursday is a bank holiday (along with Friday and Monday). This caught us out in that we failed to see a famous Astronomical clock in City Hall as the building was closed – as the security guard (who looked like we’d woken him up) bemusedly informed us.

We picked up our Copenhagen card (like the Oslo card, but err, for Copenhagen..), took the train into the main station (15mins) and headed to our hotel to check-in and dump the bags (about another 15mins walk.) The hotel was a lot smaller than Oslo, but very well formed. A very stylish boutique hotel called Bertrams with welcoming staff (and an iMac on reception, that the lady proudly informed us was a hybrid as their check-in software ran on Windows). We were at the top, on the 5th floor in a nice room with a beautiful wooden floor.

We then worked out the buses (which once we did seemed a lot more efficient than Bristol) and took ourselves to the botanical gardens. These were good, but to be honest Glasgow was more impressive. We hence headed more centrally to await a boat tour of the city via the canals. Whilst we waited we investigated a nearby church, Holmens Kirke (Holmens Chruch) and found a small orchestra practicing their music. They were excellent, and we listened enchanted for a few minutes. Though their conductor seemed less impressed and kept making them stop and repeat sections.

The boat trip was good, albeit cold when the wind picked up. We travelled slowly through various sections of the city, with an accompanying commentary explaining what we were seeing. From the canals we could clearly see a mix of building styles – some very old, some much newer. The opera house (like Oslo) was spectacular and the old naval base barracks has been well renovated for modern living. We also passed by the house where Hans Christian Anderson lived, which sits at the end of a very colourful street where the houses are really lit up by the late afternoon sun.

After the boat tour we walked to the famous Little Mermaid statue (before the Disney movie!). We returned through the Kastellet, which provided a wonderful setting for a short walk. It was also popular with local joggers, and we passed a great many with a whole range of ages.

It was then time for dinner, and we ate a splendid meal in a popular restaurant in the middle of a slightly dodgy looking industrial park called Kødbyens Fiskebar. It specialised in fish and we shared a started of ‘fish and chips’ which was wonderfully executed. For mains Greg had pollock and I had hake, both served with local barley. But dessert for Greg was the star – apple in multiple textures, which he declared one of the best desserts he’d had anywhere (and we’ve eaten in some pretty amazing places over time). It was more expensive than we’d have expected for the UK, but cheaper and better than anything we managed in Oslo.

To start the next day we enjoyed a splendid breakfast at our hotel.  Although not as extensive as our Oslo feast, there was a great selection of artisan bread, meats, cheeses, cereal, juices, boiled eggs, etc.  All organic and complemented nicely with fresh coffee or a wide selection of teas.

We visited the Christianborg Palace first, and started with the oldest segment – the ruins. Easter was noticeable even here as there were Easter eggs placed throughout the ruins as a hunt for the kids. The display here was large and informative, and did a good job in conveying the history of the palace, Or rather palaces, as they kept rebuilding it. The first castle was built in 1167 which was demolished stone by stone, the second palace in 1369, then the first palace (built between 1733 and 1745). Which was was burnt to the ground in a fire. Twice. (The second time not helped by the steward refusing to let the firemen into the great hall as the floor had just been polished).

After the ruins we explored the royal reception rooms at the palace. These were very impressive and ornate, including an exquisite parquet floor and some oak from an old sunken (by the British!) battleship. Some of the rooms were lavishly furnished as you might except, but the one which impressed us the most was the main hall where a series of tapestries were displayed. Rather than being historic these were very new – a gift from the business men of Copenhagen to Queen Margrethe on her 50th birthday; and presented on her 60th! (due to the long weaving time) They were striking in their design – both in terms of shape and colour, and really rather splendid.

Most of the palace is not actually open to the public as it is still in use, housing is the seat of the Danish Parliament (Folketinget), the Prime Minister’s Office and the Supreme Court.

Immediately adjacent to the palace is the Royal Chapel, which was just as unlucky with fire as the main palace. Originally built alongside the main palace in the 1733-1745 building works, it burned down win 1794. Rebuilt on the original foundations and reusing a lot of original masonry between 1813 and 1823 it escaped damage when the palace was burned down in 1884. One hundred years or so later, in 1992 its luck ran out and it burned down in a fire caused by a stray carnival firework. The current chapel is a faithful replica, re-inaugurated in 1997 and to this day is for the use of the royal family for occasions such as wedding, baptisms, christenings and funerals.

