Don’t believe the fairy tales of the guides: you start feeling the real magic of Copenhagen only once you get considerably cold on its dark streets


The map of Copenhagen slightly resembles the outline of Neverland, the home of Peter Pan; the island of Christianshavn looks like a gigantic turtle floating on the sea, and above it, like a comet flies a long-tailed five-pointed star – the ancient citadel of Frederikshavn and the industrial port of Nordhavn. The strategy of deliberately making Copenhagen look “magic” works: statistics show that three quarters of the tourists arriving in the city go to Langelinie embankment first; there, at the end of the promenade, on the granite boulder sits the Little Mermaid from the famous fairy tale, cast in bronze. While a tour of the Andersen-related sites is one of the most popular ones: obediently moving between the varicolored district of Nyhavn, where the storyteller lived, and the Assistens Cemetery, where he was buried, the guests of the city consider they see the magic of Copenhagen. But just like Scandinavian trolls, it hides on the periphery of sight, in some other, less obvious, places.

And it also has something to do with the weather. In June, tourists begin arriving in Copenhagen in droves, hotels raise their prices, and on the beaches, although the temperature of the water in the harbor and the Oresund Strait rarely exceeds +18° С, the bathing season begins. The city turns into a resort, from which all the magic flows away to some other place. Copenhagen in summer is nice, but it is the winter that is especially awe-inspiring.

In winter, the museums and attraction sights adopt shorter schedules, as it gets dark after four, but only the person who has once been lost and chilled on the winter Copenhagen streets is able to understand what a hygge is – a difficult-to-explain notion, constituting the arithmetic mean of comfort, warmth and peace.

In winter, from morning till night, Copenhageners burn candles in offices, bars, restaurants and hotel lobbies, brew mulled wine, and fire up their cast-iron stoves in the living rooms. For a few days before and after Christmas, Copenhagen is deserted. The Danes prefer spending this holiday in the countryside, or on far tropical islands. And, as surprising as it sounds, this is the best time for magic, which walks with quiet and elegant footsteps along the winter streets that are not hindered by people or extraneous sounds.

I first came to Copenhagen just before Christmas. My hotel was situated in the buttonhole of a side-street, adjoining the Royal Garden, where, on that day, Rosenborg Castle, the former royal summer residence, was capped with a snowy glaze. Christian IV initially made plans for a smart hunting lodge where one could relax from court etiquette, pulling boots in front of the fireplace. During the construction, the king got hooked on the project, and complemented the structure with a moat and three coquettish turrets, resulting in a palace, albeit small.

The Rose Castle was for a long time used as a summer residence. However, after the construction of another palace, in the west of the city, Rosenborg was converted into a chic storage room. So it has remained to this day – a pantry filled with untold royal treasures: eggs of exotic birds, covered with silver and gold; stools from whale vertebrae, and cups of rhinoceros horn, in which, according to Scandinavian legends, poisoned wine starts to boil.

Rosenborg houses about 6,000 exhibits, the most outstanding of which is the bone throne. No, the Throne. So it would be treated in the world of the Game of Thrones – as an artifact with a name worthy of capitalisation. It was unobtrusively reported to foreign visitors that the throne had been made from unicorn horns, but in fact, the material with an unusual shade (something between ivory and moonstone) is narwhal tusk.

Coming out of Rosenborg, I wandered into an area that looked like a separate town, Nyboder. The district, with parallel rows of cinnamon-colored houses, is more than a century old, but looks like it appeared the day before yesterday. It was built for sailors by Christian IV. When sons of the sailors were born they were assigned to the ships of the royal fleet on which their fathers served. Living space in Nyboder was given according to rank – the higher the rank, the larger the house, and eventually, in climbing the career ladder, some sailors changed their accommodation up to ten times in their lives. Today, Nyboder is a prestigious real estate, and the army’s past is only hinted at by the irreproachable alignment of the streets, the names of which also seem to be taken from some fairytale – Hare, Tiger, Dolphin, Crocodile. Their appearance, with bicycles at the walls; ornamental plants visible behind the windows, and silvery frost shining on the shingle of the roof, makes this impression even stronger.

Nyboder is located next to another military institution – Citadellet Frederikshavn. The same Christian IV, who preferred simple architectural solutions, initiated its construction, but in the end, the fortification took the form of a colossal five-pointed star. In the summer, water lilies bloom and swans slide gracefully over the green water of the moat, and in the winter, the water turns into a dark, solid glass. Although the citadel is still owned by the Ministry of Defense housing the headquarters of military intelligence, it has also acquired purely civil functions: the locals take their children, dogs and new running shoes out for a walk on its neatly trimmed lawns.

The only street in Citadellet Frederikshavn stretches across the territory of the fortress, with former barracks and warehouses on each side: like most of the functional buildings in Copenhagen, they look like museums. On the western ray of the star, which is called the King’s Bastion, there is a mill with a “Russian trace”: the flour ground here used to be sent to St. Petersburg, to the kitchen of Empress Maria Feodorovna, born Princess Dagmar of Denmark, who liked to have øllebrød, rye porridge with beer and cream, for breakfast. The road ends with the Norwegian gates, behind which lie Langelinie and Nordhavn.

Frankly, I got to the North Harbor of Nordhavn only during my third or fourth visit to the city. There seemed to be no obvious reasons to go here: it is far from the city center, there are no residential houses nor museums, and finally, a dank sea wind constantly blows from every direction.

From a bird’s-eye view, this industrial port resembles a crest. One prong is occupied by the terminal of the Danish Shipping Company, from where ferries to Oslo go regularly. Another one belongs to a UN campus – it looks like a huge snowflake of irregular shape. Still, the main jewel of Nordhavn so far exists only on paper and as a basement: it is the largest construction site in Scandinavia – an eco-friendly residential area with a capacity of accommodating forty thousand people. The project is set to be completed by 2060. The scale of Danish planning is amazing – a half-century-long project, which aims to refuse from pollutant sources of energy, is carried out in line with the hundred-year strategy for the development of the city that takes into account climate change. And this is also part of the Copenhagen magic – the realization that the city will stand for a very, very long time, if not forever.

Three magical Museums in Copenhagen

  • Hirschsprung Collection. The museum displays the representative masterpieces of the Danish golden age and Skagen Painters. The latter are famous for their sea landscapes, filled with silver, absolutely oyster light – the Danish artists never depicted anything more beautiful.
  • Royal Stables. The main exhibits are white horses of the Kladruber breed, also called baroque horses, as the breed has hardly changed in the last 400 years. Not only can they be photographed, but you can also pat their velvet noses.
  • The David Collection. The largest collection of Islamic art in Scandinavia includes ancient manuscripts, fabrics with gold embroidery, magnificent ceramics and carpets. In the warm, artfully-set light, everything seems golden and ethereal, like a deserted mirage.

Теxt: Ksenia Golovanova

Published on: August 24, 2018