A Walk to Nyhavn and the Changes on the Waterfront

Statue of Viggo Horup in Rosenborg Castle Gardens by J F Willumsen

Dear Readers, after we left the Botanical Gardens in Copenhagen yesterday, I was still eager for some green space and so we walked through the edge of the Rosenborg Palace gardens. I was much taken by this sculpture of Viggo Hørup (1841 – 1902), agitator, liberal and all-round good egg. He was anti-nationalist, and fought for social equality, including campaigning for the gardens to be open to everyone. The relief at the bottom of the statue apparently shows Denmark before and after slavery. I rather liked it.

And then it’s on down to Nyhavn, the old waterfront and these days the scene of hen and stag party bar-crawls. Goodness knows how many people end up in the water. It is very pretty, very crowded, and we passed by on the other side.

At the end of Nyhavn there’s a new bridge, so I popped up to have a look. Goodness!

On the left is the Royal Danish Playhouse, finished in 2008 and, as you can see, currently showing ‘West Side Story’. Most of it (about 40%) floats above the water.

On the other side of the canal, in the distance, is the new Opera House. This has been the subject of some controversy. The architect, Henning Larsen, called it “without comparison the most owner-infected [bygherreinficerede] ‘worst-case’ in my fifty years as an independent architect – squeezed between the Phantom of the Opera himself (of which more below), shipping magnates, and lawyers.” He was deeply unhappy about how he and his building had been treated, as you can see.

The ‘Phantom of the Opera’ was the shipping magnate Arnold Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller. He does seem to have had a lot of input into the design of the building (which ended up costing about $370m). In the first place, the building was meant to have been glazed, but Maersk  apparently decided that it should be clad with a metal grid. Larsen also wanted a particular treatment for the rear wall of the foyer, that would have resembled old violins. Instead, it was treated using traditional staining techniques, and the jury is out on whether this is effective or not. Suffice it to say that the locals in Copenhagen call this part of the building ‘the pumpkin’.  Furthermore, Maersk financed the building, but it was tax deductible, and it seems that the Danish government was obliged to buy it back. The building was completed in 2000, so it’s something else that would have been a hole in the ground when I was last in Copenhagen.

The foyer of the opera house, showing ‘The Pumpkin’.

Some things remain the same though – there are some magnificent old warehouses, such as this one, that houses the Museum of the North Atlantic and which, for those prepared to take out a mortgage, also houses Noma, once regarded as The Best Restaurant in the World. Just so you know what you’re getting into, the Game and Forest Season (for which booking opened on 22nd August and closed the same day) has a menu for 3,500 DKK (approximately £420). You can add on wine for a further 1,800 DKK (£216) or, if you don’t want to drink alcohol, a juice pairing will cost you 1,200 DKK (£144).  Too rich for my taste by far.

Anyway, we wander along the waterfront and come across this rather intriguing building, which seems to have no obvious way in. It reminds me rather of the De La Warr Pavilion at Bexhill-on-Sea, and no wonder – it was built in 1937 and used to be the old Customs House and ferry terminal. Alas, it’s actually the Copenhagen branch of Soho House (a private members’ club for ‘creatives’) so we won’t be dining here either. It would cost you about £1,000 a year to be a member here, and most of the truly creative people that I know are struggling to make ends meet with their art. Viggo Hørup, where are you when we need you?

But what is this? This extraordinary warehouse is now home to the State’s Workshops for Art – this is space for artists who are working on particularly large paintings, sculptures etc. The original building dates to 1882, though somehow an extra floor was added in 1920.

Gammel Dok

And finally we head for home, but not before passing one of my favourite spires in Copenhagen. This I do remember from my previous visits, and for good reason. Known as the Børsen, the building is the old Danish Stock Exchange, and it is made up of the tails of four dragons, intertwined, and reaching a height of almost 60 metres. The spire dates back to 1625. At the top are three crowns representing the old Kalmar Union between Denmark, Sweden and Norway. It was a very distinctive landmark, and still is.


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