The first full day in Copenhagen had beautiful weather – very sunny and relatively warm. We enjoyed an alfresco cafe lunch in blazing sunshine, followed by a walk in the park. We ate ice creams and enjoyed a pleasant stroll whilst a few locals sunbathed, played ball games or read. The park surrounds Rosenburg castle, which was a stop the next day.

Although Christianborg is used for state occasions and visits by dignitaries, the royal family now live at Ameliaborg their winter palace, so of course we visited there the next day. We arrived in time to witness the changing of the guard, which you could get very close to. It was quite amusing watching startled tourists having to move out of the way suddenly when the guards wheeled and headed unexpectedly towards them! Ameliaborg itself was fairly interesting, although only a few rooms are open. However we did get a real sense that the Danish people are very proud of their royal family; of the oldest Kingdom in the world. King Christian IX is described as the Father-in-Law of Europe, and looking at the family tree it’s easy to see why – he has grandchildren in at least 4 royal European families, including the British royal family. We were also very impressed by the outfits worn by Queen Magrethe, all carefully chosen and developed working alongside local designers.

Amalienborg has an intriguing history. The first palace here was built by Queen Sophie Amalie, consort to Frederick III on part of the land which King Christian IV had acquired outside of Copenhagen’s old walled city, now known as the Indre By district, in the early 17th century. Her son King Christian V built a temporary theatre in the grounds to perform a German opera (likely the first opera presented in Denmark) in celebration of his forty-fourth birthday. It was a great success and was repeated a few days later, during which a stage decoration caught fire, destroying the theatre and the palace (and killing 180 people – mostly aristocratic children).

The King planned to rebuild the palace, and in the following years there were a number of plans submitted, but nothing happened until a group of important merchants presented a plan for the area in 1749. The proposal was re-imagined on a larger scale by Lord Chamberlain A.G. Moltke, who because of Frederik V’s dissolute lifestyle effectively ruled on the King’s behalf. He saw the opportunity to celebrate the King and the absolute monarchy by having a new quarter built to mark the House of Oldenburg’s 300th Jubilee, which had been celebrated the year before in 1748 and the to mark the 300th Jubilee of the coronation of Christian I of Denmark in 1749.

The court’s master builder Nicolai Eigtved, who was a prominent exponent of the so-called rococo style, was chosen to be responsible for the Frederiksstaden quarter, of which the new Amalienborg would be the centrepiece. The Amalienborg project consisted of four identical mansions (see below), built to house four distinguished families of nobility from the royal circles, placed around an octagonal square. The facades were planned to be identical, with the interiors unique to the families who lived there. The homes were empty for long periods (with the exception of the Brockdorff Palace, which housed the Naval Academy), so when Christianborg Palace burned down in 1794, the homeless royal family acquired the homes in exchange for promotion (and a fair amount of money).

Christian VII’s Palace is also known as Moltke’s Palace, and was originally built for Lord High Steward Adam Gottlob Moltke. It was the first of the four palaces to be sold to the royal family, and they moved in December 1794. After Christian VII’s death in 1808, Frederick VI used the palace for his Royal Household. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs used parts of the Palace in the years 1852-1885. For short periods of time in the intervening years the palace has housed various members of the royal family while restoration took place on their respective palaces. In 1971-1975 a small kindergarten was established at the palace, and later a schoolroom, for Crown Prince Frederik and Prince Joachim.

Christian VIII’s Palace is also known as Levetzau’s Palace, and was originally built for Privy Councillor Count Christian Frederik Levetzau in 1750-1760. The family set one condition when they sold the building— that the Count’s coat of arms should never be removed from the building. It can still be seen beside that of the monarch’s. It is the northwestern palace, and was the home of Crown Prince Frederik until 2011, before he and his family moved to Frederick VIII’s Palace.

The palace now houses storage facilities for the Queen’s Reference Library and a museum for the Royal House of Glücksborg, and is the palace open to the public. The museum features private royal apartments from 1863-1947 including original fittings and furnishings.

Frederick VIII’s Palace is also known as Brockdorff’s Palace. It is the northeastern palace, and was the home of Queen Dowager Ingrid until her death in 2000. It has recently been renovated and is the home of the Crown Prince Frederik and the Crown Princess Mary. It was originally built for Count Joachim Brockdorff in the 1750s. Brockdorff died in 1763, and Lord High Steward Adam Gottlob Moltke acquired the palace. Moltke sold it two years later to Frederick V. From 1767 it housed the Military Academy, also known as the Army Cadet Academy (Landkadetakademi). In 1788 naval cadets replaced the army cadets. The Academy was moved to another location in 1827. The following year the palace was prepared to house Christian VIII’s son, Frederick VII, who ascended the throne in 1848, and his bride, Princess Vilhelmine. After the marriage was dissolved in 1837, various members of the royal family lived in the palace. In 1869 it became the home of Frederick VIII. In 1934 it became the home of King Frederick IX and Queen Ingrid.

Christian IX’s Palace is also known as Schack’s Palace. It is the southeastern palace and was originally commissioned by Privy Councillor Severin Løvenskjold, but in 1754 he had to give up due to economic difficulties. The project was taken over by Countess Anne Sophie Schack née Rantzau and her step-grandson Hans Schack. In 1757 Hans Schack married Countess Ulrikke Auguste Vilhelmine Moltke, daughter of Adam Gottlob Moltke, and as his son-in-law had use of the best artists and craftsmen to complete the interiors. In 1794 the palace was taken over from private residence by the Regent, the then Crown Prince Frederick, and his wife, Crown Princess Marie. He died in 1839, and she in 1852. The palace was used after her death by, among others, the Supreme Court and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was later the home of Christian IX until his death in 1906. The home remained untouched afterwards until 1948. In 1967 the Palace was restored for the successor to the throne, Crown Princess Margrethe and Prince Henrik.

Next to Ameliaborg is the Marble Church, so called because of its construction material which makes for a very impressive sight. It’s real name is Frederik’s Church, and was designed as part of the Frederiksstaden project. Started in 1749, budget cuts and Eigtved’s death slowed construction made worse by deviations from the original plans. As a result it lay in semi ruins for around 150 years before being finally finished. Originally conceived to be built entirely in marble, it was actually finally built in limestone and faked to look marble.

From here we headed towards Rundetårn (the round tower), which is an old (17th century) tower attached to a church. The tower is part of the Trinitatis Complex which also provided the scholars of the time with a university chapel, the Trinitatis Church, and an academic library which was the first purpose-built facilities of the Copenhagen University Library which had been founded in 1482. On the roof is a working observatory and it’s also now open to the public as climbing to the top affords a fantastic view of the city. The Copenhagen skyline is fairly unspoilt, as local planning rules preclude any buildings from being higher then the height of their churches. The tower has no stairs at all and internally it has a helical corridor, ascending all the way to the top. As a result there have been some amazing ascents. In 1716, The Czar Peter the Great ascended the corridor on horseback while his wife, Catherine I, ascended behind him in a carriage. In 1902, a Beaufort car was the first motorised vehicle to ascend this Round Tower. in 1988 a bicycle race took place in the tower (one of several, the coronet record being set in 1993 at 55.3 seconds) and in 1989 Thomas Olsen went up and down the Round Tower on a unicycle in 1 minute and 48.7 seconds, which is a world record.

An odd bit of trivia about this tower concerns the toilet. The tower contains a notable toilet facility used by the researchers and astronomers working in the tower and consisting of a seat almost at the top and a shaft leading down to the bottom floor built into the hollow core. This shaft has no way of emptying it nor any ventilation to the outside, making it arguably one of the world’s largest and earliest septic tanks.

And in a random bit of connection with another holiday we have taken (to visit California), a 1:3 replica of the tower was built in the originally-Danish-settled city Solvang, California.

From Amalienborg headed to Rosenburg Slot (Rosenburg Castle), which used to be a royal summer retreat built in 1606 by Christian IV. Used for around a hundred years until 1710, it has only been used twice since. Once in 1794 as emergency accommodation for the royal family when Christainbprg burned down, before they moved to Amelienborg, and then in 1801 during the British attack on Copenhagen. It’s now open to the public and has a good web-based guided tour which you can access via qcodes displayed at various points, and then read on your smartphone.

I had imagined that the ‘audio channel’ would be a similarly modern provision. However it proved to be a hidden acoustic pipe, which the King used to surprise his guests with music from the orchestra at the other end (in the basement). Amongst the more interesting rooms is a fully mirrored room which the King used to favour for one on one entertaining, with a hidden stairwell to his main bed chambers, and a secret door to a storage area where his kept his erotica collection. On a more conventional note the top room also houses the famous Copenhagen lions – three life-size solid-silver lions which guard the thrones.  Rosenburg Castle also hosts the very impressive Danish Crown Jewels.

Next stop… still not home, it’s on to Brussels!

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1 thought on “Copenhagen (4 – 6 April 2012)

  1. Pingback: Oslo (April 1-3) Part2 | The 40 Project

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